Watson: It was a call I wasn’t expecting, I wanted to stay at the club

Here is the final part of the interview with new Billericay boss Kevin Watson:

TK: Contract termination at Ebbsfleet and despite everything that was going on around at the time, had you one eye on planning for next season?

KW: I had more than one eye on it yeah, pretty much before they decided my contract wasn’t being renegotiated. We had the Zoom call between Damien (Irvine), Steve (Lovell) and me, deciding who we were going to keep and who to let go. Steve had the easy job; I had the six difficult phone calls for those we weren’t retaining, something that has to be done if you don’t want to be in the same scrap the following year.

But those boys then messaged and called me two weeks later when I received the same phone call I had to deliver to them, that’s a measure of their attitudes despite not being involved at Ebbsfleet anymore, a sign of the relationship I had with them.

It was a call I wasn’t expecting, I wanted to stay at the club and have another crack at it with your own squad if you like, but it’s football, I was disappointed at the time and everyone knew that. It was then a case of getting over that disappointment and dusting myself off for the next opportunity.

TK: Being an out of work manager during a pandemic can’t have been easy and as I mentioned I chat to Darren (Currie) quite often, he is quite keen to get back into the game as you yourself were.

It’s no secret I championed you, Ian Hendon, and Andy Hessenthaler for the Barnet job at the end of the summer pretty much because I saw what you did at Ebbsfleet in the way you turned them around from a fractured team into a togetherness as a group of players. Did you actually get a call from Tony (Kleanthous) or not?

KW: No! Barry Neville who I got to know through Teddy, represents me and I got through the CV reading stage but that was it, you, and I both know how football works though and I have to say the Billericay one was done so differently and well. I think it went over five weeks in all, three Zoom calls and various interviews with each of the five owners there but they made me feel at ease throughout the process.

And to get yourself in front of 50 or 60 other applicants makes you feel good as a manager or coach especially when you go for a job and hear of some of the other names linked with the vacancy.

The set up though is fantastic, from the first team through the Under 23’s to the ladies’ team and the youth set up each owner has a vested interest in one part of the club to bring to the table, it’s a club that now is moving in the right direction.

TK: The likes of yourself, Darren, Hendo out of work during a pandemic how was it watching football going on but not being involved yourself?

KW: It was difficult yeah I had set myself a target of late November early December when things might start to happen and as it was turned out to be a little bit after that, but there was very little happening. I think there were only one or two jobs coming up in all three divisions, Gloucester I didn’t get to the final stages there, Barnet of course as we mentioned and that was it until I went for Billericay.

TK: Did you get around to many games to watch whilst you were waiting for an opportunity? And when you’ve been in a job do you feel some added pressure when you see out of work managers sitting behind u in the stand?

KW: Oh yeah I had that at Ebbsfleet when I was in interim charge, it was like a who’s who of managers sitting behind me, but then I was thinking what will be will be. Luckily for me the players did well for me and got me the job, but you know why those people are there, either a manager is under pressure or someone is in that caretaker role.

I did get to games, as many as I could but I really wanted to be back in that dug out and for me I was pleased I wasn’t out of the game for longer than a few months.

TK: And of course now back in the game at Billericay Town and despite of course doing a lot for talkSPORT did you feel at any point that the route back into the game wouldn’t come?

KW: At times you do, you don’t want to be out of the game for too long. May to November/December is a fair amount of time and you don’t want to feel you’ve like fallen off the map and will people still remember you and what you’ve done but it’s good when people like yourself who know football still put your name out there and into people’s thinking its then not me spouting off or anything.

In the current conditions we’re playing in, it’s strange, very strange to not have fans inside the stadium, twelve months ago we had all that. You have literally two teams, your staff, their staff, people who work around the ground and the media guys and that is it!

But, as you mentioned when speaking to Smudger there are still three points to play for and of course the games are being streamed so people are still watching despite not being there, but it is weird and I think fans are something that have been taken for granted, we certainly can’t wait to have supporters back in the ground and I’m sure that can’t be any different for any club up and down the country.

TK: The current situation we have with the National League vote and not to get too political with it all, how do you think it will pan out? All three divisions finishing or just the top division carrying on?

KW: I’ll be honest, I have no clue, no clue at all! It changes on a daily basis it’s impossible to predict. I try not to get involved with the technicalities of it all and as a manager and players as players we’d all love to carry on being out there but it literally is politics with the government.

If the funding comes through though as grants we carry on, I have heard murmurs of fans being back in grounds before the end of the season which would be fabulous to see and as we seem to be coming out the other side of this pandemic slowly it’s something we’d all like to do, to welcome them back.

