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A Decade of Champions: Looking back at the 2011/12 Kent League season when Simon Halsey's Herne Bay clinched the title

Herne Bay overcame the heartache of losing the title on goal difference the year before and a mid-season budget cut before landing the Kent League prize in 2012.

Our Decade of Champions feature celebrates those teams in Kent who finished top of the pile. The manager who guided them to the title, Simon Halsey, recalls the highs and lows.

Herne Bay 's title winning manager Simon Halsey (33753479)
Herne Bay 's title winning manager Simon Halsey (33753479)

The Team: Herne Bay

The Season: 2011/12

The League: Kent League

The Manager: Simon Halsey

BACKGROUND TO THE SEASON;

Herne Bay had twice gone close to the title under manager Simon Halsey, none more so than the previous season which had seen them lose out to Hythe Town on goal difference.

Scott Porter's Hythe team secured a late draw at Tunbridge Wells which had handed them the 2010/11 title.

In the year before that Halsey's men had finished runners-up to Faversham Town. They were determined to make it third time lucky.

Halsey said: "I didn’t go in with a big budget and win it in one season, it was a building process."

The boss, who had previously been assistant to Marc Seager when Whitstable won the Kent League title in 2007, joined Herne Bay as assistant coach working with then manager Barry Morgan, before taking over as manager ahead of the 2009/10 season.

HOW DID THE SEASON START?

Darren Marsden turned on the style to help Herne Bay get off to a good start Picture: Chris Davey
Darren Marsden turned on the style to help Herne Bay get off to a good start Picture: Chris Davey

"We didn’t play great on the first game," Halsey recalled. "We were away to Beckenham, but we won 4-2 which was no mean feat. I might be getting old now but I remember Darren Marsden, an exceptional player at that level and the level above, and watching him do things with his feet that day against a very good Beckenham side that were obscene.

"He scored some outstanding goals. Marso was completely unplayable and it got us off to a good start. We got our noses infront early doors."

ANY HICCUPS ALONG THE WAY?

The club had their budget cut at Christmas but Marsden was the only one to leave.

Halsey said: "The rest stayed. They weren’t on the money some of these boys are on now.

"We took a cut but the money would only pay for a pint after the game really.

"Everyone thought we would fall apart but it wasn’t abut the money, we had finished runners-up twice and we had unfinished business. They weren’t jumping ship."

WHO WAS THE CAPTAIN?

Luke Harvey in action during Herne Bay's 2-1 FA Vase win at Shortwood Picture: Tony Day
Luke Harvey in action during Herne Bay's 2-1 FA Vase win at Shortwood Picture: Tony Day

"Luke Harvey was the skipper. He had been there many years, he was a club stalwart, he was the leader of the players in the changing room when I got there, he had a presence and we just wanted to keep him at it.

"We are still working together now and he has always been a good person to work alongside.

"We had others. Tom Bryant, James Campbell, Toby Ashmore, numerous players who could have led that team, they all did. Luke had injuries and missed a few games being out of form but we had others who could step in."

WAS THERE A STAR MAN?

Winger Rhys Lawson in action for Herne Bay Picture: Tony Day
Winger Rhys Lawson in action for Herne Bay Picture: Tony Day

Halsey said: "With the way we played, once we could get Darren Marsden isolated on his own, give him the ball, he could do things that were ridiculous.

"Rhys Lawson for me is one of the best wingers that I have ever come across. If I could roll back the years and have Rhys Lawson and Tom Chapman, who is at Ramsgate now, if you could have those two wide either side, they would be an unbelievable force.

"But they all had their spells. Byron Walker came in and was superb along with goalkeeper Dan Eason. If he was another two inches taller he would have made the Football League, without a shadow of a doubt."

ANY UNSUNG HEROES?

"We had a few of them," Halsey said.

"Defender Tom Parker was one of them. He won the league when I was at Whitstable and he did it again for me at Herne Bay.

"That was no mean feat but he was one that never really grabbed the limelight. He didn’t play every game but he did everything you would ask of him, he trained well and they all had their own part to play."

KEY GAMES THAT STAND OUT?

Action from Herne Bay's 2-1 FA Vase semi-final second leg defeat at West Auckland Picture: Robert Smith
Action from Herne Bay's 2-1 FA Vase semi-final second leg defeat at West Auckland Picture: Robert Smith

"After the budget cut we went up to Fisher and won by three or four. The precedent had been set and the boys wouldn’t fold and die.

"We had a job to do, it wasn’t really about money. It was a defining moment to have gone there and still done the business.

