French Finale - 7 April
Longlevens manager James French is hoping to end his decade long tenure with a win against Ardley United tomorrow.Taking over the Levens with the club in the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League, French takes pride in the progress the club has made under his leadership.
"I've had a fantastic tenure - not only 10 years as manager but four or five seasons before that as a player as well," said French."It's been a great club and it's a great place to get involved with your football. I've made a lot of great friends there and the team have gone from strength to strength. There's been a lot of backing off the pitch which has helped my cause on it. Going from whenever I took over from ninth place in the Gloucestershire North Senior League, to an established Hellenic League club now with FA Cup and FA Vase as well under our belt this season, it's been fantastic."
Longlevens sit 12th in the league, and French believes the season as a whole has been a successful one, but minor changes will need to be made if they want to challenge at the top next season. "It's been a great season in terms of being our first one in the FA Cup," added French. "We've had a few injury and availability issues which we are looking to make better next season if we want to push towards the top of the league. We are under no illusions that we are punching well above our weight at the minute as a club. We are playing against some big teams with big budgets and we will just keep trying to do the best we can."
Ardley sit fifth in the table, and had gone five unbeaten in all competitions before a 2-0 defeat to Lydney Town in the Blufin Sport Floodlit Cup semi-final on Tuesday evening. French is aware that Ardley will want to finish their season on a high. "They've been in great form from the start of the year. I think if you took it from January, they are in the top two or three teams in the league." he said. "They've been on a terrific run and beat Bracknell fairly recently, and they are obviously top of the league. They've got into a cup semi-final, but they had a disappointing night at Lydney on Tuesday, so they'll be trying to finish the league in style, and we know it'll be a tough game."
French To Step Down - 24 March
James French has left an indelible mark on Longlevens Association Football Club, but after a decade of progress he has decided to step down at the end of this season.
During his reign, the club have risen from the Northern Senior League to the Premier Division of the Uhlsport Hellenic League, writes Jon Palmer in the Gloucestershire Echo.They have also taken part in the FA Cup and FA Vase for the first time and improved on their league position during every campaign since French took over. He initially joined as a player before succeeding Keith Hardcastle as manager at the age of 27.
Longlevens were soon promoted to the Gloucestershire County League for the first time, finishing ninth in 2011/12. They then won three successive titles, earning two promotions and a place in step five of the non-league pyramid for the 2015/16 season. They won their first ever FA Cup tie earlier this term, defeating Bedfont and Feltham 4-2 at Sawmills to earn a trip to Jamie Cureton's Farnborough in the preliminary round. French had been with Cureton at Bristol Rovers as a youngster.
Several players have been with French throughout their rise, including the man who will replace him as manager: Mark Moore (pictured right). Striker Moore collapsed during a league cup match at Southmead in August 2012, suffering a cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated by a group of paramedics, who happened to be playing on a nearby pitch. French said the incident, along with Moore's recovery, inspired the club to go on to win the County League title that season.
"I think that season stands out for me in terms of the club's achievements because we were second bottom of the table and had lost four out of eight games before the Mark Moore incident," he said. "After it happened, all the lads pulled together and we went something like 30 or 40 games unbeaten, coming from nowhere to win the league ahead of local rivals Tuffley Rovers."
Longlevens stormed to the title again the following season, along with the Les James Cup, this time stepping up to Hellenic League Division One West, which they won at the first time of asking. They have three games remaining this season, starting at Bracknell Town on Saturday, which will be French's final away game as boss.
"I have decided to step down due to things becoming more hectic and work, but mainly due to my family," he said. "I have two young daughters and there is a lot of travelling in the Hellenic Premier, which means I don't get to spend much time with them. I have known in the back of my mind for a while that this would be my final season and we are promoting within from Mark, so the club will be in good hands. He is in good health now and is a very close friend, who I know will keep the core of players we have, but also bring in some fresh faces to help out too."
