Worthing won't stand still! George's ambitious plans are taking shape

Worthing Football Club will not be standing still any time soon.

Worthing fans watch the FA Trophy tie with Sutton United. Picture: Stephen Goodger
Worthing fans watch the FA Trophy tie with Sutton United. Picture: Stephen Goodger

The club had a five-year goal of reaching National South when George Dowell took over as owner and chairman just under two years ago.

Promoted into the Ryman League Premier Division in Dowell’s first full year at the club, Worthing are now on the fringes of the play-off places and in contention for a second successive promotion.

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What if they achieve it? Is it job done? Dowell simply said: “No, we’ll come up with a new plan. When the day comes and we are in National South, we’ll make a plan to consolidate there and move on again. We don’t want to ever stand still and we’ll keep going up for as long as we can.

Worthing chairman George Dowell celebrates with joint-manager Gary Elphick after being promoted last season. Picture: Stephen Goodger

“The five-year plan was to get to National South and now we’re probably a year ahead of schedule. We weren’t expecting to go up last year, we were thinking of getting in and around the play-offs and seeing how we fared and then push for it this year.

“The aim is to still get into National South and then make a new plan from there.”

Worthing outlined a vision for the future at their Fans’ Forum earlier this month, which had three key points: to be a club Worthing can be proud of; being as professional off the pitch as they are on it and being regarded as a National League level club.

The club has come a long way since a meeting in November 2014, when the playing budget was halved – and later cut completely – with fears for their future.

Worthing chairman George Dowell celebrates with joint-manager Gary Elphick after being promoted last season. Picture: Stephen Goodger

Then manager Adam Hinshelwood kept a young squad together and now a lot of those players have played more than 100 games for the club. Attendances have also climbed to an average of 650 and Dowell said: “Hinsh was more instrumental before we took over by keeping the squad that we inherited together.

“Him and Jon (Meeney; now joint manager) kept the players here at Ryman South standard, playing for nothing, but that also meant they were getting an opportunity they wouldn’t have got elsewhere.

“Now four players recently played their 150th game for the club. It’s quite rare in non-league to have that kind of appearance tally.”

Worthing general manager Calvin Buckland added: “When the budget was cut to zero, it was Hinsh who kept them here because of the quality of his and Jon’s coaching, along with Hinsh’s enthusiasm to go somewhere.

“All the players really brought into it and, being honest, they probably all stayed here for Hinsh, not Worthing Football Club, but now they’ve all grown and appreciate the club as well.”

Dowell names the highlights of his time at the club as promotion last year and the Sussex Senior Cup semi-final win over Whitehawk last season. Reflecting on almost two years in charge, he said: “Jon and Gary (Elphick; joint manager) have done an excellent job and the past two years has got people talking about Worthing again. Not everyone, though. You still here people say they don’t know we’re here or don’t know what’s going on.

“But a lot more people are now talking about Worthing online and offline. If you go around town now, different people will be talking about coming down here, so we’re getting out there for the right reasons now. We’re more of a community club and have a lot of kids coming down.

“I can’t grumble at anything. I just hope it doesn’t burn out but I don’t think it will so long as we all want to push forward.

“We always have the next project or goal and the next thing to achieve.

“At the moment, we’re having a boardroom done and it will double up as a classroom for an educational programme at some point. Probably not this September but the year after. I’m really happy with how things are but I always want things to be better.”

On speculation linking Worthing players with other clubs, Dowell said: “We’ve just let it run. Nothing concrete has come of it but it’s great all these clubs are sending scouts down. We want the players to play at the highest level they can and haven’t worried about it.

“If someone comes in, we’ll cross that bridge when it comes. We’re just enjoying the players we’ve got at the moment.”

Are they looking to tie down players on longer contracts?

Dowell said: “I’m sure at this level a lot of them wouldn’t want to sign a two-year deal.

“A manager could go, they might have a really good season and can’t up their money. Things chop and change a lot at this level and two seasons is a long time to commit.”

Buckland added: “We’ve got to be realistic because if they are under contract and get an injury, like Ben Pope has, he still gets paid every week and we have to find someone to replace him. You also don’t want to stand in anyone’s way. Everyone is talking about Omar Bugiel at the moment. If he was on a longer-term deal, it could put a club off if they have to pay off a two-year contract.”

Looking ahead to the future, Dowell said: “I’m excited to see where we can go and how this season ends, that’s what I’m looking foward to. I don’t know if we’ll finish in the play-offs or not but it will be a good journey to find out and we’ll be better for it next season either way.”

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