When Davids came to town

Edgar Davids

Nearly eight and a half years ago a footballing superstar walked through the doors at Underhill, the former home of Barnet FC, a man who had won things at the top level in the game from league titles to the Champions League and here he was about to appear for the side bottom of League Two and without a win in the first eleven games.

Edgar Davids is a world renowned name across the football globe, yes that Edgar Davids of Barcelona, Juventus, Ajax and Barcelona fame! I remember waking up on I think it was a Friday morning and my phone went mad, messages galore that Edgar Davids was the new joint head coach of Barnet!

The fact I knew Davids had been seen around The Hive in the weeks before the announcement meant it hadn’t come as a huge surprise to me like it had across the footballing world, what was slightly more surprising was Mark Robson forming the other half of this dynamic duo, although that was to be a short-lived arrangement with Robson leaving the club just over two months after the Dutchman had walked through the door.

The club were so far adrift at the foot of the table that relegation to the National League looked the only possibility for the remainder of the season and why did Davids want to be associated with that? A chance to be a hero? Increase the size of an undoubted ego? Or just want to help his local club? All three maybe? You decide.

The impact was instant, Davids inspiring a 4-0 win over Northampton at Underhill for the Bees first win of the season. In fact Davids was able to get the team playing good passing football and took the season to the final game, something that was not even in the thinking at all when he arrived at the club, to be honest the Bees had no right after that start to head to Northampton on the final day knowing a win would keep them up.

Ultimately, that start was to cost them a trip back to the then named Skrill Premier, many believing had Davids arrived earlier safety in League Two would have beckoned. And now the fun and games were just beginning!

The team were still pinging the ball around like Dutch nationals and no disrespect to the players, Davids was getting this out of League Two/Conference League players, but the man himself was beginning to attract ‘sit up and look’ publicity but not for the best reasons.

Grabbing the number one shirt for himself instead of keeper Graham Stack prompted much talk of ego-massaging, an agreement not to attend games in the far north with the club smacked really of total unprofessionalism. The flip side of the coin is the club was constantly in the news, not for the best reasons but reasons to be in print, similar to Martin Allen’s many times in charge of the club although those column inches were more favourable if a little obscure at times.

Performances dipped on the pitch and with three red cards in five matches, you felt Davids wasn’t getting the best out of the situation and neither were the club, so it wasn’t so much of a surprise that the two mutually parted company in January 2014 with the Bees 10th in the table.

However you look at it, this sort of thing doesn’t happen at every club, someone as big in name and stature managed little old Barnet and made his mark good and bad in the history, and credit to Edgar for being in the crowd when the Bees won promotion back to the Football League under Martin Allen in 2014-15.

I was lucky enough to sponsor Edgar during that relegation season (well I did a deal with Tony – it can be done – as John Antoniou can testify to) absolute nice guy to talk to and never turned down a photo or an autograph, I very much doubt something of this magnitude I will ever see again at Barnet, a once in a lifetime thing, but yes Edgar Davids did manage the mighty Bees……

 

Keep on reading

non league 1 So here we are, off school, off work for the foreseeable future. I’m lucky, I can still get out to deliver for Amazon next week, how long that will last is anyone’s guess so making the most of it, not so lucky for my kids who will be isolated in the car for 3 hours a day. One thing I can still do however is write articles, whether it’s on here or for the sites I also have work published.

So far this year or season whichever way you look at it, I’ve had a blast, an absolute whirlwind time. I’ve interviewed three National League managers in Darren Currie, Ben Strevens and Neil Smith, this is the top level of non-league I blog on so I can’t get any higher than that. I had so much more in the pipeline as well, some that would blow your socks off when they appear on here, while those are currently on the back burner whenever we get back to a normal state of affairs or as close to it, they will happen.

I would conduct them over the phone, but there are one or two that you know you just have to do face to face! But that’s not to say I’ve got nothing to fill the gap while we wait. I’ve got plenty of ideas to keep things ticking over, I’ve also been given a couple of suggestions as well which I will put out there, my aim is to keep you readers reading, we’re all going to have a lot of time on our hands over the next few weeks and months and in that time there will be more statements and decisions made that can be discussed to see what the opinions are around the game.

