Pompey, Bournemouth and Eastleigh links to Hampshire Premier League newcomers Whiteley Wanderers
Whiteley Wanderers are celebrating after being invited into the Hampshire Premier League - just three years after forming.
The team, managed by former Fareham and Gosport Borough player Steve Thomas, will be playing in Division 1 in 2021/22 alongside fellow newcomers Meon Milton.
Whiteley’s elevation into county football comes after three successful seasons in the Southampton League.
In 2018/19, they won Junior 2 - scoring 85 goals and conceding just seven in winning all 13 games. They were awarded another three matches after opponents failed to raise a team. Striker Ben Tiffin netted 47 goals in 20 league and cup matches that term.
In 2019/20 Wanderers were top of the Senior Division - the second tier - having won six and drawn one of their seven matches when the season was null and voided.
Promoted to the Premier Division for this season, Whiteley pipped Bishop’s Waltham to the title by a point after drawing 1-1 with Waltham in their final game last month.
Remarkably, that meant Whiteley sides won three of the top four Southampton League divisions - the reserves topped Junior 1 and the Eagles won Junior 2.
Thomas puts some of his side’s success down to the fact that a handful of players have known each other since they were at school together.
But some of the first team squad have impressive pedigrees.
Striker Aaron Lobb played one match for Eastleigh in 2016/17 during Martin Allen’s time as manager - in an FA Trophy tie at Harlow. Lobb was joint top scorer in the season just finished with 13 goals, the same total as Tiffin.
Jake Cope was part of the AFC Bournemouth Academy, prior to being released last summer. As recently as 2019/20 he was playing at step 3 level, on loan to Southern Leaguers Poole Town and scoring an FA Cup second qualifying round winners against Hawks’ National League South rivals Hungerford.
Whiteley also boast Ousman Saidy, who was the Pompey Academy captain for several years prior to his release.
Wanderers captain is centre half Nathan Primus - son of former Pompey star Linvoy. Nathan’s younger brother, Cam, is also a first team squad regular.
‘We’ve had players at pro clubs who haven’t made it and they’ve become a bit disillusioned,’ said Thomas.
‘They’ve fallen out of the love with the game a bit so they have come back to play with their mates.
‘Six or seven of the players have been friends since they were five or six - that’s key to our success. The strength of those friendships mean they always look out for each other.’
Thomas admits Whiteley aren’t progressing into the Hampshire Premier League ‘just to make up the numbers.’
Indeed, he one day wants to see the club progress to the Wessex League - but for that to happen Whiteley need their own facilities.
At present, they play at Meadowside near the Whiteley leisure centre.
Infinity and Bush Hill had to seek ground-sharing deals in order to move up from the HPL to the Wessex League a few weeks ago.
Infinity will be playing Wessex games at Hythe & Dibden FC in 2021/22 while Bush - now named Millbrook - are based at Team Solent’s former Test Park HQ in Southampton.
‘We did inquire about Test Park,’ revealed Thomas, ‘but Bush Hill got there first.
‘But really we want to play in Whiteley. This is a community where everyone knows everyone through the football club and through the school.
‘Every community should have a football club where people can go and watch on a Saturday.
‘When Whiteley is finished it’s going to be bigger than Fareham and Portchester.’
When Whiteley’s promotion to the HPL is confirmed by the league, Moneyfields Reserves and Denmead are expected to be officially promoted to the Senior Division for 2021/22.
They are the two clubs with the best points-per-game records based on results of the last two pandemic-scarred campaigns.
Moneyfields have not lost a league game since being elected into the HPL in the summer of 2019, winning 22 and drawing two of their 24 matches.
Moneys and Denmead will replace Wessex League newcomers Infinity and Bush Hill to give the top flight a strong PO postcode presence alongside Paulsgrove, Fleetlands, Hayling United, Locks Heath and Clanfield.