As you are aware our club have gone down the route of fielding our Under 23’s and Under 18’s to protect the future, the first team players are furloughed until things are resolved and they gave a great account of themselves at St Albans, really proud of them for how they played that day.

TK: Is there an eye on what happens beyond this season with all the uncertainty and expectation that the vote will go against playing on?

KW: No, not yet. I think once we get to that point where the decision is made then we decide that we move on and with our thinking too. If we null and void then it begins and of course my players contracts will be up for most in the summer, those I’d want to keep, to bring in. The young lads who played in that league game have given me some headaches to come into the thinking too, but that’s what I’m paid to do, make tough decisions, and put together a good enough squad for next season.

TK: Touching on that performance at St Albans and having to use the players as you did, are you a bit surprised at the time more haven’t gone down the same route? (since the interview, clubs are now starting to explore the same route)

KW: The owners decided to go down that route as not to impact the future of the club whilst we wait for decisions to be made and resolved. So we have five non-contracted players who we put together with the selected boys from the Under 23’s although the oldest one there is only 20 years old, trained on Thursday and played the game on the Saturday.

I’m open and honest enough to say I didn’t expect to get any kind of result there, but I feel I did them a bit of a disservice as to a man they were brilliant all afternoon.

There are a couple within that bunch that I want to tie down for next season, if we carry on this season I’d like to think I’d have them involved.

And if others decide to go down the same route as we’ve chosen to then we might get to finish the season as a whole with everyone playing but not everyone is going to have an Under 23’s to use so we’ll just have to see.

My thanks to Kev for sitting down and putting this all together with me, fingers crossed the next time will be face to face in an office rather than the endless Zoom calls we’re all involved in at the moment.

Watson: I felt everyone’s hard work had gone to waste

Part two of my interview with the new Billericay boss Kevin Watson is below, Kevin talks about his time at Ebbsfleet and what happened in and round the time the season was halted last year before we went into the lockdown:

TK: I watched you three times last season, firstly at Barnet when we won 5-2.

KW: That was a going over that night!

TK: I think it wasn’t long after that game things started to come together for you.

KW: Yeh it was, that game though! We got back to 2-2 and I thought we looked like the only team to go on and win the game, but we conceded immediately after equalising which deflated us and I had turned to Trist (Lewis) after we scored and said we can go on to win this now because we’d started so well but that third goal really did it for us.

I wouldn’t say it was a one off night either as we got a good tonking at Barrow as well but they were a very good side and that game was probably my lowest ebb in football, sitting on the train on the way back was just the worst.

TK: Then I saw you at Maidenhead, they were going downwards you were heading upwards in the table, the performance that night was very strong and the momentum carried forward into the Halifax game which I sat and watched on TV as it was the only game going on in Europe let alone England.

KW: The boys’ strength of character in that Maidenhead game on a Tuesday night not long after we’d been beaten 4-0 at Chesterfield was excellent. I’d made a point for the Chesterfield game in leaving out both forwards, I felt they were stale, Gozie Ugwu and Josh Umerah, and it was a bit of a kick in the teeth for them but also to the detriment of the team that day.

It was 0-0, nothing in the game until the last twenty minutes. Then Nathan Tyson who I played with at Reading came on and scored a hat-trick and it looked like a real thumping on paper but it wasn’t, a capitulation at the end for sure and the goals we gave away were poor, the final score looked far worse than it was.

What I liked though about that game was Gozie only got ten minutes so no time to affect the game at all, Josh I left out of the sixteen completely but after that game he was sweeping and tidying our dressing room and I thought then he recognised he needed a break, his attitude was superb that day.

Both of them were back in on the Tuesday night at Maidenhead and as you saw they were both unplayable, so I took a little bit of credit for dropping them and losing for the response in the next game, That first half at Maidenhead was special no doubt about it.

 For the last few games after that they were fantastic as a pairing and as a result Josh got his move to Torquay and Gozie is up in Scotland doing well.

TK: Watching the game on that Tuesday night you see the togetherness that possibly wasn’t there when you go back to for example the game at Barnet and at Barrow.

KW: Yeah, we definitely ended up with that. We were a work in progress that did get better and better until the season was stopped. We had setbacks, but we always bounced back from them, I think from the 29 games we played from when I took over we never lost two in a row and that shows some resilience from the players.

It’s a very, very tough league as it’s shown again this season, the top 8 will comfortably compete in League Two. We ran Notts County close in the FA Cup, Stockport at home played very well but lost in the last minute, we competed well in most games, just the odd ones like the Barnet’s and Barrow’s in my mind where we came a cropper.

