Ebbsfleet United’s newest recruit Tom Hadler has been up close and personal in the National League South more than most at the Kuflink Stadium and he’s convinced his new club will have what it takes.
Having played 22 times for Eastbourne Borough last season, the former Gillingham goalkeeper knows what’s bred success in the South having played against all of the promotion contenders in 2019/20.
“You look at the teams that have done well in the South and they’re all the ones that have a solid, professional setup,” Hadler told the Fleet website. “Even those that just train in the evenings, they run things properly. So to come to a really professional setup like Ebbsfleet for me is going to be a massive difference and it’s a very nice environment to be in.
“I want to see that result in us bouncing back up after being pretty harshly dropped down the way the club was. I signed without knowing where we would be but assuming it might end up being in the South once the play-offs were going ahead. The idea is to go straight back up so I’m certainly here for that.”
Hadler, like all of the players signed so far, has spoken to Dennis Kutrieb online as well as director of football and his former boss at Gillingham, Steve Lovell.
“Obviously Steve was with me at Gills and gave me my debut and with him leaving, which triggered me leaving eventually too, I signed for Lee Bradbury at Eastbourne last season. But he left midway through the year and when Steve spoke to me once the season was over and asked would I be interested, it all fit for me and it was a huge draw for me to come back to Kent with the Fleet.
“Between everyone I’ve spoken to at the club, it’s clearly a really good setup. I spoke to Dennis and obviously he’s not been able to come over to meet us yet but he’s been keen to Facetime the players and it’s been great to hear what his plans are. That was really positive, it’s obvious he’s got a good style of football in mind and he’s eager to put that in motion here. He wants to implement that straight off and create a proper culture at the club going forward.
“He’s very upbeat and he wants to prove himself in England so as a result it’s going to be good for us as players to feed off that energy early on and play for that kind of manager.
“It’s a really nice thing to want to be somewhere this aspirational and that’s the biggest draw here. The ambition that I’ve heard from those behind the scenes about the recruitment of players lends itself to what will be a very competitive team and I can’t wait now to get started.”
While he was No.2 to Czech and Ipswich Town goalkeeper Tomas Holy at Gillingham, Hadler’s not been short on experience at non-league level having enjoyed numerous loan spells in his formative years. And his season on the South Coast with Eastbourne was also vital for the player’s development.
“I had a good bulk of games last season. It was the right time for me to step out of having been in a higher league but on the bench to go and play weekly and do well and Eastbourne was a great opportunity for me. And going back a couple of years, I played a good 25 games for Gloucester City in the National North and it’s all been great experience at this level and something I hope to impart on a new start at Ebbsfleet.”
Ironically, both Fleet goalkeepers have previously played for Eastbourne and with Hadler now added to Holmes between the posts, there’s certain to be a close contest for the gloves in 2020/21.
“Competition is good for any position to have as a footballer and I think goalkeepers are no different,” said the new signing. “We can work off each other, push each other and that’s great. Both of us have come from a very professional league background and we’re here to challenge – but above all else to do our best for the club whoever’s playing. That’s a good environment to be in.”
Born and schooled in Canterbury, Hadler’s spent much of his sporting development in the north of the county with Gillingham so his new club is no stranger to him.
“Ebbsfleet have always been one of the bigger Kent clubs since I’ve been coming through the levels in football. They’ve always been a force as I’ve been growing up and I’ve always had an eye on the developments here so it’s nice now to be a part of another one.”
And that familiar feel might even help boost the Kuflink Stadium average attendance as the Hadler family like to back their boy from the sidelines.
“I’m very lucky because being Kent-based, there’s lot of family around for me,” he explained. “You should expect a few grandparents and more of my family coming up! It’s nice to have that support network and with everything falling in place now for this year, let’s continue on what’s going to be a really exciting project.”