I am looking at getting my record month for visitors by the end of March, I’m not far away and plan on doing enough blogs to make it happen, it’s just a shame that it’s not for good footballing reasons to achieve it.

And talking of figures, they’re looking pretty good at nearly a quarter of the way through the year. I set myself a target of 250 visitors per month which I’ve beaten in both months and well past the target for March.

I’m aiming for 3000 visitors over 2020, currently I’m sitting at 1320 after not even three full months! I put a target of reaching 10,000 views by the end of the year, currently that level has reached 8,771 and again well on course to beat that figure much quicker than I imagined.  The final target is to blog at least six times a month which with this one gives me that figure for this month, but more will follow.

It’s success is down to choosing a decent topic to write about, but more importantly you who read it. It always amazes me where in the world someone is reading, I know I have friends who travel on business which accounts for some of it but take this month for instance views in the UK of course but France, Germany, Canada, Turkey, USA, Spain, Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Norway, New Zealand, Georgia, Denmark, Italy, South Africa and China, not a bad little list and this is commonplace every month.

So, please while things are going to be tougher and not so easy over the next few weeks or months I will still be writing whether it’s current or taking a look back at previous games or other nostalgia, coronavirus is not going to stop me………

Seven days is a long time in football

The Hive 1

Well, where do I begin? Less than 24 hours after yesterday’s huge announcement from Barnet FC and what I believe is the first of many to come over the next few weeks and months, it’s still raw in the thinking and the mind and emotions are no doubt running high through the fanbase. What I will try to be is objective, sensible but not here to defend either side of this, at the end of the day I am a fan first and foremost but having run my own business I can understand the financial aspect, thats not to say it’s right or wrong, please remember that! So, grab a cuppa, snacks whatever, sit down and have a read……..

This time last week I had a sore throat having watched my beloved Bees play out of their skins to beat Woking 3-1 and move to within one point of the play-offs with four games in hand, one defeat in about seventeen games and the club looking like it was on the up again. I stated on Twitter yesterday that seven days is a long time in football, and that can’t be more true than the world coming crashing down at The Hive throughout the day. I will point out that defeating this virus is bigger than anything at the moment, football though is a great relief and social aspect to many around the world and there is a very big worry of an increase in mental health issues that are going to result from the complete shutdown.

I first became aware of issues and rumours surrounding Barnet FC on Monday evening, privately messaged by  a couple of friends to see if I knew or had heard anything given that I have been privy to knowing more than I ever had before within football clubs, not just Barnet. As it was at the time I wasn’t aware of anything than had been seen on Twitter that the club were laying off the academy staff or putting them ‘on notice’.

Tuesday morning become a different story and what evolved during that day looks as if it will alter the course of the future for my football club. Having woken to a couple more messages of people asking if I knew the story, I had to dig a little deeper. Again, at the time it was still speculation but what I was hearing is one of those things you pray is not going to be the final outcome.

Unfortunately after much checking of my phone whilst working in the afternoon, the reality hit and all that had been feared by others was indeed true, Barnet FC the first club to find trouble in this unprecedented situation with 60 staff being put on notice of redundancy, which was to include Darren Currie, Junior Lewis and the backroom first team staff. Not only was this the academy being hit, the social media, office and anyone not a contracted player.

This is people with mortgages, rent, food to buy, bills to pay, regular people just like you and me suddenly gone within a few weeks, I’m not dressing this up any different to those already laid off in other jobs nor those for it still to come as it inevitably will, but I can’t comment for them. I was aware the funding for the academy would cease at the end of this season due to this being the second year out of the Football League, businessmen would say this is a sensible move to cut the cloth with no sight to be able to see when and indeed if this season would resume and end. As a person though, it hits the emotions hard especially when you have a contact and an association with it, it’s not pleasant and I don’t doubt we will so much more of it going forward.