TK: And then waiting to find out you’d been relegated by 0.002 points to the National League South must’ve have been the toughest point to take after the run of form you had put together.

KW: Regardless of what happened to me leaving the club, I felt everyone’s hard work had just gone to waste, where was the integrity in that when we still had seven games to play?

We were fourth in the form table and were due to play Bromley on the coming Saturday and I said to Smudge (Neil Smith) as they were going the opposite way down the table that he wouldn’t have wanted to play us at our ground at that time, he was probably doing handstands at the time!

Great lad though Smudge, have got a lot of time for him, we were together at Spurs and we’ve shared a few phone calls over the last few months, he did invite me down to Bromley to share ideas while I was out of work, very kind of him.

Watson: It was a challenge, a challenge I enjoyed

It’s been a long time coming but this week I finally sat down with Billericay Town boss Kevin Watson to talk about his time at Ebbsfleet Utd, how it was being out of work since his recent appointment in Essex and what it’s like being a manager under the current conditions, here is part one:

TK: One of the things I noticed is on your CV you’ve got a lot of promotions as a player and a coach; do you think it’s something that surprises a lot of people?

KW: Yeh I think so. My playing career was very successful, four promotions at three different clubs, captained Rotherham Utd to back-to-back promotion campaigns, went to Reading and got another one there as well and ended up at Colchester where I picked up the final one.

I was never brash or ‘out there in your face’ as a player and just did what I had to do, all in all nearly 500 games if you all count all the mickey mouse cups as well, so not a bad career overall.

I finished up at Luton Town under Mick Harford with a six month contract around the time they had the money troubles and financial irregularities but ended up retiring as a player there in Dec 2009 after my achilles and calves had had enough so I became assistant to Mick there, we went to Wembley and won the Johnstones Paint Trophy in front of around 52,000.

From there it was Soccer Saturday with SKY for five years and onto Stevenage with Teddy Sheringham which was an eye opener for me, the first real foray back in the coaching game. Then followed a stint as Bishops Stortford manager where I brought a lot of academy kids through having also worked with them whilst managing the first team, the last matchday squad I had there contained seven boys who had come through with four of them starting that day, that was pleasing to see.

After Stortford it was teaming up with Ronnie Moore at Eastleigh, we were going really well there, 7th in the table and having just beaten Swindon in the FA Cup who were a League One side at the time, and then Ronnie was relieved of his duties which we only put down to a clash of personalities with the chairman and that was me done there.

Hungerford was my next stop as assistant to Ian Herring who to this day has become a really great friend of mine despite us only knowing each other about two and a half years, I actually looked forward to doing the two hour drive there and back on a Tuesday and Thursday night getting back at 1am, and on Saturdays because I loved the place and the people there.

For us to stay in the National League South on the budget we had was like winning promotion and we told the boys that, staying up on the last day of the season.

Then November 2019 I had a call from one of the lads I knew at Ebbsfleet Utd who said he thought Ian Hendon was leaving and there might be an opening there and would I be interested. So I went along, had a chat with Garry Hill, drove to Hungerford that evening and told Ian I would be leaving, it was an opportunity for me.

I took training that night and Ian nicely dropped me in it with the lads ‘Watto’s got something to say to you all’. It was a bit emotional I’ll admit as I felt very comfortable there and grown with those boys but there it was and the next day I was in at Ebbsfleet with Gary.

Then literally ten days later Garry lost his job and he said to me not long before ‘there might be a chance for you here, I’m a couple of defeats away from losing my job I think’, but that’s not the reason I wanted to go there, it was a National League club and I wanted to progress back up the ladder.

I was in interim charge for I think five games, winning three and drawing and losing one each off the top of my head. There were loads of impressive CV’s on the chief executive’s desk, some good names in there and I think that those results put me right at the front of the owner’s mind and that’s where the job came from.

TK: And definitely not the easiest time to be involved at the club either.

KW: No, it wasn’t. We had ups and downs I think it’s well documented, and I don’t think I need to go into it too much but it was a challenge, a challenge that I enjoyed and having taken over when we were on ten points from sixteen games I think we finished on 42 points from 39 games and that last win at Halifax effectively pulled us out of the bottom three.

We knew it was only three going down due to the Bury situation and we felt it was such an achievement for not just me or the staff but the players as well as we worked hard on the pitch, in training, we had a settled team and formation of 3-5-2 which I like so much and we nailed it, won the last three away games and from the last nine that we played we had a better record than Barrow who went up at champions. It was a really good time and we were just disappointed that lockdown came about just when it did.

