By Simon Piper
The Angels will be hoping the tide has turned in their favour when sea-siders Worthing land at Longmead.
After a gloomy November, which involved a run of defeats, Tonbridge started the new month on a brighter note with an impressive 1-0 win at league leaders Dorking, last weekend (December 1). The previous handful of outings, in various competitions, had concluded in disappointment.
Despite the frustrating results, the West Kent outfit are second in the Bostik Premier and only one point behind the Surrey-based table-toppers. So, Steve McKimm’s men should be buoyant for the clash against the Sussex side.
Put off that Christmas shopping another week - it will be the last chance to see Tonbridge in league action at Longmead before the festive season! (The visit of Folkestone Invicta, on Boxing Day, is scheduled as the next Bostik Premier opportunity although there is a friendly fixture against Dartford on 15th December).
The weekend tussle between promotion rivals should attract a good turn-out, with a sizable following expected to make the trip from the south coast.
Worthing are the best supported team in the Bostik Premier, also boasting a proud and distinguished past. The average home attendance is heading towards 1,000, so far, in 2018/19. Crowds have rocketed by more than 60 per cent for the team currently sitting at sixth spot, just outside the play-off places.
On Saturday (December 1), almost 850 spectators witnessed a narrow 1-2 reverse at home to third-placed Bishop’s Stortford. A couple of weeks earlier (November 13) the Rebels embarked on a raid to Enfield and returned with maximum spoils, following an excellent 4-1 victory over the fellow-high-fliers. A few days later (November 17), an outing to AFC Hornchurch finished 1-1.
Worthing started the campaign strongly and been in the play-off hunt since the curtain-raiser, in August. Audiences packing into the venue on Woodside Road usually witness enjoyable performances and that has no doubt helped swell the numbers.
Generally, the recent history has mirrored a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, with a mixture of triumphs and tribulations - this season the visitors are experiencing all the fun of the fair.
Loyalty among the Rebels has almost certainly helped the club through dark days, including a financial crisis that threatened oblivion. The saviour proved to be an ex-youth team player whose own career had been ruined by a serious car crash. The accident, in 2010, left George Dowell confined to a wheelchair and paralysed from the chest down.
Until Mr Dowell came to the rescue, there had been much uncertainty at Woodside Road during 2014/15, with the squad budget “scrapped” for a spell to keep the sea-siders afloat.
He became the new owner and Chairman, with heavy investment involving wiping out all of the club’s debts, funding a new 3G pitch, creation of a sports bar and café, plus ongoing general improvements to the squad and stadium. The benefactor has injected more than £800,000 into the venture, over just a couple of years.
The project also included setting up a football centre to help create a “community hub” at the venue, with the new artificial surface a key feature of ambitious plans.
Earlier this year, in March, Mr Dowell announced he was “stepping aside” as Chairman but remaining on the board. He explained the new chief should provide “extra skills and experience” for the “next stage of growth and development”.
His own contribution to the cause kick-started a transformation. Attendance figures have risen dramatically and even last season, with relegation a threat for long periods, the average home crowd was 600-plus.
Rewinding a few years, to look at on-the-field fortunes, the Rebels finished sixth in the South Division at the end of that dramatic 2014/15 effort and eventually earned highly-prized Bostik Premier status a year later, via the play-offs. An “extraordinary” semi-final at Woodside Road saw Hythe demolished 7-0, before a crowd of nearly 2,000 witnessed a decisive 3-0 triumph over Faversham in the final.
The first campaign in the Isthmian top flight for around a decade (2016/17), concluded with a respectable 14th place.
Last season involved a relegation scare but the waving of a managerial magic wand conjured up escapology, by the time the curtain came down at the end of April.
Problems with the artificial surface at the beginning of 2017/18 caused considerable disruption because of the condition of the pitch. It failed FIFA quality inspections and a Worthing statement at the start of the-then fresh campaign reported issues since installation, a few years ago.
Some early-season home fixtures had to be “reversed” and the Rebels reported problems stretching back to 2015. Nyewood Lane, along the coast at Bognor, became a temporary sanctuary for the Mackerels.
On the positive side, popular former manager Adam Hinshelwood returned in September 2017. He had been in charge previously, including steering the side through the challenging 2014/15 period, before being offered a full-time role as manager of Brighton & Hove Albion’s Under 18s.
The Oxford-born boss notched up a century of matches as a player in a Seagulls’ shirt, between 2002 and 2009. Moves to Aldershot Town and Wycombe Wanderers followed, but a persistent knee injury ended his career prematurely.
Prior to re-joining the Rebels last season, the 34 year-old manager was at Hastings United, where he also ran the U’s academy.
The one-time Albion defender has again proved a steadying influence and the Mackerel Men avoided relegation quite comfortably. They finished 16th out of 24, despite looking doomed for months following the troubled start.
Information about the visiting squad and other details will be included in broadcaster Matt Davison’s article in the matchday programme.
The Bostik Premier match between Tonbridge and Worthing at Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, on Saturday December 8 is a 3pm kick-off.
Many thanks to Steve Henderson & Friends for sponsoring the game. We hope you all have a very enjoyable time at Longmead.
Updated 17:54 - 8 Dec 2018 by Jim Rowe