Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my new #FM15 series, #FordFocus. For those of you going “What! Wait! Hang on! What happened to Haarlem?” then please see the previous post where I cry over my laptop for the reasons I had to end that wonderful, wonderful journey. Haarlem is the past and, almost laughably, Guildford City FC are my future!
To answer the collective “WHO?!” that has gone up from the front row, Guildford City play in the Combined Counties League. “The what?” That is step nine to you and me, pretty much the lowest of the low. Rubbish pitches, even less quality stadiums and one man and his dog watching. Welcome to real grassroots, I love it. Guildford as a town (forget the City thing, far too boring to explain why) is big enough to have a football league team, it just never has. As I mentioned in my previous post, they nearly got elected to the football league a couple of times decades ago, having won the Southern League. Yes, they used to be one of the best non-league clubs in the land playing in front of crowds of well over 7000 people at Joseph’s Road. The council then evicted them, sold the ground from beneath and the club went under in the 1970’s. They reappeared about 20 years ago and now I am going to restore former glory, like I say I am going to do wherever I turn up.
I’ve turned up to a club with no players (which I actually prefer as I get to go and scout a ton of freebies now) a terrible backroom team (all sacked, offers put out to the guys I hope will form my new circle of trust) and a ground at the local leisure centre. Woking are just up the A320 and are a smaller town so I am going to catch them up as fast as I can, and Aldershot is only 15 minutes away by car, so I’ll knock them off their perch too. Ok, they are Hampshire so they don’t really count and they probably don’t even know we exist, but they will soon enough.
I am a man with a plan. I know how we are going to play (3313 as ever) so I will recruit accordingly. Each player will be U23 when I sign him, so hopefully they will develop with me and I can sell them on to make the club some money and then replace. At the moment it is going to be far too expensive to get the youth facilities up to standard so I will be relying on a scouting network (yes two scouts is a network) to find me quality youngsters that have probably been released by clubs at a higher level. I run a good scouting system, I will explain it in more detail in future posts. I am confident in my training methods, players develop and injuries do not often weigh me down too much. I have a winning system of play, a solid recruitment methodology and a sound training practice. This is going to be easy.
I will be bringing my “Soccernomics meets Moneyball” approach to the club which means I will fall in line with the rules below:
- Only sign players on free transfers
- These players must be U23 on the day of signing
- If anyone makes an offer that exceeds the value of a player, sell them
- Always have a replacement lined up for players that are wanted by other clubs – this replacement, ideally, will come from the U18’s
- Always replace a player with a better player if he becomes available and fits the criteria
Oh, I forgot to mention one of things I do on day one at any new club. I throw out the old kit and get a new one designed. See below for the home and away kits City will be running out in. I think the dog will like them, the man maybe not so much.
Anyway, I moved the save on three weeks and spent the time frantically working with my two scouts (Mal Liptrott and former Beatle George Harrison) sifting through players left, right and centre and signing the 16 players that I will start the season with. Allow me to introduce them to you!
Rob “Browny” Brown – Rob is ex-Forest Green, 6ft 4 and 20-years-old. Initially he looks like he will be first choice goalkeeper, stats above 10 for handling, aerial ability, decisions and rushing out. That will do me.
Michael “Berty” Bertram – Berty is ex-Darlington, 6ft 4 and 21-years-old. Decent stats for a back up.
Dan “Crispy” Pringle – Dan was released by Palace, so a good signing for us (hopefully). 6ft, left-footed and 21-years-old he as an interestingly high “flair” stat of 17!
Nicolay “Nicky” Schroeder – released by Ipswich, 6ft 4 and 20-years-old. Also a lefty.
Dwayne “D” Campbell – ex-Wycombe so again has some league club experience. 6ft 3 and 21-years-old I can see D being in the middle of the back three.
Milton “Milts” Elenge – this lad has too many former clubs to list and he is only 21. Likely to take the right hand side of the back three.
As you can see, I am gambling on only needing four defenders at this stage, if the scouts uncover another gem then I may bring them in.
Johnny “Blakey” Blake – he will be the glue in the midfield I would imagine, 23-years-old and played for Workington in the Conference North and then Annan in the Scottish League Two. It looks like he can tackle and hit a free-kick.
