Published: 10:00, 12 June 2020
| Updated: 11:56, 12 June 2020
The last ever Kent League season was all about the goals.
The 2012/13 title went down to a final round of midweek games. Micky Collins’ Erith & Belvedere needed to win and better the result of title rivals VCD by five goals and they did just that.
Both teams had already been assured of promotion but Collins was itching for the main prize. In our latest Decade of Champions feature, the winning manager recalls that incredible finish in what was the last season before the Kent League was reinvented as the Southern Counties East Football League.
Collins would go on and win that too - but first things first.
Background to the season;
Collins had been a striker as a player, appearing for the likes of Dartford, and his first senior management role took him to Erith & Belvedere.
He had taken over a club that just wanted to be competitive. He had made them that and his side finished runners-up in the 2011/12 season behind Herne Bay. They might have won a trophy but fielded an ineligible player in the Kent Senior Trophy and were expelled before the final could be played.
Collins’ first season had seen them finish fifth. They were progressing nicely.
“It was a unit that I had built and that year they came out and hit the ground running,” Collins said.
“We had a way of playing at Welling (groundsharing Park View Road). There was a big slope and we had a certain way of playing first and second half, depending on which way we were kicking.
“We were set-piece orientated at times, we were direct and we just played a certain way to win the league.”
The captains and the camaraderie;
Former Spurs youngster John Wilfort was among Collins’ first signings at the club. They had been team-mates but the experienced campaigner picked up an injury in that third season.
Jamie Wood took the armband but it wasn’t just about the leaders on the pitch for Collins.
He said: “They were both true leaders but it was such a special team.
“We only trained once a week, on a Wednesday, we trained at the Harris Academy in Falconwood. Whoever was skipper would organise for us to bump off a little early every fortnight and we would go to the Harvester down the road for dinner. We did it religiously.
“It was such a tight-knit outfit. The players weren’t on much money, they were all just there for the right reasons.
“They bought into each other and there was a camaraderie between everyone, the players and the management, and that is how we did it.”
“Erith Town started off like a train,” Collins recalled.
They were managed by Tony Russell but he left for VCD in October of that year. His final game in charge of Erith had seen them take over at the top of the Kent League, ahead of Erith & Belvedere.
VCD were 10 points off the top and sitting fourth when Russell switched clubs but he took his team with him. Erith & Belvedere had a new team to challenge them.
Collins said: “They started this amazing run. They were absolutely flying, they narrowed the gap and were whacking everyone. They made it a brilliant finale."
Goals, goals, goals;
Erith & Belvedere scored over 100 goals that season - 113 from their 32 league games.
It was the highest goals per game ratio in the country.
“It was amazing, a phenomenal record but we literally only just won it,” Collins said.
Andy Constable was the man leading the line.
“He was incredible,” said the manager. “He was with me for two and a bit years, scoring something like 65 goals in 83 appearances.”
But he wasn’t the only one with goals in his locker.
Collins said: “I remember my forward line when we finished the season. On one wing I had Orlando Smith and then on the other I had Kieran McCann (who is now at Folkestone) and upfront I had a choice.
“I had Andy Constable, Adam Birchall (the one who is in Australia now), he scored a load of goals, Richmond Kissi and I also had Alex Waugh from Maidstone on loan. He chipped in with a few.
“It was an amazing side. We played basic 4-4-2 and we were really good. It was an incredible squad we had.
We had one game against Woodstock Sport that we won 8-5, it was mad, but if you were paying £5 to watch it was well worth the money. It was a fantastic season.”
“We thought we had blown it”;
Erith & Belvedere travelled to Lordswood on the final weekend of the season needing a win to keep their noses infront.
The game ended goalless. Orlando Smith hit the woodwork with a penalty and a 3-0 win for VCD against Corinthian left them top of the league, on goal difference.
“Orlando was distraught because we all thought it was gone,” Collins recalled.
“You are absolutely flattened, you think ‘that’s it, we’ve blown it, we’re dead.’ It was in their hands then and they were such a good side you wouldn’t expect them to do anything wrong.
“The only saving grace was that we knew two would go up, it was assured we were going up, but obviously you want to win the title.
“You come away thinking you have blown it but you have the rest of the weekend to think about it and then you formulate a plan and that’s what we did.”
The final game;
Erith & Belvedere were hosting Greenwich Borough and they knew they needed goals - and lots of them. VCD's final game was away at Lordswood.
The odds on them doing that lengthened when a major incident on the A2 meant players from both teams struggled to get to the game. At one stage Collins only had four players.
Their match was delayed 20 minutes but that would eventually work in their favour, knowing what was happening at Lordswood and what they would need to do.
“We had nothing to lose so we formulated a plan,” Collins said.
They went for it and Collins remembers the occasion well.
He said: “We pulled out loads of different tricks. We got the whole of the youth section to go around the pitch at Welling. They all had a ball each, so as soon as the ball went out, it was returned at pace.
“The pace and ferocity of the game was so fast and we wanted to wear Greenwich Borough out, incase we needed to get goals.
“We knew how VCD were doing against Lordswood and it gave us 20 minutes minimum to know whether we needed any more goals or if it was dead.
“We just needed to see how many we could stuck in the net and we did it.”
VCD missed a penalty at Lordswood and their game eventually ended goalless. Erith & Belvedere had taken some time to get going but had eventually roared into a seven goal lead. A wonder-goal from Greenwich made it 7-1 but with VCD’s match drawn, Erith & Belvedere could finally relax for the final 20 minutes.
Because the odds had been stacked against Collins’ side so much, the trophy had followed VCD to Lordswood but when their final game ended goalless, it was whisked back up the A2. Erith & Belvedere had done it.
Collin recalled: “There were four or five die hard fans at the end of the game who had let flares off, they couldn’t believe it.
“We then had to wait on the pitch for 25-30 minutes for the trophy before it was presented to us. It was incredible, an incredible way to win a league title. It was my first one so quite a nice thing and we knew we had got them promoted back to step four.
“I can’t remember what time I rolled in after winning the title but I woke up cuddling the league trophy!
“It was cab home at half 3, four in the morning I think. Even the chairman bought a drink that night, which was incredible, it’s the only one he ever bought! It was a great night for the club.”
One final game;
It didn’t quite end there for Collins and his team. They had a Kent League Cup final to play against Corinthian.
“We went 1-0 down and we were playing terribly,” Collins recalled.
“I went absolutely mad at half-time, saying ‘you know what, you have a chance of a league and cup double, which is very unheard of at any level, you need to pull your finger out’.
“They didn’t let me down. They went out and annihilated them second half and we went and won that 4-1. They were a great side.”
It turned out to be Collins’ last game in charge of the club. They had won promotion to Division 1 North of the Isthmian League.
Explaining his decision to quit, Collins said: “They just didn’t support us enough for me, for what we wanted to do in the next league up. I left, most of my players left and they got absolutely destroyed the following season and got relegated.
“It was a shame to leave, that I never saw it through to the next level, but I am still great mates with the chairman and family and people at the club. I think I left with the highest win ratio of any manager in their history, 67.4%.”
It wasn’t to be Collins’ only title triumph. Five years later he did it again. Next week it’s part two of Collins’ very own Decade of Champions as we look at his title win with Sevenoaks Town in 2017/18.
Read more from the Decade of Champions series;