Former Worthing general manager Calvin Buckland is confident the club will be in National South by the end of their original five-year plan.
When George Dowell took over as owner of the club in 2015, he set a five-year goal to be in National South and Buckland has no doubt that will be the case – but questions how much further Worthing will be able to progress at Woodside Road.
Buckland stepped down from his role last month but is proud of what he achieved in his three and a half years with Dowell and still heads down to Woodside to support the club.
Looking back on his time with Worthing, Buckland said: “On the whole, I’m proud as I helped get the club to where it wanted to be at this point. We’re just in season four of a five-season plan and the club is where it wanted to be – crowd-wise, squad wise and league position wise.
“The last 18 months were very frustrating, there was so much to do but no funds to do them. The pitch issues cost us tens of thousands of pounds and trying to manage that along with it being difficult to keep on top of the necessary stuff became quite stressful.
“The frustration was starting to affect me and I struggled to justify the effect it was having on me in the end.
“I’ve had stressful situations in my life before, my daughter spent six months on the transplant list waiting for a liver transplant when she was 13, that was stressful but we had no option; I had a heart attack when I was 40 and again that wasn’t pleasant for my family and I just thought ‘I have a choice in this situation and I’m going to put myself first’.
“I obviously felt uncomfortable with it, that I may be letting George down but others were in place to pick up the baton and had the enthusiasm George and I had in the first two and a half years.
“I had a week off in June and realised that I had worked 370 straight days before that, it just wasn’t sustainable.”
Buckland, who was born and bred in Worthing and went to his first game in 1976, has no doubt the club will soon be in National South: “I still stand by what was George and I’s five-year plan.
“I would say the squad is the strongest the club has had for 30 years, with the best young manager in the south, and the best group of youth players across the education program and under-18s they have ever had.
“I don’t want to add any pressure to anyone and this is just my opinion but I would be shocked if the club is not in National South within the five-year period we initially set out – something would have to go horribly wrong or they’d have to have some real bad luck.”
As far as how high Worthing can go, Buckland believes the club would have to move from Woodside Road to sustain themselves at a level higher than National South in the long-term.
He said: “You’d need investment to go higher and couldn’t go on playing at Woodside.
“You’d need to look at a new stadium as the parking is chaotic for home games and some of the facilities are crumbling. There’s a lot of money that needs to be spent on the infrastructure, so what the next step is when the club reaches National South, I don’t know. But George wants to keep pushing forward and he’s living proof that anything is possible when you put your heart into it.”
The highlights of Buckland’s time at Worthing were winning promotion in the first season, reaching the Sussex Senior Cup final, the FA Trophy win at Dagenham, seeing the under-18 team reach the FA Youth Cup third round and attendances climb. But he said he was mostly proud of achieving what Dowell had asked, which was for the football centre to be a hub for the town, as well as bringing more than 30 players into the under-18s and then on to the first team.
On leaving the club, he said: “I’ve still got mixed emotions about it. All I’d like to say is it was my decision to leave but it wasn’t a decision I ever wanted to make.
“I honestly thought I’d be there until they carried me out. Good, bad or indifferent, I put my heart and soul into it. But I was 50 last year, was doing 60, 70 hour weeks and I had to ask myself ‘what am I getting out of it?’.
“Yes, I was seeing my hometown club progress, which was great but to what end? I’d have ended up having another heart attack and possibly missing out on all the good things the club is going to go on to achieve, I didn’t want that.
“But I’m still a Worthing fan and will continue to go and watch first team, education and under-18 games.”
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