No Great Escape for Leafe
MARK Coote admits dropping to the Combined Counties League would be a "status blow" to Whyteleafe after the Church Road team were relegated on Saturday.
Leafe finished bottom of the Ryman League Division One South despite winning their final game 2-0, when fellow strugglers Burgess Hill pulled off a shock victory over Dulwich Hamlet. The relegation is disappointing admits owner and chairman Coote (pictured, inset).
"Twenty two years we have been in this league. Relegation is a bit of a status blow, but we will pick ourselves up," Coote said. "We didn't see that Burgess Hill result coming but that's football. Burgess Hill did what they had to do.
"I think the disappointment has been there since February when we faced up to the mess we were in."
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Coote believes he is partly to blame for his team's drop to Step Five.
"I was a bit too late in making the changes we needed," he explained. "I was trying to give Nicky [English] a bit more time and show a bit of loyalty given how good he had been the previous season. And of course I didn't own the club back then so making the changes was more difficult. It is disappointing that we got so close to safety in the end though."
But should Leafe not get the reprieve they are hoping for, Coote is looking forward to life in the Combined Counties League.
"It will be nice not to be in a relegation dogfight and, if I'm honest, in a warped way, I'm a little bit excited about it," he admitted. "I'm determined to look on the positive side. This doesn't stop any improvements we have been planning and the soccer school is doing brilliantly."
Coote praised manager Steve Griffin, who led Leafe to five of their six wins this season.
"I had a long chat with Steve this week and I'm confident he will stay on next season," Coote said. "Steve and the coaches did a great job and hopefully we can have a go at the Combined Counties League title, although no doubt it will be difficult with the likes of Guernsey in the league."
And Griffin, who "has no plans" to leave Whyteleafe, admits the relegation is upsetting, but part and parcel of football.
"Everyone is quite upset at the moment," the manager said. "It was a great atmosphere on Saturday until news filtered through of Burgess Hill's late goal at Dulwich.
"When I took the job I had to think long and hard about it. We were 12 points adrift with 12 games to play. It's almost worse that it was so close in the end, but we can hold our heads up high. The record in my games in charge was the form of a comfortably mid-table side, we just ran out of time in the end."