END-OF-SEASON REVIEW: Top-four spots just out of reach, but a solid return to Step Seven football for Taylor’s Lilies

Perhaps not a season to remember compared to last, but it has been a solid return to the Cambridgeshire top flight for Chatteris Town.

The Lilies finished fifth in the Kershaw Premier Division after spending much of the season in the top four spots, having not enjoyed the successes of the 2015-16 promotion-winning campaign.

But one success is for certain and that’s consolidation, the aim which departing manager (at the moment), Ashley Taylor, set out for his side in August, which was exceeded by a long stretch.

Taylor encouraging his players at West Wratting

 

I believe we are a top four team right now – Ashley Taylor

 

 

Even so, a year that has gone above and beyond initial targets could have got even better, potentially once Taylor’s decision to leave his managerial post at the end of the season was made.

“When I made my intentions clear to the team midway through the season, our performance levels dropped and also the injuries we have had”, Taylor, who is set to become the new director of football at the club, said.

“In my opinion, I believe we are a top-four team right now, but this season, we lost very important players at crucial stages of the season.

“I know and the players know we could have done better, but we have to be happy with a fifth-place finish.

“Overall, I think we have had a good first season back in the Kershaw Premier League.”

Town endured a run of one win in six games between February and April, a time where Taylor believes cost his side dearly.

“I think this was a crucial time where we lost ground on the top four.

“I knew at the start of the season, we were going to experience tough times where we would have back-to-back defeats and it’s all about how we dealt with the tough times.

“Generally, I was happy with how we stuck together and tried to find solutions to come through the tough moments.”

Hitting the back of the net wasn’t a cause for concern, converting 86 goals from 38 games in all competitions, 45 of those at West Street.

Craig Gillies (pictured) scored 38 in 38 appearances, nine short of last season’s tally

However, they accounted for very little in terms of victories against any of the teams above them, claiming just one win during the season, which Taylor thinks is down to one reason.

“We relied too much on Craig (Gillies) to score this year and the other teams around us simply had more firepower.

“Since I’ve been manager, nine times out of 10, we have put in excellent attacking performances at home and it’s created excitement within the town.

“Attendances increased because of the way we go about attacking the opposition.”

Striker Gillies was the team’s top goalscorer for the second successive season, with 38 goals in 38 appearances in all competitions, which his predatory instincts in front of goal can help inspire the youth within the squad, according to Taylor.

“Craig’s been a role model this year and any young player that wants to do well in the game should just look at his application and attitude towards the game.

“The lad’s a born winner and he’s not missed a game this season.

“He deserves all the credit coming his way and he’s been very important to our success.

“Craig’s been important, but so has every player that has played for us this season; it’s all about being together as a team.”

The Lilies celebrating with the Cliff Bullen Challenge Cup during their promotion-winning season

Since Taylor’s arrival in 2015, The Lilies have been through arguably their most successful time in the club’s history, winning promotion, three cups and achieving a top five place in the Kershaw Premier.

And in his view, there’s more development on the pitch to come next season as the Fenland outfit’s bid for promotion to the Thurlow Nunn League was cut short in March.

“Our pre-season was spot on last year, hence why we started so well, but this is all down to the new management team.

“This is a team that can only get better.

“Most of the players in our team have not reached their full potential yet with their best years still to come.

“If they stick together, I see very exciting times ahead for this football club.”

With a new manager set to be announced before the start of the new season, it seems Chatteris Town’s hopes of progression look to be enhanced as they try to improve on a strong start to life back at Step Seven.

New Year’s Resolutions: An unbeaten run and cup progress the main Lilies’ aims

Chatteris Town manager Ashley Taylor believes his side will improve further if they can maintain their unbeaten run.

The Lilies have made a solid start to the new year with a derby draw against Outwell Swifts in the Kershaw Premier League, followed by a 7-1 thrashing of Over Sports.

But with the next three games, including against two teams in the top half of the table, Taylor remains optimistic the run can continue.

“We now have back-to-back home games against Brampton and Linton Granta and although these are tough games, our target will be nothing less than six points”, he said.

“Come the end of January, if we can have 10 points from 12, I will be very happy and this will be a clear sign that the team is progressing.

“So far, we have got four points out of six, but really, we should have six points in the bag.

“After the Outwell draw, we were left frustrated, but credit to the lads who reacted perfectly on Saturday.”