To lump the first team in with this is where it makes no sense, I don’t just say this because I have a relationship with Darren and Junior. I believe, and this is my own personal opinion, four days into this crisis and not seeing anyone else  show their hand is too quick for me, I don’t profess to know the details of Barnet’s accounts in any way. But, we as supporters have been led to believe that The Hive allows the club to compete with bigger clubs given the size and all within that complex. Should and it’s a big if here, if the season was to be played out to a conclusion at some stage, what for the first team? Would Darren still be on his notice period? Would Junior and the others want to come back? Would the players refuse to play? Questions for another day but will still be asked.

I am aware we lose money, smaller crowds this season are well under the budget set back in 2019 and those losses have to be brought back in line somewhere, the Jack Taylor transfer money would surely have covered a majority of this? If two years ago the club had a budget as good as any in League Two, where have we gone wrong? Squandered? Mismanaged? Natural at this level? I don’t know the answer, we can all speculate as to the reason, only one man probably knows what has really happened.

If the quote yesterday that as a club it was ‘throwing’ £100,000 on player wages just to try and get promoted then honestly that makes my chairman no better than most in football, gambling on the future. We’ve always been led to believe the club is pretty stable and financially ok when the chairman has been challenged in Q&A sessions, either hollow words or a massive bending of the truth.

What does the future hold? How can you answer that in the current climate? I know of other clubs in danger, I won’t divulge who as I respect the people with the information, I’m sure now many more will over the next few days be entering the same kind of thing, the footballing landscape could potentially move and change so much without help and bail-outs, not once did I ever consider my club would be the first in line, it just goes to show seven days is a long time in football…………

 

 

Where do we go from here?

empty-seat-stadium

This is the sight us as football fans might have to get used to for a little while, empty stadiums playing host to nothing. The question above is open to any interpretation or opinion because currently there is no answer but one you can try and answer as best you can.

The coronavirus is here to stay, how long for nobody knows. It almost certainly won’t disappear as quickly as it arrived. With Premier League and Football League games suspended for two weeks over the past few days, non-league came up with a mixed reactions to events. The National League decided to play on, Step 4 that being the Isthmian, Southern and Northern decided to halt proceedings for seven days and in some cases for fourteen days, and the grassroots were left by the FA to decide for themselves, the latter there being damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.

I can understand to a degree why grassroots were allowed to continue if the aim is to stop large gatherings of people, thats not going to happen at that level, but still the advice should have been given to allow club the option to postpone if they felt it necessary to. At the same time though there is nothing to stop the virus spreading among a small amount of people.

And to the National League where the crowds range from 9000 odd down to around 1000, still a decent amount of people in one place and a nice breeding place for germs. Many people were shocked at the announcement to play over the course of this weekend which in my opinion backfired almost immediately with Harrogate announcing self-isolation for some showing symptoms on Friday evening. This was followed on Saturday morning by Barnet, Chorley and Woking who announced players or staff who had self-isolated causing three more postponements.

Now nothing here is the fault of any club, the correct decisions were made by them but fans were on their way to these games already which I feel could have been avoided by a blanket ban on games at National League level, what made them feel the NL was so special to have to play when all round where cancelling left, right and centre? Managers came out after the game to slam the decision to play and quite rightly so I believe, Eastleigh boss Ben Strevens stating the fact they have elderly people involved on their backroom staff, the very people at risk of being infected and exposed to a game that could have waited.

In answer to the question above, I really don’t know. Much will depend on how situations develop over the next fourteen days on a national and local scale as to whether we will see a resumption in service or a further suspension to sporting events. There is opinion that the season becomes null and void or tables stand as they are with clubs promoted or relegated, from that there is sure to be legal fall out regardless of whether it is or is not the right thing to do. I don’t see any reason why the season can’t continue once there is containment and the calendar around the world will be distorted for maybe a year or two, we’re very much at the mercy of the experts and not those from Facebook or Twitter!

