Festive time but not for all

As the nation prepares to indulge in its annual festival of excess-booze, food and presents those masters of the new religion of football practice self-discipline. Whilst the rest of the country sit down to a festive feast on December 25th, the players’ minds will be totally focused on avoiding a stuffing, rather than eating it, in their quest for another three points in the bag.

Christmas for most of us is our busiest time of the year, bumper crowds at matches and the games come thick and fast. That doesn’t stop your family asking where you are when they’re getting tiddly and watching re-runs of Only Fools and Horses!

I always find that when the fixtures come out, there are three key ones to look for: the first, the last and Boxing Day games. Depending when Christmas falls you may get lucky and have a Gaffer who gives an extra day off it has been known for teams to train on both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For the majority of pro clubs, it will be turkey sandwiches and an overnight stay – usually in a near deserted hotel. The coach trip to a hotel is often ‘fragrant’ with sprouts. So, when it feels like they are the only team in the country staying away overnight- remember it can have its advantages you can at least get the hold of the TV remote control for the evening so you can watch Del Boy in peace!

Football clubs used to be very anti-social places to spend your time over Christmas. It does affect player’s attitudes; some get depressed about spending Christmas night in a hotel

What is life like for the physio at Christmas? The festive fixture programme is busy period for all concerned this season is slightly different with just two games compared to four in seven days in the past, a winning team doesn’t care how many games it plays. 

You tend to get more injuries with losing teams but football is an emotive business. The role of the physio is as much a psychological prop as anything else. The present fixture list is congested enough but had today’s professionals played 40 years ago then the 25th December would have been match day. Most games would take place in the morning ready for players to be home in time for the groaning table. Long term injuries are not affected by the concentration of games over this period. It is the running repairs, the knocks and strains which are not helped over the holiday period. Those are the sort of injuries which become problems with a fixture congestion. It is the trivial injuries which get all our attention. If a player has a broken leg, he has his surgery and it’s a case of go to the gym and ‘I’ll see you later.”

The problems for a physio are heightened at intense periods like Christmas. Easter is almost worse because by then the minor injuries have accumulated and worsened. A keenness to continue with slight injuries can often backfire. If the physio does not put his foot down players will carry on with a slight strain, feel sore after the game then reappear three days later. Several weeks of that and then… snap.

The desire especially for smaller clubs to make sure players are fit for crucial games can cause friction between a manager and his physio. It’s a real problem trying to squeeze more games out of smaller and smaller squads. We have to stay neutral. Our work helps the manager but we do not work for them instead you collaborate with him. We must do what is best for the club and if that means not allowing a player to play because it is too risky, then so be it but at the same time doing everything we can so he has as many fit players as possible for each game.

Gary Lewin, the Arsenal physio for 22 years who eventually became the England physio once said: “I didn’t have a Christmas Day off for 25 years.

“My first one off, was when I went to the FA. We opened the presents with the kids, in the morning, and I turned to the missus and said: “What do we do now? I had no idea.

Before I would get in the car and go work and my kids would not see me until the following night.”

Whilst essential services keep watch, nurses and doctors are on duty and the world ticks over like an idle car engine. Sport, however, asks for maximum commitment and full throttle effort. The fans love Boxing Day it is the traditional time for matches now, with another set of fixtures on New Year’s Day games and sometimes games in-between so there’s nothing we can do about it. The is a much more pleasant atmosphere at Christmas games too. However, this year is slightly different Christmas Day falls on a Saturday I’ll be able to enjoy Christmas Day a little bit more with no game until 27 December and New Year’s Eve with no game until the 2 of January.

The idea of a Christmas break is a hot topic of discussion, as the belief that we play too much football in this country. The job of a physio would probably be made easier by a winter break but the practicalities of it are difficult.

It is a lucrative period for clubs’ attendances often increase at a time when many are in a mood for leisure and recreation and the powers that would be unwilling to lose that revenue.

Yet while the crowd become mellow on the festive atmosphere, to the players the prospect of Christmas is as enthralling as it was to Scrooge. A chorus of “Bar, humbug!” replaces the favoured rap on the team bus stereo and it is business as usual. 

As a colleague of mine once said… Christmas comes at the end of May! 

Gavin Blackwell

Guest series: Reaction to the Beespod Tony K interview part 2

“We’re on our way!”

I’ve listened to part 2 of the Beespod interview now and it has raised some interesting discussion points. I really enjoyed writing the last article, so thought I would finish the job and review part 2 before the novelty wears off or one of you has a chance to tell me to stop!

 A little like part 1, when TK talks us through the timeline relating to the start of the on-off-on again National League season, it makes sense that with his National League Board hat on, he would have been privy to info that would have led him to believe that there was little chance of the league season starting. As a result, player recruitment would just have been a complete waste of money, and if we know anything about TK it’s that he doesn’t like to waste money.

What I found interesting was although he was quick to point out that he wasn’t being critical of Flowers, he seemed to suggest that he thought that Beadle had performed better in his role than Flowers, with significantly fewer options available to him. There were some games when we looked reasonable under Beadle, I don’t think we played 45 mins of football under Flowers where we looked even vaguely decent. Even now when I look back, I’m still astonished by quite how poor we were. We were indeed ‘mingin’!

TK stated that he doesn’t like the term “Director of Football”, but I don’t care what he calls it. After listening to him talk about the new structure though, I actually don’t think that the DoF role, is as important as it once was, because TK has seemingly learnt from his mistakes and is taking steps to fill the individual roles that will be needed by the club moving forward if we are to reverse the decline and get anywhere near fulfilling TK’s ambition of returning to League 1.

If we have club-based recruitment, coaching, physio, medical & performance-based staff, many of which TK binned off post-relegation, then the need for someone to be working above them in an overview role isn’t really required if TK is on the ball. Even ignoring that TK had dropped the ball, without these roles filled at the club, it would have been next to impossible for anyone to have done all of them to any decent degree.

