SWIFTS chairman Gary White says the club will continue to grow in exciting new ways next season after their bitter-sweet 2018-19 campaign.
A rollercoaster year for Heybridge saw a change of manager, early exits from cup competitions, and a charge up the Bostik North table to finish fifth. It ended – as things stand – with a memorable derby-day play-off win which will not lead to promotion.
But despite the disappointment of not taking a deserved place in the Bostik Premier, the club has a number of key new projects getting underway, including the installation of a new 3G pitch.
Fans can also look forward to the launch of the Swifts in the Community project, a new Academy side in association with Chelmsford College, and a new Development side overseen by former West Ham striker Lee Boylan.
And Gary, who took over as club chairman three years ago, believes the potential for expansion was generated by the club’s topsy-turvy season.
It started with the retention of a one of the strongest squads in the club’s history last summer after last season’s play-off semi-final defeat at Haringey. It was strengthened further with the arrival of the pacy Evans Kouassi, experienced George Craddock, and quality defender Joe Claridge.
Despite opening the season with two league wins, a disappointing run of results saw Jody Brown stand down as manager after a 2-1 Tuesday night defeat at then Bostik North leaders Basildon United on September 25.
Gary (pictured with manager Julian Dicks) said: “We started with two victories but then things started to go wrong and Jody had pretty much burned himself out after three highly-committed years at the club.
“And, after four league defeats and FA Cup exit at Horsham, Jody resigned on a hostile evening at Basildon and the search for a new manager began as clubs started moving in for our players.”
An FA Trophy exit at Ashford Town followed then the departures of first teamers like Ryan Henshaw, Luke Callender, Ahmed Abdulla, James Baker, Danny Sambridge, Sam Bantick and Joe Gardner.
Gary and the board were left with a major rebuilding job on and off the pitch and set about looking for candidates to lead the club forward.
Gary said: “We quickly drew up a shortlist of managers and interviewed three for the role, who were all of an extremely high calibre.
“We appointed Julian on October 4th – just in time for training on the Thursday night before a game away at Mildenhall!
“I remember introducing Julian to Karl Duguid at training that night – two guys who were legends in their playing days at their respective clubs West Ham and Colchester United.
“Between them they had amassed over 1,000 professional appearances and worked under some great coaches.
“Being great players does not necessarily mean anyone will become great managers and coaches – but these two have created a partnership which has become one of the best in non-league management.
“Karl joined us at the start of the season as assistant to Jody and we were so pleased when he decided to stay and work with Julian and create a formidable partnership who have, in turn, created a superb squad.”
The new management duo lost only one of their first 16 games together, an away defeat at Great Wakering, and oversaw the only side to do a league double over runaway champions Bowers.
The likes of keeper Chris Haigh, striker Dan Walker and versatile Basildon United duo Jack Adlington-Pile and Charlie Kendall were signed, alongside centre-backs Toib Adeyemi and Luke Wilson, and midfielder Elliott Ronto. Spanish prospect Odei Martin was also added to the first team squad.
Popular midfielder Harrison Chatting decided to stay at Swifts despite offers from other clubs and he finished with ten goals as the second-highest scorer behind Matt Price, who bagged 22.
Spanish defender Guillem Ramon had another superb season in what would prove his swansong at Swifts before heading back to his home city of Barcelona to start a family.
And skipper Kreshnic Krasniqi again produced some superb displays when most needed, and there were key contributions from experienced midfielder Nick Brown – not least a wonder opening goal from distance in the play-off final at Maldon.
Manny Osei-Owusu boosted the threat of the Swifts attack after his mid-season arrival from Mildenhall, and the highly promising Chris Millar came in from Maldon.
And 18-year-old Jayden Randell caught the eye of everyone with a string of assured displays in central defence after making his league debut at Bowers in April.
Speaking at Friday evening’s end-of-season awards ceremony, Gary said: “We have some terrific players and we are also blessed with some superb people at this club.
“And someone I would like to thank first of all is vice chairman Steve Spreadbury and his wife Lucy and the boys. To say they are Heybridge through and through would be an understatement.
“I would also like to thank new secretary Steve Crisp, who has handled the role superbly all season and taken it in his stride.
“He was particularly vital to us getting all the ground improvements done for the end of March.
“Matt Clark has worked hard once more on the pitch and kept it immaculate in what should be its last season and his dad Stewart has kept the food side extremely well.
“I’d also like to thank Rob and Graham Hirst and Jamie McMillan for their superb efforts in getting the ground improvements done to meet the next FA grading requirements by March 31.
“Thanks to Nick Rudd and Wallaker Builders as they were able to complete the temporary changing room extensions in record time.”
Gary also commended the efforts of Swifts Media Manager James Colasanti and Back of the Net’s Ben Eltham – and the club’s budding new match reporter Max Clarke.
He added: “Max is the fourth generation of Gibsons to be involved at our fine club, carrying on the tradition and commitment of the legendary Mick and his father Burt before him.
“Max is a Swifts fanatic like his granddad Mick, and has a great knowledge of our club and the game.
“And he is one of our loyal fans and I would also like to thank all our fans, of course. They are simply the best in the Bostik.
“There must have been 700 or 800 at Maldon last week and the noise was unbelievable. We have an average of 300 at home and probably at least 100 for away games, that is fantastic.”
Gary concluded by paying tribute to the club’s terrific sponsors, and singled out Kev and Jules at Coco Lighting, Dave Mankelow at First Call and Aspen Waite for special praise.
He also expressed his gratitude towards JSM Carpets and Flooring, Fusion Landscapes, Auto Box Logistics Limited, Cargo Marketing Services Limited, Pocknells Accountants, Dependable Warehousing, Wallaker Builders and Contractors, Forest Trucking UK Limited, Digital Media Limited, Wallace Brothers Roofing and Building, and UK Packing Limited.
Gary added: “Of course clubs like ours depend on sponsorship to be able to compete at the level we do and that very much determines our future. So a huge thank you to all of them for their support, financial and otherwise.
“Our main focus and priority has to be the new 3G pitch and I will be working hard to try and make that a reality in the weeks ahead so we can start work in June for the beginning of next season.
“We need to raise £450,000 for that project so any donations or loans on preferable terms would be most welcome.”