Along with French and Moore, skipper Craig Martin, Ryan Dunn, Dave Merrick and Ed Smylie are among those to have remained at the club throughout the past decade. "We have also brought through Brad Martin, who made his debut as a left-back in the Northern Senior League at the age of 16," French said. "He started playing up front and the rest is history, he has earned the right to play in the Southern League with Slimbridge and gone from strength to strength. Because we have been steadily improving, many of the lads have stayed loyal, which is pleasing considering we don't pay any wages. We are up against clubs that have a weekly wage bill of £1,500 and we have shown we can still compete."
So what does the future hold for Longlevens after French? He says the club remain ambitious to progress as far as they can and he will still be involved in some capacity. "I might sign on and have a game for the thirds or fourths," he said. "But I will remain in close contact with Mark and the chairman (Chris Bishop). The club has limited facilities and needs a sponsor or backer so we will be looking at potential grants because we need a clubhouse. I won't back away completely as I have a lot of friends at the club and I will do bits as and when I can to help out."
Lifesaving Gesture - 9 December
Longlevens AFC manager James French said that the club have been "really happy" with the response that they've received following their decision to give away two defibrillators to other local clubs.
The Uhlsport Hellenic League Premier Division team's initial aim was just to buy themselves one after former player Mark Moore suffered a cardiac arrest whilst playing back in August 2012 and was saved by a group of paramedics who happened to be near by. But after such a strong reaction from those inside the club, enough money was raised for three defibrillators so Longlevens made the decision to run a series of Twitter polls to see who should get the other two.
"We realised the importance of them after what happened to Mark," said French in the Gloucester Echo. "They give you a massive chance of surviving so we wanted to buy ourselves one, but after such a great reaction from everybody in the club we've got more than we need and we're going to give them away. The three finalists (Hucclecote, Brockworth and Stonehouse) from the Twitter polls are all very well supported clubs, you can see that from the hundreds of votes that they got. Unfortunately one of them misses out, but we're just happy that two more clubs get to have one."
Spiced Up! - 2 December
Longlevens manager James French admitted that the weather's been so cold this week that his side have been bonding at Nandos instead of on the training pitch.
The Uhlsport Hellenic Premier Division side had no option but to abandon their planned training session after it was deemed the Astroturf they were going to do it on was unsafe because it was frozen over. "The weather's been causing a bit of havoc because we had to cancel training, so we went to Nandos instead and had a good team bonding session which was really nice," French said in the Gloucester Echo.
They take on fifth placed Highworth Town this weekend, who go into the game having won their last four league matches, and French claimed: "It'll be a very tough test for us because they've got aspirations of winning the league. They've got a big budget and they didn't start brilliantly but they've really come into some good form now."
The Longlevens boss did also admit that this month is likely to pose a difficult spell for his side due to selection issues, as he said: "It's another case of players being away this weekend, and it'll be like that for the whole of December I think. A lot of the lads have family and work commitments, but to be fair we've played some of our best stuff this season when we've been depleted so we'll see how it goes."
Longlevens have actually only lost two of their eight away games so far this season, winning an impressive five as they've produced their finest form on the road. "We've made an improvement to our pitch, which means that teams are turning up and playing well and we haven't quite adapted to it yet," French explained. "Away from home we can play to the underdog tag, and we seem to be at our best when we sit back a little bit and break with pace on the counter attack, which is why we're doing so well away from home."
International Opposition? - 18 November
Longlevens boss James French (pictured) hopes former England international Luther Blissett will be in the opposition dugout when Leven’s take on bottom side Burnham tomorrow.
Burnham’s manager Gifton Noel-Williams departed earlier this month,though the “Blues” have no current plans to appoint a new manager, instead the team will be run by the club's director of football, Luther Blissett, and the rest of his coaching staff.
"Obviously they've had a stop-start season, but they've won three out of their last four in the league," French said in the Gloucestershire Echo.
