Little over eighteen months ago Worthing FC were on the verge of disaster. Two hundred thousand pounds in debt and with no playing budget whatsoever, the future looked bleak.
The club we see before us now competing successfully in the Ryman Premier League, new 3G pitch in almost constant use, refurbished grandstand, thriving bar and with arguably the most promising youth team in Sussex, makes it a little difficult to remember the dark days of the recent past. That owner George Dowell deserves the praise coming his way cannot be in doubt, yet the embodiment of his strategy to place the club at the centre of the community is perhaps not found in success on the field, nor via increased commercial spin-offs, but instead illustrated by what happened after the match against Folkestone Invicta on Saturday. The players and officials were no sooner off the pitch than it was invaded by a large collection of local children carrying footballs. They were still there half an hour later, and parents ringed the perimeter whilst their offspring not only ran off a great deal of energy, but felt rather special at being allowed to do so. Suddenly it was quite clear why 712 people, including a rather large proportion of under 16’s, had turned up at Woodside Road.
The match which had preceded this invasion had many talking points of its own, and provided ninety five minutes which, if not always filled with top quality entertainment, certainly had more than its fair share of incident and controversy. Oh, and the small matter of six goals, too.
A contest between two sides who had recently struggled to keep a clean sheet was never likely to end goalless. Whilst both sides could point to injuries as a legitimate reason for their defensive frailties, the overall impression given was that more work was required on the training field, as whilst each demonstrated significant attacking prowess, the attackers were aided significantly by poor marking, poor judgement and some quite terrible passing when under pressure. Any neutrals in the crowd would have had a marvellous time, whilst those of a partisan nature are likely to have chewed their fingernails down to their knuckles by the final whistle.
Worthing went ahead in the twelfth minute, although realistically could have been three goals up by then. As early as the third minute Omar Bugiel managed to beat the keeper from a tight angle but couldn’t quite manage to curl the ball into the net, and shortly afterwards Liam Friend and Sam Beale needed to clear shots from Brannon O’Neill off the line. The breakthrough came when Ross Edwards found captain Kane Wills on the edge of the box. Wills could have shot himself, but instead chose unselfishly to tee up Harvey Sparks for an easy finish.
At this point Worthing looked to have rediscovered their August form and consigned their terrible performances of last month to history, but home optimism proved short lived. Their lead lasted only eight minutes. Folkestone striker Joe Taylor, who last year scored 33 goals for Invicta’s local rivals Ramsgate, easily beat a poorly worked offside trap and, despite considerable efforts to clear, managed to hit the ball with enough power from a tight angle to force it over the line. Worthing attempted to strike back, with Bugiel particularly dangerous, and the striker forced two excellent saves from Invicta keeper Tim Roberts, but the half ended with the sides all square.
It was Folkestone who struck next. Experienced former Brighton, Crawley, Gateshead and Sutton United left back Sam Rents attempted to play his way out of trouble and failed, drastically. The ball was worked to Callum Davies, who turned inside and fired the ball goalwards. Rikki Banks managed to get behind the shot, but the rebound sailed towards Anthony O’Connor who, under no pressure, headed home.
Worthing were deservedly back on terms just after the hour, when a shot from Lloyd Dawes deflected past Roberts, but there were two more goals to come, both marred by controversy.
Firstly, in the sixty-sixth minute, Frankie Chappell of Invicta and Dawes clashed just inside the box. Contact was minimal, and when the whistle blew it was expected that the decision would go in favour of the away side, but referee Bandara inexplicably pointed to the spot. Even the home fans had the good grace to look surprised. Chappell was booked, presumably for his protests as the challenge was innocuous, and Dawes confidently fired home the penalty.
Folkestone, stung by their misfortune, then took control. Scott Heard and Ronnie Dolan began to run the midfield, and Banks was forced to make a couple of saves whilst Heard fired just over the bar. Then, three minutes into added time, Frankie Chappell’s luck turned. The ball was hoisted time and again into the Worthing box, and a game of penalty-area-pinball ensued. Chappell was first to react, and managed to force the ball over the line, at which point the assistant raised a flag. It seemed initially that he was giving offside, but the referee gave the goal and only then went over and spoke to his colleague, to the disgust of the home support. In hindsight, however, and lacking further explanation, it may have been that the flag was simply signaling that the ball had crossed the line. Whatever the reasoning, there was little doubt that Folkestone had deserved their equaliser.
As the aspiring footballers of Worthing ran around the pitch after the game, perhaps trying to impress the two members of coaching staff watching from the sidelines, it was easy to believe that many of them would have ambitions to play there again in Mackerel red. Given the success of the youth team, and the fact that a number of its graduates are now in the first team squad- including sixteen year old centre back Matt Boiling, who had shown a composure sadly lacking in more experienced colleagues during the preceding ninety minutes- that would seem not to be a pipe dream. Owner Dowell, and his football club, are not afraid to invest in youth.
On the evidence of this match, at least, the youth of Worthing are fast becoming invested in their football club, too.
Final Score: 3-3
Man of the Match: Scott Heard (Folkestone Invicta)
Published on in Steps 3-6.