The 2017/18 season was one of highs and lows for all 24 sides in the Vanarama National League, and next term we’ll have six new sides to face from across the country. This week we take a look at a side competing in non-league's top tier for the first time, Havant & Waterlooville.
Name: Havant & Waterlooville Football Club
Nickname: The Hawks
Manager: Lee Bradbury
Ground: West Leigh Park (Capacity: 5,300)
2017/18 league position: 1st (Vanarama National League South)
Manager Lee Bradbury has overseen a frantic six years at Westleigh Park with a host of highs and lows.
Born on the Isle of White, Bradbury’s career began when he signed professional terms with Portsmouth in 1995. The first in a string of spells at Fratton Park, he went on to make over 50 appearances in his two year spell, grabbing 15 goals. Manchester City was next on the forward’s agenda where his 10 goals earned him another move, this time back down south with Crystal Palace for £1.5million.
After a frustrating season at Selhurst Park where he was also loaned out to Birmingham City, Bradbury returned to Pompey for a successful five-year stint.
During his second spell, which began in 1999, Bradbury would make over a century of appearances but miss out on large chunks of their promotion to the Premier League via the Division One title win as he fell out of Harry Redknapp’s favour. He departed after a season in the Premier League was spent out on loan to Derby County and Walsall, joining Oxford United.
He’d go on to play for Southend United before landing back on the South Coast with AFC Bournemouth in 2007. He’d taste management for the first time taking over in 2011 following Eddie Howe’s departure, and lead them to the League One play-offs. He was dismissed the following season due to a poor run of form and in 2012 return for a spell as youth coach at Portsmouth before heading for Havant.
After a steady few seasons they began 2015/16 as favourites after reaching the playoffs the year before, but found themselves relegated to the Southern Premier in May, before a rapid return saw them promoted back a season later. Bradbury made it back to back promotions as they pipped Dartford to the title in May and cement himself in Havant folklore.
Havant & Waterlooville boast a number of top talent in their ranks, many of whom played in the Football League with their parent club Portsmouth, including likes of Bradley Tarbuck, Wes Fogden, Nicke Kabamba and Matt Tubbs.
Tubbs is a well-known forward in the National League having scored a hatful for the likes of Crawley Town, Forest Green and Eastleigh. Kabamba was on loan at Aldershot last season and was released by Portsmouth in the summer, he could line up well alongside Tubbs next term.
West Leigh Park has been the home of Havant & Waterlooville since the clubs merged in 1998. Situated in Havant, it was the home of Havant FC from 1982 whilst Waterlooville FC played at the now demolished Jubilee Park.
The record attendance for the ground is 4,400 when they hosted Swansea City in the FA Cup 3rd Round in 2008 during their historic cup run. The ground is also home to Portsmouth Reserves and Youth sides during PL2 matches and Portsmouth FC Ladies.
Formed in 1998 as a merger of Havant FC and Waterlooville FC, they've crammed a lot in to their 20 year history. During their first season they finished as champions of the Southern Premier Southern Division and were promoted once again in 2002.
Over the years they came close to promotion from the Conference South finishing fourth in 2007, but that year they'd go on to achieve what not many thought possible. During the 2007/08 season a side just a few miles south at Fratton Park would go on to win the competition, but Havant would rival them all the way going on to reach the fourth round and dream away tie at Anfield.
Having already seen off the likes of Swansea City, Notts County and York City they led twice against Liverpool before bowing out 5-2. In 2015 they were relegated but regrouped to take the Southern Premier and National League South titles back to back to reach non-league's top tier under Lee Bradbury.