Rebels causing a stir

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Those who read this blog regularly and follow me on Facebook or Twitter will know it’s doing rather well. I count myself as fortunate to be able to interview two National League managers this season with follow ups due to happen throughout and two more at least on my list.

I still get amazed to see the atlas I can almost create from the countries it’s viewed in, it’s very humbling, I mean here we are on the 1st day of December and before I’ve written something this month, 24 people have visited the blog! So, there I was sitting there minding my own business this afternoon reading the Non-League Paper (standard Sunday) and something caught my eye, something that has crept up on me and I almost missed it.

Worthing FC have slowly and quietly moved into the BetVictor Isthmian Premier Division title race. I say slowly, but really it’s been gathering pace over the past two months and now the Rebels are into third place after the weekend games. Just three defeats in 18 league games tells it’s own story, consistency, one thing boss Adam Hinshelwood cried out for constantly last season seems to be on the table week in, week out this time around.

The Rebels last league defeat came nearly two months ago and they’re currently enjoying a nine match unbeaten run which has left them just two points behind Horsham and Folkestone Invicta, the latter however do have a game in hand. Behind them competition is harsh, both Hornchurch and Enfield Town have games in hand which means Hinshelwood’s side must keep winning.

In that run there aren’t a great deal of clean sheets, but Worthing do score at almost two goals per game so they are confident of outscoring their opponents. Goals are being shared around the team which is always a good sign of a side that are able to mount a title challenge, no reliance on one man to hit the target.

Both on-loan goalkeepers in Carl Rushworth and Roco Rees have both ably filled the gap left by Lucas Covolan, now plying his trade in the National League. The return of Lloyd Dawes and Reece Myles-Meekums have provided guile and pace to the front line to compliment Ollie Pearce and Callum Kealy.

The shrewd signings of Marvin Armstrong, Joe Tennant and Cameron Tutt have strengthened other areas of the squad and it appears that whoever Hinshelwood selects as a starting eleven there seems more of a belief and ability to push Worthing onto the next level.

Hinshelwood hasn’t and never is shy to include those from the youth set up should he feel they are ready, Fin Stevens and Dylan Jelley being just two examples recently stepping up to play.

With three of the top ten to play before the end of the year all at Woodside Road, the Rebels could be in a very strong position as we head towards 2020. As always support levels remain close to the 1000 mark through the turnstiles keeping the club as the best supported in the division although local rivals Horsham are also enjoying some good gates at their new stadium.

With so many things going on this year I’ve yet to watch the team in action this season, something I hope will change very soon if I can squeeze a game in, the advantage of a 3G pitch while the rest of the country plays catch up, Worthing are well up on games played. A town the size of Worthing deserves a club in the National League, something George Dowell and Hinshelwood are doing their best to achieve, watch this space……………………

 

Bees shine bright under The Hive lights

Barnet vs Ebbsfleet

Having now changed jobs, well given up working full time and now doing some part-time stuff while I wait for this writing to get off the ground, it means Tuesday nights under the lights is now a possibility for the first time this season.

This was only my 2nd visit to The Hive this season (3rd if you count the trip to meet up with Darren Currie back in July) but I think I picked the right time to make the 5 hour round trip again.

There’s no getting away from the fact the early season optimism I garnered from that July meeting and the subsequent good results that followed are now darkly confined to the archives and much forgotten about.  One defeat in the first ten games has been followed by just two wins in twelve games since, the kind of run that has managers looking over their shoulders and chairman with itchy trigger fingers waiting to pounce. There are many who believe Currie has run out of time  and when you see other managers and coaches getting relieved of their duties for similar results sequences you can’t disagree with them.

On the other side of it his squad is hamstrung by players who either aren’t the ones he wants at Barnet or are not good enough, either way it’s not helped the situation. The most bizarre thing about it all is despite the poor run of results Barnet before Tuesday night’s games were only two wins away from a play-off place which goes to show how open the division is this year, ‘missed opportunity’ is the phrase I’m reading most on Twitter currently, the thinking of a lot of teams because no one club is running away with the title this time around.

