Two-times champions Blackfield & Langley set to take voluntary relegation back into the Wessex League Premier Division

Blackfield & Langley are expected to return to the Wessex League in 2020/21.

Monday, 22nd June 2020, 12:07 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd June 2020, 1:56 pm
Rudy Plummer, left, was Blackfield's top scorer when they won the Southern League Division 1 South title in 2018/19. Pic: Ian Hargreaves.

The two-times Premier Division champions have asked the FA for voluntary relegation after losing their main financial backer Sam Davies to AFC Totton.

Ex-Gosport Borough midfielder Glenn Howes, the manager who led the Watersiders from the Wessex into the Southern Premier League South in two seasons, subsequently followed Davies to Totton.

He quickly returned to Gang Warily to sign goalkeeper Lewis Noice and goalscoring midfielder Sam Griffin.

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Liam Robinson struck 21 league goals when Blackfield won their second Wessex League Premier title in 2017/18. Picture: Ian Hargreaves

Noice was AFC Portchester’s Wessex League Cup semi-final hero against Blackfield in 2017/18 - saving three penalties in a shoot-out.

He also played in the final when the Royals defeated lower tier Fawley 4-0.

Under FA rules, voluntary relegation means a drop of two divisions.

Blackfield will replace Southampton-based Solent University, who earlier this month told the Wessex League they were withdrawing after nine seasons in the league (the first eight of them as Team Solent).

Alex Baldacchino, left, scored over 30 goals when Blackfield & Langley won their first Wessex Premier Division title in 2012/13. Picture: Keith Woodland

Blackfield were elected into the Wessex League for the 2000/01 season.

They had finished third the previous term in a Hampshire League table which also featured Locks Heath (2nd), Hayling United (9th), Horndean (14th) and Petersfield (17th).

Relegated to the second tier of Wessex football in 2004, Blackfield were back in the top flight by the start of 2009/10 under the guidance of former Pompey defender and Fareham boss Jon Gittens.

But he was controversially sacked just a few weeks into the 2010/11 season.

Lewis Noice, who has left Blackfield to join Glenn Howes at AFC Totton, pictured during his time at AFC Portchester. Picture: Neil Marshall.

Davies - the Blackfield director of football at the time - cited a ‘fundamental disagreement’ between him and Gittens about the first team’s style of play as the reason why ‘it was in the club’s best interests if Jon left.’

But, after dispensing with his services, Davies added: ‘Jon is an outstanding manager and has done a fantastic job at Blackfield.

‘When Jon went to Blackfield the club was pretty much bottom of Wessex One. It had no playing staff of any note, no football infrastructure, nothing. Jon has been utterly pivotal in rebuilding the playing side of the club.’

Under Ashley Vickers, the Watersiders won the Premier Division title for the first time in 2012/13.

Current Portchester striker Alex Baldacchino was a key figure, scoring a stunning 31 goals in only 29 league games.

Four of them came in a 7-1 hammering of Horndean.

Next highest scorer was one-time Gosport Borough striker Nathan Lynch with 12, while Steve Mowthorpe - later to play for Moneyfields - was in goal.

Blackfield also lost three of their 40 games, and two of those defeats were in their first three matches!

Howes replaced John Robson as boss in the summer of 2015, and in 2017/18 steered Blackfield to their second Premier title.

They drew their last match 1-1 with Brockenhurst to reach a century of points - pipping Andover Town by just one point to the title.

Liam Robinson - who played for Gosport Borough last season - and Griffin both scored 25 league goals.

Striker Rudy Plummer, who appeared for Gosport and Moneyfields in 2019/20, was third top scorer with 14.

Jamie White struck 12 times in 15 league matches prior to joining Hampshire Premier League outfit Infinity.

Howes led Blackfield to a second successive title in 2018/19, the club winning the Southern League Division 1 South silverware with Plummer top scoring.

They were fifth bottom in their first season at step 3, six points clear of the relegation zone with games in hand, when the pandemic struck.

The Wessex League, along with all step 5 and 6 leagues nationwide, were invited to a virtual meeting by the FA last Friday.

They learnt that there will be NO promotions to fill any gaps caused by a club folding or, in Blackfield’s case, requesting voluntary relegation. If needs be, that league will run short.

That means Division 1 of the Wessex League will again have an odd amount of clubs in 2020/21 following Pewsey Vale’s withdrawal last December.

The FA, though, will look at applications to enter the pyramid to fill a vacancy.

AFC Bury - a phoenix club formed following the demise of Bury FC last September - and Isle of Man were only two clubs mentioned in the meeting.

Leagues were also told that non-league games at steps 1-7 - the National League to the top flight of the Hampshire Premier League inclusive - cannot start in 2020/21 without spectators.

All those steps are tied together, so one can’t restart before another.

Football below step 7, where no admission is taken, may start on a different date and is subject to specific grassroots government guidance.

That means Division 1 of the Hampshire Premier League could start before the Senior Division does.

(Having said that, no clubs in the top flight of the HPL charge an admission fee either. Certainly not the ones I visited last season - Infinity, Paulsgrove, Locks Heath).

In any case, the two divisions of the HPL have not started on the same weekend before.

Last season, the top flight began on August 3 and Division 1 kicked off a fortnight later.

But there are three more clubs in the second tier now, following the arrival of Harvest Home, Silchester and Clarendon.

That has boosted Division 1’s total to 15 clubs - compared to eight just two seasons ago and just one club fewer than the Senior Division.