Published: 10:00, 11 March 2021
| Updated: 10:27, 11 March 2021
Sheppey United will be playing on a 3G pitch next season and chairman Matthew Smith has thanked the Batten family for making it possible.
The Southern Counties East side are expecting work to start on their main pitch at their Holm Park ground in the coming days, replacing the existing grass with a synthetic surface, having been granted planning permission by the council. It's hoped work will be completed by the end of July, in time for the 2021/22 season.
Ernie Batten, the first team manager and club director, has financed the initial expense and the club hope to be able to recoup that money with a pitch that can be utilised on a regular basis. It’s a method that has worked well for the likes of Maidstone United and Chatham Town in recent years.
Mr Smith said: “I cannot thank Swale Borough Council enough for granting this planning permission and enabling the club to progress and become a more integral part of the Sheppey community.
“It would be remiss of me to leave out the Batten family, who without their financial backing and support none of the development works planned would be possible. I have already run out of plaudits for Ernie’s (Batten) managerial success over the past six years but now I must thank him and his wife Liz (Batten) for funding this new facility.”
The cost of installing the new pitch is expected to be around £500,000 and could last around 10 years.
“It’s an unbelievable amount of money in these dire financial times,” the chairman continued.
“This is not the first time the Batten family have pulled out all the stops to make Holm Park the wonderful facility you see today, so on behalf of the entire football club and Sheppey community I thank them.
“To have an all weather 3G playing surface unlocks so much potential for us all at the club.”
Mr Smith also says he will be upgrading the floodlighting to enable more energy efficient LED lighting to be installed, further increasing the revenue generated from the facility.
He said: “As a club we are always looking at how we can improve our links with the community and in conjunction with Russell Fairman from Swale Borough Council (Community (Sport & Physical Activity) Officer) we will work to improve these links and how Holm Park can be used further not just by footballers.
“I cannot wait for it all to get started now and we have a current planned completion date of the end of July however we shall review this as the project progresses.”
The Southern Counties East season is expected to restart this summer after the last two season were declared null and void.
The Ites have invested heavily in their first team squad with hopes of continuing their rise up the non-league pyramid. The Covid crisis has meant they haven't kicked a ball since the end of October but Mr Smith has ensured players have not been out of pocket.
Assistant boss Marcel Nimani says the project will “transform the day to day running of the club, as well as the future destination of this club, in the years to come.”
The coach added: “From the coaching perspective, this will have a direct impact on the quality of our training and match preparation. This will help us maintain those high standards that we set in pre-season, and maintain them throughout, particularly during the winter period, where we often struggled for venues.
“Having the training facilities at the ground will tie in well with our sports science program. This means that we can incorporate the ‘match analyses’ in the clubhouse with tactical session on our home pitch. Simply put, this project will give us the edge during the winter period over many competitors clubs in our league and it will add another star to our already professionalised set up.
“As the assistant manager, along with Ernie we always have an eye out for the local talent and we both take personal pride in promoting youth players into the first team. This system will now became much smoother.
“Lastly and more of a personal project, it is an ambition of mine to form a cohesive-spine amongst all coaches at our club from the under-8s all the way up to the first team. I have a tremendous amount of respect and confidence in the work of Gary Seamark (youth chairman) and all his youth team managers. Supporting our youth set up with better training facilities will create us regular players for the first team, and having local players represent the club really helps build that strong bond with fans, who are the heartbeat of this club
“This set up really shows the ambition and commitment of Ernie and Matt to the club and local community and from a personal perspective, it is great to be part of it. A great learning curve for me.”
Youth chairman Mr Seamark said: “In the last three seasons the youth section of Sheppey United has grown tremendously from three teams to eight, ranging from under-9s to under-18s and have established themselves as a competitive club in the Medway Messenger League and the Kent Youth League.
“With the exciting news that the Total Power Stadium will see a new state of the art 3G playing surface installed this summer this will see exciting times ahead for our young players who will all train on the same pitch that many of them see the senior players, play on each week in normal times out-of lockdown.
“This news will allow the youth section to continue to grow with the ambition of producing local players capable of representing the senior side.
“Our Kent Youth League teams u13s and above will also play all their home matches in the main stadium which is a fantastic opportunity for any aspiring young players to play in and to also be a part of an aspiring club that is in the community for the local community.”
The club recently announced the appointment of former Gillingham professional Ryan Huckle to the youth structure. He will be helping to coach the under-16s. Huckle, who spent six years at Gillingham, plays as a defender and the 21-year-old has most recently been playing at Isthmian League Hastings United.