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Tonbridge Angels manager Jay Saunders wasn't about to release Sonny Miles again

New Tonbridge boss Jay Saunders had no intention of letting Sonny Miles go for a second time.

Saunders released Miles seven years ago at former club Maidstone after winning the Isthmian Premier title.

Tonbridge Angels skipper Sonny Miles Picture: David Couldridge
Tonbridge Angels skipper Sonny Miles Picture: David Couldridge

The big defender had lost his place towards the end of the season and Saunders decided against keeping him on in National South.

So he returned to Tonbridge after only a year at the Gallagher and has barely missed a game since, playing a key role in Angels' 2019 promotion under Steve McKimm and excelling at the next level.

Angels had the sixth best defence in National South this season, despite finishing 16th, thanks in no small part to skipper Miles.

The 31-year-old, voted supporters' player-of-the-year, signed a new deal this week, rejecting the advances of other clubs to stay and add to his 478 Tonbridge appearances.

"I rang Sonny and said you’ve probably seen I’ve got the job," said Saunders.

“He sounded a little bit cautious at first but he’s a good lad and I didn’t want to lose him.

“To be fair, we’ve always stayed in touch, whenever we saw each other we’d shake hands and have a good chat.

“It was a long time ago, he was a lot younger then and when I let him go I didn’t think he was ready for what I needed at that point.

“He was disappointed at the time but he understood. When I rang him I told him I wanted to keep him around.

“He had a couple of offers but I’m really pleased to keep him on board.

“He’s the skipper, he’s nearly the record appearance holder and he’s well-liked, so it was important we kept him."

Saunders has strengthened the backline with the addition of centre-half Ben Swift, his captain at Margate.

Ben Swift has joined Tonbridge from Margate Picture: Andy Jones
Ben Swift has joined Tonbridge from Margate Picture: Andy Jones

He's also struck new deals with Craig Braham-Barrett and Tom Parkinson and is hoping to hold on to keeper Jonny Henly and full-back Jamie Fielding.

Swift, 25, had already left Margate to pursue higher-level football while Saunders was still in charge at Hartsdown Park.

Saunders made contact after landing the Tonbridge job and a deal was soon struck for the former Maidstone and Aston Villa youngster, who spent five years with Isthmian Premier Gate.

“Swifty’s been with me a long time,” said Saunders.

“He wasn’t going to re-sign at Margate this season just finished and I said do one more year and then if the opportunity to play higher is there and I can help you, I will do.

"To be fair, there were a lot of Conference South clubs interested in him and I said go and meet them, he’s played for me for a few years and sometimes it’s good to hear a different voice.

"He did that, he spoke to them, but then when I got the Tonbridge job I said the opportunity is here if you want it, we met and it was done in five minutes.”

Saunders has retained the experience of midfielder Doug Loft, a player he signed for Margate last summer before Tonbridge stepped in days later, and he’s delighted to keep long-serving winger Joe Turner.

“Joe’s a big player and someone I’ve always liked,” said Saunders.

“Apparently he’s always one of the last players to sign so I was really pleased to get that done.

“He didn’t know me or anything about me before we met, he was half-thinking about a change of scenery but we had a really good chat and he put pen to paper straight away, which is great.”

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