AFC Uckfield Chairman Tom Parker this week spoke of his joy at seeing his club finally break into the county league top division for the first time in the club’s history – but insisted the ambition of the club did not end there.
Mr Parker said that the Ryman League was in the Oaks side’s sights – but called on local people and businesses in the town to throw their support behind the club. See next week’s Sussex Express for a full interview with Mr Parker.
AFC were crowned County League Division Two league champions at the weekend after a thrilling 7-2 victory over a very accomplished Steyning side.
However, with 15 minutes remaining of the match and the scores level at 2-2, it looked as though AFC had thrown away the chance to pick up the title silverware, but a stunning array of finishes took them over the finishing line.
As expected, there was a bumper crowd of 140 at AFC Uckfield’s home, the Oaks, for the final spectacle of the season. Having already reached the final of the RUR Cup as well as winning the Division Two Challenge Trophy, the home side were on course for a domestic double.
And it was they who started the brighter of the sides, dominating possession in the opening exchanges.
But it was an error in judgment in the AFC back line midway through the first half that let Steyning No.9 Ryan Walton silence the home support with a great volley, beating on-loan keeper Tom Betts who was covering for the injured Adam Laundon.
AFC continued to press the play and chances went begging when Jack Divall fired wide with just the keeper to beat.And just moments later Andy McDowell’s two-yard shot was well saved by Mark Oldroyd.
With the minutes ticking down until half-time it was important AFC found a breakthrough – and it duly came when league top scorer McDowell slid the ball past Steyning keeper Oldroyd with nine minutes of the first half left.
If AFC had failed to find their stride in the first half this was certainly not the case in the second – and they set the stall out from the re-start when McDowell outpaced the Steyning back four to fired his side into the lead.
The hosts continued to dominate and Steyning were struggling to cope with the movement of the title chasers. But, as on so many occasions this season, AFC briefly lost concentration and again allowed Walton in, and his lob beat the onrushing Betts, and with one bounce the ball hit the roof of the net.
So, with only 15 minutes remaining, the scores were tied, meaning AFC would end the season one point adrift – instead of ahead – of Lancing.
AFC manager Simon Rowland made an immediate change, bringing on the ever reliable Drew Greenall in place of Scott Dartnell. Greenall made an immediate impact when his flick-on was picked up by McDowell who completed his hat-trick and again put AFC in pole position.
Moments later the title was all but complete when McDowell got his fourth – and incredibly there was still time for Jack Divall to score a stunning hat-trick himself, with three superb strikes.
So, AFC Uckfield – formerly known as Wealden – were Division Two Champions for the first time in their history and will ply their trade in the top flight of the Sussex County League.
“What an unbelievable season, I never thought we would be in this position a month ago, let alone at the start of the season,” said a jubilant Rowland.
“The players and my management staff have been brilliant and I couldn’t be more proud of all of them.
“Of course, Andy McDowell will get the plaudits as his tally of 50 goals this season is unbelievable, but this was all about the squad of players and it would be unfair to single anyone out.”
AFC: Betts, Harris, Jones, Gearing (Henty), Browne, Pollard, Divall, Edwards (B Dartnell), McDowell, Rhodes, S Dartnell (Greenall). ATT: 140.