Ben Strevens: Part 2

Strevs

Last week I ventured west to interview former Barnet striker and current Eastleigh manager Ben Strevens. Here is the second and final part of the interview:

TK: Was coaching and managing on your agenda once the playing career was over?

BS: To be honest with you, no! I think most of the players I’ve played will probably say exactly the same. It’s not something I had thought of going into, I’ve done a Sports Science degree in the past whilst at Wycombe and have a back plan of being a PE teacher or maybe working in a club academy, I’d love to work with kids in football.

When I left Barnet, I didn’t have a club lined up so I went to work with my dad whose been a butcher all his life and worked with him three days a week, but my god I couldn’t do that forever! I was pleased to get back into the game with Crawley.

I sort of ended up in it to be honest, a little bit before Ronnie Moore came here and then I went to join up with Richard Hill again at Whitehawk as player-assistant, but it was never the plan to stay there. Once Martin arrived at Eastleigh and Richard had left Whitehawk I re-signed back here as a player, despite big interest from Maidstone Utd, before becoming Andy Hessenthaler’s assistant and then obviously in the manager’s seat after his departure to Dover.

 

TK: John Still and Martin Allen, two big influences on your career I would say, have you bought some of that into your own coaching career?

BS: Yes massively! I’ve played for both two or three times, John giving me my first break and then twice for him at Dagenham and Martin I played under at Barnet, Gillingham and here at Eastleigh. I still speak to both often; Martin sends me a text and we spent a lot of time when he came here last season with Chesterfield. John always calls from an ‘unknown number’! When I see that come up on my phone, I know it’s him, always been the same! I regard Stilly as a father figure, he’s hard to please, he doesn’t offer shower people with praise so if you get a ‘well done’ or ‘you’ve done good’ it’s high praise indeed, I was always trying to please him.

Martin just makes you feel good, a great motivator and believer in team spirit. He’s very detailed from the food you eat to the coach arrangements for away games, every player knows what he is responsible for. There’s as aura around him, just like Stilly, but if he doesn’t fancy you as a player you soon know it!

As a young manager it’s great I can speak to either of them for advice or help, the same with Hess and Darren Currie too, we share a lot and being a manager can be a lonely thing at times, speaking to Hessy just last week I found out that is normal to feel like that and that made me feel it’s not me alone in it, others feel it too.

TK: Strong season at Eastleigh last year, took a while to get going this time around, do you feel the team is now in tune with things your way?

BS: Yeh, we knew it would take a while to bed in. Last summer we knew we were likely to lose 4-5 of our starting team, some were on good money from old contracts and I knew the budget was going to be less than it was last season, still competitive but obviously I have to live within those means.

When Stewart Donald was here, the wage bill was crazy and while the new owners would love to have a bigger budget for me, they can’t afford it and it’s not worth risking the future of the whole club to do so.

We lost a lot of goals in Paul McCallum, Joey Jones from midfield, creativity in Mark Yeates, the keeper we had on loan from Reading did really well for us and also Josh Hare was fantastic. So, it has taken a bit of time and now we seem to be heading in the right direction and three points off the play-offs with 20 games gone of the season.

TK: Are things more stable around the club but still with the same vision and aims?

BS: The vision is still to be a Football League club and we were close to achieving that aim last season. Hessy and I said we would finish in the top 10 and then build from that this season, so we achieved that reaching the play-offs. I’d love to be the manager who takes the club into the Football League for the first time, having been a league player I know how much it means to the fans to win promotion.

I know we have to keep on producing results for me to keep my job, but I believe in the boys and what we’re doing, there’s other managers in this league who are probably thinking the same thing.

TK: Whats the secret behind Danny Hollands scoring form this season?

BS: I think this season he’s just been able to play further forward this year, last year Joey Jones was very much a forward thinking player and Mark Yeates very similar and not very defensive minded, so Danny had to do the hard work for them. This year we signed Jack Payne to play in the middle of the park which gives Danny license to get up the pitch, but even he’s surprised how many he’s got so far.

