Wally’s at the Wheel

Again.

Yep, it’s Meet The Manager time again. The tantalising buildup to the pre-season friendlies, in the ever-stuffy main bar at KM. Wonder if this will be the last time we’ll get such a shindig there?

Anyway, with an earlier start thanks to the wimmin’s World Cup, and with a good number of people there, we started off with the now almost-obligatory new shirt selling.

Which, when Will Nightingale and Nesta walked out, made them look like they’d been protesting in France for the last six months.

Anyway, a few words from both of them. Will said that pre-season is tough, and Nesta repeated that he had come to watch the Brizzle Rovers game, and that he’s optimistic about the next campaign.

After a bit more posing, they were finally allowed to go home, which took us to the man who we had all come to see…

It was just Walter on his own this time (as it later turned out, GH had just become a grand-dad), which was a bit of a shame as listening to our backroom staff last time was genuinely insightful.

Still, the first question came, and it was about VAR. WD likes it if it helps with “factual” stuff, but for incidents like penalties etc, it should still be left to the referee’s discretion.

Then, came the thorny(ish) issues of transfers. While this was going on, the news that Toby Sibbick has left us for Barnsley came through. Well, it got completed earlier that day, although announcing it during such a meeting is always a tricky one.

As an aside, and to save me having to do an update later, it’s the kind of thing we should expect from now on. Especially as we’re supposedly getting £300k for him, which isn’t to be sniffed at.

At least it explains why he wasn’t in Wexford, and as WD said, there was strong interest as far back as last season. A move best for all concerned, though you wonder how he would have progressed with us next season.

Something our manager felt our now ex-player should have considered, although he didn’t blame him one bit for wanting to move to Oakwell.

A question about formations, which I tuned out on, although we “stumbled” on it, and after changing it for the Fleetwood/Burton debacles, we reverted back to it.

Our aim for next season is around 13th, as pro-rata that’s where we would have finished after Walter took over.

More on Sibbick. We get a good transfer fee, and we have two right-back options. Left back may still be an issue, although that might have been a comment for public consumption.

Tellingly, Nesta has been coming on a lot quicker and stronger than they expected. Anyway, Walter isn’t worried…

Somebody asked about corners, and apparently our centre backs have missed something like eight opportunities at goal because of shite finishing. That said, our delivery got better as Wally got more of a grip on the wheel.

Questioned about the Wexford trip, WD quipped “It reinforced who the daft ones were”, which drew a guffaw or three.

It was a bonding trip and a chance to get away from the routine, which is what the trip to Germany will be. Also, we’ll be playing a game in Spain before the season starts.

Piggy will undoubtedly get interest – though not necessarily from Reading – although WD seemed unflustered about that.

We had eight trialists, at the start of pre-season, which have been narrowed down to three. Some have suffered from their agents overplaying their ability, basically. Also, while we do use them a fair bit (and they get recommended to us), ones that get snapped up are few and far between these days.

New number nine? We’re making some headway, and hope to announce someone in the next week.

Roscrow scored – to quote – “1000 goals in 2 years” in the Welsh league, but it’s obviously a step up to L1.

When it comes to goalies, we’d prefer a permanent one – but not at the wages PL reserves demand. The phrase “few and far between” got mentioned a couple of times, and it got repeated here too.

So loans are a fact of life for us. Trott is as talented as Ramsdale, but hasn’t gone out on loan to a senior side before (Ramsdale’s time at Chesterfield, which wasn’t the best, got bought up here).

The “hilarious” question came up, and it was about one of the bird’s World Cup forwards signing for us. If it’s Alex Morgan, it won’t be just our defence she could stiffen up…

On a more serious note, we had England and Swansea goalie coach Martyn Margetson to look at Rambo (Wally knows him from the WHU days), and was impressed with not only him but Ashley “Bayzo” Bayes too.

That might have been a reason why although it was predicted by some that he would move on this summer, he was kept on instead.

Anyway, because of this word of mouth, and a boost to our reputation, we had “three or four PL clubs” offering their goalies to us.

Wagstaff? Some stuff about formations that again I lost interest in, and there might have been a mention of Connolly. My ears pricked up at “there are some lazy sods in this division” from our manager, and I assume he wasn’t referring to our squad.

Contracts? I’d have to listen to this bit again, but I think we’d want three year deals for the youngsters, with us having the advantage over selecting the extension. Deji was mentioned here, for some reason.

Too many loans? Ramsdale was “all right”, ditto Seddon and Folivi. After the chuckles, it transpired that the only break in the year deals was Purrington, which as we all know happened.

Walter was “polite” about it, according to Ivor Heller, although our boss thinks every loan deal should have that mid-term break clause. I expect it would have been used a couple more times if we had the option.

Vaughan Ryan is basically a cheaper version of Simon Bassey (although one does wonder if that’s the entire story there). We needed to make cuts, and the quote was “better for less”.

Some stuff about the development squad. WD doesn’t think it’s competitive enough, suggesting the whole u23/Central League setup can be quite demoralising for a player. Also, and something that has been a theme of Walter’s comments since he’s got here, he doesn’t think we’ve done well enough with loans out.

He used Tom Wood as an example. He went on loan to Slutton, was on the bench too much, and was reallocated to Burgess Hill Town. Which he wasn’t happy about doing, thinking it was below his level.

As did his manager, but that’s another story.

Anyway – he loved it. Even turning up to their cup game when he wasn’t playing (injured?). The reason why was something our manager often emphasised – putting players in actual competitive senior matches is much, much better for their development.

Some comments about Nick Daws, our current head of recruitment. We didn’t have good filing and succession planning at all before he got on board. And it seems that Wally had to do a little bit of convincing of the club’s board for us to employ him.

