FORMER Eastleigh boss Paul Doswell has sent his sincere best wishes to his old club for achieving their goal of Conference Premier football.
Doswell, whose Sutton United side finished runners-up to Skrill South champions Eastleigh but missed out on promotion in the play-offs, hasn’t exactly been the best of friends with Spitfires boss Richard Hill.
The pair had a very public spat over finances following last November’s tetchy 1-1 draw at Gander Green Lane.
Doswell had set the tone for an ill-tempered afternoon when he spoke of the Spitfires’ “exceptional” budget and claimed that his old club were so far ahead of the rest that winning the league should be a “fait accompli”. He later added that he had “no respect whatsoever” for his Stoneham Lane counterpart.
Hill, in reply, hinted that Doswell was not being entirely up front about his own playing budget, claiming: “Whatever people say about Eastleigh, I think you’ve seen the big money team today, which is Sutton.”
Six months later and with the dust having settled on a thrilling Conference South season, Doswell is keen to give Eastleigh a richly deserved pat on the back for their outstanding achievement of joining the non-League elite.
It was Doswell’s own dream to take the Spitfires to the Conference National when he first took over as boss back in 2002, when Eastleigh were still a Wessex League club.
After landing the Wessex title at the first attempt, he delivered Conference South football just two years later via the Ryman Premier play-offs.
He stepped down from Spitfires’ management in 2006 and finally severed contact with the club in 2008 when he took the reins at Sutton United, where he has just signed a new four-year deal.
Congratulating Eastleigh on their exceptional season, Doswell said: “I’d like to say well done to them all – and I really do mean that.
“It’s fantastic really because the club could so easily have gone the other way.
“Credit must go to (owner/chairman) Stewart Donald and to Richard Hill because, regardless of budget, winning the Conference South was a tough thing to do when you think of where Eastleigh came from.
“I felt they might drop a few points away from home this season, but their home form was astonishing. They’ve been invincible at the Silverlake.
“I texted Richard Hill after they won the league to say well done and I want to put all the rubbish (the bad feeling between the clubs) to bed now.
“The fact Richard and I didn’t see eye to eye during the season was down to us being two very competitive people as much as anything.
“I take my hat off to Stewart, the chairman, who seems as if he’s one of the fans, and there are so many other good people at Eastleigh that I’m genuinely pleased for.
“Looking back, it was a bit of a roller-coaster ride taking Eastleigh from a members’ club to a shareholding, but that decision has been proved 100 per cent right.
"There are always Stewart Donalds out there who will take a club on, but it’s unusual in football that someone is as true to his word as he has been.
“Seeing all the photos that have appeared in The Pink recently has brought back some good memories of what a great time we had at the club with Roger Sherwood and Clive Wilson and I genuinely believe that if Roger, Paul Murray and myself hadn’t got it going, it would still be a Wessex club. I feel quite proud of what we achieved back then.
“In the early days we did a lot of publicity stunts like signing Doddsy (Jason Dodd), Matt Le Tissier and Francis Benali and we managed to get crowds up to 700.
“We got Saints’ first team there and Rupert Lowe came to open the stand. “Reading The Pink, I saw my daughter Lily when she was eight, my son Connor when he was ten and little Freddie as a baby.
“There are so many good memories and I’ve got to the stage where I don’t want them sullied any more.
“I wish Eastleigh good luck in the Conference Premier – and I think they will do well too. I hope the town gets behind them and they get the crowds they deserve.
“It’s great that Sholing won the FA Vase final too and I’d like to pass on my congratulations to (manager) Dave Diaper.
“Also, it’s good seeing Dave Malone back at Winchester City with Paul Murray. I fancy Winchester to do well next season. They’re doing it the right way there.
“We (Sutton) have already arranged a pre-season friendly at Winchester on July 5.”