Eastbourne Borough have the hunger, enthusiasm and capabilities to surprise a few people this season, according to summer signing and new team captain Ian Simpemba.
The former Dover defender was full of praise for boss Tommy Widdrington and the squad he’s assembled, and believes they are in with a realistic chance of competing with the big-money outfits in the division.
He said, “I’ve been really impressed with Tommy and the lads here are fantastic. The team is double, double fit - you won’t find a fitter group of lads outside of the Football League.
“They’re young, they’re hungry and we’ve got something great going here.
“If everything goes to plan, I really think we’re going to surprise a fewpeople this year.
“I don’t see why we can’t compete with the big spenders. Everyone talks about Eastleigh, Ebbsfleet and Sutton but just look at last year - Welling had one of the smallest budgets but they dominated the league by a million miles from start to end .
“It’s great being able to pay out that sort of dough but in some of the most successful teams I’ve been involved in, it’s always been the case that no one fancied us to do well, we’ve been the underdogs and that can count for a lot.”
The unwavering optimism is understandable - The Sports have enjoyed a perfect pre-season, winning all six of their friendly encounters, scoring 18 goals and conceding just three.
The football has been fast and flowing and goals have been flooding in from all over the park - including three from centre-back Simpemba.
Netting goals is just another tool in the 30-year-old’s toolbox; he scored 27 goals in three seasons at Havant and Waterlooville, 23 in two years at Lewes and 18 in his spell at Crawley Town.
He said, “It definitely helps the side if we all pitch in and score goals. At teams like Welling, and even Dover, we had goals coming in from all over the pitch.
“Generally, I try to get eight goals a year. I don’t often reach it but I think if you can get eight, that’s not bad for a centre half.”
Despite only just joining the ranks at Priory Lane, Simpemba has been elected to wear the armband on the field as team captain, while last year’s skipper Ollie Rowe will remain as club captain.
Simpemba, like Widdrington, believes this is an arrangement that will only prove beneficial to 22-year-old Rowe.
“I’ve been captain at most of the clubs I’ve been at, which I think is one of the things Tommy saw in me,” Simpemba said.
“I’ll be working a lot with Ollie, which I’m really happy about. He’s got a very bright future in the game.
“Probably the only thing I can give him is a few old tricks of the trade that I’ve only learnt through experience. Other than that, if he listens to and learns from Tommy, he’s got a great chance of doing well.”
Simpemba can boast an impressive record to date; he started his career at Wycombe Wanderers and featured for the Chairboys in the Football League Second Division during 2003-04.
After stints at Woking, Crawley and Aldershot, he joined Lewes, where he was a lynchpin in the side that achieved promotion from the Conference South in 2008.
Of that success, Simpemba added, “That was a good time. Obviously Eastbourne pushed us very close that year but I’d say that Lewes side was the best I’ve played in to date.”
From the Dripping Pan, the 6ft 2” defender moved to Havant and Waterlooville, making 141 appearances in the heart of defence before financial constraints forced his move to Ebbsfleet and, later, Dover.
After a crushing play-off final defeat to Salisbury City back in May - a match in which Simpemba scored as the Whites lost 3-2 - he finally wound up at Borough - a side relatively local to his home town of Newhaven.
Simpemba concluded, “I think I’ve played for every club around the area apart from Eastbourne. It’s nice to be here and I’m really excited about the season ahead.”