Daryn “Henners” Hennessy – Irish, ex-Chelsea, Bristol City and Woking. 21-years-old, cultured left foot.
Michael “Wards” Wardle – 23-years-old, was with Wolves as a kid.
James “Whytey” Whyte – ex-Brentford schoolboy, actually has terrible stats but four scout reports set I had to sign him, so I did.
Josh “Joshy” Blackburn – released by Ebbsfleet, has flair and vision. Little lad at 5ft 9, will play as an enganche. I will have to explain to him what that means.
Celal “Ossie” Osman – released by Ebbsfleet. He was Joshy’s understudy there and will be here. Has pace, vision and makes good decisions.
George “Dukesy” Dukes – released by Northampton, he could well play in the Treq role up front. Equally happy in midfield or attacking midfield so adds versatility.
John “Eddie” Edwards – ex-Stevenage. Signed because of good off the ball stats, as well as flair and natural fitness. Only 18.
Shane “Mitch” Mitchell – no real pedigree being ex-Ramsgate. Mitch has above ten in his pace, acceleration, work rate, off the ball, flair and aggression. He might be one to watch this season.
Lee “Turns” Turner – again no real pedigree, ex-Wakefield. He scores above ten in strength, pace, stamina, natural fitness, work rate, flair and off the ball. Again, he could be a gem.
So that is the initial squad that I chose to work with – wages wise they come in at £850 a week, much less than the budget was given, but given our likely income this season I cannot believe that £2400 a week on wages is a good way to go! I have deliberately only gone with 16 players, to keep the coaching levels as high quality as possible, wages down and give me some room for manoeuvre if I do need to improve the quality in a couple of positions. Equally, I do not want too many lads on the sidelines not getting a game as they will want to leave.
Pre-season friendlies started quite late due to fact I needed some players before we could play matches. I went for three “easy” fixtures against local sides that I would expect to beat. First up were Banstead and we delivered, 2-1. Dukesy scored early, then went off injured. Eddie got the second early in the second half and we let them have one late on. Fortunately, having withdrawn three players with knocks, only big D was a casualty. A twisted ankle meant the big man was out for 7 weeks though.
We turned over Ash three days later. Dukesy netted the perfect hat-trick, left, head, right. We didn’t dominate the way the scoreline suggested as they had more possession than us, but we were pretty clinical in the right areas. Dukesy is looking good, I think he will get a few this season for sure. We picked up another twisted ankle though, Turns out for 7-8 weeks. This meant I was down to just fourteen fit players with one pre-season friendly left!
Our final pre-season run out was against Cobham. A shocking mistake from Crispy let them in to take the lead and he then gave the ball away again before half time, from which they scored. Two became three before Dukesy pulled one back. That wasn’t enough though as they got number four. It was a bit of a beating to be honest, and certainly one to take home and think about. Mind you, it was our biggest crowd in the friendlies. 27 turned out.
So pre-season was over, and my mood had changed completely. By winning the first two games comfortably I started to think we’d walk the league easily. Defeat to Cobham, a team that should not be slapping us about, made me reassess and worry a bit. If I am embarking on a journey to get this club into the Football League before I can think about moving on I do not want to spend extra seasons at a low level. Plus I have been very bullish in the groups recently about my LLM skills and how I can get anyone promoted playing my style of football – I am not a fan of egg on my face. Even scrambled.
Our first league was going to be a trip to Bedfont Sports. I’ve played against Bedfont many times at various levels of local football and it is never an easy trip. They had lost their first game at Horley so were going to be keen to get some points on the board. We went into the game with a squad of 14, but what a 14 (I hoped). If Dukesy could be half as good today as he had been in pre-season I felt confident.
The first half was a dull affair, After 35 minutes Mitch, running on to a diagonal ball from the left, failed to get his shot on target. Five minutes later we had a free kick on the edge of the box. I suggested in the squad preview that Blakey could take a free-kick. I was right, top bins from 20 yards! My first goal as manager and we were 1-0 up at the break. I criticised the performance at half time which seemed to fire the lads up. We stayed solid and then with five minutes left “The Duke” finally notched. I think I prefer “The Duke” as a nickname, let’s call him that. 2-0! For the first league came I couldn’t have asked for much more, a clean sheet and three points. Joshy was MOM, he was finding a lot of quality space in his enganche role.
