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Brown Sugar

It’s July, it’s pre-season, so it must be the annual must-see event of Meet The Manager, featuring TB, Ivor Heller and Stuart Cash in what appeared to be a rancher shirt…

First things first. It was warm. Bloody warm. Perhaps too warm for this sort of occasion. I think the club ought to invest in a couple of those portable AC units that Tesco have in their stores. No, it’s not ideal, but like KM all over, it’s all make do and mend…

Second things second, without doing a head count, there was well over 200 there – in fact, I would go so far to say that it was the highest attended one since TB’s first one. Certainly the most enjoyable one since that one all those years ago.

And third things, er, third, the DVD sales were practically all sold out. It was limited to 2 per person, and your editor needed four….. Oh, and it seemed quite a few purchased the new Chelmsford-esque third strip, although there were still many D2D2 t-shirts there. Have to say, the Nine Years and related t-shirts looked decent, and good quality too…

So, the event. After finding out the BBC were there filming for Football Focus, we started off with the review of the penalty shootout from Eastlands, with the DVD of it on the overhead projector. No, it wasn’t advertising the DVD for anyone who hadn’t  bought it. Honest.

TB described the shootout as the most horrific 10 minutes of his footballing life, especially as he’d failed twice before with Aldershot. Seb’s infamous bit of paper didn’t have much on it, and it seemed to be his idea. That kid will go far.

When the Luton player who did the shushing towards us after he scored was shown on screen, TB said “I have nothing but sympathy for him”. He seemed impressed with our own penalties, although he still didn’t fully explain why Mo took one. And he thought Luke Moore’s was a little high.

One instruction he gave was for each penalty taker to strike the ball hard and not try anything fancy, which was mentioned when Seb made his second save through the chipped penalty. Even watching it now, I can’t believe the Luton player did that…

There were a few question marks about Yaks taking one, although he was intelligent enough to wait long enough before slotting home. When the shot of Gregory shouting “one more” into the camera came up, TB said it proved that Gregs could count and that’s why he got rid of him.

And then DK stepped up. What went through our manager’s mind? The John Terry penalty in the CL final against Yernited, as it goes. He didn’t say anything about the penalty or the celebrations, not that he needed to.

We then got to see his little dance and mock penalty on the second part of the DVD (£15, available from all good AFCW merchandise outlets when they get more in). His reaction? It was a toe-punt and made a complete arse of himself…

You can tell everyone was seriously proud of what happened that day, although part of that was down to the preparation beforehand. Remember SW19’s report after Eastlands where mention was made of how professional we looked? We had a list of those who could take penalties well enough and those who didn’t, and that was  because of the six weeks plus of practising we did beforehand. We also found out that the two worst sessions were the ones directly before the Fleetwood semi and the final itself. Something I’m glad we were told about a couple of months later.

Is it possible to know you were going to win that? TB seemed to believe so, and he said how psyched we all were. At the time, we had that quiet confidence, and we knew that we could do it. Part of that was down to the heart-to-heart session we had after the Crawley debacle. We’re a stronger side now than we were back then, and one thing that is often forgotten in all of this – since that fateful Friday at Broadfield, we haven’t lost a game.

Defining moment apart from the playoff? The game at Cambridge, where 2-1 flattered the hosts. TB reckoned we came of age that day, with 30-40 passes aplenty. We went up to Fleetwood with this confidence, and it showed. Our manager also made mention of next year’s Conference, with Fleetwood looking decent. It’s an interesting division, and one we’re glad we can look down upon knowing damn well we’re not in it.

TB did apologise for the less than enticing PSF campaign this year, the Carling Cup game just outside Gatwick has obviously messed things up, but PSFs are for game time. We won’t know about how good our new signings are until the season starts, but the management team seemed confident.