For as much as many of us have fond feelings towards Martin Allen, there is no ignoring the impact that his arrival each time meant Paul Fairclough was shunted out of the role because Mad Dog wants to be in control of everything and there is no place for a DoF. Well by the sounds of it the Mad Dog days are well and truly gone because TK will be appointing only head coaches to coach and manage the team, but the recruitment will remain in-house and despite this being what is often described as a ‘Continental model’, I have to say that I think it’s perfect for our club.

Following on from that, and going back to something I mentioned yesterday, TK sees Bassey very much as a Coach, and while that might initially suggest that there is someone else coming in above him between now and the start of next season, my thinking now is that anyone coming in above him won’t be a Manager but will be a DoF instead.

Now we get to the nitty-gritty, TK responding to Mem about the furloughing of players. He admitted that he wasn’t even aware that it was possible, until Chesterfield did it, but once they did, it isn’t really a surprise in hindsight that we followed suit. I accept that there will be some merit with regards to TK’s claim that some of it is based on keeping unhappy players away from the club rather than being financially driven, but some of that just doesn’t stack up when you start picking at the bones.

One of the players that TK specifically mentioned was Antonis Vasiliou, who he used as an example of someone who didn’t fit the Tim Flowers blueprint of a player who would be good at the “nuts and bolts” stuff that he was basing our style of play on. The only problem with using Vasiliou as an example of a player who didn’t suit the managers preferred playing style, and so should be furloughed, is that Vasiliou wasn’t furloughed. Little Antonis was in most of the Flowers match squads and is probably the only player besides Scott Loach to come out of the Flowers period with any credit at all. So why wasn’t he furloughed I hear you ask?

The reason can only be because he was earning a low wage so why bother furloughing him? The Loachy situation also raised alarm bells in so much as I don’t think TK was clear on this, I expect Loachy was furious when it happened and wouldn’t have been backwards in making his feelings known, but I also fully expect that Loachy would have agreed to come back after the injury to Aymen.

Maybe I’m just being negative by thinking that if Loachy was paid less TK would have at least picked up the phone to ask him how he felt about returning. There is a big difference between recalling Loachy from furlough without asking him how he felt about it, and doing so after a conversation to see if it was something he was interested in. You could even dress it up as a call to see how his rehab was going? Am I being too harsh? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t have blamed Loachy if he had refused to return, but from what I know of him I would have been surprised. Just to finish off on a positive though, TK did at least say that we had been topping the players wages up to 100% from the 80% paid by the government.

Something that I had heard before was that Pavey wasn’t a Currie signing and I thought it was hilarious to hear TK say that he had actually been signed instead of whoever his strike partner was at Dover, only we could sign the wrong “big lad up front at Dover”! While we’re on the subject of Pavey, I think he is possibly a player who will have benefitted from being furloughed. He really wasn’t having a good time at the club and I understand that he wasn’t happy at all when he was recalled from his loan spell, so Pavey is an example of a player that does fit in with what TK is saying about furlough, and his partner is about 7 months pregnant by now too. I really wanted to see him fight back from his injury and was gutted that it just couldn’t seem to work out for him. In his case furlough is probably good for all involved.

Surprisingly, my biggest issue with what TK had to say in part 2 wasn’t furlough related at all and was all about our performances in the play-offs last season. He said we were awful but refused to acknowledge that we had lost half a side. We only had one centre-half left at the club, Dan Sweeney & Callum Reynolds had declined to re-sign for the playoffs, our right back, Cheye Alexander, had a deal lined up with League 1 AFC Wimbledon where he has become a regular, and our set piece specialist Dan Sparkes was probably sick of sitting on the bench so he didn’t want to stay either.

The trio of Vilhete, Santos and Johnson who chose to stay and play for us in the play-offs despite effectively being free agents, is something that we should remember the next time our paths cross. You would be right in saying that we had Taylor and Johnson who were able deputies at the back, but they hadn’t been playing with Santos all season and while they certainly did a job, they were unable to perform in their regular positions. I found this astonishingly short-sighted and blinkered from TK, but maybe this was more of his lack of attention to detail during this period which seems to have been a trend. That squad, with those 5 players, Coulthirst & Akinola would have given anyone a run for their money in those games. TK suggested that we benefited from covid via the PPG decision, but I think we were nailed on to make the playoffs anyway and if anything, covid actually robbed us.

TK’s “model” of the club being funded by the surrounding business enterprises seems genius in its simplicity, and in view of the wage caps it would seem to be even more astute moving forward. Something that has concerned me quite a lot recently is that if something serious happened to TK, God forbid, I would be concerned about the long-term health of the club in the respect of who owns what and who might make the decisions in the long-run moving forward. While there are no guarantees, TK did actually mention that and it allayed my fears somewhat.

The only thing I would say, to argue against myself, is that while some might try to portray a picture of everyone leaving the club unhappy and slagging them off, Hendo represents Paul McCallum and was instrumental in him coming in on loan last season, and Graham Stack has offered us Adam Parkes who is under his tutelage at Watford. Although these individual players both benefit in different ways by coming here, Hendo, and Stacky, obviously said more positive things than negative things about the club.

I think sometimes it’s easy to believe the person who shouts loudest and maybe we should wonder why we are listening to someone who is shouting at all…… I know we are far from perfect as a club but I really liked TK’s strategy of trying to get things right 80% of the time. I personally think that’s quite a modest ambition in business, but TK is TK and I’m me so I think we’ll go for his strategy for the time being.