Longlevens currently sit 11th in the table following an inconsistent start to the season that has been plagued by injuries, and French wasn't convinced things have cleared up on that front just yet. He said: "We'll be missing a few again this weekend. We're quite depleted at the moment, especially with Shaun O'Connor now off to Australia. Him and Brad Martin have scored a lot of goals for us this season, they were a good strike partnership and we'll miss his goals. Our captain Craig Martin (below) will miss the game through suspension, but the good news is that Ed Smyllie will be back in defence. A few are getting really close to fitness now though, but it's been a tough month."
French's side went down 3-1 at Lydney in the week following on from an impressive win at Highmoor just a few days earlier, but he wasn't too disheartened by the team's showing. "We were missing eight players, but it was still a decent performance," he said. "We just lacked that little bit of quality and fitness against Lydney, and they made us pay for it."
Pre Season Preview - 10 July
After three weeks of pre season training the real action begins this week for Longlevens AFC with pre season matches commencing on Thursday 14 July with the visit of Southern League South and West side Slimbridge AFC.
The team then travel to Tytherington Rocks followed by games against Western league sides Hallen and Cribbs and a home game against Southern Premier Cirencester Town FC.
After a mid table finish last season in the Uhlsprt Hellenic Premier Division manager James French is delighted to announce that all of last seasons squad have put pen to paper and agreed to stay at the club for the 2016/17 season despite interest from other local clubs higher on the football pyramid.
The club is also delighted to have received a home draw for the Extra Preliminary round of the FA Cup. The game against Combined Counties side Bedfont & Feltham will be a proud day for the club as only five seasons ago they were playing step 8 football in the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League. However with the drive of the committee members, players, supporters, volunteers and club sponsors we have achieved our highest ever level on the football pyramid and are excited about what the future holds for our little club!
Full pre season schedule:
Thu 14 July - Slimbridge AFC (H)
Tue 19 July - Tytherington Rocks (A)
Fri 22 July - Hallen (H)
Tue 26 July - Cirencester Town (H)
Fri 29 July - Cribbs (A)
Entry to all home pre season games is Adults £3, Concessions £2 and Under 16s FREE.
Longlevens Surprised UHL Premier Division! - 24 June
After a 3 season run conquering all before them and winning 3 league titles in succession Longlevens first team were promoted in May 2015 and took their place amongst the "pyramid” Level 5 elite clubs of the Hellenic Premier League. A massive achievement for a Club coming from "grass roots” but with ambition and drive.
An excellent pre-season training and friendlies schedule ended with some notable wins against the likes of Gloucester City and Cinderford although not their strongest team(s) fielded, post-match opposition claims abounded at the Saw Mills!
Experienced UHL managers turned pre-season pundits forecast that Longlevens would be the "team to keep an eye on” or "will be the surprise UHL team of the season”. The surprise element was to prove a trump card in the first half of the season League proper.
An historic first ever match at Level 5 at home against an experienced and aggressive; former UHL runners up Highmoor IBIS ended in a narrow and unlucky 0-1 defeat with their substitute snatching a late win.
This was followed by a Longlevens away win 2-0 first ever UHL win on a balmy August evening at Ardley’s sloping ground. Longlevens were up and running.
From here on the Longlevens boys feared no one and well drilled by manager James French their possession style football playing out from the back was surprising many an established UHL team.
A watershed moment came in the game against Binfield at home, whereby Longlevens had outplayed the Berkshire side but only were leading by one goal to nil but two late lapses of concentration including an awful back pass letting in Binfield for two late gift goals and thus a 1-2 defeat that should never have been. The team started to learn the phrase "fine margins” was the name of the game…..teams on the ropes should be finished off and concentration of holding on was needed right up to the final whistle.
However the first team squad had a solid togetherness of 16 players with a great keep ball possession style ethos; great camaraderie and 6-7 quality players who found and matched this level against teams who paid their players, and who one could call themselves "semi-pro” enjoying large budgets.