Anyway, while we’ll likely lose him if somebody like Hartlepool offered him their managerial post, we’ve now got a database of 700/800 (not quite the 1000 but close enough). Also, we have about five or six scouts now, with some of them being ex-players.

And perhaps a telling little aside at the end – everyone else does it…

The half-time break came, with a thankful breather in the fresh air. I will not miss KM for so many reasons, and the stuffyness of the main bar will be one of them.

After a quick use of the facilities, the second section started. Asked about Appiah, he was coming back into fitness for the last couple of games of last season. Anyway, he’s fit and sharp.

Somebody mentioned the 1979 photo shoot, where for £5 kids could have their photo taken with the squad. One individual, who we shall call “Kevin Borras”, because that’s who it was** found WD pinched his arse right as the photo was being taken.

** – he drove me to and from Eastlands for the Conference playoff final, in his gas-guzzling Subaru (?). So I probably shouldn’t have revealed who asked that potentially ropey question.

To which Wally replied “I know how Cliff Richard feels now”…

Why the trip to Germany? We didn’t pay for it, it’s good experience, Joe Palmer had connections there, and WD was impressed with Deutschland when he did a couple of tours back in the day there.

Oh, and back to Sibbick – we’re going to get the transfer money to use on other players.

Speaking of budget, and nothing that hasn’t been said before, we overspent on it last season. That said, with the Sibbick windfall, it won’t be significantly less than twelve months or so ago.

On next season, while Bolton have their twelve point deduction hanging over them, providing they can keep their better players it’s not all doom and gloom for them – three wins in a week can close their gap significantly.

He wasn’t sure if Bury would finish the season, by the way.

We’re demanding improvement from our own players, and that the expectation is to outperform the budget.

There aren’t likely to be any new youngsters pushing through to the first team (they’ll be elsewhere on loan), although we did sign Archie Proctor to a pro deal earlier that day.

The youngsters got thrown into a very difficult situation last season, and handled it very well indeed.

Up popped the obligatory NPL question, and Ivor Heller took the mic to say that the pilings (the deep foundations, basically) start next week. The concrete is done, and the aim of getting it all finished by summer 2020 is still on.

We knew there would be a funding gap, and there was the push for the Seedrs thing again. Methinks there’ll be a bit more of that to come in the next few months.

Spine/characters of the team? Wally highlighted the three CBs and the three midfielders, and because of the way we set up we need the “correct” full backs.

Asked about Franchise, WD said it was “just another game”, and would be his first one. Though he might ask GH to take charge that evening…

Who surprised Walter since he got here? Piggy’s penalty taking, for a start, though he was impressed with Folivi. He also praised Seddon, Kalambayi and Wordsworth, who not only knuckled down but got pissed in Wexford too.

After the game, one presumes.

What is a “typical” half-time team talk? Not much bawling out of the players, as it goes, especially if we’re 2-0 down. The players discuss it between themselves, and he only speaks for a couple of minutes at a time.

Players know when they’ve played badly, and they look to managers for answers, though WD does write things up on the flip chart and doesn’t say anything.

Can he relate AFCW today to the Crazy Gang era of the early 1980s? He pointed out that there’s been history before that time too, and that some in the room were watching games at that very time.

The need to keep momentum from last season going was important, and that we cannot stand still. Oh, and we’re aiming for about nine or ten points from our first six games or so.

What is his approach on the touchline? Just give the players clarity, as you drill in information all week and if you’re then giving different instructions during a game it gets the players wondering.

I forget whether it was during this question or the one about half-time talks, but he went to the GB hockey team some years ago and there was an interesting analogy – imagine there’s a pint of water on the table which has all the info you give players before the game.

If they come in at half time, and the pint glass has been refilled, you’re adding more information that they’ve then got to process…

Best and worst places to visit? Everyone seems fine, though he felt the biggest clubs are just a little bit condescending (which is why he loves winning at those places).

How does he think football in India will turn out? They’re trying to get it going, but it’s still filler whenever the cricket isn’t on. He realised that when Sachin Tendulkar was the owner of the club he was at the first year he arrived.

They’re desperate for a player to make the grade in Europe, but he thinks that is 20-30 years away.

We do leave players up when the opposition has a corner – “we don’t want to defend twice” – though it doesn’t always work like that.

On Glyn Hodges, it was easy to get him to come last season, but it sounds it wasn’t quite so straightforward this time around, being away from his family and all that.

How are we going to approach Ipswich and Sunderland within the same week? “I’m going on holiday that week” he replied. He went through what we do during the week, which isn’t any different to what he said at the last MTM.

The emphasis again was not feeding them too much info – concentration spans, basically.

Best goal scored? Piggy against Brizzle Rovers. Worst one conceded? Kalambayi’s own goal against whoever it was.

There was something about where we scout for players, but I can’t make my notes out. My wrist is currently strapped up, at least that’s my excuse for lousy handwriting.

The meeting was starting to draw to a close, so there were two last questions : somebody asked about re-signing Callum Kennedy, although I’m not sure WD entirely understood the reference as to why it got a laugh.

Finally, with all the signing and the ins/outs – how the fuck are we going to sing “Wally’s At The Wheel” next season? To which our manager replied – “We’re signing a player called Hunt….”

And that was that. Maybe slightly more subdued than I would have expected, although perhaps it was more business-like. Not having GH or indeed Vaughan Ryan there did make a bit of a difference, and it would have been nice to hear from our newest addition.

I’m surprised nobody asked about the emotions after Bradford, although maybe that’s just as well.

Still, it’s nice to be back, and I get the feeling WD knows what he’s doing. He won’t always succeed, but one feels he does have a plan and a sense of direction. Nothing flashy or pseudo-intellectual about it.

Although we have to think of new lyrics for the “Wheel” song. After all, we’ve just done a t-shirt of it, and we’ll need to shift them…