*BS*Dover Athletic striker Stefan Payne speaks to Jack O’Sullivan about his reasons for joining the club, his experience in non-league football and his hopes for the 2014/15 season.*BF*
Payne became manager Chris Kinnear’s first summer signing as he prepares to lead Whites into the Conference Premier next season, joining the club on the back of a prolific campaign at Ryman Premier side AFC Hornchurch.
The frontman hit 31 goals in 46 games for The Urchins last season, finishing as joint top-scorer with former Dover striker George Purcell. Payne was courted by Whites on more than one occasion over the past twelve months, as he explains: “There was some interest from the club last summer, but that didn’t come to anything. Then, further interest came in January but I was still under contract at Hornchurch so I ended up seeing out my contract with them.
“When you’re a footballer and your contract expires, it’s always a bit of a stressful time as all you want to be doing is playing football and find yourself a new club. When I found out Dover were interested in me this time around, it was a no-brainer.
“I jumped at the chance. To go from the Ryman Premier to the Conference Premier is a big chance, and one that I am sure I can make the most of. I’ve played at this level before, with Ebbsfleet, and am ready for the challenge.”
During his time spent with Ebbsfleet, the 22-year-old played alongside a number of players who were on Whites’ books last season – Nathan Elder, Craig Stone, Ashley Carew and Liam Bellamy: “I’m not sure how many of them are going to be with the club next season, but if any of them are then it will be good to link up with them again. They’re good players. I also played with Tom Murphy when I was younger.”
Despite the two-division jump Payne has now committed to, he is optimistic in his ability to make the transition and fire in the goals that he undoubtedly has in him: “I’m a very confident player. If I can get a good run in the side, then I’ll always have the belief that I can score goals.
“Last season, I set myself a target of 20-25 goals for Hornchurch and I beat that. That was my first full season with a club, and if I can stay fit this season then I don’t see why I can’t get a similar number next season for Dover. It is a step up in quality, but I think it will suit me. Sometimes, the lower down the leagues you go the harder it is – but playing every week with, and against, better players will make me a better player.”
When asked of his strengths, the Lambeth-born man stated: “I love getting in behind defenders, or getting them in a one-on-one situation and beating them. I’m also very quick, and work hard, and no defender likes a player like that getting in behind them as it forces them to play with their back to goal.”
Payne, who made 27 appearances for Gillingham between 2010 and 2012, still has aspirations to play in the Football League: “Of course, every player at this level should be looking to break into the professional game. I’m still young, and hopefully one day I can get back into the League.
“This season though, I’ve just got to get my head down and work hard. I’ve done a lot, and learnt a lot, in my last few years and I’ll be bringing all of that with me to Dover.
“I just can’t wait to get started now. The stress has gone and now I’m just excited. This is a big club in Kent football and I’m really pleased to be a part of it. We’ll be going to some big, well-supported clubs next season like Bristol Rovers and Torquay, but I’m sure we will go into every game positively and confident of pulling off some upsets along the way.”
“Finally, I’m very grateful for the good-luck messages I’ve already received from a lot of Dover fans – and I look forward to seeing you and playing in front of you next season.”