Having already lost at Ebbsfleet only a few weeks back, the Bees desperately needed a result not just for themselves but to relieve some of the pressure on Currie’s shoulders. Back to back 2-1 defeats hadn’t helped the cause, but a change in personnel and captain, Currie rolled the dice.

James Dunne was installed as the armband wearer and put in a performance that looked like a captain. People have their opinion of Callum Reynolds, my own is he’s not a bad player, but I like my captain to not take any prisoners and be at the forefront of everything, Dunne certainly looked the part last night.

Returning Simeon Akinola and Wes Fonguck to the starting line up made all the difference, Fonguck alongside Dunne and Jack Taylor didn’t give the Fleet midfield any breathing space all night whilst Akinola alongside Josh Walker gave the visitors back four more to think about than probably Barrow had over the course of the weekend game.

The state of the pitch doesn’t help with the way Currie wants the team to play, they passed the ball as requested but mixed it up with balls turning the defenders for Akinola and Walker to spin in behind.

What I wasn’t expecting was five Barnet goals, what I really wasn’t expecting was the way they were scored. Someone will have to do something special to beat Jack Taylor’s wonder strike from fully 25 yards out, hit with venom and arrowing over the keepers head and under the bar to give the Bees the lead.

Ebbsfleet’s equaliser was well worked into the net ten minutes later, but they stayed on level terms for just six minutes as Akinola curled a lovely shot past the outstretched hand of the keeper to give the Bees a deserved 2-1 lead at the break.

The visitors certainly started the brighter of the two sides after the interval, Barnet pinned back into their half for a good 15 minutes or so and to no surprise Fleet drew level. One minute later and Barnet back in front, Akinola springing the offside trap, although being in line with the Bees striker it was very marginal, keeping his head and calmly slotting past the on-rushing keeper.

From that point every time Barnet went forward they looked likely to score as the visitors looked to have been crushed having conceded so quickly after drawing level. Then came what can be described as just a fantastic piece of dribbling and skill from Walker dancing his way through several challenges down the line, into the box, keeping his cool and poking the ball into the net.

The boys in amber still weren’t done and a penalty awarded for handball was converted confidently by Akinola for his first senior hat-trick and put the icing on the cake of a polished performance. Granted, there are still some things to be ironed out, but if it is to be believed that the budget is full with no wiggle room, Currie is working with what he has, only time can tell if he can pull a miracle or two out of the bag and close that gap to the play-offs.

It’s a shame there were less than 1000 through the gate to witness a strong performance, I can understand why people wanted to stay away, maybe I make the most of it because I can’t attend as often as I would like and will take any game I can get to, but we don’t have a divine right to win every or any game, nor the division maybe there should be a radical look at ticket prices, but that’s for another blog or discussion elsewhere. Now there is a few days off before the action resumes at The Hive in front of the BT Sport cameras, a chance to show the non-league nation Tuesday night was no fluke and we can get back in this race, I’d still rather be here than a Chesterfield or Wrexham fan…………

Weather hampers club finances

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The relentless November rain is playing havoc up and down the country, in all honesty there isn’t much playing going on full stop! Hard grounds everywhere are not absorbing any of the constant rainfall and consequently waterlogging pitches on a regular basis are creating postponements on a huge scale.

My club Wick FC have so far managed to play one game out of four scheduled for this month and with even more rain forecast this week there’s a very good chance that it’ll be one game in five as we head into December. What that means for us is midweek football all the way through to Xmas and also means the earliest we can fit Saturday’s postponed game in is the first week of 2020! I know we’re not the only club in this situation, there are clubs already games behind us from cup runs and these weather related call off’s are going to start causing problems as 2020 hits in five weeks time.

While a postponement just means a game to fit in later on in the season, there are a far wider set of implications off the pitch which can set a club back weeks or even months. We are quite lucky in the fact we have a second Saturday team sharing our ground which means we’re making some money when the first team play away. But, the weather of course means their games are getting called off as well and it’s money that helps keep things ticking over on a weekly and monthly basis.

