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Batten ready to get season underway
Batten ready to get season underway

After their FA Cup heroics last season, Sheppey United will be looking to continue their progress and challenge for the top positions in the Isthmian South East as pre-season begins in earnest. 

And for boss Ernie Batten, about to start his seventh season in charge, the opening weekend of the season cannot come quickly enough.

Speaking to KSN this week after his side opened their pre-season with a 1-1 draw at Punjab United, Batten, minus his famous fur hat, told us: “Fortunately, I’m able to manage a great club in Sheppey United and am still very much enjoying it.” 

“I think last year we showed that there can be a hangover to a good run in a Cup competition and we certainly experienced that. Having to play Billericay a couple of times and having to go to Merthyr, with the squad that we had last season, we didn’t have a lot of strength in depth, and we suffered because of that when we had players injured.

“We dropped points around the time of the Cup run, but we ended well, and I think we won seven of our last eight games which is when they were coming back in. All in all, it was a great season for the Club, for what we set out to do and taking everything into account, we have to be pretty happy with the way the season went.” 

“The Cup run certainly raised the profile of the Club – it was fantastic and I think that our crowds have reflected that. It certainly raised the profile on the Island.

“We’ve developed in what we’re doing at the Football Club with the Academy, Women’s team, Disability and additional Youth teams coming in.

“And of course, K Sports have now come into the Club as Sheppey Sports which has given us a step six team within the Club which I think can only strengthen us as we have a lot of youngsters who are not quite ready to take the massive step up to step four.

“If they can smash it at step six, we now have a pathway for them to make it into the first team. I do think that it’s a fantastic opportunity for the Club to bring the youngsters through because as it stood the youngsters who weren’t quite good enough for step four, we would have lost those players to the eighteens or the twenty-threes but if they want to go into men’s football.

“It becomes a great opportunity to showcase themselves and hopefully we’ll see them stepping up to the First team.” 

Batten has added to his coaching team in the summer bringing former Sittingbourne boss Darren Blackburn into the Club.

“Darren’s been in this League for a few seasons now and has great experience under Steve Watt when they were both at Hythe Town – he’s well connected in the game when it comes to player contact and recruitment and knows a lot of people in the game,” Batten told us.

“For me, I think any additional help that you can have in that regard, it’s quite difficult now to identify players within your budget because there are teams going out there and spending a lot of money, which is their prerogative – I’ve got no issue with that, at Sheppey we’re on a pathway where we want to keep ourselves sustainable and we’ve only been able to increase our budget from last season because of the success that we had!” 

“We’re building season upon season. I’ve seen so many teams in the past get a promotion in the first place as they “push the boat out”, but what do you do then? You have to maintain that. We’ve seen other Kent clubs do it – going up and going straight back down again and we don’t want that to be us.” 

“Pre-season is an important part of the season, we’ve trialists in, players who are away to come back in and we are like any other Non-League club at the moment; we’ve eight or nine games to make sure that the time opening day on August 10 that we will be ready, and the squad will be ready with a bit more strength in depth this season.”