"We had two years of finishing runners-up and we needed to win it. Fair play to them for sticking around. It proved that the solidarity wasn’t about the financial side of it.

There was another key game that stands out.

"We also played West Auckland, one of the favourites for the FA Vase trophy, in the semi-final. It was an unbelievable experience at this level of football and there were 2,400 at Winch’s Field.

"We had gone 2-0 down at home, managed to get back to 2-2 and should have won it 3-2. We went up there, took the lead, but they had a bit more about them and unfortunately we didn’t make it to Wembley.

"The players stayed up the night, got back late Sunday, back to work Monday and we went away to Tunbridge Wells on a wet Tuesday. We won 2-0. Another defining moment."

WHAT WAS KEY TO SUCCESS?

Herne Bay's match with Sevenoaks at Winch's Field in November 2011 Picture: Chris Davey
Herne Bay's match with Sevenoaks at Winch's Field in November 2011 Picture: Chris Davey

"When that door shut in the home changing room, it was a place where if you were there, you knew, and if you didn’t you would never know.

"It was ridiculous in there. That unity that we had, before the game, Tuesday nights, Thursday nights training, was 100% key.

"I had some very, very talented players, without a doubt, but we were involved together in everything we did.

"It has been pretty much the same at Hollands & Blair this season, where the changing room has been different class and that has got us some of the wins this year.

"One of my team-talks would be that sometimes you will not get one chance to be in a final or a championship winning team. Grab it while you can and make the most of it. Fortunately we had quite a few finals and bits and bobs. It was an enjoyable time."

WAS THERE EVER A WOBBLE?

Action from Herne Bay's match against VCD in January 2012 Picture: Tony Day
Action from Herne Bay's match against VCD in January 2012 Picture: Tony Day

"We had a spell near the end. We didn’t win in four games, we had a few draws and a defeat to VCD. We just couldn’t get ourselves over the line.

"Corinthian was one of them, we drew there and that got a point, not enough to completely outright win it, we still needed a point.

"We had a little wobble but got over it. We stuck to our principles, we never changed them.

"It was the first year over the three that we probably hadn’t played as much football as we had done in the last two. We had to play football and other times a bit direct."

WHO WERE THE RIVALS?

"Erith & Belvedere were up there with us but we only lost four games that year.

"Micky Collins was there at the time. VCD were a very good side and knocked us out of the two-legged semi-final of the Macron Cup, just prior to the Vase semi-final. I had changed the team up a bit because the Vase and the League was more important.

"Byron got sent off in that game against VCD unfortunately and I lost him in the Vase."

WHERE DID YOU GET THE TITLE WRAPPED UP?

Herne Bay in action against Erith Town in the Kent League at Winch's Field Picture: Chris Davey
Herne Bay in action against Erith Town in the Kent League at Winch's Field Picture: Chris Davey

"We could have been caught if we had lost every game following the draw to Corinthian but we went away to play Greenwich Borough, who were playing at Holmesdale. We got the result were needed.

"We went wild afterwards, went out and enjoyed the day. It wasn’t packed at Holmesdale but the rest is history. Job done.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS?

"A few of my senior players left, went to pastures new, for one reason or another and it was a bit of a rebuild again. It wasn’t the best preparation to take into the Ryman League.

"I got the tin-tack after all that effort. My biggest learning curve came as I didn't deal with a few things in the right manner as a manager, I should have dealt with it better, I have learned from it.

"It was disappointing to leave, losing my job there hurt massively."

Halsey wasn't out of the game long but said: "I should have listened to people and had a bit of time out. Lordswood wanted me and I jumped straight in.

Simon Halsey with his former captain Luke Harvey, now assistant at Hollands & Blair Picture: Steve Crispe
Simon Halsey with his former captain Luke Harvey, now assistant at Hollands & Blair Picture: Steve Crispe

"I should have sat some time out."

Halsey had a joint management spell at Fisher, then sat it out for a while, and was going to go to Bredhurst Juniors, "to go and enjoy it" but the phone call came from Ramsgate and he was heading back down to the east of the county.

"It was too good to turn down and a great experience," Halsey said. "We stayed up and I did my job." The club didn't keep him on though, as expected, and he returned to Whitstable, this time as manager but that didn’t turn out as he had hoped.

A spell with Paul Piggott at Chatham was followed by a year and a half out.

"I was re-energised and I am thoroughly enjoying my time now with Hollands & Blair," he said.

"The place is lively before and after, attendances are up and it has been a very enjoyable time there."

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