The final of the Sussex Junior Challenge Cup is due to take place on 29 March 2023 between AFC Varndeanians Reserves and Cuckfield Town.
AFC Varndeanians Reserves vs. Cuckfield Town
Sussex Junior Challenge Cup Final
Date: Wednesday 29 March 2023
Kick-off: 7:30 PM
Venue: Sussex County FA, Culver Road, Lancing, BN15 9AX
We caught up with AFC Varndeanians Reserves manager Ruben Holliss, 33, who has been with the team as a player, an assistant manager, and now as a manager to get his thoughts ahead of the final.
Holliss trained with Leyton Orient in London in his youth before moving to the south coast where he eventually joined Varndeanians as a player.
When a serious knee injury forced him to hang up his boots prematurely, Holliss swapped them for the tactics board instead. Since then, he has led Varndeanians to their maiden County Cup final. He said:
"It is the first time this team has reached a County Cup final. It's also the first one for the club as a whole so it is a matter of pride for us to have got this far.
“I think it means a lot for the players and for me as manager. I am incredibly proud of all of them. They have worked really hard to be here and everyone on the team is highly motivated going into the game."
Holliss also pointed out that this is not the only trophy that Varndeanians are fighting for. He said:
"We are in two other semi-finals while also competing at the top of our league, which has been a tough task, but we are up for it. We had a really tough start to the league campaign and played some of the strongest teams in the beginning of the season, but we did well.
“Since then, we have gone from strength to strength and the last time we lost a league game was back in October 2022. So, we have been in good form and I think we can continue in that fashion.
“Even though there are never any guarantees in football, we know our fate is still in our hands in the competition and we can go all the way."
Holliss reflected on his side's run to the final which was anything but easy for Varndeanians. He said:
"We had quite a tough run to the final. We played quite a good team in SC Pass and Move and got an amazing result against them, beating them 6-0 at home.
“If I had to pick a highlight for the whole season, it would be the quarter-final we played against TD Shipley. We were virtually untouchable in the first 45 minutes of that game, and we played an amazing game of football to beat them 4-2."
Holliss is hoping for his team's fans to fill the stands in Culver Road. He said:
"I am hoping the fans turn out in numbers. It is a proud moment not only for them but for all the parents, guardians, and supporters of the players and the entire team. Hopefully, we get a big turnout and give them a good game of football and an evening to remember."
Holliss also shared his message for his team ahead of their first final. He said:
"I will tell them what I have been telling them all along. They have earned the right to be in this final by playing good football throughout.
“We did not have an easy run to this game. We have won some very difficult games to get here including some really tough games away from home.
“Now that they have earned the right to play this game, they need to stay focused and keep their eyes on the prize and ensure they enjoy every second while they do so."
Their opponents Cuckfield Town are one of the oldest clubs in England, with their history going all the way back to 1823.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday night’s final, manager James Ballantyne was keen to reflect of the strong performances that had got his team to this point.
“We really started strongly with that 5-2 win over AFC Jesters, and then with the game against Yapton, I remember they’d travelled to our place with only 10 players, but fair play to them, they gave it a really good do,” said Ballantyne.
“The game against Horsham Trinity though was a real test; we didn’t play our best football in the first-half so in the end we had to dig deep and get back to level pegging.
“Then, thankfully, the penalty shootout went our way and we’ve not looked back.”
For Cuckfield, their cup run stands in sharp contrast to their form in the Mid Sussex League, in which they currently sit bottom.
“We can’t escape the fact we’re are rock bottom at the moment,” said Ballantyne, “but I do feel that we’ve turned a corner.
“However, it’s definitely going to be a tough end of the season with so many games still to play.
“But this cup run has been great, and this is certainly where we’ve put in our best performances - we targeted a cup run at the start of the season so now it’s just about making that next step.”
This season is Ballantyne’s 14th with the club in various capacities: “It started when I just came down to a session with a mate,” said Ballantyne, “and since then I’ve been involved in coaching and then being on the committee. So I’ve been involved in the running of the club in some way over the last 10 years.
“There have certainly been some tough times but the club’s been really growing recently, which has been great to see.”
And as for the big game on Wednesday, who does Ballantyne think can be the ones to make an impact.
“I’d have to say Fin Dye and Ashton Pettifer,” said Ballantyne, “they’re certainly our danger men so if they turn up strong than we can beat anyone in our division.
“With Ashton you’ve got someone with real pace and an eye for goal, who just seems to be able to score them out of nothing - and then with Fin he’s just a really good technical player, who can play where he wants and do what he wants.”
However, for Ballantyne, he knows that for his side to come out on top against AFC Varndeanians Reserves, he’s going to need some magic from all of his team if they’re going to bring this trophy home.
Entry prices are as follows (Cash and Card accepted):
£7.00 Adult (17+)
£5.00 Concession (66+ and students with valid student ID card)
£1.00 Child (16 and under)
£1.50 Official Match Day Programme
For further details about the Sussex Junior Challenge Cup please contact:
T: 01903 753547