We only had a couple of days rest before welcoming Camberley Town to The Spectrum. They’d played. Camberley have never been that good, and I really expected a win from this game. I stuck with the same starting XI as against Bedfont, but I noticed that Blakey had not recovered very well, despite me taking him off after 70 in the week. He is going to be a key player this season and I need him to be able to do 90 each match, twice a week.
Some terrible defending from a corner gifted them the lea early in the first half. The Duke thought he had levelled soon after but had drifted offside. The second half was chanceless for either team, so it was a disappointing home debut. We hadn’t played badly according to the stats, but the only one that I was interested in was the goal tally.
We had a week to lick our collective wounds, and I had a quick check in with the scouts to see what they had been up to. It turned out not a lot – no new reports matching my criteria had been filed in 29 days. Fantastic!
Despite the defeat I stuck by the same lads for the trip up the A3 to Raynes Park. I was rewarded early on as Joshy turned in a cross after 8 minutes. Five minutes later Eddie played in Mitch and the score was doubled. Browny went walkabout on a cross just before half time and Raynes Park were back in it. On the hour we restored the two goal advantage. The short corner routine worked a treat, Eddie shot, it hit the post and Ossie followed up to tap in. It worked again in injury time, this time Wards finding the top corner from the edge of the area. Two wins on the road, this was pleasing stuff. Eddie picked up MOM for his two assists but everyone put in a good shift. Mitch twisted his knee though, a five week lay-off, meaning I was down to one fit outfield substitute. Time to bring a new face in.
I felt a left footed striker would be a good thing to find, it would provide a little balance to the front three. I managed to narrow it down to three, each of them had been on a league club’s books as a kid. We ended up going for Matty Reece, yes you can guess his nickname. He had some Conference experience having been released by Fulham. I was hoping the paperwork would be done before the game against Frimley Green, he would be needed.
Reecey was with us by Wednesday and went straight into the squad to face Frimley. After some deliberation I decided not to start him, choosing Ossie to come in for Mitch instead. The first half was dreadful, chanceless and therefore goalless. I brought Reecey on at half time, telling him to go and make a name for himself. He didn’t, and despite dominating the game we couldn’t create a clear cut chance to nick the goal that would have been enough. 0-0, and I don’t get many of them playing this way!
The bigger worry than the fact we still hadn’t won at home was that both Crispy and The Duke were ruled out of the trip to Spelthorne. My Dad used to work in Spelthorne, it was a complete dive back then. No idea what it’s like now before all the Spelthorne crew start commenting. Reecey would come in for The Duke, but I had no other fit defenders to select, plus I would be heading into the match with only a sub goalkeeper on the bench! Turns and Big D were back in light training, so I was contemplating kitting them up for emergencies. Whytey was going to start and Henners dropping to the left hand side of the back three. Spelthorne were 18th, so I was hoping for something to happen on our travels once more.
Another dull first half went by, not a single chance for either team. I laid into the team hoping to spark a reaction. I got one, we were one behind ten minutes later. We switched it up to “overload” and got an instant reward, Ossie legging it down the left wing, latching on to a hopeful punt upfield and miscuing a cross into the top corner. Come on! But the game ended 1-1, another two points had gone begging. Five games in and we were all the way down in 13th place, this was not the start I had hoped for. Still, we had only lost once and that hadn’t been deserved.
The next Saturday saw us travel away in the FA Vase. Ampthill were sitting 14th in the Molten Sparten Premier, so doing as well as us. Big D had done ok when coming on as sub against Spelthorne, so I gave him a starting spot. Ossie got us off to a great start, sniffing around in the box again and tapping in the rebound from Blakey’s free kick. Wardy doubled it shortly after, his second pile driver of the season nestling in the back of the Ampthill net. I warned of complacency at the break and we seemed to be concentrating. Wardie fired in a shot from Blakey’s corner, the ‘keeper saved it but the rebound off the defender crossed the line. 3-0, flying. Number four was delightful, Ossie threading the ball through to Joshy who timed his run to perfection and slotted home. Four was instantly five, Ossie firing home superbly. 5-0 was the final result, another win on the road. The way Ossie has started to lead the line has made me wonder where The Duke is going to fit in upon his return.