As much as anyone expected, we are looking for another forward, and we do have a bit of money in the kitty. We also found out that MMK will be out for 6-8 weeks with his glandular fever. On the flip side, Lee Minshull is much fitter and they have high hopes for him. Oh, and a question was asked by somebody who just bought a kitten and named it Kedwell. What should he call it now? SC took the mic and said “call it Charlie”…

Why were the players released? Yak had some issues training, which was going to be even more so with our new training regime. We’ve increased the time dedicated to it, meaning they train for full afternoons as well now, and Yaks couldn’t simply do it. Ed Harris was somebody we’d like to have kept, but the numbers game worked against him (though I heard it suggested last week that maybe we’re still keeping an eye on him). And as it was a case of either him or FF, TB plumped for the latter.

A youngster asked about playoffs, to which TB replied “you little rat”. He went on to explain (more seriously) that he’d been to his first LMA meeting today, and that it was more a case of who was going to go down. Not that he was making any nervous Womble any more on-edge, but  there’s no Altrincham and no Eastbournes now. 50 points is the priority.

It then went onto the two big transfers out. Gregs wanted the opportunity to play in League One, and we weren’t going to stand in his way. Just one of those things. Then it came to DK, and by TB’s tone it seemed like there was a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. He used “tapped up” without any hint of reserve, and reckoned it might not be the best move for our ex-skipper.

In fact, his comments were blunt : If your skipper puts in a transfer request, you are in no doubt you don’t want to work with him. And if they don’t want to play, they can go and get stuffed.

Have to say, these were pretty strong comments by him, and it really does feel as though TB (and AFCW generally) were let down by DK putting in a request the day after the (all expenses paid) trip to Las Vegas. Gillingham on the 1st October will be a good un.

Continuing along the transfer theme, Ivor was asked about undisclosed transfers. Basically, if one side wants it to remain confidential, there’s nothing you can do. We do apparently try and make all transfer public (though whether this is naeivity on our part remains unclear), but if we were to release such a figure ourselves, the other club would sue us. Standard commercial deals, basically.

Could we have kept Mo? We would have liked to have done so, although it would have meant rehousing him which we were prepared to do. However, as we all know Mo lives around Cardiff and moving to Cheltenham was a no-brainer. Especially as he lives with his girlfriend and is a bit older and therefore presumably more settled.

One thing that grabbed me was how strident we were in at least trying to counter any claims made in public. SC said that despite what Mo – or, more likely his agent – said about not being offered a deal, we made at least two attempts to sign him. In fact, nearer four.

As a little aside, remember those stories about Grimsby having a £1.1m wage bill in the BSP? According to Ivor, it’s because the Mariners have to rehouse players and pay them a bit extra to live in Grimsby as there are hardly any locally based players. One suspects that we are prepared to rehouse players if we think they’re worth it – wonder if we’ve got fans who are letting agents? If we do, hope they’re actively being sought out…

Some boring bit about tactics, where I switched off a bit. In a nutshell, we’re planning to be able to change tactics with the same personnel during the game, as last year we may have been too predictable. And also, when we go to places like Dagenham and Bradford, we’ll need some players with “a bit of heart”…

Adam Birchall? He came to training, but it took him close to three hours as he went to our medical on a Monday morning. So in future, we’ll get them down here at lunchtime.

The triallists? We’ll know before the weekend what will happen with them, although obviously the individuals concerned will be told first. That’s what we hope, anyway. Incidentally, Syzmple Syzmon was seen walking around beforehand, although apparently the Poznan branch of the AFCW support shocked him at Staines by talking to him in Polish…

Sending out Jack Turner on loan isn’t easy, but TB does want to sort something out so that Mikhel Jaimez-Ruiz can be brought in. As for getting a loan striker in from a Premiership/Championship club, it’s a good option. A fair amount of clubs up the top end of the football pyramid have players who will make the first team but need one year elsewhere. The snag is, as we found out with the likes of Kirk Hudson last season, if you loan somebody in you basically have to play them.

Captaincy? Stuart and Brett Johnson were named, and interestingly enough so was Gareth Gwillim.

And we all got a much needed break….

