Ryman Premier League Champions 2016-17
Our sports readers will no doubt want to congratulate the Hawks and everyone connected to the football club for their success in winning the Ryman Premier League championship for the 2016/17 season.
Lee Bradbury, Hawks manager since October 2012, has guided the Club to an immediate return to the Vanarama National League. This after finishing the 2016/17 as Premier League Champions of the Ryman Football League. Sports correspondent Tim Randall has obtained Bradbury’s thoughts on the successful campaign and his plans for the team in the season ahead in the Vanarama National League South.
An historic season for the Hawks went right down to the last few minutes of the season before they were crowned league champions. Reflecting on the achievement after the dust had settled, Lee Bradbury said 'Winning the Ryman Premier League and achieving an immediate return to the National League is just so big for everyone at the club. I'm especially pleased for the supporters, the board, the volunteers, the staff and obviously, the players.’ He added, ‘When a side gets promoted it’s a big team effort from everyone. We certainly had that this season, everyone just kept pulling together. Even when we had a few indifferent results everyone stayed together, stayed strong and got us what we felt we had earned and deserved. I am just so pleased that we have bounced back. It is so difficult when you go down to come straight back up the next season. So, to do it is a fantastic achievement for us'.
Paying tribute to the support the fans gave to the team Bradbury said, 'the penultimate game of the season against Bognor at the Westleigh was amazing. After that win, we knew at the crucial finale at Kingstonian that we had a couple of coach loads of fans behind us for the match. We also knew, many other fans had made their own way there by train and car. Just at the time we most needed them most, the fans were immense. They made a great noise to provide a great atmosphere on a special day for all concerned at the Club. It was just such a big relief at the final whistle that we had done what we'd set out to achieve at the beginning of the season.’
Bradbury added ‘Winning the league was always my focus. Right from the pre-season matches I imparted this to the lads. Anything less was unacceptable. They lived up to it, they dealt with it. I think throughout the season we had a really close- knit group of players, as well as all the people behind the scenes and that's why we were so successful this year.’
The Manager now has started to focus on next season. He said ‘For me, the hard work of preparing for next season has already started. I need to cement some of the players down and try to improve the team so we are a force in the higher league next season. First, I have been talking to players to get them to commit their futures to the club. At the same time, I'm looking to strengthen the squad. So, the work continues apace. When I look at teams like Poole Town and Hungerford who both went up in the 2015/16 season, this season one was in the play offs and the other just outside in 6th position. That must be our aim next year. We must try to make the play offs. I feel with the group we have and with a few additions we can be a force to be reckoned with next season'.
Finally, Lee speaking about how he personally felt about the promotion and his future as Manager of Hawks said, 'I've only been in management 6 years and prior to this season have never won the league. To win any league is a big achievement. This year we knew we were in a very competitive league, with some very strong sides. We stayed strong throughout and came out as deserved champions. It has been a great season for me and know it’s time to do it all again at the next level. At this point I can tell your readers, if they have not yet heard, that I have been able to conclude a major signing for next season - Matt Tubbs.’
'Matt is a big signing for us. He brings vast experience with the level he has played at. The last time he played at this level he won the then Conference South with Salisbury. Hopefully that's a good omen for us. I know I'm bringing in a player that if he's played to his strengths he will score goals. He likes to play off the target man and play in a team that crosses the ball. We have both of those at the club, I also think he will raise the standards of people around him and with it the team’s expectations. I think he has that bit of nouse and experience and I feel he can score a lot of goals at this level. A good thing for me is that it's not about money for him; it’s about him joining a club that wants to go forwards, has momentum and plays a good style of football. Matt had a lot of offers to play in higher leagues, for considerably more money. So, it is a great coup for us to land him. I really look forward to him coming in. He’s a great addition to the squad.’
Talking further about the squad for next season Bradbury revealed that Brian Stock has signed a 1 year extension to his contract. He said, ‘It’s good to keep the club captain here, he is a very influential player on and off the pitch. He really drives the standards of the players every week and so, is a great signing for us.’
The Hawks’ busy boss has already secured the following key members of his squad with two-year contract extensions:
- Rory Williams – 2016/17 player of the year,
- Mike Carter - 'The Enforcer'
- Bradley Tarbuck - a talented up and coming youngster, and
- Ed Harris - back at his best after a bad injury which had kept him out for a season.
Players that are still at the club and under contract are, Alfie Rutherford, Wes Fogden, Jason Prior and Ryan Woodford'. Ben Swallow has been allowed to leave.
Regarding other new signings, the Hawks boss said: 'I am always looking to improve the team. It's my job to make sure we are a force to be reckoned with next season. So, if players go I will look to replace them with stronger players. We don't want to go up just looking to be comfortable. We want to be a strong side. With the players we've got and with new players coming in I'm sure we will have the strength we need.’
The Hawks finished an already very successful season under the floodlights of Fratton Park on Tuesday 23 May. They did the double with victory over Petersfield Town to regain the Portsmouth Senior Cup. The Hawks proved far too strong for the Rams as they cruised to a 5-0 win over the Southern League outfit. The goals came from an Alfie Rutherford hat-trick and a James Prior brace.