The FA Vase drew us against 1874 Northwich who, after some research, are a club I have a lot of time for. Fed up with the way Northwich Victoria were being run, a group of fans broke away and started their own club. Totally supporter-owned, this is my kind of club. That said, I hope we batter them in the Third Round!
We started preparing for the visit of Ashford (Middx) who play in a stadium I’ve played Sunday League football in, The Robert Parker. It’s not bad for a Sunday, but it is no Spectrum Leisure Centre, let me tell you. The Duke returned to training and would be on the bench for the game, I had four subs which was a bit of a luxury! The starting XI was the same as the Vase match, as you would expect. Ashford were flying high in 4th place, so getting my first win at the Spectrum was going to be tough.
The first half passed without incident, despite us having more of the ball. At half time I turned to The Duke, he was on for Eddie. He made little impact and the game was heading for a draw until disaster struck. They hit a hopeful looking shot from distance, Browny dropped it and they followed up and scored. What a kick in the balls that was. Heads dropped immediately and we conceded a silly penalty. It hit the post, but we failed to take advantage of the gift. It was out second league defeat of the season.
Something wasn’t quite clicking going forwards, so I switched the training to attacking movement in the hope it might help us create better chances. I also brought The Duke back to play on the right of the front three and gave Whytey a start ahead of Henners when we travelled to Chertsey. There is a winning combination in here somewhere, just got to find it.
Alwyn Lane is another grim place to go, having played there myself last season. Cold changing rooms, poor surface, always rains. Ossie nearly warmed us up though, forcing a good save from their ‘keeper after ten minutes. We fell behind after half an hour, the long straight ball over the top leaving us in it’s wake and their number nine took the chance. Nicky Schroeder made it even more challenging by getting a straight red for a shocker of a tackle. Sure enough, we were 2-0 down before half time. Two became three after 55 minutes and it was four with twenty to go! We then scored the best goal of the match, a brilliant move which ended with Joshy feeding Reece who pulled one back. It was his first for the club. Ossie then made it 4-2 with his fifth of the season. Then another cracking goal, ten passes and Ossie found the corner. 4-3?! We couldn’t get the equaliser sadly, but it was a brilliant effort. However, great effort or not, we were now down in 16th with just eight points. Plus I wanted to go to bed, but not without a win!
Surely bottom side Knaphill would give us our first win at the Spectrum? When we hit the bar early on I feared the worst. Ossie played in Reece and the chance had gone. They took the lead minutes later. We recovered quickly though, a lovely patient move through the midfield and Reecey arriving late to power it home. Two in two for the lad. We started to play beautifully, Blakey to Wardie who threaded it in behind their back four to Ossie and he scored yet another goal. 2-1 up just before the interval. We went even happier mind, Ossie got another following the best move of the season yet. Six clever passes, wonderful movement and the lad who was going to be a sub midfielder got his 8th goal as a striker. We were solid in the second half and skipper Crispy got his first goal for the club with a fine header from a set-piece. It might have taken until the first game in October, but we had our first home win of the season. We jumped back up to 11th, 8 points behind the leaders with a lot of football to be played.
So, before I leave what else is going on in English football in this save? Liverpool are the early pace-setters in the Premier League, leading Chelsea by a point. West Ham, Stoke and Palace make up the top five. Stand out transfers have seen Obi Mikel move to Real Madrid for £10m, Vertonghen, Schneiderlin and Sneijder move to United for £40m combined, Yarmalenko go to Arsenal for £22m and Newcastle pay a whopping £725k for a teenage Dutch striker called Stokkers. This led to Carver walking out, a replacement yet to be found and Sunderland sacked Poyet. Martin Jol was delighted to take over.
I’ll be back very soon as I motor the Ford through October and November….
Go on Guildford!
(if you enjoy my writing, why not spend £1.99 of your hard-earned cash on my first book, “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager” here: http://buff.ly/1G0WNV9 or my second one, “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager – The Second Season Syndrome” here: http://buff.ly/1NXwJ4r)