Uhlsport Hellenic League
Published 30th July 2012
.....services of leading marksman Jon Bennett for another season.
Bennett has been the club’s top scorer since their days in the Reading League, and has stayed loyal to the club from their progression out of park football, into Hellenic Division One East and then onto the Hellenic Premier Division.
Although in terms of league positions the club has rather stagnated at their current level, finishing fifteenth, twelfth and fourteenth in their past three campaigns, Bennett has gone from strength to strength.
Last season the striker, who combines lightning speed with a deadly eye for goal, and is as comfortable heading the ball as he is with it at his feet, netted twenty-eight times in thirty-nine league games for Ascot. That made him the sixth highest scorer in the Premier Division, and unsurprisingly the target of a number of local clubs looking to secure his services. But Ascot convinced him to stay at the Racecourse Ground for another season, where he will link up with fellow strikers Zak Spencer, Lewis Frostick and Phillip Nugent.
The 26-year-old striker, who barring a two-month stint at Sandhurst Town a few years back, has played for Ascot since under-9 level, believes the club is really starting to go in the right direction.
With manager Jeff Lamb and his assistant Paul McGrotty at the helm, Bennett believes the club is in good hands: “The reason I’ve stayed for the last few seasons has mainly been for the management,” he said. “I’m good friends with both of them and I also feel they’re taking the club in the right direction. If I didn’t believe they were doing that then things may have been different. The first couple of seasons in the Premier Division we were laying the foundations, and then last year was a learning curve for the new manager. But the squad has improved quite a lot from last year and we are going to be much better equipped this season. There’s a better standard of player, there’s more balance across the side, better organisation and everyone in the team is playing for each other.
“I set myself a goal of between thirty and thirty-five goals every season, so I was disappointed with last year. I was on twenty-six or twenty-seven up until New Year and then had a massive dip in form. I struggled with a few knocks, but I’m hoping to be more consistent over the course of the season this time. Ideally I want to match my goalscoring of the season before last when I scored forty-one. I’d also like to see us break into the top six in the division so that we have a real platform to push on.”
High on Bennett’s agenda is Ascot’s meeting with Sandhurst Town in the FA Cup on Saturday August 11th. It will be the first time the clubs have met in senior football, and following his short spell there back in his early 20s Bennett, a British Gas engineer, is desperate to make an impact: “I’m looking forward to the Sandhurst FA Cup game because I know a few people at the club and also played for them a few years back. I’d really like to have a good run in the FA Cup this season”
Meanwhile, assistant-manager McGrotty is delighted to see their star man return. He said: "It’s massive for the club. JB is `Mr Ascot` and has been here for many years. He represents everything the club stands for we want to keep hold of players like that. Also, anyone who scores twenty-plus goals each season is worth their weight in gold. He could have gone to other clubs offering him money, but he wanted to stay and help Ascot get places."
With regard to the fortunes of the team McGrotty insists that the club has had enough time finding their feet in the Hellenic Premier Division, and must now look to make the next step forward. It is now three years since the Yellamen earned promotion to the Premier Division.
The club boasts remarkable facilities, as well as perhaps the best playing surface in the league, while it's junior section is unrivaled by any amateur football club in the country. Now the infrastructure is in place, McGrotty is adamant that the time has come for the club to realise their potential.
Should the club start to really find their feet on the pitch, then the 38-year-old is hoping that more people from Ascot will start supporting their local side.
“Our first two seasons in this league were about consolidation,” he said. “But when former manager Stuart Scammell left and Jeff and I took over there was a big turnover of players, so it turned into another year of consolidation.
“This year, though, we are setting our standards higher and we want to get into the top eight of the league and also have a good cup run. We saw last year just how important a high-profile FA Cup game can be and it shows just how much the local area needs people willing to come out and support their local clubs. We’re blessed with a lot of clubs in this area and although the support is good, it could be better for all the local clubs. Ascot need a good cup run to drum up a bit more interest in the club across the local area. In the next few years we have got to be looking for promotion to the Southern League first and foremost.
“It’s great that the club has the facilities it does and it is wonderful that they look after so many children's teams, but from our point of view we need ambition to make the next step. We have a great relationship with the board and I know they back us completely. We will see where we are around Christmas time and take things from there, but otherwise we’re certainly looking at success within the next couple of years.”
Although Lamb and McGrotty have been busy attracting players to the club over the summer, the assistant boss is hoping that a different signing altogether will start to pay dividends.
Alysha Clements has assisted the club as a fitness coach during the past two pre-seasons, but now she has been brought on board on a full-time basis. That extra input could prove decisive over the course of the season. For the time being, however, the management team is concentrating on narrowing down a squad of around forty players into first and reserve teams.
So far this pre-season, the Yellamen have been fielding mixed sides for their friendlies to give reserve and first teamers a look in, and results have been rather erratic. But they will be fielding stronger sides in the next two friendlies, before their season starts at newly-relegated Marlow on Tuesday, August 7th.
They are hoping new signings Sam Waddieh, Dave Hoar, Joe Yeates, Jack Smillie and Adam Kennedy will be making an impact.
Having lost long-serving captain Tim Standing, centre back Nick Curtis and central midfielder Tim Cousins, Ascot will be desperate for their new players to slot in quickly.