What I really liked about this 2nd part of the interview was his passion and dare I say it, barely disguised anger at the suggestion that there would be no place for a Supporters Association at the Hive. To be honest I thought he was quite clever. He told us all about what he was doing and basically threw it back at us and asked us what we’re doing to help. It’s very hard to argue with him although I suspect that had this not been the 1st meeting Mem/Iain might have raised the subject of ticket pricing with him, but that’s well kept for another day.

In summary I would say that I’m really hopeful after hearing this. Not just blind hope in the way that we all hope for better things in the future, but real tangible expectation of significant improvement moving forward. The last relegation really hurt us and it sounds like it was a huge body-blow to TK too, but it also sounds like he’s taken the hit, dusted himself down and is willing to come out fighting and put it right.

The problem of course though is that none of this stuff works if TK doesn’t recruit the right people and that record is poor. I would say though that it’s just the recruitment of managers that he’s rubbish at, and as he’s looking for a head coach rather than a manager, then maybe, just maybe, things will improve. Rossi Eames & Henry Newman did phenomenal work with the Academy before being moved up to the senior team, Mark Robson has proved elsewhere that he is a very good coach and should have been employed as a head coach rather than a manager, there are others if you look.

I know there are still many who are unhappy and it will take time to win them over, just as I know that there are some who are gone forever, but I think Adam Rowe is really having a positive impact at the club and we just need to get the ball moving and pick up some momentum. TK mentioned the “we’re on our way” song and it would be great to hear that again before too long. We might have a long way to go, but to get anywhere you always need to take the 1st step, I think we’re finally on our way now.

Come on you Bees!

My thanks to Jim Kavanagh for contributing these two pieces for me, hope you’ve enjoyed them!

Follow Jim on Twitter, @Jimbokav1971

Guest series: Reaction to the Beespod Tony K interview part 1

Earlier this week the Beespod chaps of which I’ve been a guest of a couple of times managed to get the one everyone wanted and has been waiting for, the Barnet FC chairman Tony Kleanthous in the first of a two part interview.

Below, fellow Bees fan Jim Kavanagh takes us through this first part of the interview giving his reaction to answers provided by Tony and what he hoped would be asked in part 2 (NB this was written prior to the second part being released):

It’s really hard to respond to Part 1 of the Beespod interview with TK, without first listening to Part 2, but the fact that it’s happening at all fills me with enormous optimism. I first have to declare my undying love for Keith Doe as a result of his ‘death threat’ over the Westley debacle; but I must also applaud TK for what is a pretty emphatic owning of most/all of our problems since we were relegated. When he speaks so passionately and honestly, (and I have absolutely no reason to believe he is being anything other than honest), he really is engaging and the podcast was a great listen.

For much of the interview, Mem and Iain simply let TK ramble on, because there was no need to interrupt. It probably shouldn’t come as any surprise to us that he is so passionate about the club. I think that those who questioned his passion for the club upset him. It’s one thing to be critical of him and highlight the many mistakes that have been made, (and let’s not pretend that there aren’t many mistakes). It’s quite another to say that he doesn’t care and that the decisions were made with anything but the best intentions at heart. I certainly didn’t believe that even before the 1st half of the interview was released and I think that it’s even harder to hold that opinion after listening.

There is a section of the interview that starts at 38:16 and for me is key. I think we should pay attention to it rather than flippantly skip over it as some throw-away comment because it’s really not. It’s key to everything.

TK: The problem was this. It’s very simply this. It’s me alright. It’s me; and it’s me because of this. When we got relegated….. I can’t tell you…. That season broke my heart. bla bla bla bla bla. From that day, I feel like I disengaged.

That right there in a nutshell is the whole shebang. He talks us through what happened, (and why it happened), and why he made some of the rubbish decisions he made, (which are still rubbish don’t get me wrong), but don’t seem quite so awful when you put yourself in his shoes at that time, (with the exception of the Westley decision of course because there is just no way he should ever have agreed to that and he knows it now and knew it then). It was a symptom of the malaise that was affecting TK’s decision-making then and it took the failure of both Beadle and then Flowers, (and the risk of relegation to Conference South), to snap him out of it.

Within part of the conversation that I have missed out above, is the decision-making process/thinking behind the appalling Westley appointment, (which was actually made by Mark McGhee). I would also add that the only reason we were looking for a new manager at this point was because of the disgusting personal abuse aimed at Rossi Eames, that made him feel that he didn’t want to continue in the role. We did that. Not you or me personally, but one of us. A Barnet fan….. “We.”….

Taking into account that we have just come to the end of a 3 day blackout period on social media, aimed at highlighting and discouraging online personal abuse of any kind, it needs to be acknowledged that this was the reason for Rossi’s leaving; and without that I don’t believe that we would have had to go through the Westley shambles that followed. Our actions have consequences and this more than anything proves that. I am confident that the squad would have responded better to Rossi than they did to McGhee or Westley, and that our form would have turned once we started to get players back, (as happened when Mad Dog returned). TK didn’t force Rossi out. He wasn’t sacked. We did that……. I often think back to that now. It’s not a nice feeling. We can blame TK all we want, but the thing that caused us to go down, (in my opinion the recruitment of Rossi’s replacement), was down to us. Let that just sink in for a moment before reading on.

I know you are all used to reading Trev’s scribblings; and I’m sure he does a far superior job of getting his thoughts into print than I, but I’m not here to blow smoke up TK or anyone else for that matter. Things generally aren’t black and white and while I personally feel quite strongly about some of this, everyone who reads this might see this a different way, and that’s fine.