TK: Who’s impressed you in the National League this season and surprised you by not doing so well?

I think the fact that probably about fourteen of us managers would have said at the start of the season we can win promotion shows how open it is this year. Neil Smith is doing a great job at Bromley, he probably has the best budget the club has ever had but he’s spent it well on the right players.

Darren will expect Barnet to be up there, I don’t think either Solihull or Fylde will be far away come the end of the season. Yeovil, Harrogate, Barrow, all been on a run and like us with our current form it can propel you up quickly as fast as a loss or two can send you down to 18th.

Woking are starting to level out now, momentum comes with you after promotion and now maybe teams are finding them out. A learning curve I found out last season was how teams will park the bus to frustrate you and you’ve got to find ways round that.

TK: How about Chesterfield?

BS: I think the issue both Martin and John Sheridan have found is the atmosphere inside the stadium. We’ve been there twice in the last six months and both times we’ve seen how quickly the crowd can turn on them if it’s not going their way. If the place is rocking with the size their ground capacity is then it’s an extra help.

Similar to when we played at Orient last season, a full house there and before anyone says anything I’m not bigging up Orient, I’ve been a Barnet player so they’re not in my thinking, but we had them pinned back losing the game, the frustration you could hear around the stadium and then they equalise and all of a sudden they become that twelfth man and get behind the team and they go on to win. I said after the game how good their fans were and I look at here where we’re not full every week, maybe the same for Darren at The Hive, when grounds are full, they rock and can carry the players.

TK: Looking at yourself, aims and ambitions as the season goes on and beyond?

BS: Well, the aim as I mentioned is still the Football League. For me personally short term to do the best I can as Eastleigh manager and keep improving. Long term, well who knows! It’s still too early to say whether I will have or want a long career as a football manager, at the moment it’s just concentrating on what we do this season and then move on from there.

I appreciate the time Strevs gave up last week, absolute top man to speak to and I’ll be back at the Silverlake Stadium later in the season to see how Eastleigh are fairing.

Ben Strevens reflects

Strevs

On Thursday afternoon, I travelled west to interview my second National League manager this season, former Barnet striker and current Eastleigh manager Ben Strevens.

Here is the first of a two part blog as we talk about his career as a player and how the fledgling management opportunity is working out:

TK: 687 total games, 144 goals is that the career you dreamed of or better than you imagined?

BS: Wow, I didn’t know it was that many. I’m very proud of that figure, certainly more than I expected to play, not sure I will reach 600 games in management! When you think of it like that it’s very impressive. Had someone said that to me when I signed for Barnet that I would play that many games I would have taken it.

TK: What was going through your mind the day John Still signed you for Barnet?

BS: Well, it almost didn’t happen! I’d obviously scored lots of goals for Wingate & Finchley in the then Ryman Division 3 and I had a few clubs looking at me, Charlton among them, and I was due at Barnet on a Monday for a trial, but I got injured on the Saturday. Being an 18 year old and not really sure what to do I turned up on the Monday and told them I was injured and couldn’t train, I thought the chance was going to be gone, but John said to me they’d seen enough from the games they’d watched me in and the scout reports were really good.

So he asked me what I was earning at the time, which I was gardening back then and not earning a great deal if I’m honest, so I told him and then I was asked if I wanted to earn the same amount as a professional football player, I wish now I’d said I was on more now!

I signed something like a two year deal with a three year option on the same money and then I was a Barnet player.

Turning up to training back then as an 18 year old among the likes of Kenny Charlery and Scott McGleish as strikers, two good goalscorers at that time I knew I had some work to do to make the team so John loaned me back to Wingate for the season as they didn’t have to pay a fee for me and then two more loan spells followed before I was involved in the squad.

 TK: That title winning year at Barnet, talk me through your memories and your own personal experiences of the season.