The UHL "big boys” so to speak were the Thatcham's; Kidlington's (eventual UHL Champions and FA Vase quarter finalists); Flackwell Heath's (season before League winners); Ascot but Longlevens put in some superb performances against these very well organised experienced sides. Often succumbing by the odd late goal but registering wins too notably 3-1 away to a high flying Ascot on their lovely ground backing onto the famous race course. 3-2 win at home to Flackwell Heath
Away from home Longlevens often rose to the occasion and coped with the pressure (and some strange refereeing!) and produced memorable wins at Brimscombe & Thrupp (2-0) ; Bracknell Town (1-0) ; Tuffley derby (2-1) ; Royal Wotten Bassett (1-0 but a sweet last second goal by Brad Martin ) but still the best was winning at Ascot where James French had to call upon the "kids” off the bench to see a brilliant performance out and supress a late Ascot rally lead by their disgruntled substitute who pulled a goal back and "put himself about physically”!
In the cups Longlevens played their first ever game in the FA Vase at Hartley Wintney a very strong team in deepest Hampshire border territory. Longlevens gave a very good account of themselves against a team who ran away with their own league and progressed well into further rounds of the Vase.
Other than capable wins at Cheltenham Sarencens, and home to Clanfield, Longlevens did little progress in the multitude of Hellenic cups. The home defeat to a vocal Bitton team was very disappointing with poor defending particularly heading ability handed the tie to the Bristol team in the GFA cup. With a magical and first FA Cup qualifying round to come next season one hope’s Longlevens show up in the Cups next season!?
The "back 5” defence had been the back bone of the team’s success so far in the season but match weariness and injury niggles started to take its toll as the long season wore on. Goals started being shipped in embarrassingly six at Lydney (beaten earlier in the season at home) and four in the awful second half at Thame. Right back became a problem position to fill and the excellent first choice goalkeeper wasn’t always available. Midfield was always strong and competitive but a few more goals will be needed to be contributed next season, we have one of the best strikers in the League but he lacked support at times. An over reliance on one attacking outlet was a problem towards the end of the season
The team, despite losing 3 good players to go off traveling abroad mid-season, rallied magnificently and for some weeks held the lofty position of 6th in the competitive UHL for a time and comments of "over achieving could be heard”. Then we slipped down to still a commendable 8th but late in the season despite good points accumulation, other teams then caught up with outstanding fixtures played as Oxford City Nomads notably bolstered by some higher level players came and overhauled us. Final 10th place was still commendable. During the season another big loss was the competitive midfielder Dave Rich who broke his leg; then made a comeback against Royal Wooten Bassett but aggravated the injury (he was red carded too!). A full return to fitness pre-season is forecast though for unlucky Dave.
However their first season at this level was superb and the boys and coaching/management team of James French; Tim Hall (multi-tasking Assistant!) and physio/coach Tony Dunn should be very proud of their work and season progress.
At the Supporters Presentation night the individual awards went to Brad Martin ; Jonty Welch (Most Improved Player); Mark Harris (stand in goalkeeper who had stood in bravely against Tuffley and other games post operation!). Ashley Baker club ambassador was awarded Supporter of the Year (not to mention pessimist of the year?!)
At the Club Presentation night the Manager’s awards deservedly went to again leading goal scorer Brad Martin and stalwart left sider Craig Beaton.
The main core squad over the season was Ollie Hall; Mark Harris Luke Kavanagh; Ed Smyllie ; Ellis Sausman; Jonty Welch; Brad Martin; Scott Montgomery; Craig Beaton; Rob Why; Dave Rich; Dave Merrick (thankfully returned late season); Courtney Hamilton; Ryan Dunn; Brad Vanstone; Adam Phillips; Jack Byard . The team was admirably captained by the versatile Craig "Spider” Martin.
Pre-season training commences 28th June and with a few squad additions of reliable and "pyramid” level 5 standard players, then, who knows Longlevens firsts "may do a Leicester?” next season. Cutting out the "fine margins” defeats more should be the theme too. The squad have the team spirit and ability to improve on 10th place next season 2016-17.
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