LANCING Football Club has already exceeded everyone’s expectations so far this season, but their latest news of a Ryman League application shows just how high their sights are set at Culver Road.
The club have gone from strength-to-strength in the past few seasons, currently flying high in County League Division 1 in their first season back in the top flight, and Lancers believe the time is nearly right to step up to the next level.
Looking back five years, the club were on the brink of Division 3 football, riddled with relegation fights, but a turn in fortunes in recent years has seen Lancers now staring at the prospect of Ryman League football.
A return to Division 1 this season, saw them back in the top flight for the first time in 10 years, and, with many predicting a tough season, Lancers have surprised everyone, by currently sitting in third place.
Joint manager Martin Gander has been at the helm since 2007, and with Jason Rutherford joining to share the responsibility in 2010, the pair attracted some excellent players to Culver Road for their promotion-winning season, and have added yet more quality this year.
With facilities to match the football on show, the duo now feel the time is almost right for the next step and are relishing what is an exciting time for the Culver Road outfit.
Gander admitted they are in a position he “never even contemplated” and said: “Ever since I joined the club, I have said I always wanted them to improve and we have, even a top-six-or-seven finish this season would be the highest the club has achieved in 45 years, and as a club, with the ground we have available, we feel we are ready for Step 4.
“There is lots going on in the league at the moment with meetings discussing its future, but we feel we are ready to step up.”
The Lancers boss hailed a fine set-up behind the scenes, from the chairman and secretaries to the committee, that has allowed them to progress as they have.
He said: “When I took over from Sammy Donnelly, the club were in a real predicament and the work was being done on the ground. It was turmoil for a while.
“Where we are now, though, we have one of the best grounds in the County League, and the football needs to show that. I said before the season that we were ‘in it to win’ it this year and I got some ribbing for it, but that is how high we aim. You have to. Every year we have aimed to finish higher and we have.
“It’s a position I never even contemplated the club would be in. When you look at the ground improvements, the relationship we have with the Sussex FA, who have said they will be supportive, with Brighton & Hove Albion’s plans for Lancing, it will all be great for the football here, and we as a club need to be seen to moving forward.”
Last year’s Division 1 winners Crawley Down made the big step up into the Ryman League this season and, after a troubled start, where it looked like an immediate return to the County League was on the cards, an influx of players and spending has seen them stabilise and results have picked up.
That is something Gander is well aware of: “I am not blind or stupid. I know there is a massive difference in class between the County League and Ryman, but it has been the same from Division 2 into Division 1.
“Sometimes you have to be a little ruthless, some players have realised they aren’t going to get games and have moved on, and we’ve had to strengthen the side.
“The major drawback comes with finances. We are not in a position to make the jump at the moment. We get great crowds and supporters both away and at home – where we must be averaging around 100 a game.
“But’s it’s so important to have the support of local businesses, we have two fine sponsors in Leaneys and Gardner & Scardifield, but suddenly when you step up you need more of a budget and more help.”
Despite admitting without more help, the financial side is a burden at the moment, if they achieved a top-two finish to have the chance of going up, it maybe too tough to turn down the chance.
Gander said: “We can look at it two ways. To go for it with what we have, although even now our budget is lower than a lot of teams in this league, no one likes talking about money, but I know that for a fact, or we can stay put.
“If the lads said it’s what they wanted to do and wanted to give it a go, we could try and struggle, but it’s an experience maybe you can’t turn down. If we finish in the top two, and it’s a big if, then it would be wrong to deny the club, players and myself and Jason that chance.”
No matter what happens this season, it is clear that Lancing have ambitions to keep improving and have the Ryman League in their sights in the near future.