View from the boardroom

Late last week I spoke to a couple of Step 3-6 managers to find out their views on the quietness from the leagues and FA over what is happening to their season.

This weekend I caught up with Lee Robson, the chairman of Thurlow Nunn Premier Division leaders Wroxham FC, to ask him how the club have faired over the lockdown period, whether provisions should have been made for the scenario we’re in and what it will feel like when the Yachtsmen are back on the pitch:

TK: Have you been able to keep the club ticking over in these times without football income and more importantly ensure the club is here for the future?

LR: We were really lucky in the sense that we entered the latest lockdown on the back of our FA Vase run which gave us the cushion of cash in the bank, not every club has been that fortunate.

I think my job helped as well as I work for the local council and I could see that the pandemic was going to be severe and we were in for a long haul. We immediately took steps to make the savings that we needed to but were also on the front foot when it came to making sure we could apply for any financial help that was available.

Ironically, the series of lockdowns helped us prepare better in some ways and in fact we have taken the time to invest in parts of the ground including a new irrigation system, have upgraded the showers and we will shortly be building an extension for our catering operation.

Most of this has been funded by the Covid-19 related financial assistance and of course we don’t have any full time players that we need to keep paying nor indeed have to furlough.

The hardest part has been to try and keep people connected and occupied and our team managers have been doing a brilliant job on that, right from our six year olds through to the first team.

Longer term the worry is how many income streams we will lose from match day raffle, business sponsorship through to junior tournaments, although the evidence of this season suggests that gates will be significantly up.

TK: Do you think that there should have been almost an emergency rulebook to apply for the situation we find ourselves in now?

LR: The first time around it was understandable that people were not prepared for what was happening, whether that was leagues, players, clubs or even the FA’s themselves as even the best contingency plans were redundant from day one.

There was little option at the time other than to null and void the season as there were too many unknowns and risks. I think the second wave was predictable and maybe an emergency rulebook is a little too black and white and not able to take in the uncertainties that the whole pandemic threw up, but a series of thought out plans would have been wise.

That said I don’t believe clubs should be put in the position to make decisions as clubs are all in different situations depending on cash flow, commitments, and league position when the season was suspended this time around.

The FA nationally and locally need to show some leadership, which out of necessity will mean balancing out the interest’s and whats best for football in general.

There are bound to be some winners and losers whatever happens, it’s just a shame that these things can’t be sorted out on the pitch.

TK: How good is it going to feel when Wroxham FC take to the pitch again and football is back?

LR: It’s going to be brilliant when we get football back again. I popped down to the ground this week to help set up a new PA system and it was a hive of activity of work going on, but it’s all a bit pointless without something going on on the big green thing in the middle.

We all miss it terribly and if we just wanted to push paper around or tidy up bits of grass then we would have done something else with our spare time. It’s the beautiful game but like most beautiful things it’s also highly addictive.

Managers have their say

Adam Hinshelwood (left) and Richard Styles (right)

It’s been a little while since there has been much else to blog about apart from the National League on-going saga and the trials and tribulations of Barnet FC! It makes for some reading I agree but the non-league game we know extends further than that.

And for that reason alone I’ve asked around a couple of managers this week to get some perspective on Steps 3-6 which operate underneath the National League divisions as it feels a little bit like they’ve all been pushed to the side somewhat, not that I disagree the NL gets its limelight it’s the full time for a lot of people.

The beauty of our football pyramid is the fact we go down to so many levels beyond the top divisions and there is a lot of opportunity to progress up the ladder.

Last season of course clubs at those step levels saw their season suspended in March and finished as null and void just a few weeks later. Now less than twelve months later those same clubs find themselves in the same situation despite having completed less games this time around.

Whilst we’re in territory we hoped wasn’t going to happen, there are a lot of ways in which things can help clubs still be in existence for a new season later in the year if the null and void does instead come into force over the coming weeks. Grants have been made available for clubs at this level which should enable them all to get through until the season starts again for 2021/22.

There is reason however to believe that just maybe there will be a resumption if restrictions are lifted in March to complete something in some form in some shape, as vague as that might be, everything is still up in the air and could be for a few weeks longer.

Earlier this week I caught up with Worthing boss Adam Hinshelwood whose side were for the second year running leading the Pitching In Isthmian League Premier Division and Tunbridge Wells manager Richard Styles, the Wells very much in the thick of it at the top of the Southern Counties East League Premier Division. Both managers gave me their views on what might happen over the coming months and how vital funding is to keep these clubs alive.