There is nuance within everything and even more so when it is something that we are passionate about. Little things matter. I mean they really matter, and with that in mind we need to look forward to Part 2 of the Beespod interview and the questions that are surely coming with regards to the furloughing of contracted players, who are then replaced by players new to the club. When it happened to some of the fringe players, we tried to explain it away, (despite being critical of other clubs who had already done the same). “Oh it was just the fringe players so it’s fine“. It wasn’t fine. It wasn’t fine at all. Then it was the club captain Dunne who had just been shown a straight red against Bromley. “Oh Dunny deserved it. It was a ridiculous thing to do. He should know better and we have an awful disciplinary record so it will send a message out to the rest of the squad,” (except that when loan players were sent off they were not treated in the same way and the only reasoning I can see behind it is that it was because we weren’t liable for their wages like we were with the contracted Dunne.

Then there was the furloughing of Scott Loach. He was injured and was soon furloughed, seemingly to save some cash. Teenager Aymen Azaze was highly thought of and would deputise in goal and James Callan, (another bright prospect), would sit on the bench. Then the unthinkable happened against high-flying Sutton Utd. Just before HT, Azaze suffered a serious facial injury that saw him hospitalised and forced 16 year old Callan into the fray. This was fine as a substitute for the Sutton game, (where it should be said he was unlucky not to keep a cleans sheet), but Bassey surely wouldn’t allow him to start the remaining games without a backup keeper on the bench. The answer was seemingly obvious. Loach was fit, (not a surprise considering him being a consummate professional), so get him back in and Callan would revert to the bench and all would be well with the world(ish). 

No. That’s too simple for TK. Instead, he continued to keep Loach on furlough and brought in a loan keeper, (on Graham Stack’s recommendation), in what seems to many as penny-pinching at best and morally bankrupt at worst. I’m desperate to hear Mem and Iain ask TK about this. (There is no way they got Mem out of the room without him asking this question without an armed response unit being called), but I also want to hear TK defend such things as the treatment of Mauro over the years and the decision to release Elliot Johnson during the close season despite the fact that we had an option to trigger another year on his contract. (I would also like the treatment of Tarps post-injury to be brought up, but perhaps to discuss something as sensitive as that in the 1st of these interviews is expecting a little much). Of all the positions at the club, the area we have struggled with most is left back. The arrival of Beard, (only on loan which is a real shame in my opinion), only clouded the issue until the Daggers game, where we were completely outplayed from start to finish by a side where EJ played on the left of a 3 at the back and Mauro played in front of him as left wing-back. Mauro’s energy shone through for all to see and EJ just looked cool, calm and collected at all times. They are exactly what we were missing yet we discarded them in a manner that unfortunately fits in only too well with the way that we have treated our players in recent years and seemed completely at odds with the service they had given us. They are decisions that don’t make sense to me. Mauro went and played for Wingate and Finchley rather than sign a new contract with us. Who is responsible for him feeling that way?

It’s all well and good TK citing that our budget is smaller than other clubs looking to recruit the same players, (actually he was comparing us to Football League clubs rather than National League clubs), but I want to hear some sort of acknowledgement, that the way we have treated our players, (particularly our injured players at times), has an impact on our reputation as an employer within football (and it seemingly starts with TK), meaning that when players have a choice between ourselves and another similar sized club, they want more money to join us because of the “un-professional” way that we are known to act in many situations. I should also point out here that TK touched on this in Part 1 of the interview in his comment about the club’s recent staff recruitment and in particular the appointment of Ricky Bartlett to resolve the “logistics” issues which TK said, “made him cry“. These are just very small examples of a bigger problem at the club, (no food provided before/after training is something that’s really basic but links in here), but maybe this is something that has been driven by others and TK really intends a root and branch overhaul?

Something else that struck me, is the words that TK used to describe Bassey. He was very much recruited as a Coach rather than a Manager, and anyone who listened to the brilliant recent Downhill Second Half interview with Paul Fairclough, (within which he admitted that it was he who appointed Mark Robson), knows only too well that there is an enormous difference between a Coach and a Manager. I for one quite like the idea of recruitment being done by the club rather than the Manager. It’s how bigger clubs operate and I think we need to aim to be better than we are rather than cutting our cloth to match those that we find ourselves competing with at this lower, less professional level.

I guess we will just have to wait and see. Not just for Part 2 of the interview, but also if TK delivers on what he has spoken about. For me though, communication like this is an enormous step in the right direction. With that in mind, while enormous credit must go to both Iain and Mem for the groundwork in preparing the way for this Interview, (that seemed impossible only weeks ago), credit should also be given to Adam Rowe who must have been hugely influential in getting both parties sat down together. Thank you and well done to all.

Come on you Bees!

You can follow Jim on Twitter, @Jimbokav1971

The hard slog

The months of October and November bring the next stage of the season – it is the time when reality begins to set in at clubs and the early hopes start to fade. Managers might not have reached the goals set during the summer, or perhaps the players bought in aren’t delivering for one reason or another. If a player isn’t in the side they get unsettled and start moaning. All the managers I have worked with would say ‘If you’re playing well, you’d be in the team. You are out of it because you’re not playing well.’ Unsettled players want to move on and their mood can affect others.

The clocks will have gone back, the nights draw in. That starts to affect your evening plans. The weather changes, temperatures plummet, you are suddenly playing in heavy rain or heavy wind. Pitches become lusher and slower while the training pitches can get unplayable especially at lower levels. You hunt around for alternatives, a 3G artificial surface. Too much training on such surfaces can affect joints and some players may have to be kept off it. If you want to lay your own it costs a fortune. In days gone by we trained on anything. A lot of league players would train on the car park on a Friday morning and be very competitive that players would get injured and end up missing the game.

The football seasons seem to get longer. Evening training, travelling, staying late after games, going through the range of emotions together all take the toll. It can be a 24/7 existence for ten months of the year. You have to have a certain mindset to deal with it. In the New Year there will be three basic situations facing you at this stage. You are hoping to go up, avoid relegation or be somewhere in between. In my long career I’ve have sampled all three. Fans however must appreciate the true goals of their clubs is that there are 88 clubs at step 3 most will experience a small form of success. A few will go a bit further and reach the play-offs, a local County senior or the League Cup Final or have an extended run in a major Cup only eight will experience promotion that is just 15.8 per cent.
In other words the vast majority of clubs will fail to achieve what fans will see as their primary objective.

