Spitfires well fancied by the bookies

Ben Wright

Ben Wright

First published in Sport

IT is a remarkable success story, and one that shows no sign of turning sour soon.

Eastleigh, a Wessex League club as recently as 2003, tomorrow raise the curtain on their debut Conference Premier season.

And if the bookies are to be believed, it could well be another memorable campaign at The Silverlake Stadium.

Amazingly for a club only promoted from the Conference South last term, Eastleigh have been installed as third favourites to win the elite league of English non-league football.

According to the odds layers, only Bristol Rovers – a big city club preparing for their first-ever Conference season after relegation – and Forest Green stand a better chance of reaching the Holy Grail of the Football League.

Eastleigh, the club with an average attendance last season of around 600, are believed to be a better bet for promotion than the likes of Grimsby, Torquay, Barnet, Lincoln, Aldershot and Wrexham.

That is truly phenomenal, and speaks volumes for the ambition shown at the club since chairman Stewart Donald arrived with his financial backing a few years ago.

This summer, ahead of their Conference Premier debut, Eastleigh made an early statement of intent when they signed James Constable from League 2 club Oxford United.

The striker had been Oxford’s top scorer for six seasons running, including the season when they won promotion from the Conference Premier.

The fact he was willing to drop back down into the non-league scene, when he could easily have stayed at Oxford, says a lot.

What it says about Oxford is not great. But what it says about Eastleigh is that here is a club who have not come up just to tread water with a glut of former Football League clubs all desperate to return to the ‘big time’.

It screams ‘ambition’, a willingness to take on the likes of Grimsby and Wrexham with their Football League traditions and far bigger fanbases.

The Conference Premier is a tough, tough league to get out of, with only one automatic promotion slot and a play-off place.

It is bizarre that in League 2 there are four promotion places, but half that in the league below.

It took Luton Town, a former top flight rival of Saints as recently as 1992, five years to climb out of the Conference.

It took Cambridge United nine years, and Wrexham are preparing for their seventh season as a non-league club.

In the meantime, ‘upstarts’ such as Morecambe, Stevenage, Crawley Town and Fleetwood Town have claimed Football League status for the first time.

The latter three have all since progressed to League 1, though Stevenage were relegated last season.

Eastleigh boss Richard Hill has bought wisely this summer.

He has recruited players with considerable Football League experience, such as centre half Paul Reid, Constable, midfielder Craig Stanley, and striker Jack Midson.

He already possessed a strong, experienced spine, but his new signings have only strengthened it still further.

Eastleigh should not be short of goals either.

As well as Constable and Midson, Hill has also brought in Ben Wright from Salisbury City on a permanent basis.

Wright was a revelation when initially arriving on loan from the Wiltshire club last February, scoring 15 goals.

The Basingstoke-born player has Conference Premier form, top scoring for Braintree in 2011/12 with 18 goals.

Constable and Wright are just two reasons why the bookies feel Eastleigh can make the play-offs in their first season, rubbing shoulders with Bristol Rovers, Torquay, Aldershot et al.

If Hill’s squad lives up to the hype, the next nine months could see the greatest chapter yet written in Eastleigh’s success story.

Comments (4)

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7:44am Fri 8 Aug 14

reedhunter1 says...

Good luck Eastleigh-your new derby next season is the dirty skates down the road.
Go get em.
Good luck Eastleigh-your new derby next season is the dirty skates down the road. Go get em. reedhunter1
  • Score: 15

11:11am Fri 8 Aug 14

hdsaint says...

Good luck Eastleigh. Great local success story.
Good luck Eastleigh. Great local success story. hdsaint
  • Score: 1

1:55pm Fri 8 Aug 14

Ozmosis says...

reedhunter1 wrote:
Good luck Eastleigh-your new derby next season is the dirty skates down the road.
Go get em.
The new local derby - I'm rooting for Eastleigh!
[quote][p][bold]reedhunter1[/bold] wrote: Good luck Eastleigh-your new derby next season is the dirty skates down the road. Go get em.[/p][/quote]The new local derby - I'm rooting for Eastleigh! Ozmosis
  • Score: -1

4:02pm Fri 8 Aug 14

lastminmoran says...

THE LAST TIME i saw Eastleigh mid 90s? they played Gosport before about 50 people, now you are a real alternative to SAINTS, AND LIKE UP NORTH, A ROCHDALE,BURY, OLDHAM, STOCKPORT COUNTY, FOR THE FOOTBALL ROMANTICS TO FOLLOW.Hope you can build up a solid supporter base and keep away from money problems, by not going over the top to quickly. HAVE A GREAT SEASON!
THE LAST TIME i saw Eastleigh mid 90s? they played Gosport before about 50 people, now you are a real alternative to SAINTS, AND LIKE UP NORTH, A ROCHDALE,BURY, OLDHAM, STOCKPORT COUNTY, FOR THE FOOTBALL ROMANTICS TO FOLLOW.Hope you can build up a solid supporter base and keep away from money problems, by not going over the top to quickly. HAVE A GREAT SEASON! lastminmoran
  • Score: -1

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