From ‘one man and his dog’ to the FA Cup – Why Berks County’s bosses couldn’t walk away

Berks County at Marlow in the County Cup. Photo: Rafal Bak.
Berks County at Marlow in the County Cup. Photo: Rafal Bak.

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Berks County are going up. Eight years on from struggling at the bottom of the Thames Valley Premier League, the Swords are a Step 5 club.

It’s been a whirlwind for the management team. A few days on from a Combined Counties League Division One play-off Final defeat, Lee Simpson and Ellis Woods stepped down having felt they’d taken the team as far as they could.

And frankly, as Woods says ‘we needed to recharge’.

Ellis Woods and Lee Simpson.
Berks County FC managers Ellis Woods and Lee Simpson.

Fast forward to Friday and confirmation from the FA via the National League System (NLS) allocations, the Swords had been placed in the CCL Premier Division North alongside Reading City and Wokingham & Emmbrook, and qualified for the FA Cup for the first time.

‘Simmo’ and Woods had some thinking to do and quickly realised they wouldn’t want anyone else taking County on that journey.

Speaking to Woods, it’s clear his affection for the club and the people behind the scenes means this decision and change of mind was inevitable.

The joint managers have young families who had embedded within the club and both have built a tight knit group despite the clubs ‘nomadic’ existence.

Simpson added: “Football’s emotions swing quickly. We made the right choices at the time, but promotion changed everything. I can’t walk away now after all the effort. It’s unbelievable that Berks County FC will be in the FA Cup in 2024/25. Letting someone else take over didn’t feel right. The situation is crazy – I’m having a baby in July – but the club has been fantastic and wants to make it work. We couldn’t turn down this opportunity. So, it’s a shorter break than planned, but let’s enjoy the challenge. Football is crazy; I keep telling my wife. I hope she understands.”

Late heartbreak for Berks County as Highmoor-IBIS equalise. Photo: Mark Pugh.
Berks County at their then Bracknell Sport Centre home in 2016. Photo: Mark Pugh.

The men’s team is the part of the club that gets the headlines, but peak behind the curtain and there’s a thriving youth, junior and women’s sections helping to build the foundations of a club that is still less than 15 years old.

Woods said: “To be honest we’re a little embarrassed, we had some lovely comments and messages after we confirmed our departure and we were told there was no chance we’d be promoted. It felt like the right moment to make a change, for us and the club, a clean break.

“When the news came through we were asked to reconsider, which we obviously had, I couldn’t sit there watching someone else take on this challenge.”

County’s promotion comes after resignations at the levels above, the Swords always looked good in a points per game context and in recent seasons it’s been FA policy to relegate rather than reprieve at the levels above. However it’s difficult for any club to know for certain until that call comes.

So for County in 2024/25, it’s going to be historic, but with Simpson and Woods back at the helm, fresh from a four day break, you wouldn’t bet against them.

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