TK: Do you feel Steps 3-6 have disappeared a bit under the radar at the moment?

AH: Yes I do. I sympathise with the leagues and the FA as we are in difficult times right now but I did feel they jumped on their decision to null and void last season a bit hastily. Maybe a two weekly update would be good just to know what they are thinking, obviously it might not work as circumstances around the country are changing so quickly at the moment.

TK: What is your gut feeling in terms of what might happen and do you think we might see a stand off for a few weeks until the National League is resolved despite it might not having a bearing on the outcome for Steps 3-6?

AH: I can’t really see fans back for some time yet unfortunately, so this would make it impossible for us to play at Step 3 level which leads itself towards another null and void season. They may wait to see what the National League decide to do in the next couple of weeks before confirming anything but as I said already I would just like to know where we stand.

TK: How welcome is it though that Step 3-6 clubs have access to funding to help them survive and be here in the future?

AH: It’s a massive bonus to all clubs, I think so many would struggle and local clubs can be the real hub of the community and a place where the whole area can meet and socialise when safe to do so. These clubs are a big part of so many people’s lives so to keep as many of them going as possible is a massive positive.

Styles is also concerned at the lack of communication coming from above and like Hinshelwood feels null and void is the likely outcome to the season:

TK: With the National League fiasco taking centre stage, do you think the rest of non-league has been pushed to the side and almost forgotten about?

RS: The National League has gotten a lot of media attention lately which is right as they are at the top of the pyramid and have a lot of full time members in the divisions. Filtering down there hasn’t been a lot of movement nor communication recently from the FA through the league’s leading to a lot of assumptions as to what is going to happen.

Like anything we’re waiting I think for the National League to sort themselves out and it will then filter down to the leagues below.

TK: Despite the difference in what happened last time around do you think if the National League continues there is a chance Steps 3-6 will do the same or do you feel null and void is set to happen again?

RS: The National League seem to have a financial complication which is causing part of their issues in continuing or not. In terms of steps 3-6 there is already a financial grant I believe we can apply for. Given the time away clubs, staff, and managers have had away from football I can’t see anything other than null and void happening at steps 3-6 to be honest.

TK: If we do go null and void once again would you hope that there are better plans put in place should the game ever find itself in this position again?

RS: It would be helpful for everyone to have a plan or protocol in place for the future should anything like this ever happen again for sure. It’s difficult for the FA to decide how to complete the season in these situations and you’ll never please everyone.

The fairest way possible is with as much communication and guidance as they can give rather than the area of the unknown.

Whilst the National League situation is descending into a farcical situation on a daily basis the FA remain quiet on where they are up to currently, we can only presume they have all the information into them now, you can just hear the silence however……………

Chambers: The vibe around the club has been pretty positive

Photo courtesy of Brendan Kemp and Rusthall FC

Last week I caught up with Rusthall Reserves manager Lee Chambers whose side play just two divisions below their first team in the Kent County Football League Division One to find how the current situation affected their club being inside what was then a Tier 3 area:

TK: How has it been at Rusthall FC this month given the excitement of lockdown lifting tempered by Kent going into Tier 3 (at the time of interviewing) meaning no competitive football?

LC: The vibe around the club has been pretty positive as the lads were excited to return to training and have a small amount of normality back in their lives. It’s been a stop start season so far and with competitive football on hold at the moment due to the tier restrictions we had lined up a couple of friendlies to keep the lads fitness ticking over.

TK: As a club are you hopeful that football in Kent will re-start in the New Year?

LC: It’s a real difficult one in as much as a club we want football to return. It needs to be safe to do so before Xmas I think was too much of an ask but fingers crossed in early January we can all return safely.

TK: Rusthall are very much a club who are growing bigger in West Kent, how big is the club currently?

LC: The club has always been a family club with a good reputation and is definitely growing much bigger. The junior set-up has teams from Under 7 right up to Under 18 and has three close knit senior sides that work the system very well giving a great pathway right through the club.

TK: Do you feel with all the developments around the ground over the last few years makes it an easier sell to new players?

LC: The facilities now are fantastic at the Jockey Farm Stadium. All the thanks must go to the committee who work tirelessly all year round to maintain and improve the ground.

These facilities have certainly helped the club attract players and has also increased our fan base; over the last few seasons the numbers have really rocketed through the turnstiles.

TK: Do you find a lot of those also support yourself and the team at reserve level?

LC: A lot of our fans are supporting the reserve team when the first team are away. With the two teams only separated between two divisions the support has been fantastic and hopefully we have given them some entertaining football to watch.

TK: You’ve had quite a bit of success at reserve team level, have you found that it has encouraged players to push harder to make the first team?

