A season of change

Tommy Widdrington and Alan Kimble took over at Eastbourne Borough in February 2012
Tommy Widdrington and Alan Kimble took over at Eastbourne Borough in February 2012

It’s doubtful there was an Eastbourne Borough fan out there who predicted the club would have a season like this one.

A year of mixed emotions has not seen the front door stop swinging after the departure and arrival of new faces on and off the pitch.

And while it could be said the club fell below the pre-season expectations of many, the shake-up behind the scenes signals the start of a fresh, new era that will hopefully bring the good times back to Priory Lane.

As everyone knows, the changes were momentous. Garry Wilson and Nick Greenwood left the club after 13 years at the helm – a period of management within football only exceeded by Premier League managers Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

It may have come as a shock to some, but then others may have thought the fact that Borough were heading for a third consecutive relegation battle was enough to warrant the change of face in the hot-seat.

Borough had become stuck in a rut. After dropping down to the Blue Square South last season following a tough couple of recent years in the Conference National, their confidence seemed to spiral downwards as they continued to slip down the league.

The expectations had been high, as they always are when a team are relegated. The play-offs were the minimum target and five wins in their opening nine fixtures seemed like they were heading in the right direction.

However, after a cluster of cup successes at the beginning of October, the points started to dry up for Borough as they only picked up one win in 12 league matches.

Things aside from football were tough at the club too as chairman Len Smith suffered a stroke at the end of October. The 65-year-old was taken to the Eastbourne DGH as he lost all co-ordination in the left side of his body.

It was a difficult time for everyone at the club as they all pulled together to wish Len a speedy recovery while still trying to improve fortunes on the field. Len started daily physiotherapy and was quickly on the road to recovery, eager to return to his duties at the club.

At the time, things didn’t improve on the pitch and it was this bad spell that spelt the end for Wilson and Greenwood.

After taking the club from the County Leagues to the Conference National, the Scotsman and his assistant left Priory Lane on January 17. Captain Ben Austin took temporary charge of the club for their matches against Tonbridge Angels and Maidenhead, both of which ended in defeat and stretched Borough’s winless stint to eight matches.

Off the pitch, applications were flying in for the manager’s job. More than 20 ‘serious’ candidates expressed their interest, leaving the chairman with a wealth of options at his fingertips.

In the end, he said there was one outstanding applicant and subsequently welcomed Tommy Widdrington to Priory Lane, accompanied by former AFC Wimbledon defender Alan Kimble.

Widdrington, who spent five years with fellow Blue Square South side Salisbury City, knew the lower leagues well and didn’t hesitate in bringing in some new faces, namely Alex Lacey, Stuart Anderson, Ellis Remy and Marvin Hamilton-Omole.

The aim was simple: survival. Widdrington was a breath of fresh air at Priory Lane. Endlessly animated on the touchline, he showed the passion needed to demand the most from his players.

He started off his stint with a point away at Boreham Wood, which was followed by a disappointing home defeat to Staines.

However, it wasn’t long before things started to look up as Borough picked up their first win in ten away at Truro City and their first home league victory since the middle of October when they beat league-leaders Woking on March 24.

Tommy’s presence and revitalisation of the side brought the crowds back to Priory Lane as that fixture with Woking drafted in the biggest crowd of the season of 1,037.

A tough run-in in the final month of the season meant the Sports slipped to a few more defeats, but rarely did so without putting in a spirited performance.

In the end, it proved they’d done just enough to avoid relegation as their safety was secured with one game to spare.

It was a relief for the whole Borough contingent. A second consecutive relegation would have been disastrous for a club in the middle of such a huge transition.

Now that this roller-coaster season is out of the way, Tommy Widdrington is free to wipe the slate clean and commence his own era at Priory Lane, hopefully one filled with good health and good football.