League football returns as Uckers seek opening day win

AFC Uckfield Town image (c) Mike Skinner

Only days after sides across Steps Nine and Ten produced enthralling drama in the FA Cup, the chance – after six months of waiting – to resume league action comes this Saturday for the same clubs, and for AFC Uckfield Town presents the opportunity for a strong start in a wide-open SCFL field, writes Will Hugall.

With eleven Sussex sides all tasting success in Extra Preliminary Round ties split over Tuesday and Wednesday, the Uckers would be frustrated that their tie against Little Common saw them make a confident start in new surroundings but miss out on the rewards that even a single FA Cup victory can provide.

Undoubtedly, the newly-assembled nature of Graeme Mintrim and Steve Ives’ squad will have had an effect when it is the small differentials that decide such ties, particularly when up against a side with Little Common’s experience, but the game will have provided invaluable learning opportunities as well.

Ironically, the Uckers have tended to be slow starters ever since the club’s formation in 2014, and have only twice begun their seasons with victories in that period, against Rustington in the 2014-15 season, and at home to Pagham just last season.

Coincidental or not, the fact that both those wins preceded arguably the strongest seasons in the club’s history does highlight the importance of positive momentum, something Ives and Mintrim will be looking to build with the visit of Steyning Town to The Oaks this Saturday.

The Barrowmen, one of only three SCFL Premier Division teams to play their home games on a 3G surface and the only to have ‘Community’ in their full title, were strong performers on their return to Sussex football’s top tier last season after 33 years away, sitting 10th prior to the abandonment of action.

Boss Gerry Murphy and his squad will be hoping for a continuation of such form this season, and with the additions of consistent SCFL performers Tom Bold, Max Howell and George Cousins over the summer can be optimistic of challenging for an improvement in their position as well.

The West Sussex got off to a perfect start in that regard this Tuesday, picking up a 2-0 FA Cup win at SCEFL Premier side K Sports thanks to goals from Harry Heath and Joe Fitzpatrick, and confirming a home tie against Hanworth Villa of the Combined Counties Premier in the Preliminary Round next week.

With that result marking their third consecutive success in the Extra Preliminary Round – in their first seasons back in the FA Cup since 2005 – the Barrowmen are building a fine reputation for their approach to the progression of football in their local area, with an ethos the Uckers certainly share ideals with.

Having spent 12 seasons in the same division between 2002 and 2015, and producing a narrow 3-2 Uckers win in a meeting last December, the chance for the Uckers (including the history of predecessors AFC Uckfield) and the Barrowmen to renew their rivalry this weekend promises an exciting encounter, and should particularly be so given one last statistical oddity.

In 90 games contested on the opening day of the SCFL Premier Division (previously Sussex County League Division One) season since 2011, only two matches finishing 0-0 have aided figures of 334 goals scored at an average of 3.71 per game, rising to 4.14 in games involving the Uckers, and 5 involving Steyning. Let’s hope that the expectations of another goal-fest aren’t too premature!

Kick-off at The Oaks is 3pm this Saturday, with a capacity of 300 spectators and, after an outstanding turnout for the FA Cup, hopes for the continued support of the town at the start of what is set to be a very exciting league season.

Come on you Uckers!