I’ve been very happy with the additions of Carl Powell and Karl Anderson who have fitted perfectly into our squad

Injuries to key players in the first half of the campaign may have had potential to disrupt Chatteris’ run of good form, but new additions seemed to have steadied the Lilies’ ship, according to Taylor.

“The squad right now is looking strong, even though we are missing Lee Barnett (knee ligaments) and Alex Ashley (hernia), who is out for the rest of the season.

“I’ve been very happy with the additions of Carl Powell and Karl Anderson who have fitted perfectly into our squad and have been putting in impressive performances.

“The Reserve Team is also looking strong now, which makes things a lot easier for me.”

The second string look to maintain their quest for glory by booking a second cup semi-final spot out of a possible three.

Benji Brittin’s men capitalised on their Cambs Junior Challenge Cup exit to Bassingbourn by securing their place in the last four of the Creake Charity Shield with a 1-0 win at Soham United Reserves the week after.

I still feel a top-four finish is achievable, and the younger players pushing into the team is fantastic for their potential

However, the Reserves head-coach thinks cup progress was never so assured after the long festive break.

“Our departure from the Cambs Junior Challenge Cup hit home to the lads”, Brittin said.

“Take nothing for granted, playing teams like Bassingbourn away was never going to be easy.

“Taking a one-goal lead was never going to be enough and the opposition wanted it more.

“Fitness was always going to be key after coming back from a two-week break, so a response was needed away to Soham United Reserves.

“The lads needed to show me the desire they had during pre-season, and although another scrappy cup game, up stepped 16-year-old Brandon Ransome to grab us the winner.”

Cup involvement may have hindered a possible climb up the Mead Plant & Grab 1B standings, with nine points separating them and the top four.

But having played the fewest games compared to any other side, Brittin is confident a top-four spot is still there for the taking.

“The squad is strong and at full strength, which is why I still feel a top-four finish is achievable”, he said.

“Our progress will be a huge test and will be fantastic for the lads and the club.

“The next few weeks will show me who will be regular starters now our cup run in two competitions has taken us to two semi-finals as we now need to work on our fitness and balance to the team.

“Selection for a starting line-up is proving a good headache for me.

“The younger youth players are pushing into the team, which is fantastic as their potential is looking very promising, which is what is needed for our season.

“Overall, it looks like an exciting cup and league run-in to be.”

The Lilies begin a run of three consecutive home league games against Brampton this Saturday (21st January), 2pm kick-off at West Street.

The Reserve Team are without a fixture this weekend, but return to league action next Saturday (28th January) away at Swavesey Institute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Christmas Number One, but progress has been made

It may be argued that Chatteris Town could have improved on their season so far heading into the festive break, but it’s safe to say they have already confirmed their status as a top-flight team.

The Lilies sit fourth in the Cambridgeshire Kershaw Premier League, 11 points adrift of third and 16 off leaders Great Shelford, their first league victims of the campaign back in August.

But after a promising start, a run of inconsistent results has left Ashley Taylor’s men a fair distance behind the leading pack, having dropped 19 points so far.

Winning six of the first eight games of the season saw the Lilies leap into the top four, before a dry patch of four wins from the last nine have seen Taylor’s side fall off the pace and into a battle for top-four status.

With our team being so young, we can only get better

Despite this, Town’s boss remains optimistic with the improvements he has witnessed.

“At this stage, I’m satisfied with where we are”, Taylor said.

“The expectation this season was to establish ourselves as a competitive Kershaw Premier team and so far, we have done that.

“Progress has definitely been made and I would say we are the youngest team in the league, but the best thing about this is we are always getting better.

“With our team being so young, we will only get better, but to do this, we need to all have the right attitude and keep working hard.

Looking for more: Taylor (centre) thinks his side can improve further this season (Credit: Steve Snell)
Looking for more: Taylor (centre) thinks his side can improve further this season (Credit: Steve Snell)

“Having no cup games can only be a positive for us as we can solely concentrate on the league.

“The top three are very strong and this is evident with how the league stands at present.

“We are doing well, but we must believe that we can do better as everything can be improved.”

The Reserve Team look to be making progress of their own having recently rose into the top six following three wins in their last six games in Mead Plant & Grab 1B.

It’s not just the league where things are looking up as the second string’s involvement in three cup competitions has raised hopes of silverware.

Our progress so far has probably been expected

However, advances on the pitch have not been easy to come by.

“The job is tougher than I expected”, manager Benji Brittin said.

“The availability of players has been hard to come by due to injuries and progression into the first-team, but that’s what the Reserves are there to do.

