The final part of our June signings feature reaches the dawn of the KEH Sports ownership era and 2013 – probably the busiest June for a club secretary in the history of the Fleet.
The new ownership model was up and running in full by June 2013, where the club had just two months previously appeared to be heading out of business. Steve Brown and Steve Gritt had been unveiled as the new management duo at the beginning of the month and Brown’s former Dover connections yielded the ready-made squad he needed to hit the ground running with pre-season only weeks away.
Paul Lorraine and Joe Howe were retained as the first acts of the new manager but within two days of their appointment, the intent was clear as Dover midfielder Daryl McMahon made the move up the A2 for a fee of £13,000. The first KEH signing was probably the most important made in terms of what Macca brought to the club over the next five years as player and manager.
His arrival kick-started a domino effect and more players made the move from East Kent. Prolific Dover strikers Bill and Ben (Bricknell and May) were next in the door – and the former certainly continued his form through the coming season, finding the net 21 times in all competitions and ending the campaign as top scorer.
Strike partner May proved more unfortunate on the injury front and was curtailed to 25 starts in the league but he still managed to chalk up 12 goals in all competitions.
Classy full-back Aiden Palmer‘s arrival from Chelmsford City interrupted the transfer conveyor belt from Dover for a little while as he was next on Brown’s shopping list and the left-sided defender proved to be a key signing for the length of his stay at the club until, like May, injury proved his eventual downfall.
Excitement mounted still further when the next signing was unveiled – Stacy Long dropping down from the Football League with AFC Wimbledon to join Fleet’s Skrill South campaign. A hugely influential figure in midfield in his first spell, his capture from League Two whetted the fans’ appetite no end but the second coming was diluted through the course of the season as Brown opted for other midfield options and Long played a largely peripheral part in the season, ending up on loan at Eastbourne Borough.
It was back to Dover for the next clutch of signings and defender Shane Huke plus midfielders Dean Rance and Michael Corcoran completed the signings for June. Huke and Corcoran both started 16 games each that season but it was Rance who was to prove a lasting investment, staying for six years and breaking through the 200-appearance mark to clinch promotion with the club in 2017. His winning penalty at Aldershot in 2018 was the icing on the cake.
Whereas the previous decade saw June signings dribble in one or two at a time, the new ownership model in 2013 turned that on its head. However, the next two years were more modest with June 2014 seeing just former Darts Charlie Sheringham and Kenny Clark brought into the club. Sheringham’s stay was a long one but largely injury-interrupted while Clark, like Rance, went on to become a key and immensely popular figure at the club over the next few seasons.
With 2014/15 such a season of turmoil, Daryl McMahon’s brief as new manager in the summer of 2015 was more to do with a clearout of a top-heavy squad and faces that no longer fitted his plans. He did, however, find time to bring in two players in June – reserve goalkeeper Jonathan Miles and experienced wide man Robbie Willmott. The latter clearly had an excellent CV having played in promotion-chasing sides with Luton Town, Cambridge United and Newport County and while his signing was a coup for the National South, he never settled and ended up at Bishop’s Stortford on loan before eventually reigniting his career with Chelmsford City and then back to former employers Newport.
After 2015/16’s near miss in the play-offs, McMahon’s summer recruitment the following year was key. In June 2016 he brought in Dave Winfield (York City), Mark Phillips (Braintree Town), Bradley Bubb (Oxford City) and Jack Connors (Dagenham & Redbridge) – all one-time EFL players, they played their part in the promotion that followed, though Phillips and Bubb suffered injuries that kept them out of the play-offs.
Future skipper Winfield, of course, scored crucial goals at Maidenhead and then in the final to equalise v Chelmsford, not to mention his late leveller the following season in the National League play-off at Aldershot. A rare goal for full-back Connors at Torquay, meanwhile, clinched Fleet’s place in those play-offs in 2018.
McMahon was busier still in June 2017 as Fleet’s first campaign at the top level for five years dawned. In came Danny Mills (Whitehawk), Jack Payne (Blackpool), Bagasan Graham (Chelmsford), Myles Weston (Wycombe Wanderers) and Sam Magri (Dover) – all would remain contracted for two years though Mills and Graham played only bit-parts while local boy Payne missed part of 2017/18 with injury.
Things proved quieter for McMahon’s last June in charge and in 2018 it was just Jack King (Stevenage) and Ebou Adams (Norwich City) in the door, though the latter’s arrival caused consternation at eventual champions Leyton Orient when he opted for the Kuflink Stadium rather than Brisbane Road (where he had been on loan) to continue his career.
All of which brings us more or less up to date, with only Garry Hill’s A-Team of June 2019 to add – Ayo, Aswad and Alex.
Obileye, Thomas and Lawless were all seasoned National League campaigners but only Obileye reached double digits in games with the other two injured for a large part of the season.
June 2020 still has eight days to run but with the delay to next season and the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, it will of course go down in club history as one of the less busy Junes in history.
But with 2020/21 and another new era under Dennis Kutrieb approaching, the following months of squad-building will certainly be worth keeping an eye on for football-starved and expectant Fleet fans!