After some very well received fresh air, the second half of MTM started. Why do we sign players on 1 year + 1 year deals? Why not three years? We don’t want to be stuck with players who don’t perform or who are crocked draining the wage bill, which is where clubs come unstuck. Gillingham again were mentioned here, with us being told that they were still £9m in debt. You really get the sense that the Gills have pissed us off here – unlike Bournemouth, they didn’t get a nice little mention when they signed one of our players.

Could we have one year plus two years? No we can’t, but two years plus the extra additional year is an option. Which is being looked into. The current arrangement suits us fine at the moment though, although the board are looking into some changes.

Has the close season been an eye-opener? Cashy said it was different, and exciting. It won’t change the role of the management team too much, except that we work longer in training and give over fitness to a full time staff (presumably Jason Moriaty). TB mentioned about the LMA meeting and rubbing shoulders with Peter Reid, who helpfully told him that Argyle hadn’t got too many players. Poignantly, TB said that he’s waited 20 years to be a Football League manager…

Back briefly to the playoffs. Going to Fleetwood was daunting, but we rose to the occasion there and at Eastlands. Looking forward, TB and SC were really looking forward to returning to Aldershot. Great memories, and on a personal note when his wife was very ill the Shots looked after TB very well indeed.

Of course, we’d be going there to win…

Some joke about a racehorse with the name of Broughton at Sandown getting stuck in the traps. Perhaps not unrelatedly, questions were asked about our scouting. Basically, we use a company that many clubs use called Scouting Network (at least, I think that’s their name). SC made plenty of emphasis on “adequate”, which suggests our scouting is still at a pretty low level. We do  have one full time scout, who looks at players for signing. Right now, he’s on the lookout for players for the Development team.

Jason Euell came up (no, not literally). He’s on our radar, apparently, although he’s on a lot of other radars too. When we were at Southport last season, we stayed in the hotel owned by the Wigan owner, and incidentally so were Blackpool. And yes, we did have a chat with our former New Pele…

When asked about the signing of Chris Bush, we did try and get him back last season before he went to Thurrock, but by then we’d got in GG. He wasn’t happy at Brentford, as he wasn’t getting much game time, which is also why he went to deepest Essex. It’s possible we’ll see him a fair bit as a centre back, and those going to a PSF can get a sneak preview of him doing just that.

The difficult subject of who’s going to do well came up, and Northampton, Gillingham, Bradford, Crawley (said with some reluctance…), Shrewsbury all came up. Us? We’ve been together for a while and we’re used to winning games, and you can’t buy that. Just as well, as TB also pointed out in case you missed it earlier that there are no easy pickings in League Two.

TB also calmed everyone’s nerves by saying that while in deep conversation with Westley at the LMA meeting, “your defenders have to be defenders”. Meaning that Bush/Gwillim and Hatton will have to deal with proper wingers and not go walkabouts. Expect a larger degree of pragmatism to creep in next season.

Oh, and Swindon were also mentioned as possibilities to do well next season.Why? Well, according to TB they go for the same players we do, so they obviously must know what they’re doing…

Somebody mentioned WDON, and Ivor more or less hinted it will still be around but will probably become subscription. In other words, looks like FLi will be a goer. Out of interest, your editor found this link earlier, sure those with more new media brainpower than me will explain what it all means.

As people were starting to wane a little bit (it had been going on for two hours by this point), TB stated that Watford will be bringing their first team down to KM on the 23rd, which will be the ideal preparation for Crawley.

The stadium was mentioned, and Ivor said that everyone in Merton is onside, sites are being looked at, a timescale of 5-10 years is mentioned, we’re a fair way down the road with it. Nothing most people haven’t really heard before, although apparently there was a very good atmosphere in the Crown House offices the Monday after we got promoted…

Did TB expect AFCW to be in the Football League and within nine years to boot? Yes and no. While it seemed inevitable we would be back in the 91 Club, to do it in under a decade is bordering on a miracle – Aldershot took about 15 years, and they didn’t start at the lowest level like we did.

