Jonny Arthur previews the region featuring the reigning champions – the South East.
Welcome to the South Eastern Men’s BUCS league, home of the reigning champions Sussex who once again asserted their dominance in league-level play before stepping up to the National stage and claiming the University Outdoor National title. Elsewhere in the league, there were shocks and upsets as Surrey slipped to relegation and Hertfordshire took a place in Division 1 Nationals for the first time. So, what does this year have in store? I will once again be giving my thoughts and opinions on this year’s teams and giving those all-important predictions about final placings; and of course, with the ShowGame guarantee that if I’m wrong then you get your money back.
Last year’s surprise package Hertfordshire put on a solid showing in the league to make it to Outdoor Nationals for the first time. They will, once again, be relying heavily on recruitment so it’s very difficult to judge their squad for the season. If they are to achieve anywhere near the success of last year, a lot of responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Ernie Simons (Purple Cobras, Fire) and last year’s Captain Ashley Tough in leading the team from the start. The fixture list looks like it will have two decisive games against LSE and UCL, a quick start and getting that team going as early as possible is going to be crucial if they want to get anywhere near Division 1 Nationals again.
After fighting back into the top division last year, Imperial have their eyes set on pushing the top 3 spots for Division 1 at Nationals. However, this year, competition for those places looks to be extremely tight so Imperial will need to be at their very best to do so. A lot will rely on their Captain Stuart Franz (Flump) and Rollo Turnell-Ritson (Fire), if those two can get control of games early, then Imperial stand a good chance. Imperial have bounced straight back up to the top division and were unbeaten in the process, however, last year some teams struggled with the immediate step up in quality from Division 2. If Imperial are serious about pushing for the top and not slipping into a relegation scrap I hope they have been out there training hard.
The promotion of LSE means that the South East now has half of its top-tier teams wearing purple. I mean, seriously, why purple? After dominating last season in the 2B Division, LSE will need to carry that momentum forward to step up their game if they are to stay out of trouble this time around. LSE are here for the first time and likely less experienced at this level, consequently, testing themselves against top teams for the first time will be a real challenge. Perhaps their first game against Herts will prove to be a key game, as whoever gets that first win under their belts early will be in a great position to push on for the rest of the season. Captain Ed Freeman will really need his team to hit the ground running, as we have seen from previous seasons, it is very difficult to play catch-up if you have a bad first couple of games to avoid relegation.
Portsmouth didn’t provide any information for this article so I’m pretty much just going to to make stuff up for this bit. Last year Portsmouth didn’t quite live up to their own pre-season hype but still put in solid showings in the league and at Nationals to finish in a respectable eighth position. Joe Carr is still kicking about and he’s quite decent, as is Josh Awcock who returns from a successful club season with Devon. In other news, Will Rowledge has graduated? Nevertheless, they will still have a good coaching programme and will likely be playing their classic zone defence, teams should be worried if you face them on a windy day – you have been warned. If you want to know how good they are we’ll have to wait until their first fixture against Sussex to find out. Could be the best team in the league, could be the worst. Who knows?
Last year’s National Champions are looking to keep a stranglehold on the first place in the South East that they have held for so long (apart from two years ago when Portsmouth won, but that ruins my line). Despite losing some inspirational figures from last year’s triumph (Ashley Yeo, Jonny Arthur, Christian Turvill) this can hardly be seen as a greatly weakened team. Over two thirds of the players from that triumph remain at Sussex this year. Indeed, it’s in squad depth that Sussex look so strong this year, with nine players on this summer’s Brighton City squad that claimed eighth at Club Nationals. Captain Dom Burnham went so far as to call this team “girthy”, so they’ve got that going for them. If you are looking for a standout individual player for this team then Clapham’s Luis Semple fits the bill, now known more commonly for the catch below in last year’s Outdoor Final.
Sussex will again have the highest-quality coaching, and add ex-player Will Foster this to the roster; expect their organisation and intensity to be as good as ever. With experience at winning tough games, depth and star quality, Sussex are setting the bar high if anyone wants to take their first-place spot.
After a mediocre season last year, in which UCL merely avoided relegation and never challenged for much more, they have set their sights on greater things this season, promising to be a more consistent and disciplined unit. In this regard, perhaps UCL’s most significant signing this season will not even be on the pitch but rather on the sideline. An addition in Glen Newell, who has transferred from the coaching team of Sussex to help UCL, should see this team improve rapidly and achieve far greater consistency than we’ve seen from them in recent years. If Captain Joel Lee can consistently get his first team squad along to high quality trainings then expect UCL to become a force once again. With their first matchup being against newly promoted Imperial, we will see just how far this team has come since last year soon.
I thought I might as well be risky and controversial with my predictions, but then I realised, nah. Sussex are going to win. I see their quality and experience as being too much for other teams this year and I think it will take a major choke for them to lose it. In the battle for the remaining places it’s far tighter, with very little to pick between most teams. UCL take second because I see them as a team on the rise and they have lots of home games. Portsmouth are third because they will probably be good when it’s windy but I just have no clue how deep the team is. Finally, I have Imperial just about surviving with Herts and LSE relegated simply on gut feeling – there’s not much to pick between them.
Feature photo by Andrew Moss for theShowGame