BS: It was the most memorable for me as it was my first promotion and ultimately made me a Football League player again, I was the only player left from the relegated team. We already had the nucleus of a good squad the year before under Martin Allen, but Paul Fairclough identified the players we needed, players like Nicky Bailey, Dean Sinclair, Liam Hatch, Dwayne Lee and Richard Graham and turned Simon King from a left back into one of the best centre halves. We had our experience in (Guiliano) Grazioli and Ian Hendon, Hendo really was a leader on the pitch, great times for the club, players and me personally.

TK; Were there any particular games or game where you thought as a group of players, we can do this and win the title?

BS: Halifax away springs to mind, where we were 2-0 down at half time. Paul’s not one for going mad when things weren’t going right, Hendo though makes his presence known, there were a few choice words at half time between us all and we came out and won the game 3-2. Also Carlisle away, playing in front of what was then the best ever National League crowd of over 9,000 missing Graz and Hendo as well I think and winning 3-1 proved to us as players, we can do it.

TK: For me it was the Morecombe game about mid-September, we went one down in the second half kicking down the slope, then we seemed to step up four gears and rattled in five goals, that for me said we could win and popped a few quid on it which of course came up trumps!

BS: You mention that one, I don’t remember that too well!

TK: Also Exeter away, going there and wining 3-0, very young side but with you as the most experienced player in the side that night, a side that was up there with us and we just blew them away.

BS: That was another great performance we put together. I think people as well forget the goals Lee Roache chipped in with at crucial times, Guy Lopez stepping into midfield too, Ishmail (Yakubu) was only a young player at the time, everyone played their part to win that title.

TK: Paul Fairclough had a huge influence on that squad having fine-tuned it from the previous season’s play-off loss, were you surprised how well the players gelled so quickly?

BS: Not really no, as I previously said the players Paul brought in improved on what we already had. We knew Graz would score given the chances, Ritchie Graham needed a platform to show what he could do, the same with Dwayne Lee. We had goals in Nicky Bailey, Liam Hatch and Dean Sinclair plus myself although I think I spent most of that season at right midfield. I don’t think I had a great relationship with Paul and now being a manager I can see that maybe I was hard work for him. It was great to see him at the Legends Reunited night that Graz organised and be able apologise to him whilst having a good football chat.

TK: Fair to say you’ve had success at nearly every club you’ve played for, what sticks out for you from those memories?

BS: The Barnet promotion of course, but the other one that sticks out for me is at Dagenham. After I left Barnet I wasn’t sure I’d get another crack at League football and then I signed short term for Crawley until the end of the season but ended up fracturing my cheekbone and I thought that was it. But, John (Still) had been checking up on things and found out my contract wasn’t completed properly by Crawley so they put a 7 day approach in and off I went to Dagenham. Shane Blackett and Craig Makail-Smith were off to Peterborough and Stilly wanted me to take over from them.

Of course Dagenham hadn’t played league football before, so it was fantastic to be there to achieve it with them, they had a great group of players and being back playing for John as well. There must have been something about me as a player, Stilly and Martin (Allen) both signed me a few times!

Brighter times amongst darker months?

Autumn

As we head in November and hurtling towards the end of year, this month more than any is probably are the most head scratching amongst football clubs during a season. The early season optimism of August for some is now a distant memory meaning there are some tough and unpopular decisions to be made. Others will be deciding whether or not to keep persevering at least for a month or two longer to see if a gamble should be entertained. The remainder will be looking at the books and deciding to pull the plug on project promotion with the last three months not going to plan.

So, lets take a look at the three scenarios. Those who’ve seen a strong start backed up by numbers off the pitch will sleep easy, fairly safe in the knowledge they have built a solid enough foundation to sustain their place at the top end of the table, enough to continue a promotion push or a title challenge. Some in that bracket might still be inclined to call it a slight gamble but with enough confidence to believe it can be achieved.

Those on the edge of play-off places, within touching distance from mid-table or a few points off top spot are those in gamble territory, you can’t dispute that. These are the clubs with most to lose and also most to gain. It takes a fine line to decide whether you take the risk or play it safe, throw some money into the pot to sign the player(s) to make the difference or keep it level and pray those already in the driving seat can continue the journey to the end.