LC: Since joining the club we set our own targets and one of those was to close the gap between the reserves and the first team to make the transition for the players an easier task.

We have been fortunate enough to gain some success along the way which has been a credit to the lads who have knuckled down to achieve what they have. We have seen players make the step up and hold their own over the last two seasons and hopefully that will continue.

TK: Has the current pandemic we’re experiencing affected the future plans for the club?

LC: The club is constantly looking to keep moving forward on and off the pitch and with the current pandemic like all clubs the lack of money coming in with no competitive football does hit you hard.

Hopefully though we are getting closer every day to a return to football and we can concentrate on moving forward.

TK: Has there been much in the way of financial help for the club as a whole?

LC: There has been support and help out there over this difficult time but I leave that side of things to the committee!

TK: Given the stop start nature to this season, do you think we will see some big changes to the footballing landscape whether we finish this current campaign or not?

LC: I really do hope that we can finish this season knowing last season had to stop in March. At all levels players have missed out on so much football and most leagues I believe will be given an extension to hopefully get games completed.

TK: Finally, how far can you yourself go ambition wise in the future?

LC: So for me I just want to keep moving forwards and improve as a coach and a manager and work up the footballing ladder. You are always learning all the time and over the last couple of years I’ve really pushed myself and will continue to do so to keep improving.

Styles: We were down to the bare bones

Earlier this week I caught up with Tunbridge Wells boss Richard Styles after the government announced the return of fans to football after the end of the lockdown on on 2nd December:

TK: How frustrating has it been to have the four week break just when Tunbridge Wells had been enjoying a good start to the season?

RS: The four week lockdown and suspension to the season was always going to be frustrating for all teams, fortunately for us we were really down to the bare bones before the lockdown came in and the squad was really stretched.

This time off we’ve been able to put a positive spin on things and allow our medical staff to work with our players carrying injuries and knocks to recover whilst at home enabling the squad to be at full strength when we return.

TK: That sounds encouraging. Do you think it might take a while for sides to get back into the groove once again?

RS: I think it’ll depend on what clubs have done with their players during the break, it’s not a pre-season type situation when we return. As staff we came together as soon as it was announced the season was being suspended, we spoke to professionals within the industry and came up with a plan to use with our boys to maintain their match fitness levels whilst recovering from any knocks and fatigue.

I feel happy with what my players have done during this period and I think it’s been effective for us. I’d expect any club at this level or above to have the same input and thought process to be honest. If they haven’t then yeah it might take a while for some to get going again.

TK: Are you concerned with a cold start there will be a lot of injuries occurring?

RS: Not really, our players played 12 league games, plus FA Vase and FA Cup since the ‘later’ start of the season so we’ve adapted well to managing the players and the times between games.

I can’t see it being any worse than it was before the lockdown. I do think teams need to utilise their squads correctly with their workload though to ensure they limit the amount that might occur.

TK: Would you be in favour of the use of 5 substitutes per game or happy with the current 3 being allowed?

RS: I’d be happy to go to 5, these players are only part time, they have jobs, families and other commitments etc. so are more inclined to pick up an injury or two or fatigue. At the same time, if it remains at 3 it’s what we know so no major complaints.

TK: What are you looking forward to most when we resume the season in the next couple of weeks?

RS: Looking forward to getting the boys back playing and training again as well as back to some sort of normality. From the football side of things I’m looking for us to hit the ground running and to gain as many points as we can in the upcoming games.

TK: Bearing in mind we’re going to see more Saturday-Tuesday combinations in the coming weeks and months do you expect yourselves or others to add to their squads?

RS: Quite possibly, those with smaller squads will certainly have to look at it. I know we have identified where we felt we could strengthen and have explored some options.

TK: Are you hopeful we could see more than 300 fans allowed into the Culverden Stadium to watch the action?

RS: Certainly, I know I speak for all the playing and management staff when I say we always want as many of our fans as possible at every game. If we are allowed more than 300 supporters safely then I’d welcome it.

NB: Since the interview in midweek, Kent have been placed in tier 3 and with it the suspension of Southern Counties East League until Saturday 26th December.

Strevens: We are quite happy with where we are squad wise for now

My final interview this week comes from Eastleigh FC boss Ben Strevens reflecting on the start to the season for the Hampshire club:

TK: An excellent start to the season after seven games, are you placed where you expected to be so far?

BS: I honestly didn’t know what to expect at the start of the season as pre-season seemed a strange time. We are happy with our points total, but we realise it’s early days. Hopefully, we will keep on improving as the season progresses.

