Shaun Sowden seeking success for Kershaw League Representative squad
Putting the pride back in the Cambridgeshire County League side
For grassroot footballers, receiving the call to represent the county is still an honour that is bestowed on only a select few.
With 13 divisions in the Cambridgeshire County League, going from the Kershaw League down to 5B in the Mead & Plant Grab League, there is a huge pool of players that could be considered so catching the eye of the manager is quite a feat.
And that manager is Shaun Sowden, who is determined to reinvigorate the prestige of being named in the Kershaw League Representative squad.
The present incarnation of the squad will line-up this Saturday (December 16) to take on Thames Valley at Histon Football Club, bidding to reach the last eight of the FA Inter-League Cup.
The competition, which is held every two years, is for leagues at Step 7 of the National League System and for amateur players who have never been under a written professional contract.
It was inaugurated in September 2003, and the Cambridgeshire County League have reached the final twice, but lost on each occasion, to 2-0 to the Mid-Cheshire League in 2004 and 4-0 to the Isle of Man League in 2006.
So in his first year as manager, the stage is set for Sowden and the current crop of players.
“It’s just one of those things that has tended to die out,” he said. “To play for your county is a privilege, but it’s lost it’s appeal over recent years.
“It’s just about trying to elevate it back to where it should be because if you’re playing in this particular team then you’re being recognised as one of the top 16 to 20 players in the league and representing your county.
“The players deserve a little bit of recognition for what they’re doing and the achievements they’ve made. But it seems to have all been glossed over and nobody pays much attention to it anymore, so it’s just trying to bring it back into the public eye as it were.”
Trying to lift the status of the county team is a difficult challenge in the modern era, as Sowden well knows.
He has a wealth of experience in the game, having made the move from Histon to Sheffield Wednesday in his playing days, and managed in the Kershaw League for the past 10 years – first with Waterbeach and then the next five years at Fulbourn Institute.
Having seen plenty of changes, Sowden believes that football is in a transitional period as with professional clubs taking players at such a young age, there is not as much of the gene pool coming back into grassroots football.
And the increasing work demands on individuals make it difficult for the current crop of players to give the commitment to the county squad.
Selection is a minefield as it is not as if there will be videos of players in action, and to that end Sowden is helped by assistant manager Andy Parker, Robin Barton and Steve Barrett.
They head off on a Saturday, either as a group or individuals, to scout as many matches as possible, and also talk to players, managers and representatives for recommendations of those of which to take note.
There is also general assistance from Cambs FA, and on matchdays from Tony Peachey.
“It’s my first season with it, so it’s trying to pick up and see how it works, getting guys interested in wanting to come and play for the county rather than thinking of having the weekend off instead,” said Sowden.
“We’re very fortunate as we have a good pool of players to pick from.
“It’s quite difficult in the first year as you’re trying to amass as much information as quickly as possible about who is doing well.
“For example, Nick Baggaley, the last manager, has been very helpful giving me lots of names that he has worked with over the previous season or two.
“Then you look at the stats about who is scoring and who’s not conceding, and you pool all that information together and start to go looking at players.
“You are constantly watching and then someone will give you a little tip that someone is playing well.”
With players coming from across a large area, training sessions are hard to arrange.
There is a huge demand on artificial pitches in midweek during the autumn and winter, and work commitments lead to late drop-outs.
But it is often a bit easier to get players to matches, and last week Newmarket Town stepped into the breach at the last minute to help them prepare to face Thames Valley.
And that performance impressed Sowden.
“The aim is to really give it a good bash,” he said. “We’ve got a good group of players this year.
“We had a good game against Newmarket, and the players showed a lot of potential, energy, drive and determination.
“The message seems to be getting through that everyone will be given an opportunity. We’ve tried to go and watch every team; we’ve even brought in players from the lower leagues.
“We’re trying to get the message out that everyone has an opportunity to come and play. There is a certain energy within the squad that players are excited to be involved in it.”
He added: “We are through to the last 16 with a real opportunity to progress further forward.
“The winners of the competition go on to represent the country in a European competition, so it’s certainly worth doing. And if you’re going to do it, you do it to the best of your ability.”
Squad: Sam Claire, Luke Upcott, Josh Townsend, Michael Lambert, Nick Impey (all Great Shelford), Samuel Sowden Fletcher, Jordan Baker, Jordan Traynier, Taz Chisango (all Fulbourn Institute), Dean Grogan (Lakenheath), Martyn Farrant, Danny Hills, Mark Lovell (all West Wratting), Neil Morris, Lee Bassett (both Eaton Socon), Callum Gawthrop (Bar Hill).