Have we cashed Gillingham’s cheque for DK? Yes we have. And even if we hadn’t, nobody needs to worry because a club that doesn’t pay up just gets the money docked from the central fund that all clubs have. Did this ever happen in non-league?

TB did admit he had doubts about taking over at AFCW back in the Ryman Premier days (and how long ago does that feel now? Football Hurts seems like a vintage programme now, to be dusted off and brought out on special occasions). He asked his recovering wife what he should do and she replied he should take it so he could get out of the house…

We did get a little insight into how Erik does business. After the first job interview, Erik sent TB and SC away with a budget that was, well, pretty low. They went to SC’s local boozer, looked at it and were close to turning the job down. Upon the next meeting, and after making it known, Erik suddenly came up with an extra £200k. The rest is history.

(one thought here : how the fuck can a Ryman Prem club have a budget of around £250k? Even one our size? I know that TB was full time, but even so Jon Main was paid for with an additional donation).

Questions were asked about our new strikeforce. We’d tried to get Midson before he went to Oxford. He’s a very hard worker but does need to work on his finishing. Charles A has a low centre of gravity, a good finisher and apparently hated it at Grimsby. But it seems the real high hopes lie with Jolley.

As for the sit-com involving FF, Bush, Jolley and Sammy Moore sharing the same house……. they did this at Aldershot but the group in question were very difficult to control. For our own version of the Young Ones, three of them are sensible (for young footballers, anyway) and one is a complete lunatic. We’ll leave you to guess who.

On a more serious note, the club will check in every so often to make sure they’re living well and not like a bunch of students. Though apparently Bush will eat everyone out of house and home. Oh, and apparently they haven’t got any furniture, so if any kind Womble has a spare sofa, the club would like to know…

Speaking of our youngsters, the Developmental Squad was mentioned.  Basically, they’re youngsters (dur…) who will be playing in the Suburban League like they were last season. It’s a smaller division this year, and as a result teams like Wycombe and Aldershot (I think) are keen on playing friendlies with us. Presumably we’ll move on from the Suburban League in due course, but it’s noteworthy that we’ll already be gaining much needed game time against quality opposition.

To give you an idea of how much things have changed, four years ago the teams were being run by dads. Also, we’re now in a position to keep players rather than them being prised away without compensation. TB made the comment about a 15 year old who was great with both feet and a real talent. Before, we couldn’t sign him. Now we’re in League Two, we can, and he’s signing tomorrow.

Also, and this seems a little bit of a recurring fee – a scout from Aston Villa seemed to have pissed off TB, because when they had a look at one of our u14s, the Villa rep said that there’s no way he would develop here and we were no good to him. TB turned around and said that we must be doing all right because they were looking at him and we’d developed him all the way through. Can’t see us dealing with Villa much if that’s their attitude somehow…

There was also the story of one of our players who is being sought after by Chelski. To the point that the father of said youngster is literally doorstepped each morning by a representative from Stamford Bridge. The point TB was making was that it’s important to keep the parents onside, in this instance the father takes great pleasure in telling the Chelski scout that his son loves playing for AFCW. Cue applause…

How does the dynamic of TB, SC and Simon Bassey work? In a nutshell, TB is the old fart, SC is the ginger something or other, and Bassey is still one of the lads. Which works well, especially as Bassey goes to nightclubs with them still, and can pass on bits of info that TB might not otherwise get.

Who would win in a 60 metre dash? Ryan Jackson, Christian Jolley and Charles A. Forget Chris Bush, he’d take too long to get going.

Finally, TB left on this parting message. At this LMA meeting, you get a bag of goodies, one of which is the LMA magazine. In it, it advertises where you can hire a plane, or buy a yacht. Or even buy a helicopter. It’s a different world, and TB’s thoughts were “I’m the Wimbledon manager”……..

All in all, it was a good Q&A, probably the best one I’ve been to. Nobody rambled on with their questions, they were all decent ones anyway, and TB seemed to know when to deflect some things and play with the proverbial straight bat.

Though we never did get to find out what he said to the policeman during the penalty shootout…