On the eve of his third pre-season with the club, Spalding United manager Pat Rayment has spoken of his regret that last year’s UCL Premier Division winning squad has broken up.
The Tulips waltzed to the league title last term, winning 32 of their 36 games en-route to amassing 97 points and promotion to Evo-Stik League Division One South.
But since they lifted the title at the Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field on April 19, seven key members of the squad have opted to switch to sides in the UCL.
Jamie Stevens, Adam Jackson, Jonny Allen, Ross Watson and Tom Roberts have all joined South Holland rivals Holbeach United, while Josh Ford has joined Wisbech Town and Dan Cotton plumped for Yaxley.
Rayment told The Voice that he’s convinced last year’s squad could have competed at Step Four of the non-league ladder.
But he’s disappointed that the local contingent in his squad had no desire to test themselves at a higher level – citing a lack of ambition and high UCL wages as factors working against the Tulips.
“I just can’t find local players that want to play in Step Four,” bemoaned the former Deeping Rangers boss. “We’ve not released any players this summer.
“Everyone that has left has done so because they didn’t want to stay.
“I was willing to give every player the chance to play in the Evo-Stik League this year – and I’m convinced we would have held our own.
“Obviously I’m happy with the players that I have brought in and I do believe we have improved.
“But I’d be lying if I said we’ll not miss the togetherness that the likes of Jamie Stevens and Adam Jackson bring to the table.
“It’s no secret why they have gone to Holbeach, the money they are paying over there is on the same level to what we are spending.
“I do also think that there is a lack of ambition with local players and a reluctance to do the extra travel. I suppose I can understand that.
“Nobody can accuse me and Spalding United Football Club of not thinking local.
“I’m not annoyed by the situation, just disappointed.”
With that in mind, tonight’s (Thursday) opening pre-season training session will give Rayment and his staff the chance to run the rule over their many new faces.
Among those expected at the Sir Halley are Gareth Jellyman, Peter Bore, Michael Leary, Julian Kelly, Kern Miller and Tom Waumsley, with another new recruit – James Cullingworth – injured.
Young winger Fraser Bayliss, who spent last season with Holbeach United, will also train with the Tulips, while two un-named players are aiming to impress Rayment on trial.
Despite the huge turnover in talent over the summer, Rayment insists that he’s never been happier during his stint with Spalding.
He admits to being pleased to leave the fishbowl of the UCL Premier Division behind and is itching to launch a bid for back-to-back promotions.
“I’m excited for the new season,” enthused the former Peterborough United professional. “No disrespect intended, but I’m glad to be out of the UCL.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the chances Deeping and Spalding gave me to manage at that level.
“But I’m much happier working at this level and with that comes dealing with more professional players.
“I made no secret of the fact I wanted to get out of the UCL and I’ll not miss it.”
Meanwhile, Spalding’s pre-season plans have taken a hit by the news that player/coach Nick Conroy has been forced to leave the club.
A heavy work schedule has forced the former Peterborough Northern Star stopper – who was going to act as the club’s goalkeeping coach – and he’s now a free agent.
With Ian Ross also making a U-turn on his decision to join the Tulips last month, Rayment could dip back into the transfer market before the season starts.
- Spalding’s updated pre-season schedule: July: Sat 12 – Peterborough Sports (A) 3pm; Tues 15 – Boston Utd (H) 7.45pm; Sat 19 – King’s Lynn (H) 3pm; Thurs 24 – Yaxley (A) 7.45pm; Sat 26 – Deeping Rangers (A) 3pm). August: Sat 2 – Wisbech Town (H) 3pm; Tues 5 – Huntingdon (H) 7.45pm; Saturday 9 (TBC) – Grantham Town (H) 3pm.