Football is so important to the emotional well-being of our nation. It is really important is the appreciate the bigger picture that is going on giving youth a chance bringing through local players progressing five places up the table, scoring 10 per cent more home goals- these are important steps in building a club’s future. You do however become obsessed with the game. A lot of people outside the game have asked me, ‘why I bother?’ It’s a good question but the answer is that it is in my blood.

All you focus on is doing well as a team. You want success and are part of the team that is driving for certain goals. You suffer from tunnel-vision because if it. I have devoted to much of my time entirely to football and other aspects of my life have suffered because of it.

Aside from that I have been fortunate to work with some great managers and players who have not only taught me much about football but provided me with wisdom that have benefited me in my life.

Not every club can win. But every club can progress……….

Fans return to live football

During the lockdown period, I had a few guest bloggers produce some articles for me which were pretty well received and it’s always nice when people email you and ask if you would promote their writings, even if their not bloggers themselves.

This one comes from Richard Edwards who is an Essex exile living in Yorkshire  where he juggles allegiances to Colchester United and Bradford City where he now attends regularly. In a distant past life he produced Cool Notes music fanzine in the 1980’s, one of the few at the time to feature football. 

It was a warm evening and I was positively buzzing with anticipation passing through a rough car park in the village of Wrose on the Northern boundary of metropolitan Bradford to arrive at The Mitton Group Stadium, home of Eccleshill United FC (abbreviated to ‘Ecky by many home fans) 

Like many fans I was grateful for the return of live football on our TV screens, but I soon realised that I could not embrace it with any genuine passion. Grounds devoid of fans and matches injected with a fabricated “audio carpet” to simulate the presence of fans represented by cardboard cut outs. It had to be a sci fi nightmare! 

Finding it sterile and hollow my gratitude soon wore thin as I pined for the real thing in any form and you know things are desperate when you start urging your wife to slow down during car journey’s as we passed  a playing field kick about! 

Salvation arrived on the 20th August when the English FA announced  plans to admit a limited number of  fans to lower tier leagues based on a rather complex calculation involving thresholds of ground capacity . Initially this was set at 15% (150) and after a week it rose to 30% (300). This would allow fans to be admitted to the Preliminary Round of the Emirates FA Cup which traditionally starts its marathon journey to the Wembley final in August , an event all too many fans will be oblivious to but which comes with potential financial rewards for competing clubs  

Clubs were reminded that these steps were conditional on all clubs undertaking the FA’s guidance and fans following the Social Distancing measures. All clubs had to complete a risk assessment uploaded to their website and ensure test and trace systems are in place. This is part of a repeated narrative which should be allowed to admit we are all bored with without dismissing its importance.    

Eccleshill United had drawn Silsden another West Yorkshire club close to my home if not quite my heart. This was more than enough to fuel my naive passion for the FA Cup and the prospect of live football. Both teams reside in the Premier League of the Toolstation Northern Counties East League , 8 levels below the pinnacle of the Premier League. I was both grateful and anxious to see a queue, a pre-match queue of any size  gives the match added status , not quite Valley Parade but certainly more than park football. It reminds us that we are not alone in a passion forged in childhood memories. 

Our queue briefly had the unlikely drama of not knowing how near the crowd was to its 300 capacity. Our fears were allayed by a friendly steward who generated non-league banter and gossip on the way in, where we were subjected to test and trace procedures. There were very few masks in evidence and no taped off areas or seats, or bottles of Gel, and thankfully I wasn’t sorry. The attendance looked to be around 150, about 25%  of them Silsden fans. 

‘Ecky started the stronger team in the first half with the Sils under pressure from a confident high paced performance. Luke Aldrich notched their first shot on target within two minutes shortly followed with a close range missed header. 

Silsden fought off this sustained pressure and went 1-0 up just before half time after Matthew Britton connected with a well-timed header from Joe Mitchell’s perfect cross to the far post. 

Silsden were an unstoppable force in the second half scoring two goals within the first six minutes, Britton hurtled down the right wing to deliver perfect pass to allow Anthony Brown to shoot home .Brown then settled the tie two minutes later to make it 3 – 0, a bitter pill for home fans given Brown had previously been an Eccleshill player . A number of them began to drift away, resigned to the £375 runners up award and better hopes for the FA Vase. Silsden will took a hard earned £1,225 from the tie and go on to play Oldham based Bootle in the next preliminary round at home. 

The resumption of live crowds was far more important to me than the score .If COVID has reminded us of anything it’s that we are at our core social animals, personally the spectacle and rituals of going to a match often overshadows the game itself. This match was never going to match the atmosphere at Valley Parade let alone the Premier League, but it was about getting back to those rituals that we might have taken for granted, pies and pints, and the smell of the burger stall, youth team players nearby bragging about how many scouts they’ve attracted and the incessant flow of random bits of  football gossip . The brazen banter and outrageous wind ups from a worldly braggart to your right, the midweek glow of the lights coming off the pitch.

The decision to readmit fans followed the #letfansin  Twitter campaign by supporters and followers of non-league football, at the moment its looking like the right result all round. 

Guest series: Jimmy meets….

In the final part of what has been an excellent guest series from Jimmy Langton, the final player in focus is former Rock Jimmy Wild:

JL: Which club have you felt most at home with?

JW: I enjoyed my time at Bognor and have some great memories of the promotion year and playing at the Amex, as well as having a good relationship with the fans who made me really welcome. But I think Chichester is where I would say I felt most at home. Having been there since the age of 11 and then playing for every age group up to the first team, and having been around the club for so long I’ll always look out for their results.

