By Connor Steel
FLEETLANDS FC face an anxious wait to find out their opponents for the 2022-23 season after their Hampshire League Premier campaign concluded on Saturday afternoon, sealing a chance of promotion to the Wessex Leagues with a four-one win away to Winchester Castle in their final encounter.
This means that the Coptermen finished third in the final standings after 30 games, leapfrogging Moneyfields Reserves on goal difference with both sides on 67 points, just two behind eventual champions Colden Common who drew at Hayling United to win the title this weekend.
But despite finishing third, Fleetlands are likely to be promoted to Wessex League Division One for next season; their Lederle Lane stadium passed a ground grading inspection by officials in late March. This is one of two eligibility rules for promotion consideration to step 6 of the footballing pyramid, with the other being the clubs must finish in the top five of their respective leagues.
And with the only potential rival in the Hampshire Premier League, Stockbridge, coming sixth to rule them out of contention; Fleetlands join Dorset Premier League duo Hamworthy Recreation and Dorchester Sports to fill three available spaces in Division One next season.
Although this sounds simple there is an added complication caused by Infinity’s withdrawal from the Wessex League earlier this year, with a slight change needed for next season. It is believed that only two teams will be relegated into the Hampshire League Premier (currently Fleet Spurs and Totton & Eling), with two of the three teams to be promoted although this hasn’t yet been confirmed.
This decision will be made by a Wessex League committee who must rubber stamp any changes, but this won’t happen just yet despite both divisions finishing alongside Hampshire / Dorset Premier Leagues. A meeting is set to be held once all competition finals such as the Southampton Senior Cup and Russell Cotes Cup are concluded, with these matches set to be played next week.
Any promotion will be a huge boost for Fleetlands as they were struggling halfway through the year with former manager Rick Bessey stepping down; sitting sixth in the table and 19 points adrift of then-leaders Moneyfields with two games in hand on the teams around them.
But since co-managers Dan Greenwood and Chris Blakeman took charge of the Coptermen back in early December, the club have won twelve of their last 15 league games to seal their third place finish; ending on twenty-one wins, 4 draws and five defeats from their thirty matches. In the processes they have scored 92 goals to mark their place as the top scorers and conceded 33 goals, sharing the best defensive record (least conceded) with Locks Heath who finished in fifth place after completing all their games.
Alongside this fantastic run of form the Coptermen were handed a further boost earlier this season as their November 4-0 defeat to Moneyfields was rescinded, with the three points taken from them and handed to Fleetlands after the Moneys’ fielded ineligible players. This came just before the reverse fixtures between the sides which Fleetlands won 3-0, sealing a ‘league double’ on the title favourites pre-season.
Fans are asked to check the Fleetlands club Twitter page or the Hampshire Premier League website for further updates on the relegation / promotion process over the coming weeks, alongside more information on fixtures or pre-season announcements for the 2022-23 football campaign.
PICTURED BY KEITH WOODLAND: Fleetlands players celebrate scoring versus Sway on St Georges’ Day as they end season in fine form, giving themselves a promotion chance to the Wessex Leagues next year.