Chairman determined to turn Fleetlands FC into a ‘proper community club’

Fleetlands are determined to become a ‘proper community club’ after launching a new youth development centre.

Friday, 5th June 2020, 10:36 am
Updated Friday, 5th June 2020, 10:37 am
Fleetlands with the Wessex League Division 2 trophy in 2006. The club are now aiming to return to the Wessex in the near future.

The Hampshire Premier League club have only run a first XI and a reserve team in recent years, but are now ready to grow after welcoming a number of youth teams who played under the Gosport Borough academy umbrella in 2019/20.

‘This has always been in my plans since I came to Fleetlands two and a half years ago,’ said chairman Iain Sellstrom.

‘But with trying to get the club promoted, and the clubhouse falling down, the timing hasn’t been right.

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Fleetlands chairman Iain Sellstrom

‘To be honest, the timing is not great now with everything else that’s going on, but this was an opportunity too good to turn down.’

Due to Gosport Borough’s youth set-up restructuring as a centre of excellence, eight of their former youth teams will play under the Fleetlands name in 2020/21 - from under-7 through to under-14 level.

All the teams will be under development centre manager Steve Ellis, who held a similar role at Gosport Borough’s academy.

‘When I came here,’ Sellstrom continued, ‘I said I was only going to stay five years. In that time I wanted to get the club promoted to the Wessex, build the new facilities, and start the integration towards being a proper community club.

Fleetland's players celebrate a goal in 2019/20. Picture: Keith Woodland

‘This has nothing to do with finances - we’re a non profit making club, it says that in our constitution. We are not making money from this (the youth development centre), we just want to turn Fleetlands into a proper community club.

‘When the new clubhouse is complete, we want to offer it for childminding, paries, wakes, bar mitzvahs …

‘Players at this level come and go, so we need the youngsters coming through. It will be great for the kids as it will offer them progression into adult football, and it will be great for the reserves and first team because they will be fed by the talent coming through.’

Fleetlands’ commitment to establishing their own youth structure comes hot on the heels of Southern League neighbours Gosport Borough setting up their own centre of excellence.

Matt Andrews, right, has signed for Baffins Milton Rovers. Picture: Ian Hargreaves

Sellestrom, a former Privett Park chairman, said: ‘I don’t want us to be a threat to Gosport.

‘I think we can be healthy competition.

‘If any of our youngsters feel the need to stretch themselves more than what we could offer at the time, I wouldn’t have any hesitation in pinging them down the road.’

Fleetlands have brought in another former Gosport Borough youth coach, Steve King, to run the reserves with Ben Evans in 2010.21.

But while clubs such as Gosport and AFC Portchester will be fielding under-23 sides instead of a traditional reserve set-up, Fleetlands aren’t joining them - for now.

‘It will be interesting to see how the under-23 team pans out at those clubs,’ said Sellstrom. ‘We will watch on to see their highs and lows. If it proves the right thing for those clubs, we could look to implement something similar in a few years time.’

Sellstrom, meanwhile, is adamant Fleetlands ‘will be ready’ if offered the chance of Wessex League football this season.

Even though the 2019/20 HPL season was declared null and void by the FA, the Coptermen have not totally given up all hope just yet.

That is because the pandemic could result in some clubs asking to move to different leagues, or in the worst case scenario pulling out of league football altogether.

There are a few unanswered questions at present, but the next few weeks could start to provide some answers.

There is a gap in the Wessex League Division 1 following Pewsey Vale’s withdrawal last November. Will that be filled?

Also, Blackfield & Langley are believed to have asked the Southern League for voluntary relegation back to the Wessex Premier.

The Watersiders’ benefactor Sam Davies has moved to AFC Totton, and has been followed by Glenn Howes - the man who led Blackfield to back-to-back titles in the Wessex (2017/18) and Southern League Division 1 South (2018/19).

If Blackfield are allowed to return to the Wessex, how will that affect that league’s constitution?

Sellstrom remains committed to a series of off-field ground improvements that would bring their Lederle Lane facilities up to Wessex standard.

He has agreed to purchase the floodlights at AFC Stoneham’s former ground, with a view to installation in 2020/21.

The club have also been granted cash from the Football Stadia Improvements Fund, and local authority money as well.

When 2019/20 was halted, Fleetlands were one of three HPL clubs targeting promotion. Infinity and Bush Hill had also applied to the Wessex, and all three clubs were likely to achieve the first criteria of a top five finish.

Of those three clubs, Fleetlands believe they best meet the ground criteria set by the Wessex League.

‘We have the planning permission, we have had plans drawn up,’ said Sellstrom.

‘We have had the Football Stadia grant agreed, but we haven’t received a penny yet as we don’t know what league we will be playing in next season.

‘If we were in the Wessex League, we would get the full amount - but if we stay in the Hampshire League we only get half the money.

‘But half the grant would allow us to start rebuilding the clubhouse.

‘We were supposed to be collecting the floodlights from Stoneham’s old ground on June 1, but the company involved have got people out on furlough.

‘There are still big decisions to be made, and you might see the dominoes start to topple then. By mid-July we will hopefully know a lot more.

‘There could well be a Wessex reshuffle, and we are a club that fits their bill regarding ground criteria. If we did end up in the Wessex it would be a re-allocation rather than a promotion - but we would still see it as a promotion.

‘If we’re asked, we will be ready.’

If Fleetlands were promoted from the HPL, the latter league could well then ‘promote’ a club from their second tier to take their place - champions Moneyfields Reserves would be in pole position - but any such invite would have to be agreed by the Football Association.

Meanwhile, Fleetlands boss Rich Bessey said he was ‘massively surprised’ to lose top scorer Matt Andrews to Baffins Milton Rovers.

Andrews was the fourth highest marksman in the HPL in 2019/20, scoring 25 goals in 27 appearances.

‘I wasn’t expecting to lose Matt, I genuinely felt we would keep the squad together,’ said Bessey. ‘I would have expected Baffins to look for someone different.

‘Now I need to find a striker as we relied heavily on Matt last season. I was interested in Sam Adams from Colden Common, but he’s gone to Romsey, and Kurt Watts from Infinity, but he’s gone to Baffins.’

Fleetlands certainly were reliant upon Andrews last term - he was their top league scorer with 22 goals, with the next best Tommy Woodward and Shane Flooks on 9. No-one else scored more than five.

Bessey has also lost defender Tom Doughty to league rivals Paulsgrove. That was less of a shock than losing Andrews, given Doughty - who made six appearances in 2019/20 after joining from Horndean - is a former Grove player and his dad, Kevin, was recently appointed the new reserve team boss at the club.

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The Hampshire Premier League are preparing to welcome three new clubs into their structure for 2020/21.

Mid-Solent League champions Harvest Home are being joined by Salisbury area club Clarendon and Silchester Village, who have been playing in the Basingstoke League.

Silchester met Mid Solent League outfit FC Strawberry in the Hampshire Vase earlier this year. The teams drew 3-3 but Strawberry won 5-4 on penalties.

It was one of only four games that the Strawbs did not win in normal time in 2019/20 - the other three were all losses to Harvest Home in league and cup action.