TK: Summer recruitment seems to have gone well, how have the new players settled in?

BS: Yeah, they have settled in really well, we purposely recruited more youthful players with the hope of helping them improve themselves. They have added to the players we managed to keep and that was just as important as the new guys coming in.

TK: Although it is still very early in the season in terms of games played, are there one or two sides that have surprised you with their results?

BS: Wealdstone have started really well after their promotion from the National South. I am surprised by some of the teams towards the lower part of the table, but as you say it’s still really early to judge those teams.

TK: Do you think that the stop start scenario for some teams has played a part in where they are in the current table?

BS: I certainly don’t think it helps, but it will be the case for all of us over the course of the season, quite sure of that. We now go two weeks without a competitive game which isn’t ideal either.

TK: How challenging has it been to get the players in the right frame of mind for playing in empty stadiums?

BS: That’s been fine to be honest, I have a good group that are hungry to win and do well. We would all love fans back in the grounds but the games still matter and points are there to be won.

I am really hoping like everyone else that in the new year the fans will be back watching us live.

TK: Although the club have received grants and the Lottery bail-out to help with no income, was there any effect if any on your playing budget?

BS: Yes, we reduced things to make sure we were ready for all circumstances. But at the same time that also fitted with the profile of the player we were trying to attract to the club.

TK: If for example you felt you needed an extra player or two to keep momentum going, would these current circumstances restrict that happening or be favourable to you?

BS: We are quite happy with where we are squad wise for now. We managed to add Ryan Hill from Hampton & Richmond and Tom Blair from Dorchester a few weeks back, but if I really needed someone or had an injury to a key player I’m sure the club would back me.

TK: Finally, we touched on it earlier, how important is it that we see fans back in stadiums in 2021?

BS: I really hope they are the fans are the lifeblood of every football club. Every team is missing them being there to see the action, hopefully in the new year they will be back in and I really can’t wait for that!

Smith: We do miss having the supporters as they are so important

On Wednesday I caught up with Bromley FC boss Neil Smith via text to find out how the season has gone for him so far:

TK: It’s been a stop and start season so far, how pleased are you with how the team has played so far?

NS: It’s been difficult with so long off from last season getting this season started was great but then we picked up silly injuries and it’s been hard trying to field an unchanged team.

We are just starting to play to how I want us to play so overall it’s been ok but we need to be better.

TK: Do you think we’ll be looking at a season full of interruptions or some calmness might prevail in the New Year?

NS: I think it will be a stop, start, go kind of season until the vaccine comes in, even then I think there will still be little outbreaks in places that cause us to stop.

TK: Only seven games in so far, but are you happy with where you are currently placed in the National League table?

NS: I’d like to have a few more points but to be just outside the play-off places with games in hand isn’t bad. It will be a tough league and there are a lot of clubs that could do it this season so it is early but we want to be in and amongst it all season if we can.

TK: Are there any clubs that have surprised you so far?

NS: Maidenhead and Wealdstone have had a fantastic start to this season and this shows just how competitive it will be for us this year.

TK: Has it been tough to motivate the players to play in front of empty stadiums each week?

NS: We do miss having the supporters as they are so important and it’s so much better having them watching us but the players are trying to create their own atmosphere.

The motivation isn’t a problem as they had so long not playing that I think they missed it that much they really appreciate how lucky they are to be playing football.

As a manager and a player you still have that mentality to win every game and we are still playing for the supporters and their club. We still want them to be proud of their team even though they are not here in person.

TK: Having watched you via the stream on Saturday against Barnet it looked like everything clicked and went to plan, was it almost the complete performance?

NS: It was a great performance from all the players and apart from letting a goal in and not taking a couple more of our other chances it was more like how we can play.

We’ve had a couple of games where we have a good first half and a not so good second half and vice versa. This was a more complete ninety minutes and gives us something to build from.

TK: Do you expect the table to settle down a bit in the next four weeks and give a more balanced idea of how the season might pan out?

NS: Yes I do, but I also still believe with being disrupted with positive tests and waterlogged pitches that it’s going to be a hard season to predict.

TK: How good have the chairman and the board been in helping the club be competitive again this season?

NS: They have been amazing from the start of lockdown to where we are now. The chairman made a statement saying that the club being sustainable was our main aim during these hard times but he also made sure everybody was ok and we did some fantastic work out in the community as well.

Since the start of this season he has backed and supported myself and my management team with his experience. He wants to give me the best chance to get Bromley into the play-offs for the first time even in what are unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in.

TK: And do you think if you needed one or two extra for a final push later in the season it’s able to happen?