JL: Who’s the best manager you have played for and why?

JW: The one that knew me the best and definitely got the best out of me was Miles Rutherford. Right from the moment he took over at Chichester he was great to me and always looked after me. He gave me a chance to play week in week out, which some managers didn’t, and always wanted me to progress to a higher level. 

JL: Which club are you with now?

JW: Around Christmas time I got given the chance to go and play in New Zealand which was a great experience. Most people know I love travelling and usually go off around the world when the football season finishes so I couldn’t say no. I was playing in their Premier League so I was flying around New Zealand playing football and travelling at the same time. I would recommend to anyone who has the chance to try it, it was a great experience. Unfortunately, the season finished early because of coronavirus but I managed to get home just in time!

JL: Are there any role models you look up to and why?

JW: Peter Crouch is a personal favourite as I have been compared to him by opposition fans for being just as lanky! Being a Tottenham fan I love watching the likes of Bale and Kane and how they play the game. They’re exciting to watch and love scoring goals so they’re good role models to have.

JL: What was the reason for coming to Bognor?

JW: I always wanted to test myself at a higher level so when Bognor asked me to go there when I was only 17 it was a good move for me. Living in Chichester it was local for me to travel to and I already had a couple of connections with the club so it worked out well. 

JL: What’s your favourite football club?

JW: As I mentioned above I am a Spurs fan and have been all my life, all my family are Spurs fans so it’s past through the family. I’m moving to London this summer so I’m hoping to get to watch them a bit more. 

JL: Which coach do you feel you have benefited from most in your career?

JW: I’ve always had a good relationship with Dabba (Darin Killpartrick). He believed in me when I met him at college and then he helped me develop as a player at Bognor too. It was also good to see him at Chichester last season where he definitely helped a lot in the FA Cup run. When I first met him, I never thought I’d be sharing a hotel room with him in Tranmere all these years later! 

JL: Why did you choose to be a forward?

JW: I never really saw myself as a forward as I played centre midfield until I was 17. Then Jim Yeo who managed Chichester Under 18’s at the time put me up front for a couple of games and I did okay, then the first team manager at the time Darren Pearce saw me playing and put me in the first team the following week and I have been a forward ever since. 

JL: What’s your favourite colour?

JW: I’ve always played for teams that play in green and white so maybe I’d have to say that!

JL: Who’s your best player you have played against and why? 

JW: Out in New Zealand I played against Auckland City who usually do quite well in their Champions League and even ended up at the FIFA World Club Cup so it was a good experience to play against top level players and test myself against them. It was always good to play against teams like Portsmouth and Brighton in pre-season, it was fun chasing Christian Burgess’ shadows!

JL: Why did you choose football?

JW: There’s no better sport! From the age of 4 when I first started playing for a team run by my Dad, Andy, right up until now, I’ve always loved playing football. I’ve played quite a few sports to a decent level, cricket being one that I enjoyed too but it got to a stage where I had to choose one or the other and I definitely made the right call.

JL: Who’s the best player you have played with and why?

JW: I went to school with Joe Ralls and even from an early age you could tell he was a player. He’s gone on to play in the Premier league with Cardiff so he’s done alright for himself!

JL: What made you choose to move to Chichester from Bognor?

JW: I’ve always wanted to play the highest level possible so when the opportunity came I had to give it a go. Dabba was the one that made it happen. I had played at the college with him for two years and he told me how he really wanted to get me to Bognor so I have to thank him and Jamie Howell for giving me that chance.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter, @JimmyLangton2

Guest Series: Jimmy meets……

In another of the popular Jimmy Langton meets series, goalkeeper Amadou Tangara is the player in focus:

JL: Which club have you felt most at home at?

AT: To be fair I’ve been always welcomed at most of the clubs I’ve been at, from my time at (Grays Athletic, Dulwich Hamlet and Merstham)  all these clubs made me feel very welcome, but I have to admit that Bognor Regis have been special to me.

JL: Who is the best manager you’ve played for and why?

AT: I have played for some decent managers over the years such as Hayden Bird, Gavin Rose, Jack Pearce and Robbie Blake here are excellent too, I feel really lucky in that perceptive.

JL: Are there any role models that you look at to and why? 

AT: I look up a lot to my dad because he had such a positive influence in people’s lives around him, he has done so much for our community in the Ivory Coast. Having grown up seeing all he has done for the area around him and his family; I must admit that it motivates me to be a better person and to help as much as I can around me. 

JL: How did you end up signing for Bognor Regis Town? 

AT: At the beginning of the season I joined Kingstonian after a successful season at Merstham but it didn’t work out the way I thought it would so when Bognor contacted me over a possible move I didn’t hesitate because Bognor Regis are well known to be an attractive footballing side. After a couple of games I just fell in love with the club and the fans and  I am so happy to be here. 

JL; Did you have any trials at any higher league clubs? 

AT: I have had some trials with few pro clubs previously but not this year. 

JL: What are your favourite football clubs ( apart from Bognor obviously)? 

AT: Haha! I definitely love Bognor, and I am also a Chelsea fan. 

JL: Which coach do you think you have benefitted from most in your career so far?

AT: My academy manager in the Ivory Coast he is the reason why I am a goalkeeper today and he has been looking after me since I am 8 years old till now, he still does.

JL: What is your favourite colour ?

AT: My favourite colour is blue because it reminds me the natural beauty of the sea 

JL: Who’s the best player you have played against? 

AT: Bertrand Traore (Chelsea) in an international tournament in Burkina Faso JL: Do you intend to go into coaching when you have retired from playing?AT: I am already into coaching on a part-time basis, I will definitely consider going into full time coaching when I will decide to stop playing.  

JL: Who’s the best player you have played with?

AT: One of the best players that I played with in non-league football is Ghass Sow currently playing for Kingstonian, he was a big part of our successful season last year at Merstham. 

