An interview with Danny Kedwell

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with former Cray Wanderers boss Danny Kedwell via instant messaging to find out how he felt his time went at the club and what plans he has for his future in the game:

TK: How did you end up taking the Cray Wanderers job?

DK: Gary Hillman the chairman of Cray approached me after someone else had put my name forward to him. The very least I was going to do was have a chat about the job but it appealed to me massively.

TK: Were there any second thoughts given you needed to completely rebuild the squad?

DK: No, I liked the idea of the challenge, a chance to put my own stamp on the job from the very beginning, something that was very exciting to me.

TK: Having had such a good career within the game as a player was it easier to persuade players to come and play for you?

DK: No, not really. I liked the conversations I was having to try and get players in during that transition period with a lot of players coming in and other shipping out, I felt I was very close to getting what we needed to be able to stay in the division.

I didn’t feel I got enough time, if it had been said to me at the beginning you need to build a full squad and you need to be right in the thick of it at the top end of the table after 19 games I wouldn’t have taken the job.

TK: You’ve played under some very good managers in your career, have you taken a little something from all of them and adapted it a bit to how you coach and manage?

DK: Yeah, I’ve taken from a couple of them but more off the pitch stuff which I found helped me when I was playing and I hope the players did benefit from it for the time I was there.

TK: How did you find fitting in the work as a Step 4 manager around the day job at Ebbsfleet Academy?

DK: It worked quite well actually as the academy work was all in the mornings so that left me free to concentrate on the job at Cray and made it easier to get away for midweek games as well.

TK: We met after the Horsham game when you won 3-0 and things looked to have turned a corner then but the change didn’t materialise. How disappointed were you that it didn’t work out at Hayes Lane with Cray Wanderers?

DK: I’d like to think it was about to happen. I found it disappointing I only got 19 games after building a brand new squad that needed time to gel and for players to be added all the time to improve things. I felt we were very close to that corner being turned, we were playing some good football as you saw in that Horsham game and we were dominating games, the results don’t show that.

TK: And now onto Chatham in the thick of a title challenge in the Southern Counties East League, was it important to you to get into a club where there was something to play for this season and to keep you mentally tuned?

DK: No, not really. It didn’t really come into my mind and wasn’t even thinking about the next steps when the call came so it was a bit of a shock. They’ve a great set-up though and it was where my football journey began so a little bit of a no-brainer to head back there.

TK: Should another offer come along to return to the dug-out before the season ends, will Danny Kedwell be back on the touchline or some time out until the summer?

DK: I’m biding my time; the next offer and club has to be right so I’m not going to rush in and take the first job that’s offered to me. But I definitely want another crack at it in the near future.

My thanks to Danny for his time and hopefully we see him back in the dug-out in the not too distant future.

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Rooks take points against battling Cray

Picture courtesy of Gareth Spinks

January has been great for Tuesday night football, very good when I haven’t been able to get to many Saturday games, I can’t remember the last season there were so many games to choose from early in the year, maybe it’s because I’m looking further afield and not just close to home.

Despite both Worthing and Littlehampton having top of the table clashes, the fact I’ve seen both sides a far bit this season kinda took them out of the equation, tempted also as well by the fantastic looking burger at Hampton & Richmond which I’m sure I’ll get to before the end of the season.

In the end Gaz and I settled on Lewes vs Cray Wanderers, his first visit to the Dripping Pan and my first look at the home side this season, the visitors I saw record a fine win over Horsham only a month or two back.

The ground is quite unique in the sense of beach huts for hire to watch the game from and whilst being able to watch the game from high level on one side you can’t watch at pitch level, but this kind of thing is what brings the romance if you will to grounds and to non-league.

With Lewes now managed by ex-Cray pair Tony Russell and Joe Vines I was keen to see as well if they could replicate the success and improvement they made at Wanderers and also see in action the highly rated and coveted Ollie Tanner.

On a pretty cold night in East Sussex both sides were quite tentative in their starts, the home side wary after allowing a two goal lead to slip at the weekend while the visitors conceded four but ran out 5-4 winners against Carshalton, maybe mindful they needed to be a bit more resolute in defence.

Whilst Wanderers looked the more composed going forward during the first half, it was actually the home side who looked the more likely to find the net with more efforts heading towards Bayley Vose’s net than Lewis Carey.

