Alright guys, something a bit different for next week or so as #TheJenaJourney is put to one side for a while. There are two reasons for this; Firstly it was doing my head in and I am on the verge of resigning and ending the save. Secondly, the time it takes to write up five matches a day in my style is time that I need to invest in writing the third “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager” book which I am hoping to launch in March.
So, instead, as I cannot stay quiet for long, I will be giving you mid and end-of season reviews on my Clapton FC lower league save. I have just ended season three, and things are going very, very well. But first, why Clapton FC? Well, they appealed to me on several levels. The are from the East End of London, where my girlfriend grew up – just minutes from Upton Park. They are a club steeped in non-league history, having won the FA Amateur cup many times back before WW2. More recently, they have been adopted by a group that call themselves the Clapton Ultras – possibly the best fans in non-league. The atmosphere they create at The Old Spotted Dog is something that you really need to go and see for yourselves, it is incredible.
My plan for this long-term save was to buck against the trend of lower league football. Apparently to do well in the lower leagues, and I have to say having played for and managed sides in senior county leagues I saw a lot of this first hand, you have to play 442, keep it simple, fill the team with experience and lump it forward. Well, that doesn’t work for me – though there can be a certain beauty in a well organised, direct, aggressive side (I love the old Wimbledon team and also enjoyed the Stoke style under Pulis, much to the disbelief of anyone that has played in one of my teams!)
I want to take Clapton FC to the Football League, something they have never achieved – but I don’t want to do it the obvious way as described above. No, I am creating a club that is going to catch the eye, make the Ultras proud to turn up in their tens every week. So, I am playing #Strikerless, using a tweaked version of @merryguido‘s legendary style. Oh, and I am trying to bring through some local lads to give The Tons a real East End identity.
Down in Step Nine, Step Eight and Step Seven you have to win the league to guarantee promotion – so if did not hit the ground running this could become a long, frustrating save. Fortunately, I won the Essex Senior on the last day of the first season (we also came runners up in the FA Vase) and I then cantered to the Isthmian D1N in the second season, which featured an FA Cup run that was ended in the First Round by Portsmouth, the 2008 winners, in a replay at Fratton Park.
Moving into the third season I was delighted to see that everyone was writing us off as relegation candidates. It meant we could have a go with no pressure on us. By have a go, I mean go and break every record possible. Have a look below at the final league table!
Yes, we won it with five games to go. We got the record amount of points ever, lost the least amount of games ever, won the most amount of games ever, scored the most goals ever. Sure, we didn’t concede the fewest amount of goals ever, but you cannot have everything right?
We owned this league from day one, we were stupendously good at times. Our top goal-scorer for the first two seasons was Ross “Gilfy” Gilfedder who got over 30 in both campaigns. We lost him for three months early on with a dislocated shoulder, but he still came back to get 27 in all competitions.
As you can see below, the squad was pretty much the same as last season but with a few players coming on and winning places in the starting eleven. Heathy was quality in goal, again, making saves that won us at least twelve points. Cooper was excellent at right back, many goals originated from crosses from the right. The two centre backs ended up being new signings, Enstone and Palmer. I ended up losing faith with the captain, Axten, as we just conceded goals when he played and we didn’t when he didn’t – even though his average rating was ok. Sometimes you just have to look beyond average ratings, attributes and what the coaches think and go with what seems to be working even if it makes no sense. The same goes with the lad at left back, Jennings. He replaced Ebsworth early in the season and is nowhere near as good a player, apparently, according to attributes and coaching reports. But when he played, we did better at the back. So he played.
In midfield, Batts and Henners still occupied two of the places and were sheer class. The right hand spot of the three was taken by another kid that came from the first season youth intake, Kenny Burt. When he joined the club he was just a right midfielder.
You can see in his screen shot that I have trained him to be able to play as a CM as well as an AM and AM/R. The reason why I do this is so that players feel comfortable in different areas of the pitch. With the #Strikerless formation, sure they line up in one position at the start of the first half, second half and whenever a goal is scored, but once that whistle goes they move all over the place – so it makes sense to me that they are comfortable in those areas that they move into. I do this with all my players – the full backs get retrained into WB and MR or ML, if I have long enough with them I will probably even take that to AMR and AML. The CM/D will get retrained as DM’s, even though they will never play in that position. My three AM’s will retrain as strikers and as CM’s, again even though they will probably not play there. This makes the formation totally fluid, not just words on a tactics screen.
The “front three” or the “just in front of the midfield three” were sensational. Gilfy, as you know, came back and got 27 goals. Greeny, who my backroom team say is “not good enough for the Clapton squad” scored 29 and carried the team in several games. He also takes a mean corner and free-kick, even if his attributes suggest otherwise. Nads, playing in the middle, also got over 20 goals. Cleaver, who I signed in the summer, deputised brilliantly for Gilfy when he was out, and got 12 goals and shed loads of assists from his twelve starts.
As you would expect, we featured highly on the end of season league stats page – see below.
We had another decent FA Cup run, and it shows how well we are doing when I can be disappointed that we lost in the First Round Proper, again. We beat Ebbsfleet of the Conference in the final Prelim round and got drawn against Conference North Boston United, a game I thought we should win. Sadly we lost 2-1, but played well.
So we have been promoted again, next season is the Conference South. I really feel that the squad is pretty much there without any major transfer activity needed. All the players that I wanted to keep were signed on a new one-year-deal, many on less money than this season, so I won’t be losing anyone I don’t want to keep. I have some good young lads that I signed last summer ready to take over from the likes of Nade and Green who may not be able to keep going much longer, but will certainly start the season. I also have two good lads that came in the youth intake, a shadow striker (perfect for us) and a centre back. Both will be involved in the first team squad next season. I only signed those two as the rest were not that good – no point in signing them for the sake of it.
Over the summer I hope to add one good centre back as I will be releasing Palmer and Axten. I am also looking for a talented, young CM who can play as a DLP/D if and when Batts is injured or banned. I am planning to have a small squad next season, nice and tight, which should be manageable with the amount of versatility I am training in.
That’s it for today guys, short and sweet. Not sure when the next one will be as I am trying to knock out the as yet unnamed book three as fast as I can.
Thanks for reading.