JL: Why did you choose to be a goalkeeper? 

AT: I didn’t choose to be a goalkeeper I was a right back, and one day our goalkeeper didn’t turn up so my  coach asked me to get in goal so we can do some finishing, and I was enjoying it so from that moment onward my academy coach started playing me in goal. That’s how it all came about. 

Follow Jimmy on Twitter, @JimmyLangton2

Guest Series: Jimmy meets…..

Another from the Jimmy Langton series of interviews and those of you who know your Bognor Regis players, striker Dan Smith who has been linked with a move to National League outfit Eastleigh is the man in focus below:

JL: Which club have you felt at home at?

DS: I’ve definitely felt most at home with Bognor, even though I was at Portsmouth a long time it was never really in the first team frame, apart from my last year. After my first few games at Bognor last season I felt very comfortable and scoring a lot of goals definitely helped me feel this is a good place to be and this season the fans have reassured that feeling.

JL: Who’s the best manager you have played for and why?

DS: I’d probably say two so far in my career have been the best I’ve experienced. Jack (Pearce) being one of them, with the amount of knowledge he’s had over the years in football for me he does really help with little things, for example positioning up front which is still new to me and also relating what I should try and do in the game to the defender who I’m playing against. Another was Paul Cook, even though I only saw him for a short period, I thought the way he organised his team differently depending on who he plays against was very clever and you saw how it worked on game day and he knew exactly how he wanted his team to play and how to get the best out of the team that was playing.

JL: Are there any role models you look up to and why?

DS: A big one for me growing up was David Beckham, especially as I was playing as a right midfielder at the time, I liked him the most when he was with England scoring a few really big goals.

JL: What was the reason for coming to Bognor?

DS: A big reason coming to Bognor was to play under Jack and Robbie (Blake) week in, week out, which I knew I would do here, as I’d done so well last season. I was hoping I’d replicate that and score as many goals as I had, or more, which I have done.

JL: Did you have any trials at higher league clubs?

DS: I had quite a few offered to me fromFootball League clubs and National League clubs, but decided I wanted to play 90 minutes every week with Bognor this season.

JL: What’s your favourite football club? (Apart from Bognor, obviously!)

DS: I don’t really support a team, my family are mainly Southampton fans, but I grew up playing with Portsmouth so I was quite neutral! But at the moment I really enjoy watching Liverpool play.

JL: Which coach do you feel you have benefited from most so far?

DS: I’d say Blakey has helped me a lot in terms of what is required from a centre forward at first team level and explains when to try things and when to “do my job as a striker” and keep it simple. Another coach who’s helped me massively recently and at the start of my career when I was 7 or 8 is a coach called Dave Hazelgrove, who’s helping me now as well in terms of playing men’s football at non-league and the little tricks you need to know to get an advantage over the defender.

JL: What’s your favourite colour?

DS: Blue.

JL: Who is the best player you have played against?

DS: I can’t think of any from games that stick out for a specific player, but I did play against Sean Coleman on his comeback game after the leg break, but the one that sticks out in training was always Matt Clarke, he’s strong, quick, fit, intelligent and very good on the ball, you always wanted him on your team in training!

JL: Do you intend to go into coaching when you have retired from playing?

DS; I’m not too sure after I finish playing I want to continue coaching, I do a bit at the moment and enjoy it, but I’m not sure if it’s something I want to do long term. I might end up doing a job not related at all to football.

JL: Why did you choose football?

DS: I always loved it from a young age and wanted to excel when I was playing and try and perfect whatever I was working on.

JL: Who’s the best player you have played with and why?

DS: The best player I’ve played with is probably Conor Chaplin, who I played a lot with at under 23 level when he was out of favour, his finishing is unbelievable and in terms of his little touches you can’t get much better around the box and playing with him was a great experience.

JL: What was the reason why you came back to Bognor?

DS: It was definitely the opportunity of playing every game and getting the chance to perform which I feel I have. I still feel I can play better than I have done, but I’m young and still learning and playing games here is definitely the best way of doing it at the moment.

JL: How did you become a centre forward?

DS: The reason I became a centre forward came from Kenny Jacket, he saw me as a striker as I was very good in the air, could finish well and run in behind the defenders repeatedly and that’s where he wanted me to play in his ideal team.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter, @JimmyLangton2

Guest Series: Jimmy meets…….


The second instalment of this series sees Jimmy Langton finding out the thoughts and views from former Rock and now Hungerford Town defender Joe Tomlinson:

JL: Which clubs have you felt at home at?

JT: I’ve played at a few clubs in my career now and I am grateful to all of them for different reasons, however the way that the Bognor fans welcomed me in and supported me throughout the season will stick with me forever and is something I will never forget.

JL: Who’s the best manager you have played for and why?

JT: I have played under a few good managers in my career, but I will always remember Jack Pearce and Robbie Blake at Bognor for giving me my first taste of first team football and to Ian Herring at Hungerford for putting his trust in me at a young age.

JL: Are there any role models you look up to and why?

JT: I will always look up to Cristiano Ronaldo the most for what he has achieved in his career and for the hard work that he has done to get to where he is.

JL: What was the reason for coming to Bognor Regis Town?

JT: I joined Bognor on loan because I wanted to get some experience at first team level. Brighton then let me know of their interest; I’d heard great things about the club and I wanted to join straight away.

JL; Did you have any trials at any higher league clubs?

JT: After I was released from Yeovil Town in 2018 I went on trial at Brighton and Hove Albion and I was fortunate enough to sign for them on a 1 year contract.

JL: What’s your favourite football club?

JT: My favourite club is Manchester United and they will always be the team I dream to play for, however I will always have a soft spot for Southampton FC for the time I spent at the club.