“Losing key players hasn’t helped injury-wise and you accept this in football, but losing them to the first-team, however, is great as it means I’m doing my job properly.

“The league is tougher than the lads first thought, but our progress so far has probably been expected.”

Goals, goals, goals: Brittin believes his side should be more clinical in front of goal (Credit: Steve Snell)
Goals, goals, goals: Brittin believes his side should be more clinical in front of goal (Credit: Steve Snell)

Alongside the difficulties of forming a full squad is balancing progress in both league and cup, which Brittin believes is minimal, although having scored the fourth-lowest amount in the league so far.

“Our progress in the cup hasn’t really affected our league performance”, Brittin added.

“We seem to be up for cup matches, we never give up and our desire to win these games is brilliant.

“Our league form could do with improvement, but we’re now aiming for a top-four finish, which I’ll take.

“For us to improve, we need more bonding and fitness. I’ve struggled to start the same team for two games running, but any side I field, I trust and believe they can do the job.

“We know we’ve not been more deadly with our finishing in and around goal, but we are creating chances all the time and if that was not happening, I’d be concerned.”

Eight wins in thirteen matches has seen Roger Manchett’s A Team climb to second in Mead Plant & Grab 4B, something of a major difference compared to last season’s second-from-bottom finish.

And as Manchett says, there have been a few areas that have lead to his side’s development, including only one home league defeat so far.

“The A Team has made a good start to the season”, he said.

“The players have grown since last year and are playing some good football.

“They are playing for each other and we play an attacking style of football, which is good to watch.

“There is a togetherness about the side and we’ve managed to keep a settled side week in week out.

“There is encouragement within the team and we’ve signed a couple of new players.

“We are currently second, which speaks volumes for the effort the players have put in.

“If we can keep the team together, we aim to finish in the top five.”

 

 

 

 

 

Does football in the Fens really have a future?

How do football clubs survive in a sport that is becoming dominated by the amount of money a team has?

For some, it might be easy, but for many, it seems like a constant uphill struggle. Particularly for voluntarily-ran organisations at a considerably lower level, income may always be tougher to come by than expenditure. Ground maintenance bills needing to be paid while most teams have no entrance fee for those interested enough to watch, perhaps just some of the concerns faced on a regular basis. However, there does seem to be light for a future, amidst the ever-existent issue of financial uncertainty.

Based on Sport England’s annual report for 2015-16, the conditions of 1,830 clubs across England have been improved since 2011, with £4m spent on grants towards club development tool ‘Club Matters’. An intent to develop amateur clubs on a national scale is there, but more specifically, for one of Cambridgeshire’s better-known teams.

Chatteris Town Football Club received a £75,000 grant from Sport England in May to revamp club facilities, which is due to be completed next year. However, the Fenland-based side could still do with more financial help as more improvements look to take shape.

Lisa Salisbury, treasurer at Chatteris Town, said: “At the moment, we are quite stable, but we could always do with more. When the upgrade is finished, there are things that we would like to buy, such as glass washers, new tables and chairs, which we have to raise the money for ourselves. It is hard getting in subs, fines and signing-on money, but we usually get it all in eventually.”

Whiting goal vs Great Shelford
Taste of glory: Taylor’s men have made a solid return since last year’s league and cup success (Credit: Cambridge Evening News)

Success off the pitch has been in tandem with success on it too, with the Lilies now plying their trade in the Kershaw Premier League, Cambridgeshire football’s top tier, after securing promotion last season. And as chairman Julian Young admits, it is not only the grant that has made an impact.

“Obviously the grant of £75,000 has and will make a huge difference”, he said. “It is apparent that the success on the pitch of the first team had a positive effect on numbers of people through the gate. The dedication of the committee and hard work has ensured regular sponsorship, fundraising and improvement to weekly income, such as through club membership and bar takings.”

Upgrading facilities has not been the aim for just one organisation, as £63.7m was invested into this by Sport England with an extra 127 improvement projects being listed, according to their most recent report. But in comparison to their previous financial status with discussions before the grant being announced taking place, Town may well be on the rise.

“Compared to where we were three years ago, we are in a pretty healthy position”, Young said. “Not that we are resting on our morals, nor do we think the job is done. We have already turned losses into small surpluses and at each point, those surpluses are used to improve facilities, grounds, maintenance and pitches. Once the refurbished clubhouse is open, this will encourage endless opportunities for additional fundraising and more regular and improved income.”

