Title-winning boss returns to Locks Heath in bid to bring the smiles back to the Hampshire Premier League club

Locks Heath have welcomed back one of their title-winning managers with the aim of putting recent on-field woes behind them.

Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 4:25 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 5:45 pm
Locks Heath (red/black) in action during the 2016/17 Hampshire Intermediate Cup final against Whitecroft and Barton Sports. There have been few bright moments since for the one-time Hampshire Premier League champions. Picture Ian Hargreaves

Dave Fuge and Andy Neal led Locks to the 2012/13 Hampshire Premier League title, losing only one game out of 32 - and that was the first match of the season.

Locks had finished third the previous season, and would finish runners-up to Baffins Milton in 2013/14.

But since then the club have never finished in the top half and, after finishing fourth from bottom in 2018/19, were bottom when 2019/20 was halted in mid-March. Though Locks were only three points adrift of third-bottom Sway with six games to go, they had little momentum - having taken just four points out of the last 30 on offer and having not won since November 20. Shane Lovell ended the season in charge, the club’s third manager of the campaign.

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Locks Heath (red/black) in action during their 5-0 home loss to Hayling United on March 15, which turned out to be their last game of the season. Picture: Keith Woodland

The null and voiding of step 7, though, saw them handed a relegation reprieve and sparked a chain of events that has led to Fuge returning as joint-manager with former club chairman Jon Whitfield.

The pair have pierced together an experienced backroom staff including Dave Hazelgrove, Calum Britton, Chris Major, Adam Puckett and Joe Newton.

None of them are strangers to the club, with Whitfield a former player who also had a three-season spell as chairman - the last in 2016/17 when Locks reached the final of the Hampshire Intermediate Cup before losing to Whitecroft & Barton Sports.

Whitfield - who has been involved with the club for over 20 years - said it was a case of him approaching the club rather than the other way around.

‘In the last couple of years the results have been disappointing, and people’s commitment hasn’t been great,’ he remarked.

‘I gave Dave Fuge a ring to see if he would be interested in making a partnership. Dave’s got good man-management skills, a lot of players want to play for him. Dave was the first person I wanted to talk to.

‘Dave said he was interested and we then spent a month or so trying to put together a backroom team. I went to the club, said ‘this is what we’ve got, are you interested?’ and they bit our hands off.

‘We want to bring the local lads back, build it as a community club again, get the families involved, and bring through the youth.

‘We want to get affiliations with local clubs who don’t have an adult team - the likes of Locks Heath Lions and Sarisbury Sparks - to give their players a route to adult football.

‘That’s the first year plan.

‘There’s already been a lot of solid interest from players who want to join.’

Whitfield continued: ‘Dave Hazelgrove is a fantastic coach, Chris Major is joining as an assistant and Adam Puckett is big on the fitness side and will also help with the coaching and on matchdays.

‘We wanted a big management team. We want to make it enjoyable, we want it to be just as much fun for the managers and the coaches as it is for the players. If the players can see you are showing a commitment to them you will get it back.

‘We want to get the club back to where it was not that long ago.’

Locks were groundsharing at Gosport’s Privett Park in 2013/14 when they finished second to Baffins. The plan was to use the arrangement as a means of winning promotion to the Wessex where Locks had played for three seasons in the noughties - lifting the Division 2 title in 2005/06 (though they didn’t win promotion due to their facilities).

‘When the groundshare at Gosport fell through - it was nothing to do with Gosport - virtually all the players left,’ said Whitfield. ‘We’ve been trying to rebuild ever since.’

Regarding his decision to step down as chairman three years ago, Whitfield added: ‘I thought I was leaving it in good hands, but it hasn’t gone that way. I couldn’t watch the club just drift away. This year they got lucky - they might have stayed up, they might not, we’ll never know - and it seemed a good time to return.

‘We’re all desperate to go, everyone’s buzzing. The Zoom meetings we’ve been having are going on for good few hours. The break we’ve got will allow us to plan properly.

‘I know there’s more important things going on in the world, but we’re all desperate to get back out on the pitch.’

Locks Heath secretary Alan Cooper has welcomed the winds of change that have swept through the management team.

‘These are all local lads, they’re all experienced, they all have feelings for Locks Heath,’ he enthused.

‘We’ve had a tough few years and something needed to be done to keep the club going.

‘I’m not saying we’re going to win things but we want to get back enjoying it a lot more. The whole idea is to bounce back.

‘We do want to bring the youngsters through, that’s the ethos of the club but something we had been losing in recent years.’

Locks’ plan to run both an under-16 and under-18 team in 2020/21.