If the last three months really haven’t worked out, then there will be clubs ready to slash the playing budget at some point between now and the end of the year, why would you continue to throw money at something at isn’t going to get you the desired results? Some will go for the very last throw of the dice and dispense with the manager’s services whilst keeping the budget and still believing that something can be salvaged from the mess the season has turned into so far.

So far this season I don’t think there has been anywhere near the turnover of managers of previous years at any level in non-league, does it mean we’re becoming more realistic in our aims or chairman less trigger-happy? For me it’s not the former, we all want our clubs to win and to win cups and titles, maybe there will be a dramatic shift over the next four weeks as there would still be time for some clubs to save their season, something to look out for while you’re searching for the hat, scarf and gloves…………….

 

Moving forwards

pen and pad

 

That image above is me. Well, the dream is what I’m chasing. It’s been a dream since I was at secondary school, sports journalism. I wasn’t one for going to university to get a degree nor ending up in debt despite the fact it was exactly what I wanted to do as I was never going to be the next big footballing superstar.

Over the years that dream has never waned and the flame has always flickered, all the time knowing it’s a very hard industry to get into. The invention of the internet and social media has given many a second pathway into this avenue and making it far easier to get yourself in the public eye.

But, it’s not that simple just to get noticed. Hard work and a way with words is still the way for you get people reading. Can you make a career out of it is the question?

That is the question I am hoping to find the answer to as I embark on my next working journey. Those who know me through Facebook and Twitter will know two weeks ago that I handed in my notice on my full time job. Having been made redundant in the summer, this job popped up immediately and secured the financial and possible emotional issues that could have followed.

What it didn’t do however is keep a good work/life balance, it cut down my time at home with my family and it started to make the dream candle flicker, all points that didn’t rest easy with me, mentally it was draining on nearly a daily basis. So I felt I had to make a decision, not just for me but for the benefit of things around me too.

And that’s what I did! But not without doing my sums and working out the bills still get paid and what I need to be earning a month to make it a viable proposition, without doing that the pursuit of the dream would have engulfed everything and crushed it.

I will still have to make sure money comes in while I build this up, getting this balance right is just as crucial as everything but the time is there every day to make sure that part is working as well as everything else.

I’ve been blogging for two years now and also getting paid to write for one website for a similar length of time. In that time personally, I’ve seen a dramatic rise in my viewing figures on my blog which keeps convincing me the dream is worth following still. Finding the right topic doesn’t always come easy and sometimes there’s just too much you can write.

Knowing I can get paid for the opinion I write was a bonus and gives me belief there are even more opportunities out there to get my teeth into. There is an end goal of my own website which I can develop over the coming months, something to give great coverage for non-league football in my area, but only once I’ve worked it to be sustainable.

This time next week the dream becomes reality and that’s where the hard work begins, but if you can’t make money from doing something you enjoy then something isn’t right!

Bees missing their sting

Barnet vs Woking (2)

Saturday afternoon was my first trip to The Hive this season. With a combination of long work hours meaning any Tuesday visit is currently out of the question and being involved at Wick FC makes most Saturdays difficult too, not to mention the minimum 5 hour round trip!

Following a team from afar is never easy, however social media makes it easier these days to keep abreast of things and also viewing highlights can allow you to see the good and the bad of any game.

Woking have had a fantastic start to this season for a part-time team, a rarity in the National League these days although recent form, no win their previous four games, has seen them fall away from the top three and are just hanging onto a play-off place. Barnet’s current form is not much better, just one win their previous six games but sit only two points off the play offs despite being unable to pick up wins.

The game itself was a disappointment from a Barnet point of view. Far too often this season, the team have given a lacklustre performance for at least one of the two halves, yesterday appeared no exception. Barnet were never at the races in the first half, Woking were no more impressive either, their goal coming from a silly free kick given away on the edge of the box by Dan Sweeney and with the Bees unable to defend set pieces for the second game in a row went 1-0 down.

