Tonbridge compete in a cup final on Wednesday evening against a club that have been splashing the cash following a takeover.
Steve McKimm’s men are just one game away from earning silverware for the first time since the popular boss took charge a few years ago.
The ex-Sutton coach faced a difficult task in his debut campaign as a manager (2014/15), building a brand new squad after relegation from Conference South, under Tommy Warrilow. But he steered the club to the play-offs in his second season and there are hopes a top-five spot can be achieved this term too.
First, there is the distraction of the league’s cup competition, known as the Alan Turvey Trophy sponsored by Robert Dyas. Despite the convoluted title, which probably camouflages the real worth of the competition, previous winners include some of non-league football’s former giants. The roll of honour includes outfits that have later gone on to better things such as Wycombe Wanderers, Dagenham, Yeovil and Aldershot. And some recent victors earned promotion to the National South shortly after lifting the trophy (Concord Rangers in 2013 and Maidstone United in 2014.)
However, the team that triumphs on Wednesday will not want to emulate the exploits a year later of the current holders, Kingstonian! The K’s have been sucked into a relegation battle of late, although off-field worries about the sale of the ground they once owned is probably a mitigating factor.
Barring some kind of immediate disastrous financial implosion, Billericay are more likely to be near the top of the table next May, rather than at the bottom. That is because of a self-styled “Ricay revolution” following a takeover by ambitious new ownership. There have already been big changes at the New Lodge with an influx of fresh faces and departure of a key figure.
Perhaps to illustrate the recent recruitment policy, one new signing is Paul Konchesky. The 35 year-old made around 25 appearances for Gillingham this season and previous employers include Charlton, West Ham, Fulham, Liverpool and Leicester. The left-back also played twice for England during the early noughties.
The arrival of someone of the defender’s quality shows Billericay really mean business and various managers have signed him for transfer fees in the millions over the years. Much experience has been in the top flight.
Another former Football League player likely to line-up against Tonbridge, is former Gillingham goalkeeper Alan Julian. The 34 year-old played more than 70 times for the Priestfield club, before dropping into the semi-professional game. The Ashford-born number one has mostly performed for Kent sides in recent years, notably Dartford and Bromley.
Other faces might also be familiar to Angels’ regulars such as strikers Billy Bricknell (ex-Dover, Ebbsfleet, Maidstone and Chelmsford) and Adam Cunnington (ex-Bristol Rovers, Ebbsfleet, Woking and Bromley).
As mentioned earlier, the “revolution” has also involved a key departure. The club parted company with long-term boss Craig Edwards in recent weeks and the owner, Glenn Tamplin, a former footballer, became manager. The Blues’ former chief had been successful, taking Town into the Conference South as Ryman champions in 2011/12, although the stay only lasted one campaign. Edwards resigned after seven years, apparently on the same day Konchesky put pen to paper.
Harry Wheeler, until recently joint manager of Welling United and former boss of St Albans, was named Billericay “head coach” last Thursday.
Against an expensive squad, it is going to be a tough tussle for Tonbridge. The Essex men are probably favourites despite a lower league position. Indeed, such is the mood of optimism and confidence at the New Lodge these days, many people possibly believe the name Billericay is already on the trophy!
Attendances have suddenly rocketed – more than trebling when compared to figures before the buy-out. Recent home crowds have been 1,300-plus (against Dulwich), 1,400-plus (Leiston) and 1,200-plus (Enfield Town), as the team embarked on a winning run. That should help the coffers.
Results since the beginning of March involved victories over Harlow (2-0), Burgess Hill (4-0), Kingstonian (3-0), Leiston (2-0) and Dulwich (3-0). The latter fixture in South London attracted 2,800. But in the return fixture, just three days later on Tuesday March 28, Hamlet triumphed by 2-0.
The most recent outing ended in defeat too, with Enfield boosting their play-off hopes courtesy of a 4-2 success at the New Lodge, on Saturday.
On the same day Tonbridge lost 2-0 at championship-chasing Havant & Waterlooville. Although the Angels’ form has been patchy of late, one final push plus some good fortune, might secure a play-off spot. Steve McKimm’s men have been in contention all season and the midweek clash provides an opportunity to end a cup drought that goes back around 25 years.
The Longmead side clinched the Kent League title (1992/93) and league cup twice in the early 1990s. The most recent cause for celebration occurred in 2011, when the team secured promotion to Conference South.
The Final of the Alan Turvey Trophy sponsored by Robert Dyas on Wednesday April 12 is a 7.30pm kick-off. The contest is being staged at Carshalton Athletic’s stadium, the War Memorial Sports Ground, Colston Avenue.
More details and directions can be found elsewhere on the website.
Updated 00:48 - 13 Apr 2017 by Jim Rowe