EXPECTATIONS have been high at AFC Portchester for a number of seasons now, with developments on and off the pitch turning the club into potential candidates for promotion to the upper levels of non-league football.
With those expectations comes pressure though and after many seasons of steady progress there were plenty of people in the Royals’ camp who harboured hopes the 2018-19 campaign would be the one which would finally deliver step four football.
An indifferent start, coupled with the long undefeated run of eventual champions Sholing, put paid to title ambitions in the first few months of the season, and the Royals went on to finish 13th in the Sydenhams Wessex League Premier Division - the first time they had finished outside the top eight places in six seasons.
Portchester won promotion to the Premier Division in 2012 and the closest they have come to reaching the Southern League status the club craves was in 2015, when their third place finish put them just seven points behind Winchester City who went up with champions Petersfield Town.
Managing the expectations of a club which boasts the facilities all ready for the next level of non league football but now needs to discover the right winning formula on the pitch, is something manager Mick Catlin has come to realise is something important to understanding where Portchester currently are and what it will take to get them to where they are aiming to go.
“The thing I have realised since becoming AFC Portchester manager is that expectations are always high – not only from within the club but also from outside the club,” said Catlin, as he assessed where the Royals currently find themselves going into the new season.
The highly experienced coach, who is well known in non-league circles across the south - particularly for his achievements at Gosport Borough, took over as Portchester manager mid-way through last season after being joint manager with Ian Saunders for a spell.
Realising the level of expectation he was taking on and how these levels could be managed soon came into clear focus as autumn turned into winter last season.
The season was far from what was expected but rather than continuing to chase what was becoming an increasingly impossible dream, the decision was taken to re-assess the targets for the season and put more emphasis on preparing for the 2019-20 campaign.
For the first time in many seasons, a lid had to be placed well and truly on the expectations of the club but it is a decision which in time could prove to have been the crucial turning point for Portchester in their quest for promotion.
It gave everyone at the Crest Finance Stadium the chance to assess where the club currently was and to then re-focus on what is going to be needed to get the Royals over that promotion line.
Catlin explained: “We seriously underachieved last season for a club of our stature and I take full responsibility for that.
“We decided mid-campaign to change how we operated and plan ahead for this season.
“It was a tough period for everyone at the club, both on and off the field, but I firmly believe it was the right thing to do.
“Credit to our chairman Paul Kelly for leading the club through that period. I certainly learnt a lot about myself and the people around me and I feel we will all be stronger for the experience.”
While expectations were understood and managed last season, Catlin is certain Portchester need to be clear on the ambitions for the new season ahead.
While many clubs choose to underplay their chances of success, Catlin believes it is better to be up front about where the club wants to go this season - ensuring those both on and off the pitch are fully focussed on that goal.
He added: “We want to try and win the league and get promoted – that is what we are planning for and I think it is best to state that from the start so everyone knows the aim.
“For this to happen everyone at the club has to be pulling in the same direction and the team off the field is as important as the one on it.
“The chairman, our commercial team and all the support staff have worked tirelessly this summer to make sure I have the tools to do the job.
“Now it is my job to deliver and I am relishing the challenge.”
(Story by Graeme Moir)