Late last week, I caught up with Tunbridge Wells FC boss Richard Styles to find out what had been happening for him over the last three months and a look ahead to a new season:
TK: I think it’s fair to say before football was suspended in March Tunbridge Wells were enjoying their best season for many a year?
RS: Yes, last season had a lot of positives. I think if I had been offered the way the season had unfolded before it stopped, I would’ve been happy with that for a first year at a new club and a new set-up. We were ultimately disappointed when the season came to an end because we felt we would finish the season strong and still had lots to play for in both the league and cup competitions.
TK: How did you view the lockdown period, a chance to reflect or to take stock and plan to improve further?
RS: The lockdown was initially frustrating because the season ended so quickly but understandably so, and safety is always the main concern. We stayed close to the players during the lockdown and had regular sessions delivered over Zoom as well as training plans set to allow the boys to tick over and recover. As staff we had meetings to reflect on the season and to identify ways, we felt we could improve and strengthen to progress when the new season begins. We haven’t stood still since lockdown came in and have very much been proactive.
TK: Now that we are looking at the new season beginning in September, have you been able to step things up a little and start to talk to potential new signings?
RS: Yes, we have been in communication with all the current squad with a view to returning and they are fully aware of our plans going forward. We have also spoken to several targets to improve on what we already have, and they’ve been very positive talks so far.
TK: Given the financial struggles most clubs have suffered with during the pandemic how vital is it to get the local community fully behind what you want to achieve as a club?
RS: It’s huge! The local community and our fans will be extremely vital in us getting back into it ahead of next season. Every club has been hit hard by this and we’re all in the same boat. We have a real good community behind us and a close relationship with the supporters here and we’re now looking for that more than ever to continue once we’re able to get back on the pitch once again.
TK: Is this the perfect time for football to maybe take a look at itself and work out a way to live within its means a little more?
RS: There is an argument for that for sure, a lot of clubs will struggle and will have been hit very hard by whats happened and some will be unable to commit to the playing budgets they had previously. Players will have missed not being able to complete the season and as a manager you can get a feel of a player’s value in terms of playing and see whats important to them.
I don’t think that will happen next season personally because I think there will always be several clubs willing to have a bigger budget in chasing success.
TK: Are you expecting a similar competitive league once we begin?
RS: Yes, I’m expecting it to be as tough as last season. There are a number of teams who will feel they have some unfinished business, there are a lot of teams who will look to strengthen further and a there will be a lot of players dropping down levels as teams higher up go with small squads. Some big budgets and aspirations will also be out there too.
TK: What will be the expectations from the chairman and the board for Tunbridge Wells this season?
RS: The vision and expectations going into the second season have always been the same. I’ve been in close communication with the chairman ever since the season ended and there’s a clear outlook from both sides. We want to progress each season and push on the best we can, last season we were on course to achieve what we wanted which was to put some stability back into the club, the main objective. We kept ourselves in the top five all season and next year we want to build on that foundation we’ve made and hopefully have a successful season.
TK: And finally, what would be your message to anyone wanting to attend a game next season but nervous about being out in a crowd?
RS: I can fully assure anyone that Tunbridge Wells FC are working currently to put all things in place at the Culverden Stadium to ensure a safe environment and experience for all. By the time the season begins everything will be in line with the government regulations for our level. It will be great to have our crowd and families back to watch us again and I can’t wait to see that!
My thanks to Richard for giving me his time to answer these questions.