Whatever is decided over the coming weeks, the health of everyone in this country is more important than me having nothing to write about when it comes to football, but I’m sure I can fashion up just enough to keep you all reading when it comes to self-isolation…

Play-offs very much in reach

Woking vs Barnet

Midweek Tuesday and finally a game of football without the rain getting in the way, granted though it did rain all through the ninety minutes but it didn’t dampen anything for the visiting supporters.

It’s been a long time since I’d been to Woking, but if memory serves me right I hadn’t seen Barnet lose here and arriving here last night in fantastic form just one league defeat in their last thirteen games, but the home side have had a superb campaign so far, sitting in and around the play-off zone all season so this had all the hallmarks of being a great spectacle.

The good lush surface certainly helped Darren Currie’s side move the ball around the pitch well in contrast to The Hive, and the opening exchanges were pretty even, Woking’s outlet being ex-Bee Dave Tarpey down the right hand flank but lacking quality into the box to make a dent in the score-line although you can argue to that a Bees defender finding himself available every time to block any goal bound effect.

Barnet were to take the lead on 26 mins when who else but Paul McCallum netted yet again after an exquisite through ball from David Tutonda split the centre-halves, McCallum timing his run to perfection and although another ex-Bee Craig Ross got something on it, there was enough on the strike to end up in the back of the net.

Both sides then came close to a goal each, Scott Loach saving superbly whilst going the other way to the ball from a deflected Tarpey strike, whilst McCallum and Wes Fonguck combined to send Simeon Akinola clean through only for the offside flag to be raised. Akinola’s game was over before half time, seemingly a hamstring pull causing the Bees top scorer to cut short his evening but giving Josh Walker an opportunity to show Currie he deserves a starting place once again.

Woking certainly started the second half the brighter of the two sides but couldn’t find away past the Bees defensive rear-guard, whilst on the break Barnet broke with pace and almost added to the score line with James Dunne sending a curled effort just past the post.

The second goal did come for Barnet, Walker latching onto a poor defensive lapse from Mo Diarra, racing clear and expertly lifting the ball over Ross and into the net after 77 mins. At that moment looked like the points were comfortably heading back to Harrow, but this is Barnet! The visitors goal was finally breached four minutes from the end as Jack Cook’s touch put the ball beyond Loach to set up what looked to be a nervy finish.

But, as the Cards pushed forward for an equaliser, the Bees broke once again at pace with Walker who cut inside and curled the ball left footed past Ross for his second and Barnet’s third to ensure the points were heading home with the visitors.

Credit must go to Currie and Junior Lewis for the tactical set up with Tutonda detailed to track Tarpey and Fonguck given license to drive forward from midfield, plus the change to bring on Ephron Mason-Clark to provide a more pacier outlet ball down the right flank.

Clinical outstanding performances all over the park in black and amber, and now within one point of the play-offs with a decent goal difference building up. It’s vital though to pick up at least a point on Saturday away at Yeovil, another tough game as they all will be to the end of the season but as time has gone on you can feel the squad have gelled more and more, listened to what DC and JL have been asking of them and now we are seeing the full benefit, no doubting also the difference McCallum has made in offering us a different option up front and whilst scoring for fun himself it hasn’t blunted either Akinola nor Walker in front of goal.

I still believe this season is a free hit for DC working with so few players he has signed, but they have responded to him, they’re playing for him and just maybe we might achieve with them……..

The future looks bright

Worthing U16

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Andy Alman the manager of Worthing FC Under 16’s to take a glimpse into the future at Woodside Road.

On Sunday 15th March Andy will lead his team out at Culver Road, home of the Sussex FA in the Under 16 County Cup final where they will take on last years winners Select Soccer from Eastbourne kick off time 2.30pm.

Here is what Andy had to say about Worthing FC, his under 16 team and the future for his players:

TK: How did you become involved with Worthing Under 16’s?

AA: I’ve always been involved in youth football, right from the time my lad was 4 years old at Rustington Otters, and then asked to manage that team from the age of 6. Then I went to Worthing Utd and when the opportunity arose to come here you have to take it.

