June. Traditionally the graveyard shift of the football calendar.
In May, if you’re lucky, you might get a play-off game or two and in July the pre-season friendlies come thick and fast. But June – even though there’s plenty of hard work going on behind the scenes – is when actual football action comes juddering to a halt.
Supporters crave signings news in June but even that isn’t abundant, with managers often doing deals in May before they go for a well-earned holiday, or they wait to assess trialists, free agents and 11th-hour signings in July.
But from year to year, June does throw up the odd arrival and in this three-part series this week, we look at players who have landed at Stonebridge Road during June over the past 20 years.
The first June signing of the 21st century was striker Carl Bartley in 2001 but it was an inauspicious start for the month as the former Croydon and Hayes man didn’t feature in a red shirt aside from pre-season friendlies, such was the flourish with which the rest of manager Andy Ford’s squad began and ended that season.
Back in the Conference in the summer of 2002, Ford needed to strengthen his squad for the new demands at the higher level. During June he added two to his squad with returning centre-back Lew Watts having Conference experience from Welling United alongside the capture of local boy and former Shrewsbury Town and Gillingham midfielder Austin Berkley.
Big things were expected of the skilful Berkley who had enjoyed a good spell in the League but he barely got a chance in the Fleet midfield and soon departed having turned out only four times.
Fast forward a year to 2003 and the only business done in June saw former Gillingham striker James Pinnock enter Stonebridge Road to begin a two-year spell that saw him clock up 71 appearances. He enjoyed a solid career a level down with Welling United and Margate.
But it was exits that concerned Fleet fans in June 2003, with player of the year Mark Bentley unsurprisingly being lured away as he joined Dagenham & Redbridge in a step that would take him into the League with Gillingham and Southend United. And the Daggers also pounced for skipper and club legend Jimmy Jackson in a move that few Fleet fans saw coming.
Andy Ford’s last summer of business came in 2004 but none of it was done in June. The previous week he had re-signed both Jackson from Dagenham and Jay Saunders from Margate but capitalised on that early business by holidaying in June and plotting a swoop for the likes of Andy Drury and Lee Shearer in July.
So it was Liam Daish who was to make the next June signing during his first summer in the job in 2005. His only signing that month was midfielder Danny Slatter (pictured, top) from Welling United, just a short time after paying a fee to take defender James Smith from the same club. It was decent business, the ex-Chelsea youth forming an important cog in the midfield as Fleet went from relegation favourites to play-off and FA Trophy contenders over the next few seasons, with Slatter chipping in 126 appearances – curtailed by a serious injury – over the next three years.
2006 was a sea change for the club with Daish’s plans for full-time football seeing the likes of Jackson, Justin Skinner and Steve McKimm all leave the club. In June of that year, Daish brought in Rob Quinn, Jon Keeling and Danny Ekoku.
The 30-year-old Quinn arrived from Stevenage, having also played for Crystal Palace and Brentford, while the talented Keeling had impressed at Canvey Island – both stayed only for one season but were regulars in a midfield that took Fleet to the edge of the play-offs.
Ekoku, nephew of Wimbledon striker Efan Ekoku, came in from Crawley Town but found it impossible to dislodge the free-scoring Charlie MacDonald with competition for places in attack also including Mark DeBolla, on-loan Onome Sodje and the blossoming talents of a young Luke Moore.
That 2006/07 season forged Daish’s reputation amongst Fleet fans after a tricky first couple of seasons and by the following summer, the first of the club’s existence as Ebbsfleet United, his close-season signings would prove crucial for one of the Fleet’s most memorable campaigns.
That comes in Part Two of our look at June signings tomorrow…