In the first of a new Friday feature on wscountytimes.co.uk, Steve Pickthall picks the bones out of Horsham Football Club’s recent form in the Ryman League.
Yes it was a much-improved showing from Horsham on Tuesday night, but it only went some way to making amends for what has been a truly wretched month for the club.
Result aside, it was a backs to the wall display brimming with passion, heart and desire - all the things missing of late - and had Jordan Clarke not got himself sent off just after Horsham had taken the lead they may well have gone on to claim a first win of 2013.
But while encouraging, it cannot be used to paper over some worryingly large cracks which have appeared recently. Embarrassingly poor away defeats at the likes of Three Bridges, Walton Casuals and Burgess Hill this month have brought flooding back painful memories of watching the side last season, when Ryman Premier League status was meekly relinquished and the side were largely uncompetitive throughout.
At the end of that dreary season I clearly remember thinking ‘things cannot get worse than this’, but recent results have plunged even those depths and now leave me, and no doubt many of the club’s supporters with the worrying question: ‘Just how much worse can things get?’
A lowest league attendance of 100 this season were at Gorings Mead on Tuesday night to watch the 3-1 Eastbourne defeat, a clear indication that recent performances have left even the most battle-hardened Hornet supporter disillusioned.
And who can blame them? Having been forced to travel down to Worthing each Saturday to watch their side two seasons ago, and then endure last season’s sorry affair the promise of a season of ‘stability’ hasn’t quite materialised.
After a difficult start to the current campaign there were some genuinely positive signs. A brilliant win over an in-form Sittingbourne was followed four days later by a comfortable 2-0 home defeat of Walton Casuals.
Back to back wins against Worthing and then Tooting over the Christmas period seemed to show a squad with the stomach for the fight and there was even talk in some quarters (though not from the manager to be fair) of a possible push for the play-offs.
That talk now seems like a long time ago and manager Simon Colbran, speaking after the recent defeat at Walton Casuals, again expressed his sympathy for the long-suffering supporters while warning against the current campaign going the same way as the last: “I feel sorry for the supporters who’ve travelled all this way again,” he said. “They put up with it last year and they’re starting to put up with it this year and it’s unfair on them. But it’s about us in the changing room, we’ve got to put it right and we will put it right.”
Speaking to Colbran it’s clear he’s been personally suffering. Without getting embroiled too deeply in the blame game, the evidence suggests he is not to wholly blame for the current predicament. His two predecessors, Justin Luchford and Hugo Langton both failed to put together a competitive side with a playing budget only covering expenses, and even the most successful manager in Horsham’s history, John Maggs, struggled when working with a reduced budget in his final year at the club.
The fact is it’s currently an extremely difficult job, done for the love of the game rather than any financial rewards and any manager, however experienced at this level would struggle to do a better job. When I asked Colbran this week if he had once thought about walking away his simple response was “nope, never”. It shows in Colbran and legend Gary Charman the club have a management team committed and determined to do whatever it takes to get things right, fighting qualities money can’t buy.
Clearly whittling the playing budget down to expenses was a necessary measure for the club’s long-term future following years of overspending. But there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s caused a raft of quality players to depart over the last few years and had a direct impact on the declining fortunes on the pitch.
That is now in the past and what’s important is what happens now and in the future for Horsham FC.
The good news is successive relegations still remains unlikely. Yes Bridges look like they might have finally adjusted to Ryman Football, drawing with Worthing in mid-week following their win over Horsham at the weekend. But Colbran’s side still have a nine-point gap and two games in hand, making their nearest rivals clear favourites to take the sole relegation spot this year and make a swift return to the County League. But what about next season, and the season after when the finances will be further stretched as the club look to finally build a new permanent home?
The Horsham squad is good enough to comfortably ensure survival in their remaining games, but that is not merely enough.
As well as using each of the last 13 league games to show they belong at the club, the players desperately need to restore some confidence and optimism in the fans that they have reached rock bottom and the only place to now go is up. Because the thought of falling further from here is a grim one indeed.
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