It is impossible to overstate the impact of Connor’s death on us all

Peacehaven FC reporter ALEX PANTON was at Connor’s last game. Here he writes of the impact Connor’s death will have on everyone at the club.

IT is impossible to overstate the impact that the tragic death of Connor Saunders will have on Peacehaven FC. Not only was he one of the most talented and most popular players in the team, but he was part of a family who are absolutely central to what remains a close knit club, and the sadness of last week’s events is hard to put into words.

In just under two seasons of first team football, Connor Saunders had gone from a player who struggled to establish himself in the club’s reserve side, to one who had made the notoriously difficult jump to Ryman League football. In over a decade of covering football for this paper I cannot remember a player who improved so fast in such a short space of time.

With his father, Shaun, the club’s vice chairman, and his brother Callum an established member of the side Connor was a well known figure at the club long before he became part of the first team. The Saunders family have been instramental in the club’s progress over the last few years, and Connor had been part of the his father’s highly successful youth team and was an enthusiastic spectator at almost every first team fixture.

The circumstances under which Saunders made his debut for the club were extremely difficult. Peacehaven had struggled defensively for the majority of last season, experimenting with a number of more experienced players at the back, and the decision to deploy the seventeen year old at centre back alongside Adam Kneller was a high risk move. Saunders had only made two previous starts, one of which had ended in a red card at Shoreham, but Pete Edwards and Terry Hall were adamant that the teenager was up to the task, and they were to be proved spectacularly correct.

In 15 appearances he was only once on the losing side, and that run included eight clean sheets and the concession of only eleven goals. His best performance came in the visit to runaway league leaders Crawley Down, where he marked the formidable Ryan McBride out of the match.

Unlike his brother, Connor was not blessed with great pace, but he was incredibly strong for one so young, he read the game well, and was surprisingly good on the ground for a centre half. His form was rewarded with the young player of the year award, and it wasn’t long before he became one of a number of Peacehaven players to make the step up to Ryman League football, lining up alongside his brother-in-law Ashley Jones at the heart of the Crawley Down defence.

The move was somewhat fraught, with the Anvils struggling after promotion, and with his father now first team manager at Piddinghoe Avenue, it wasn’t a great surprise when he made the return journey to Peacehaven.

There is little doubt that he would have returned to the higher level of football however, as, by all accounts, he had shown enough in his brief spell in the Ryman League to suggest that given time he would have adapted.

The rest of this season had proved somewhat frustrating, as he struggled with injury, but he had made his return to the first team last Saturday as a second half substitute against Worthing United, an appearance that now appears almost unbearably poingnant.

Away from football, Connor worked alongside a number of his team mates, and was a popular and enthusiastic participant in the club’s social activities.

He could be relied upon to fulfill whichever role was asked of him in the team and when ruled out by injury he was invariably there to offer support to the team.

Unfortunately this is not the first tragedy to affect Peacehaven but their marking of previous losses has been impeccable and I am sure that they will find a fitting way of paying tribute to Connor.