Broadbridge Heath FC manager Steve Painter says he and the rest of the club’s committee still cannot quite believe what they’ve achieved this season.
Last week Heath sealed promotion to Division One and on Saturday their marvellous league campaign continued with a 4-1 win over Steyning Town.
That result made it 23 Division Two games unbeaten and their success has been built on a real work ethic from everyone at the club, as well as the best defensive across the whole County League, with just 21 goals conceded from their 31 league games.
And the club’s phenomenal season could get even better with the chance of a double still on.
On Wednesday they again face Division One league champions East Preston in the RUR Charity Cup. Having lost so narrowly in last year’s final to an 83rd minute penalty, they again go to Culver Road in Lancing, this time with a place in the final against local neighbours Horsham YMCA up for grabs.
And Saturday’s win, which briefly lifted them to the top of the table, means they could still pip both Loxwood and Eastbourne United AFC to the Division Two title.
Eastbourne will win the league if, as expected they win at Oakwood on Wednesday night, but if they fail to do so they host Steve Painter’s side in what could turn into a winner-takes-all final match of the league season.
Two seasons ago Heath leapfrogged two sides to earn promotion from Division Three only because they met the ground grading requirements for Step 6, and at the beginning of the current season Painter came close to quitting after a number of his players left to join other clubs.
It makes the club’s achievement all the more remarkable and a delighted Painter said: “I’m actually in the middle of writing my speech for our end of season awards and to be honest I’m still amazed with what we’ve achieved.
“Saturday made it 23 games unbeaten (in the league), a run that stretches all the way back to September of last year. We’ve also only conceded 21 league goals which is the best record in the whole county, what we’ve achieved is just unbelievable and I still don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.”
There was no surprise to see Painter awarded the Manager of the Month award for March after going nine games unbeaten, though modest as ever he was quick to deflect the praise towards his players, management team and his whole committee.
“People like Andy Crisp and Keith Soane have both been at the club for years and the biggest joy for me is seeing their faces, it’s as if they’ve won the lottery,” Painter said. “There’s such a buzz around the whole club and from the word go all the players have bought into what we’ve asked of them, I’m a very proud man.”
Like many clubs the unprecedented amount of rainfall at the start of the year saw them without a game for several weeks. Painter says the decision to then turn to fitness instructor Maria Collinso at Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre, and take part in boxercise and spinning classes for the remainder of the campaign also played a massive part in what they’ve achieved.
Heath’s one stay in the County League top flight lasted just a season before relegation, though Painter has his sights set on more than just a scrap for survival next year. He said: “The club went up and came straight back down (last time) so the committee have said that’s my challenge to stay up.
“But with this group of players I believe anything is possible. I’ll look to introduce a few new faces but if we were to go into Division One with this set of players I’d be confident this group would excel again as they’ve done this season.”
Painter singled out centre backs Martyn Flack and Andy Howard as the bedrock of his superb defence but said all the squad had played their part in the success.
East Preston have already been crowned Division One champions for the second successive year but having beaten them in pre-season, Painter says his underdogs will go in with nothing to fear. He said: “We were the first side to beat East Preston in a friendly, which might count against us because we’re probably no longer under their radar.
“But knowing Horsham YMCA are waiting in the final is a massive incentive for us and to get to another RUR Cup final after already securing promotion would be a massive achievement.”