It might only be a few hundred quid each time, but those outside the inner workings of a grassroots football club wouldn’t know how crucial that extra cash can be. For a lot of clubs the past few weeks would have been hell because while the rain falls the bills don’t stop coming and if there is no cash reserve things can get a little tight unless there are some deep pockets within the club.

Those without the extra revenue will have more often than not made a loss on a day like this, programmes printed that might be used for the re-arranged game still incurs the cost there and then, stock for the tea bar that although can be frozen and used at a later date has still been paid for, but won’t see a profit for until a week or two later. These things might only appear small but get that happen twice in a month, the month before and/or after , and that can set back progress which can be hard to overcome and make it a real struggle for the remainder of the season.

Next month will hopefully be the time for us to get back on track with a full function book all the way up to New Years Eve, nothing is guaranteed however so it’s a little bit of fingers crossed in a way and hope for the best. If only we all had a Glenn Tamplin chequebook………………………..

History in the making or just the circus in town?

Romford-FC

Non-league football never fails to surprise you. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we all experienced the takeover of Billericay Town by Glenn Tamplin and now here we are again but this time insert Romford FC as the ‘lucky’ benefactors of Tamplin’s wealth.

Very easy to compare Tamplin to Marmite, he’s not everyone’s cup of tea and you can understand why. He’s brash, straight-talking and happy to splash the cash, not afraid to make changes but also not prepared to suffer those who don’t see things his way. Making an entrance is certainly his way of doing things as we saw with Billericay.

Bumper signings of ex Football League players and huge wages paid to those who dropped down the leagues, together with a huge mural painted on the wall of their New Lodge ground and the changing room rendition of ‘The World’s Greatest’ introduced us to the world according to Tamplin. The big story weekly was who was going to the next recruit to join the ‘revolution’ and propel ‘Ricay to the Football League. But while all this was happening on the pitch and blowing everyone else’s budget out of the water, Tamplin spent on the facilities at the same time, something a lot of owners forget when building a side to push up through the leagues.

The stadium at Billericay is now is very good shape, a legacy Tamplin left behind and one that has been promised to be built at Romford. But, what balanced that became known as ‘the circus’, the constant meddling in management and team affairs, then deciding he was better placed to do it all himself, then sack himself, then re-instate himself, all of this taking away from the good side of things people forget about.

It has been said ‘Ricay are as good as debt-free, slowly releasing the big earners to make it a sustainable business once again but with better facilities than they had when Tamplin arrived. In Jamie O’Hara they have a young manager learning the ropes but now able to do it without the pressure cooker environment Tamplin created.

Meanwhile, at Romford, Tamplin again decides management is his game but then when you’re the owner and pumping in your own cash, who can tell you what to do! It didn’t go to plan in his first game with 14 new players signed on before this weekend’s game and 3-2 home defeat in front of a crowd of 524 enjoying free entry courtesy of Tamplin against an average this season of 109.

There weren’t as many surprises in the new players announced as I expected but maybe in time that will follow. Away from the playing side, there is a chance for Tamplin to make Romford history, they currently are without their own ground and share with Brentwood Town. Bottom of the BetVictor Isthmian North Division with just five points, the only way of course is up unless current form continues and the Essex Senior League beckons instead. To build a brand new stadium and return the club to it’s home gives Tamplin the chance to do more than he could with Billericay, but in my opinion that’s where he should concentrate his efforts and leave the team to those who can get it out of trouble and rising up the table.

But we know from experience that’s unlikely to happen, Tamplin may well change but I wouldn’t be lumping my mortgage on it to happen! Whatever happens in Essex it’s a ride to jump on once again, there’s bound to be plenty of thrills and spills, just scream if you wanna go faster………….

 

Ben Strevens: Part 2

Strevs

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TK: How about Chesterfield?

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Strevens reflects

Strevs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brighter times amongst darker months?

Autumn

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

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

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

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

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