NS: I always keep something back myself in the budget for someone who might become available. Who knows, hopefully I’m in that situation and I’ll then find that answer out!

TK: We touched on it earlier, but how crucial is it to have the supporters back inside Hayes Lane in 2021?

NS: It’s so important for everyone, the supporters want to get back to watch live football but also to meet up with friends and family and as a club we can only survive with people coming to watch, the players also want to be playing in front of the paying public for that atmosphere. We are missing the fans as much as they are missing getting out and going to their clubs.

Currie: My love and enthusiasm for football is still beaming

Earlier this week I caught up with ex-Barnet FC boss Darren Currie to find out what he’s been up to since leaving The Hive before this season began:

TK: What’s been the life of Darren Currie since leaving Barnet at the end of the summer?

DC: It’s been very different not being around football as it’s been in my life from a child, Saturdays have not quite been the same, I’ve either been glued to the vidiprinter or walking round Sainsburys with my wife.

In a normal situation without the pandemic I would be at games 2 or 3 nights a week and visiting training grounds but that’s not a possibility, however my love and enthusiasm for football is still beaming and I can’t wait for another opportunity.

TK: Can’t get in the way of your housework! Have you kept in touch with other managers and coaches just to keep involved and in touch with the game?

DC: Of course the housework is now my job but I’ve always been the house proud type!

Yes, I’ve had lots of conversations with many people across the game at all levels, I’ve always found football debate interesting because everyone has an opinion and you can always learn something from someone, there is always something that can provoke you to think.

TK: You’ve been getting out to watch a lot of games like most of us until the beginning of this month, has it given you some food for thought on how Steps 3-6 approach the game?

DC: I’ve watched a few games, some good, some not so good but that’s football! From a recruitment point of view there are gems at all levels so always worth a watch.

There is no right or wrong way of playing, everyone does it how they see the game and their own personal values, there’s been some different styles for sure.

TK: Does it bring home the frustration a little more at times watching from behind the barrier rather than directing from the dugout?

DC: Yes and no. I’m a fan like everyone else so I do understand, it depends whats being asked of the players, fans may think someone is not doing well but the coach believes he’s doing his job that’s been asked of him that benefits the team or a team-mate but yes I can understand that it can frustrate.

TK: Have you felt quite proud that a majority of last season’s Barnet team have gone on to bigger things, a mention of course for Jack Taylor and his full Republic of Ireland call up.

DC: Yes, very proud of them all to be honest, we had a great atmosphere in the changing room last season and although I’m no longer their manager I have kept in contact with them all and speak regularly.

Part of my management style is to create relationships and invest in the person as well as the player so I will always look out for them.

JT is not surprising anyone, he’s a terrific player whose football journey will just get better and better, and many coaches can take credit for his development as can myself and Junior (Lewis) but the main credit goes to Jack himself for his attitude and drive to keep improving.

He’s on the big stage now so everyone connected to the Bees will be watching on proudly.

TK: Would you expect Harry to follow his brother up the footballing ladder in the next season or two? And how different a player is Harry to Jack?

DC: I do expect Harry to climb the ladder as well most definitely. Jack is the eye catcher with goals, assists and driving runs whereas Harry is the consistent versatile reliable player that will go a little unnoticed by some on occasion but as a manager or a coach he’s a brilliant player to have.

Both are great boys in the changing room and it was a pleasure to work with them.

TK: Have you watched anything of Barnet this season or followed things from afar?

DC: Followed from afar mostly but I watched the cup game against Burton Albion which they deserved to win, great effort from the team with 10 men. When the gates open again I will definitely get back to The Hive to watch them play.

TK: That’s because you’re buying the beer! Are Junior or any of the other staff that worked under you back in the game or like yourself waiting for an opportunity?

DC: Everyone is waiting for another opening to come. Yes I will get the beers for sure!

TK: When you see your name linked to jobs around the country as teams haven’t started as well as they’d liked to have, as bad as it might sound are you willing a chairman or two to pull the trigger?

DC: It’s the unfortunate side to the game that someone will lose their job to allow someone else the chance. That will always be the case.

TK: How have you kept yourself busy so far in this second lockdown besides hoovering and bed making?

DC: House husband, school runs, running, dog walking and reading.

And all I want is football!

TK: 2 weeks and hopefully we are back to getting out to games again. Final one from me, are you hopeful that 2021 will bring the return of fans to all stadiums once again?

DC: It’s a must, it has to be. The game needs the fans, football is nowhere near the same without them so let’s hope we get stadiums open again as early as possible and as safely as we can.