JL: Which coach do you feel you have benefited from most in your career?

JT: There are two coaches that I feel I have benefited most from: Antonio Falanga, my youth team coach at Yeovil Town and Graeme Murty, one of my coaches at Southampton Academy.

JL: What’s your favourite colour?

JT: My colour has to be the red of Manchester United.

JL: Who is the best player you have played against?

JT: I have played against a lot of players who have already done well in my career including Reece James, Reiss Nelson and Rhian Brewster, however Callum Hudson-Odoi is the best player I have played against.

JL: Do you intend to go into coaching when you have retired from playing?

JT: It’s not something I have thought about enough yet, I have a Level 2 coaching badge so it is a possibility in the future when my career is over.

JL: What made you choose a career in football?

JT: I have always had a love for football because I enjoy playing it and I enjoy watching it so it was only a matter of time before my parents were going to sign me up to a local side.

JL: Who’s the best player you have played with and why?

JT: The best player I have played with is Will Smallbone. We played together at Southampton and this season he has made his Premier League debut for the club and scored his first senior goal. I have also trained with the first team at Brighton and the best player I trained with there would have to be Davy Propper.

JL: Why did you choose to be a defender?

JT: Initially, I was a winger for my local side but when I joined Southampton Academy, at the age of 7, they moved me to the back to help improve my understanding of the game as everything is in front of me and I can see and build from the back.

JL: Did you have a choice of not playing against Bognor for Brighton in the Sussex Senior Cup last season?

JT: I didn’t have a choice, no. Obviously it was a difficult game for me to play in as I was up against players and fans who I’d played with and for all season. Bognor played really well in the game and they deserved to win but it was really nice the way the Bognor fans treated me throughout the match.

JL: How did the opportunity arise for signing for Hungerford Town?

JT: The Gaffer at Hungerford knew my brother and he spoke to him to see if I had signed anywhere. Then I went to training in pre-season and then from there they offered a contract and decided to join.

My life goal is to sign a professional contract again for a league side and work my way up to the Premier League. I’m going to do everything I can to try and make it happen. 

Guest series: Jimmy meets………

Keaton Wood

The start of a new series and I’m pleased to say another new writer wanting to share their work on my blog. Jimmy Langton has compiled a whole raft of interviews with players from Bognor Regis Town over the past few months and this is one here is the first. Those of you of a green persuasion will know whose in the picture, for those who aren’t up first is Keaton Wood:


JL: Which clubs have you felt at home with?

KW: I would have to say both Bognor and Dartford. I have really enjoyed my time out of professional football, made better by the friends I have gotten to know and the coaches that have challenged me to develop and enjoy my football.

JL: Who’s the best manager you have played for and why?

KW: Tough one! Not sure I have a ‘best’ manager but certainly ones that have helped me throughout my career so far, Jack for his interpersonal skills and his friendship, Tony Burman at Darford for teaching me men’s football.

JL: Are there any role models you look up to and why?

KW: In my life, I would have to say my Dad. He has devoted so much time to making sure my mum and both my sister and I have had a good life. In football terms, it was always David Beckham. The way he played, I admired it, and when I got older I was able to understand and appreciate how he handled so much and still continued to be great!

JL: What was the reason for joining Bognor?

KW: I currently work at Southampton FC in their Academy coaching and couldn’t keep committing to travelling to Dartford; it was really tough driving 150 miles three times a week. Tony Burman was kind enough to put me in contact with Jack and that was that really.

JL: Did you have any trials at any higher league clubs?

KW: Yes, I was a part of Crystal Palace’s Academy where I didn’t gain a scholarship so I moved over to Millwall where I played that scholarship before gaining two professional contracts. I then moved to Dartford FC after getting my coaching job at Southampton.

JL: What’s your favourite football club? (Apart from Bognor, obviously!)

KW: Where I grew up in Ashford, Kent, my closest team was Gillingham and they were still 30 miles away so I didn’t grow up supporting my local side. I followed Arsenal because of my late Uncle although now I support England, of course, and follow Saints.

JL: Which coach do you feel you have benefited from most in your career?

KW: I have benefitted from all of my coaches I think, some more than others. I remember a coach from my younger years at Gillingham, he made me appreciate the time you had to put into your practice. At Millwall, David Livermore is the coach I admired the most, his detail and care for the individual, and how you’d fit into the team was great. He knew how to challenge each person to their respective level and always took time to plan methodically. I base a lot of my coaching on him to this day. Tony Burman taught me how I could enjoy non-league football and the competitive edge of that game. Jack and Robbie have shown me how to play entertaining football and how to win (only lately though, haha!).

JL: What’s your favourite colour?

KW: Blue.

JL:Who’s your best player you have played against?

KW: Wilfred Zaha was pretty good. I played against Palace for Millwall where they had Chamakh, Hangeland, Zaha, Ambrose and Speroni playing.

JL: Do you intend to go full-time into coaching when you have retired from playing?

KW: Always. Ever since I was little I was helping others to learn to play; up the park, the field. I didn’t think I would start that side of my career whilst still playing. I thought I would have had a longer, more successful professional career and coached alongside that, although I would say that I love what I do now and wouldn’t change it for anything.

JL: Why did you choose football?

KW: I don’t think any player can answer that. All I can remember is playing with my Dad when I was very small and just loving it. Always in football kits, always playing, smashing windows and annoying the neighbours. I find it amazing how something so simple on paper, kicking a ball into two uprights and a horizontal bar whilst keeping out of your own, can bring so much joy to so many.

JL;Who’s the best player you have played with and why?

KW: I like to think I have played with many, Shaun Williams at Millwall was technically amazing, along with Aiden O’Brien, Ben Thompson and Ebere Eze. I don’t want to offend anyone by missing someone out!!

You can follow Jimmy on Twitter, @JimmyLangton2