‘We were told just to stay up – that wasn’t necessarily our ambition’: US Portsmouth assistant manager Tom Jeffes on debut Wessex League Premier season

It was a squad which took US Portsmouth to within a penalty shoot-out of a footballing fairytale last May.

By Simon Carter
Friday, 7th January 2022, 10:42 am
Tom Jeffes, left, is the only player left at US Portsmouth who regularly started last season. Picture: Nathan Lipsham.
Tom Jeffes, left, is the only player left at US Portsmouth who regularly started last season. Picture: Nathan Lipsham.

But the Wessex League club have entered 2022 with virtually a whole new look compared to the team that reached the FA Vase semi final.

Following the recent departures of Jack Chandler and John Cass, only Tom Jeffes, Cameron Quirke, Dan Sibley and Frankie Paige remain from last season.

And, of those four, only Jeffes was a regular in the astonishing Vase run. Sibley made one Vase start, in the first game at AFC Portchester, while Paige struck a sweet 20-yarder on his only Vase start against Millbrook in the third round.

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From last season’s history-shredding squad, only Quirke played for US in their opening Wessex Premier game of the new year at Horndean on Tuesday. Jeffes was serving a one-game ban.

In a bid to find a winning formula, US have used 40 players in Wessex action this season – 17 of whom have played fewer than five games.

Elsewhere, Fareham Town have also used 40 players – including seven goalkeepers – and, again, 17 of those have played fewer than five times, including sub outings.

Moneyfields, among local clubs, have used the least players (28). Baffins and Portchester have both used 31 and Horndean have used 29. Moneys and Baffins only have nine players to have appeared fewer than five times.

‘We knew the challenges we would be taking on in the summer, but the turnover of players was far higher than I expected,’ said Jeffes, who doubles up as US captain and assistant manager.

‘In six or eight months we’ve had a total turnover.

‘We’ve got a young side now apart from myself and Simon Woods and full credit to the youngsters. Pip Willcox was right back at Horndean and Munir (Hadi) was left back and that was only their second games in the first team.

‘It’s been difficult, but I think now with the quality we’ve got we should be looking to finish mid-table (US are currently 15th out of 21 clubs). I’m really pleased with the squad we’ve got now.

‘The aim is mid-table. The chairman - I’m not going to lie - at the start of the season he told Gricey (boss Tom Grice) and myself he just wanted us to stay up. That wasn’t necessarily our ambition.

‘There’s a big differentiation between the top eight and everyone else - there’s a few mini-leagues within one league.’

Jeffes is happy combining his two roles and will carry on doing that unless he feels he is not up to the job as a player anymore.

‘I’m really enjoying it. The day I’m not up to it, the day I’m not adding value to the team, the day we’ve got two better centre halves, I will be the first to put my hand up and sit on the bench,’ he remarked.

‘It’s been a different mindset this season. There were games in Division 1 where you’d expect to win. You could sort of coast through, but you can’t do that in this league as you saw the other day (Christchurch beating Brockenhurst).

‘The difference is massive to Division 1. It’s helped this season that the personnel have changed so much. I hate to say it’s a free hit, because it’s not, but there’s no substantial expectations.’

Jeffes was at Dover Road last Monday as part of a Moneyfields record crowd of 507 to watch the Wessex derby with Baffins.

A few miles away, Fareham were recording a crowd of 621 against AFC Portchester - their biggest crowd since 1988.

The largest attendance US have pulled in so far in their debut Wessex Premier campaign is 125 v Baffins - though they still have to welcome Moneyfields to the Victory Stadium.

Though that might not seem a big crowd, Jeffes places it in context.

‘It was massive for us to go up, and it was good we decided to go for it,’ he explained.

‘If we get a crowd of 100 that pays all our costs for four games. I think we were only getting 12-14 in my first season.

‘I can’t imagine what a crowd of 500 or 600 would mean.’