Plans for development are not always achievable for local organisations, and the Lilies seem to be defying this trend. As well as help from Sport England, the club have also worked with Living Sport, a charity that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people in Cambridgeshire through physical activity. Because of this partnership, financial progress seems to be within touching distance, plus high expectations on the field of play.

“It would be nice to think that, in the future, we could develop a junior team and get a ladies team back”, Salisbury said. “Pitch upkeep is paramount. Keeping them in good condition now means that when the weather changes for the worse, we can keep playing on them so money does not have to be found for 3G hire.”

Lester Kent, director of football at Chatteris Town, thinks the chances of moving up the non-league pyramid are possible. “The opportunity to progress would be hard to turn down”, Kent said. “For the first-team, progression to the Thurlow Nunn (Eastern Counties) League or the United Counties League is a possibility, but this would mean more cost. There would have to be an in-depth discussion with everyone at the club involved.”

julian-young
Optimistic: Young (right) believes the Lilies can keep improving off the field with the new grant (Credit: Steve Snell)

And even though the thought that one team may not be financially assured to earn another promotion, there is still a sense of optimism the club can move forward. “I am positively sure that having seen what we (the club) have achieved, we can make new steps at each stage to improve and keep up with the demands”, Young added.

In contrast, not all local teams have a bright future waiting in the near distance. Doddington United, a village football club also from Cambridgeshire, find difficulty in searching for financial stability, which for a small organisation may be a tough act to follow on an annual basis.

Sponsorship is also a major issue, which is one of a few methods of funding. “Sponsorship is very difficult to come by in this area”, manager Dan Smethurst said. “Last season, we contacted several local businesses for sponsors, but we didn’t have any joy. We are lucky that Betts Haulage have continued to support us over the last few years.”

Funding may also be a growing problem for other amateur clubs, perhaps due to the little knowledge that other teams covering a smaller area actually exist. However, since 2011, Sport England’s £22m investment into the protection of 455 playing fields has accounted for 1,119 pitches immune from planning applications, according to their 2015-16 annual report.

Even with this investment supposedly being advantageous in terms of maintaining an existence for village football, not everyone is reaping the reward. “The current financial state is not great”, Smethurst said. “The only way to increase funds into the club is to either increase the players’ subs or to find a local investor, which is very unlikely. It’s very hard to find funding to support local sports clubs and I can’t see how this is going to get any better in the future.”

For most, running a local football club can be challenging; from receiving player subs to trying to field a team of eleven each week. For some, these difficulties have eased slightly. But one thing that remains the same is that the passion to play will still outclass a financial strain that will not stop aching for some time.

Lilies back on track, but there is still room for complacency

Chatteris Town manager Ashley Taylor believes his side’s current form needs improvement after a mixed run of results.

Since their narrow cup exit to fellow league outfit Fulbourn Institute on 12th October, the Lilies have won and lost twice, the latest victory coming in a comfortable 4-0 win at Sawston United in the Kershaw Premier League.

But Taylor thinks complacency is the reason for their recent downturn.

“At present, I’m happy with where we are in terms of league position, but of course, I’m unhappy with our current form”, he said. “The last few games we have become complacent and not performed to the level that I expect.”

Currently fourth in the Kershaw Premier League table with eight wins and three defeats so far, adapting to life in the top tier of the Cambridgeshire County League doesn’t seem difficult for the Lilies.

After clinching promotion to the top flight last season, plus winning three cup competitions, Taylor’s men know the taste of success, but he feels his team have played well after stepping up a level.

Lilies 1-2 Hemingfords Utd
Stunned: The Lilies let their lead slip in the 1-2 defeat to Hemingfords United (Credit: Steve Snell)

“We have performed well, but we could have done better. I know this and the players know this. The most important thing is we are always learning and improving as a team.”

Captain Stuart Porter, now in his second spell with the club, added: “I think we always knew we had quality in the side, but whether we believed we could win things, I’m not so sure. The team spirit in the side is one of the best I’ve been involved in.”

Home form has been instrumental for Town’s rise, having lost twice at West Street since August 2015, the most recent a 2-1 loss to Hemingfords United.

Speaking on the importance of playing at home, Porter said: “Chatteris sides have always performed well at West Street. We are fortunate with the facilities we have and the outstanding local support we get at every home game.”

Although home comforts may not be the issue, away form may be the current problem to deal with, despite the expectation of the odd bad result.

“We have a very young side, so a freak result now and then is more likely, but it’s up to the more mature players to try and limit these performances”, Porter said.