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Football League is Donald's dream
11:05am Tuesday 29th April 2014 in Sport
Eastleigh chairman Stewart Donald will not rest until the Spitfires are a Football League club.
Even though his side have just won the Skrill South, the hard work that started as soon as he arrived at the Silverlake Stadium will not cease with more high ambitions in mind.
Donald, head of Bridle Insurance, has bankrolled Eastleigh since late 2011.
His financial backing has helped boss Richard Hill create a squad that has been the envy of many Conference South teams this term.
But while they've just completed a historic promotion to the Conference Premier, which came 11 years after winning the Wessex Premier, Donald isn’t resting on his laurels.
He is already preparing the next step of the club’s remarkable rise.
“We’ve not got promoted on the assumption we're going to make the numbers up,” he said.
“We’re keen to compete and we think we'll be able to do that.
“We’ve already had the initial conversations on our next steps and whether we consolidate or we try to push on.
“I don’t know if it’s long term or more of a short term aim to climb higher, but the objective is to reach the Football League.
“This is the result of two years hard work that’s paid off brilliantly – but it doesn’t stop here.”
Even though Donald is thinking of the club’s future already, he is proud of what has been achieved by Hill’s team this memorable campaign.
He said: “Over the last couple of weeks, obviously we started to dream that we might win the title.
“The players and management have worked very hard all year, so we’re very worthy winners.
“We’ve been tough to beat all season.
“I don’t think we’ve lost two games in a row and we’ve won our last ten home games, so I always thought we’d be alright.
“We’re relieved, excited and proud.
“It’s a wonderful feeling; there have been an awful lot of people that have worked very hard.
“I’ve enjoyed watching the fans get more and more excited as the season developed.
“There’s a really good feeling about the place and it’s great for everybody that we’ve been able to see it over the line.”
When they kick off the 2014/15 Conference Premier season, it will be the highest any Eastleigh team will have ever played in their 68-year history.
Those dizzy heights has forced Donald, with the champagne freshly popped and celebrations barely underway, to immediately start planning with Hill for next term.
He said: “The hard work starts now.
“We now know what league we’ll be in next season, which means we can plan in-depth from now.
“Richard has got a fair idea of what he wants to do with the squad.
“Realistically, we’ll need four to six players.
“He’ll probably say eight and I’ll say four, so we’ll end up on six.
“But with six quality players added, we’ll be very strong.
“We’ve already played two Conference teams and lost to one and the other we beat 2-0.
“They (Gateshead and Cambridge United) are both likely to finish in the play-offs.
“We’ve got the nucleus of what we need, but we’ve just got to try and ensure that we add well to the team.”
Eastleigh defeated Gateshead 2-0 in the FA Trophy, before losing to eventual winners Cambridge United 1-0 at the Silverlake in the quarter finals.
While Hill celebrated winning the Conference South title after the Basingstoke win on Good Friday, he spent little time speaking about it on a personal level.
Instead, he dedicated it to his chairman and those who have worked hard behind the scenes.
He said: “This wasn’t down to me or the players. It’s Stewart Donald who’s made this happen and massive credit to him.
“We managed to get the players we wanted. We worked very hard at recruitment and it’s paid off.”
Donald hired Hill, the former assistant manager of QPR and Aston Villa, after the departure of Ian Baird in September 2012.
One of Baird’s predecessors was Paul Doswell, the current Sutton United manager and the man who took the Spitfires from the Wessex to the Conference South.
Hill has had high expectations put on his shoulders since he arrived and has delivered what was asked of him by the club’s board.
Donald has faith that Hill, who once managed in Kazakhstan, can continue to deliver at the next level and beyond.
He said: “Richard can be very successful at this club.
“The easy answer is always that ‘oh, we’ve spent a lot of money, so we’re going to be successful’.
It has been a topic of conversation throughout the season that Eastleigh’s budget means that promotion is an easy achievement, but Donald thinks that is far from the truth. “There are plenty of examples where football clubs have spent an awful lot of money, a lot more than we have, and haven’t achieved,” he explained.
“There’s one or two teams that have got comparable, if not better, budgets than we have and they haven’t spent wisely and haven’t achieved like we have.
“We’ve spent the money and, to be fair, Richard has spent every penny wisely and he’s accomplished a lot.
“Can he go on and do it again next season?
“He’s got two further years now we’ve got promotion.
“He’s got two years, at least, to get us to the Football League, which is where we want to go.”
While Hill controls what happens on the pitch, creating a side that possesses vast experience at Conference Premier and Football League levels, Donald is kicking every ball, on the edge of his seat for much of every game.
He has previously admitted that he is rarely relaxed during a game.
So, next term will be another filled with nerve jangling moments for him, especially as he’s set some very high targets for a club that is going into their highest ever level.
“We think we’re able to cope well in the league, we’ll obviously have to strengthen the squad,” he said.
“What with the transfer windows, which make it a little bit more difficult to go out and get players, we’ll want to sign half a dozen quality players to go with what we’ve already got.
“Without doubt we could be a Football League club – that’s got to be the aim.”
The Silverlake Stadium saw more than 1,000 people turn out for the last two matches against Dover Athletic and Basingstoke Town, but for the majority of the season the crowds haven’t surpassed 700.
Despite those figures, Donald is keen to rally the local community and is facilitating for an expected boom in support.
“We’ve already purchased a stand that will house 2,000 standing spectators, so that will go the length of one side,” he explained.
“The biggest thing for us is whether or not the town will respond.
“The gates haven’t been brilliant all season, but to get 1,500 at the Basingstoke game ... I think it shows if we keep improving the facility, which we’ll do over the summer, more people will come.
“It reflects that the town will probably respond and, if they do, it’ll make all the efforts to develop worthwhile.
“The project will then be to extend the main stand with corporate facilities, which we’ll put planning in for in the next six to eight weeks.
“All of the standing will be ready for next season. It will be here by the end of May.
“The main stand will take a little bit longer as there’s a lot of planning to do on that.
“But, yes, the majority of it will be done for next season.”
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