Sweeney provided one of the very few bright spots in the first half along with Mauro Vilhete, the former’s distribution and play from the back always an option. The lack of bustle from a front two of Simeon Akinola and Josh Walker meant an easy first half for the two burly Woking centre halves and an unsurprising lead for the Cards at half time.

No changes from boss Darren Currie at half time gave his side the chance to start brightly and get back into the game. But, they fell further behind on 53 minutes conceding another sloppy goal and now finding themselves needing to score twice just to rescue a point.

Vilhete duly obliged with the first goal, having gotten himself into great positions in the penalty area throughout the game and suddenly Barnet were back into the game. That certainly brought the small crowd to life for the first time in the afternoon and the Bees should have level minutes after when Alfie Pavey headed wide when easier to score, Pavey though once brought on gave those centre halves something else to think about.

Barnet’s best efforts were coming down their right hand side through Sweeney and Cheye Alexander and Woking seemed content to play on the counter and soak up the Barnet pressure. Currie introduced Ephron Mason-Clark and the youngster’s low curling effort beat Ross all ends up but came back off the post, you just had the feeling for all the possession and pressure Barnet were coming away with nothing.

Ironic as it is, ex Bees keeper Ross was guilty of persistent time wasting all afternoon and rather than book the keeper the referee added on six minutes of stoppage time, those minutes contributed to Barnet’s equaliser, a goalmouth scramble turned in by Mason-Clark and cue some fantastic and unexpected celebrations.

Coming from two goals down to draw shows the character of the team but individual performances were clearly lacking, only Sweeney and Vilhete shining on a dreary day. As with Bromley I felt it was a good time to play a Woking side lacking a bit of form and Barnet didn’t capitalise on it. Too many players had an off day and failed to add that extra edge.

I also noticed the referee being reluctant to book players all afternoon and not noticing subtle fouls, no different to the County League one I watch most weekends, worrying it’s becoming a trait at all levels.

However, we are still nicely placed and I’m sure no one would swop this season for either of the last two so far, this is not an easy league to get out of, as Barnet fans we should know that only too well, on the opposite side we also know what is needed to get us promoted.

As always the positives, one defeat in our last five is still good, but is countered by one win in five, however could those four points from the draws be beneficial in the final reckoning? Well, we won’t know yet! But, what I do know is last season those draws would have been losses, two tough away games coming up after the FA Cup tie at local rivals Potters Bar, four points from those two games will keep us placed nicely, after all we’re not even halfway through the season yet………

City making swift progress

Chi City

Chichester in West Sussex is certainly more well known for it’s cathedral more than anything else, but the football club within the city are starting to make people sit up and take notice.

The Lilywhites might have a long history dating back to 1873, one of the oldest clubs in Sussex, and were indeed one of the founding members of the Sussex County League. The club’s current ground of Oaklands Park pictured above has been their home since the 1950’s bar a short spell at Church Road just off the main A27 road in the early part of the year 2000 soon after their merger with Portfield allowing for the council to redevelop Oaklands Park.

Fast forward to 2018/19 and City re-wrote their history in superb fashion with a breath taking campaign winning the Southern Combination League Premier Division title (formerly Sussex County League) in emphatic style and with it promotion to the BetVictor South East Division, the first time the club had stepped out beyond the county league scene.

And so far as we head into October Chichester are grasping every opportunity to impress. Sitting just outside the play-off places with two games in hand, City have continued last season’s fine form with only two defeats so far whilst averaging 164 spectators through the gate.

On Saturday, that progress continued with an FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round win over higher placed opposition Enfield Town to take their place in the draw on Monday morning for the 4th qualifying round, a feat the club have manged only once before back in 1968. That is not the furthest FA Cup adventure for City, a First Round Proper appearance can be matched at the end of the month should the draw be kind. This is the stage the National League top clubs come into and although the draw is split into North and South sections, Chichester could pull out a good local derby or an ex league club primed for an upset.

