EAST Preston Football Club are already looking forward to next season after sealing a return to County League Division 1 last week – although they are determined to step up as champions.
Despite having eight games left to play, runaway leaders EP have ensured they will return to the top flight next season for the first time since 2009.
They have been on the brink for the past few weeks, but it was confirmed last Wednesday, without them even playing, as Southwick’s draw with Littlehampton meant Golds could no longer catch the leaders.
EP manager Dominic Di Paola, who took over in the summer from Worthing United, where he and his management team had also sealed promotion to Division 1, now wants his side to win the title.
He said: “It is brilliant that we have got that hurdle out the way, it takes the pressure off and we are all really pleased.
“To do it so early as well is quite impressive and I can’t imagine too many have. Credit goes to everyone at the club, especially the players, who it is really all down to.
“They have continued to grind out the results, which means we can now focus on the title.
“I’d be gutted, but more annoyed, if we chucked it away as we are in a really good position.”
It is the young manager’s fourth promotion in his career and he is relishing his first shot at Division 1 football, along with his management team of Ian Browne, Jan Miller, Adam Westwood and Nick Wannacott.
He said: “We are all looking forward to Division 1, the club really wanted it and so did we.
“It was a club in a bit of a rut and we really wanted to get out, so it’s a pretty happy place at the moment.
“The aim was to always go into Division 1, absolutely. We need to try and keep the players we’ve got as there is always a merry-go-round in the summer. But we have a really good base to have a go next year. I am not saying we are going to win it or anything, but we could be competitive.
“We need four more players as well to cope with the increased number of games and boost us.”
It has been a stand-out season from EP as they have raced into a 16-point lead in the division – having lost just one league game, winning 23 of the 26 played so far.
Di Paola added: “Without Ian, Jan, Adam and Nick, it wouldn’t work, but it’s more the players than anything. We have a good team spirit and people enjoy playing, it’s not really me at all.”
On what the future holds for Di Paola, himself, he is taking it one step at a time. He believes he has no where near the experience needed to step up into Ryman League football, but did not rule it out in the future.
He said: “When I was at Clymping in the West Sussex Premier, a few county clubs were asking me about coming over and the main reason I turned them down was that I didn’t have the experience.
“I don’t want to run before I can walk. We are learning and we have young players, so we’ll see what happens next year and take it from there. It’ll be a really good experience next year coming up against managers like Sammy Donnelly and Carl Stabler each week.”
EP had a free week on Saturday, but they face Storrington – the only side to beat them in the league – this weekend.