They were just setting things up as it was, I was approached because I knew the chairman at the time (Pete Stone) and I knew Hinch as well, this came at the right time for myself and the team I had. I had a year at Worthing Utd, really respect them as a club, great set-up there and it was a bit of a gamble to leave there but one we haven’t looked back from. What I liked about Utd was they have a very young outlook, lots of younger people involved in the running of the club.

The facilities here are great, the coaching is fantastic, and it certainly feels like the right choice. The lads that we’ve got here in my team have been great, we had a really good first year and really pushed on this season. Ultimately, I’m doing it for my lad, I know it’s been the right move for him to get twice a week training and competitive football as well on a Sunday

TK: How long has the youth set-up been in place at Woodside Road?

AA: This is its second year and also the same for the academy. The academy is more of an education and footballing combined experience with Under 19 football in the afternoon. Of course we have Aarran’s Under 18’s in the midweek youth league, and these Under 16’s of mine also play in an Under 18 league on Sundays, again that was a bit of a gamble, but we knew the boys were capable and are going great guns in the Southern Combination Youth League.

Last year we were a little worried they would be out-powered but they’re far from that. Their technical ability has really shone through, we’re second in the league at the moment and in the County Cup final for Under 16’s, so we’re doing really well. We’ll be at this level for another two years now, but these boys will be looking more towards either the Under 18’s or getting into the academy as time progresses.

TK: Is the County Cup semi-final win a sign of how far these boys have come given the nature of the opponents?

AA: We’ve always had great games against Eastbourne Borough who are largely considered to be ones of the best Under 16 teams in Sussex, so we knew it was a real measure and to win it pretty convincingly too, we played some good football that day. We were up against a lot of their side who’ve appeared for the Sussex Under 16 Rep team whereas we’ve just a handful of Sussex players so for me it shows how far the lads have come.

TK: The level of coaching the boys receive from Adam and Aarran must be something you wouldn’t see at a lot of other clubs?

AA: No, I think you’re right, I feel very inadequate up against those two! But, one of my gripes about youth football is there’s not enough help for all these grassroot clubs to bring these players through and you need better coaching to achieve it. I’ve seen over the years so many clubs not able to offer a good standard of coaching, me myself I had a Level One and off I went, but we’re not at the levels these guys are at, they’ve got the top level licenses to be the best.

Hinch actually helped my lad through going to All Stars, Jamie Howell there as well coaching, both of them had a big impact on him, I can see though the technical side really coming through from the boys due to the coaching they receive. Aarran as well though with his Football League experience to pass on, I keep telling the boys they don’t know they’ve been born with what they get from these two, I can’t praise them highly enough.

TK: I spoke to quite a lot of the first team squad last year and the general consensus was the sessions Hinch would put on were mind blowing, but at 15 or 16 years old you probably don’t appreciate that.

AA: No, you’re right, Hinch though will put on the same session for the first team as he does for the Under 16’s and it’s top drawer. I can see some of what he’s teaching them coming out in the games we play, it’s much improved in all of them, passages of play, when to release, overloads, it’s all evident and it’s helping us outplay these Under 18 teams.

 

TK: How many of your current squad do you think have the potential to become Worthing first team players?

AA: Good question! I think there’s two aspects to the game to answer this, there is their technical ability which as I’ve said is getting more evident, some of them have never had this kind of coaching and they’re playing catch up a bit. The other part is the lottery of the physicality, we’ve got some good sized lads and others who don’t look older than Under 14 or Under 15 level. But if I’m being honest, I think a lot of them would have the opportunity to do it, they need however to keep to it, train hard and be committed.

They’ll have plenty of distractions between now and then as teenage boys, but they’ve got to come through that if they want to succeed. What they can see now though is the opportunities that will come their way to progress into the first team and that I hope would spur them on.

