Published: 11:00, 01 May 2020
| Updated: 13:28, 01 May 2020
Neil Cugley admits he prefers to look forward rather than back but there was no forgetting the season Folkestone Invicta stormed to the Isthmian League Division 1 South title.
It takes something special to win a league title. We're looking back at some of the Kent sides who have managed it in the last decade and the man who guided Folkestone to that 2015/16 success guides us through the highs and the lows and the men who made it happen.
THE BACKGROUND TO THE SEASON;
Folkestone had made it to the play-offs in each of the previous four seasons, letting themselves down in the final to Merstham in 2014/15, losing 3-0 at home. A year before they had also reached the final, missing out on a place in the Ryman League Premier Division after suffering a shoot-out defeat to Leatherhead.
The club were on a sounder financial footing, putting distance between themselves and their money troubles. Manager Neil Cugley, who had been in charge since 1997, had joined the board as a director, awarding himself a 15% pay cut so he could add a little extra into the team, admitting, however, it wasn’t a lot more!
He said: “It was a very proud time, even the few years before, we had built the crowds up, but we did wonder would we ever do it?”
The squad was already in good shape, with their key men committing for another season and they were boosted by the arrival of giant striker Harry Smith, joining for £500 from Sittingbourne.
THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON;
Folkestone put the disappointment of a play-off final defeat to Merstham behind them and there was certainly no sign of a hangover.
They didn’t lose a league game until late September, to go top of the pile, and they stayed there for the duration.
“We just kept going and we didn’t make a big thing of it at any time, not until near the end really,” Cugley said.
WAS THERE A KEY INGREDIENT?
“We never had any pressure on the team,” said the manager, who had witnessed the club's last title win, half a century earlier, in their previous guise as Folkestone Town.
“It is something to be proud of,” he said. “As a manager you are always moving onto the next season so quickly you don’t look back too much.
“We just took that pressure away from the team completely and just told them to go out and enjoy it. We never said at the start of the season we would win the league, it wasn’t like that. We wanted to enjoy it and see how we did.
"There were a lot of lads who had been at the club a long time. I have never been one to change it around much.
"Liam Friend had the loudest mouth - other than Carl Rook - so we made him captain. There was Frankie Chappell, Nat Blanks, Josh Vincent (JV) and the goalkeeper Tim Roberts. They had all been there for several years prior, the same as Michael Everitt.
"It made it so easy with good people around the club. We had done well with the same team two years before and it was just moving on from that really."
WHAT ABOUT THE RIVALS?
“I was a big friend with the Burgess Hill manager," Cugley said. "We used to have some ding-dong games but they had gone up the year before.
“We had the same kind of wage bill, the same ability, and we were always testing each other out in a nice way.
"They won it on 109 points and it was nice we won it with more points!"
Invicta would finish the season with 114 points - 24 more than second placed Dorking.
“We blew it away,” Cugley said. “It was weird, even when we didn’t play that well we just ground out results. The other teams would draw and we would just carry on plugging away and winning.
"To win it by so much was just amazing really.”
THE MAIN MEN AT THE BACK;
“It was a very good all-round team with Liam Friend and Frankie Chappell centre-backs and they were outstanding that season. We blitzed the least goals against, with 34 in total." The next best (Faversham Town) was 45.
"That does make a massive difference to have conceded less than a goal a game and although we are an attack minded side, I have to give a lot of credit to the defence."
WHO WERE THE UNSUNG HEROES IN THE TEAM?
Right back was Josh Vincent and left-back Nat Blanks. The two centre-halves got a lot of credit and they got picked for the Isthmian League team-of-the-year at the end of season but the two full backs were unsung heroes.
THE LEADING SCORER?
Ian Draycott finished the season with 37 goals, taking the league's Golden Boot. He had led the charts the season before too, after hitting 34.
“He was on fire obviously,” said Cugley. “He was getting some great goals and is still with us, playing more in midfield now. He is a good lad and some of his goals came out of nothing. You have to give a lot of credit for that. He got around 40 goals, which is a hell of a lot.”
WAS THERE EVER A WOBBLE?
“I don’t think we ever lost two games in a row,” Cugley said.
“We had lost to Faversham at home in October and then drew to Ramsgate in a midweek game but then went onto win the next four. If we lost a game we would talk about it.
"Edgy (Roland Edge), my assistant, was very good at saying 'this is what we did wrong, let’s put that right.' That has continued at the club to this day, we have got this thing where we don’t tend to go on a bad run of results.
WAS THERE A STAND-OUT GAME?
Folkestone clinched the title on home soil, infront of a crowd of 1,545, beating Walton & Hersham 6-0 in a game on Good Friday.
“We scored some good goals on a lovely pitch,” Cugley recalled.
“It is great to have been manager of your local club and twice we had nearly gone up. We had completely blown the league away and it was good to have won the title infront of lots of people."
Three days later, the manager’s mum passed away. Folkestone played away to Herne Bay on the Monday and won again.
Cugley said. “I was late for the game (against Herne Bay), she hadn’t been well and she died that night after the game but I had taken the trophy. It had been a strange weekend as I had been high as anything on the Friday.
"I remember taking it to show my mum, laying it against her. I am not sure what she made of the trophy, she might have thought it was a European Cup!"
Folkestone won all of their remaining games.
DO YOU HAVE A MEMENTO?
Cugley said: “They gave suits out for manager-of-the-month and I won about five or six so I’ve got a wardrobe full, I love it!
"I like to wear a suit to a game and I might as well use them. I was picking up suits for this and that, I still have them and I still wear them.”
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE?
Cugley said: “To see how much we won it by is quite amazing really. It is a hell of an achievement and it is great that we managed to go up and stay up. We had a tough first year and didn’t realise what a jump it was and we managed to stay up on the last game of the season.
“Since then, we have done well in the league. We were going well this year (third in the table before the league was declared null and void). It was a big turnaround for the club to go up from that league. We are pleased with what we have done since then.”
More by this authorLuke Cawdell