The club have had their share of success along the way throughout their history but with a clear vision of where a club can go through the pyramid now there’s no reason why City can’t sustain themselves at this level and then push onwards for more glory.  One thing that has made clubs push themselves for the right reasons is title winning means promotion and unable to refuse it without suffering the consequences, that is aimed more at leagues in the northern half of the country and most that I’ve seen go up have blossomed at a higher level, long may it continue!

Wickers pushing forward

20161105_143700

It’s been a little while since I blogged on Wick FC, yes I’m still involved there! So what’s been happening then?

We’re almost at the end of the second month in the season and ahead of a trip to the division new boys Roffey at the weekend third place is where the team currently sits with one defeat from our five games which came in the opening game of the season. Since then only one further defeat has been suffered in the FA Vase when it took Colliers Wood an extra 30 minutes to knock us out.

By the way, since that game on the 31st August the next round has taken place and no surprise to me we’re still waiting for the prize money, same as last season, yet if it was the FA wanting the money for a fine they’d be all over you in an instant if payment was late and I’m sure they wonder why they’ve got a bad reputation throughout the game of not helping their members adequately.

We have had cup progress in the Peter Bentley Cup and also the Sussex RUR Cup and still await our first games in the Sussex Senior Cup and Division One Cup, yes we have six cup competitions and had we finished high enough last season the FA Cup would have made seven! Next month we’re almost playing Saturday-Tuesday right through to the beginning of November.

We’ve made our Senior Cup tie at the beginning of October our first ‘pay-what-you-feel’ game, hopefully it will result in a bigger crowd than usual especially as we play one of our local rivals, we’re always open to new ideas and trying something different from those around us.

Our partnership with Your Instant Replay who video our home league games is proving to be an excellent way to showcase the work on the pitch. This is our first season of having the games filmed and we average over 200 views on each game which I think is a good return so far. We’re still looking for a sponsor for the channel, not only does it get seen by our 200 odd, but thousands more through YIR’s Instagram and Twitter channels. I’m sure there is more we can do with this, but as with everything within a club there are learning curves all the way.

Off the pitch we’re in ok shape, or better than ok in some areas. We’ve just appointed our first bar manager and with that it takes away some more things from me to have to deal with such as stock ordering, function bookings and meeting hirers to complete the booking paperwork.

Our function bookings have been coming in on the same scale as last year, vital for us to support the football side of things as without that money there wouldn’t be a football side to the club. We have 3 youth sides using the pitch on Sundays, once again vital revenue this year where in previous years that day wasn’t making us any money.

Financially we’re doing ok. We’re servicing everything we need to this year and there are some added bits we didn’t have last year, the filming, paying a physio etc, but things we need and things that enhance the club to push it further forward.

Recently we had some work done to the floodlights for the second year running and thats landed us with a bill of nearly £2500, a huge amount for a club of our size. Luckily, the company we use are fantastic with us paying the bill and give us a great service every time we need some work doing. What does annoy me though is the club were given a huge sum of money about five years ago which would have set it up for the following ten years or so, time before I was involved on the main committee side, and instead of spending it on sensible things like replacing the floodlights which are in need of upgrading, it was squandered completely and left the club with nothing but a hole in the finances.

Slowly but surely, it’s on track to be in a sensible place come the end of this season after just about stabilising last year and if we manage that I’ll be more than happy! With less administrative work to do this year I get more time to keep up with the social media side of things and you can never publicise the club too often, all our social media channels are useful in different ways, the club website for delivering changes, promotions, news etc, Facebook reaches on average 300 people with each post and has reached over 2000 on some posts while Twitter is our best matchday tool.

Around this time last year I was running the club on my own, just about to change managers and wondering what I’d let myself in for! Twelve months on things are very different and much less responsibility, what price things to be unrecognisable in another twelve months? Hang on for the ride……..