There’s some good players in the first team that wouldn’t be easy to oust but there’s something to work towards. We know Adam (Hinshelwood) isn’t shy to blood youngsters into the team and if Worthing get promoted there’s another level for the players to step up to.

TK: Do you see a clear pathway for your players into senior football?

AA: Absolutely! My philosophy over the years has been that I want my lads to play the best football they can, bond as team-mates, come through the good and bad times and ultimately enjoy their football. Coming to Worthing you can see there’s a bit more longevity in their football and there are opportunities there for them, it’s whether they take them here or at other football clubs.

TK: I think also you can look beyond a pathway into Worthing when you look at the likes of Callum Keely, David Ajiboye, Omar Bugiel and Lucas Covolan.

AA: Yes, it’s incredible to see and I think Worthing are now getting a reputation as a side that produces talent. We have scouts attending our games, the Under 18’s midweek as well and they know there’s a chance they’ll find some good players here.

And you can see more coming through, Finn (Stevens) is looking good, Ricky (Aguiar) is a talent to name just a couple, and if they play well enough to move on it then opens up the door for someone else to step up.

TK: Have any of your players had experience with academies elsewhere?

AA: Yes, a few have with Portsmouth but were released around 14 years old, few others have been with Brighton’s elite squad and I look at them and think they’re good enough for my team. I think they’ve improved here by playing competitive matches, there isn’t a lot of that in the academies so much. It’s competitive to the point of academy vs academy, but we’re playing for league points, for cups it just gives it that edge to things.

The last thing I’d like to mention is our sponsor which is SPC (Sussex Performance Centre) where Aarran is involved as well. Our lads get two training sessions a week and also some do strength and conditioning at SPC which is a great help as their bodies develop and like the coaching you can see the benefit of this as well.

My thanks to Andy and best wishes for the cup final on Sunday.

Half a season coming in two months

Waterlogged 1

That picture above clubs up and down the country can relate to for nearly the past four months. From the National League down to park level, unless you’ve got a 3G or 4G pitch the chances are there has been more than one or two fixtures rearranged since the beginning of November!

And as we enter March with the season to be concluded by the end of April, non league are certainly going to feel like they’ve completed half a season in two months, indeed for Southern Combination Division One side Arundel that much is true unless the season is to be extended which you really can’t see the FA bending over and actually helping out their member clubs.

I agree they can’t be held accountable for the amount of rain thats fallen over the past few months, but a little extension to the season by say two weeks won’t solve the full problem but it would help out just a little bit. There are clubs that soon will be playing Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday just to complete a season. Then there’s the argument that how many clubs will end up outside of a promotion place because their squad isn’t deep enough to cope with 4 four games every week.

It is an exceptional situation but why are the FA not stepping in to help just a little bit? The added complication of play-offs at all levels from step 5 upwards would I suspect be one of their major reasons but surely there’s no reason why they can’t be delayed for a week or two? It’s almost as if it’s a punishment for their own clubs one you can’t really understand.

What there either has to be is an investment in the grass pitches, some of which are superb playing surfaces but in need of constant investment which is not forthcoming the lower down you go, or you go down the route of 3G/4G pitches to ensure seasons complete on time. I don’t believe it needs to go for the latter unless it’s for the community option where clubs can really benefit.

Grants for pitch maintenance should be readily available to help, nothing more players like than a good natural surface to ping a ball around on. But you find as well clubs having to rent out their pitch to help the financial side of the club doesn’t help the pitch but needs must to keep the books ticking over.

Cashflow as well certainly hasn’t been helped over the past few months, indeed Tonbridge Angels at National League South level have recently made public how dire the situation has become for the Kent club with so many games postponed at their Longmead Stadium ground. Having lived near to their ground for years, I know only too well how flooded Longmead can get, and one of the questions now is do we move to 4G to protect the club and it’s future?

At County League level the situation I’m sure has had clubs scratching around to find ways and means of getting finance into the coffers to ensure they can see out the season. You would hope we don’t see these levels of postponements for another few seasons to come at least, but you can never say never with the weather………..