We thought Chris Dickson was going to open the scoring on the half hour mark but shot just over having escaped his marker for the first time, well marshalled by the Rooks defence until then. It was then chances for the hosts to take the lead, Will Salmon heading against the post and Tanner’s shot being kept out by a fine save from Vose.

Just as we thought we were heading for a 0-0 scoreline at half time the game changed a minute before the half time whistle. A corner swung in from the Lewes right hand side caused some confusion in the six yard box and Joe Taylor’s flick was pushed into the net by Vose for the opening goal with the whistle being blown straight after Wanderers kicked off.

With the wind in their sails the home side came out stronger in the second half as Cray struggled to keep possession and Lewes extended their lead nine minutes into the half, Razz Coleman De-Graft was given too much space and curled a lovely shot past Vose.

The home side then could have had another goal or two with better pass selection, but Cray held out and tried to influence the game with a couple of substitutions and while Lewes were more content to sit back on the lead Cray couldn’t break them down and were restricted to half chances from distance leaving the majority of the 517 crowd happy with a home win.

Those three points keep the pressure on at the top of the Isthmian League Premier Division although the general consensus is it’s Worthing’s title to lose, the rest can only win their games.

Russell and Vines certainly do look as if they are building something good on the South Coast and should well feature in the end of season play-off’s, this is a club who once were a National League club or Conference as it was known then.

Cray are in a transition period again after parting ways a few weeks ago with Danny Kedwell and under Grant Basey and Gary Alexander they’ve shown signs they will pull away from relegation danger over the coming weeks.

Great to catch up with Wanderers Chairman Gary Hillman during the game and find out the latest with their new stadium plans and also to see Sam Wright plus a favourite of our Premier Non-League podcast Chris Dickson, that was the first of four games in seven days for me so plenty more blogs to come!

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An old haunt proves a happy return

For those of you who read the Cray Wanderers vs Horsham blog posted a day or so ago you’ll know I spent the evening with the former Bromley boss Neil Smith.

Smudger as he’s most commonly known, was someone I interviewed not long before we went into that first lockdown two years ago on the back of watching him in the BT Sport production on five clubs it followed, Ben Strevens I had made contact with after watching it and he provided a few numbers for me.

Apart from a couple of Zoom chats since with Strevs and Darren Currie, this was the first opportunity for us to meet up after 2 and a half years and take in a game together. Smith lives a short walk from Hayes Lane but this game was going to be his first return to the club, where he spent ten years and some very memorable times, since his sacking last March, probably best it was a Cray game rather than the landlords.

Many of you will know he’s great company, loves to chat and knows so many people, so of course he sorted out the tickets for us but also introduced me to the leading lights of Cray Wanderers FC, Gary Hillman and Sam Wright.

For me as someone who would love to get on the football writing ladder and although this blog does wonders I want to take it further so any contacts I get inside the non-league game I cling onto and over the past couple of years my contact book has grown immensely and is still building.

We could quite easily have gotten into the stadium and sat down to watch but instead Neil made sure I met everyone around, a nice touch. Steve King the manager of National League South side Dartford was there to check on his opponents in the FA Trophy in a week’s time, so there was a conversation to be had and you pick up bits and pieces.

Being the tenants to Bromley meant Smudger knew plenty of people in and around the stadium and it was nice to see him catching up, sharing a laugh with people all the way through the evening.

When we got to half time he came across Jerry Dolke, a former owner of the Ravens, another handshake and conversation being had, all the time plenty to listen to and take on board.

Of course we chatted during the game, two years and more is a long time and a lot to happen. Neil’s had offers, not a handful but a couple, not yet the right one has landed in his lap. He told me he’s never spoken to so many owners in his life but before last March he’d not been looking to go anywhere and I think having the time out of a club has opened his eyes a little to what else is out there and how differently other clubs do things, you never stop learning.

After the game I made sure we stopped off for a beer in the bar and to see the reaction he got from the bar staff and two of the elder stewards was fantastic, a man very much revered around Hayes Lane and definitely not forgotten.

That wasn’t the end of the conversations once Cray boss Danny Kedwell arrived in the bar, another handshake and conversation and maybe someone I’ll tap into for a blog piece, interesting angle for him for his 1st managerial job whilst working for Ebbsfleet Utd’s academy.

When you’re in the company of guys like these and others with so many stories and things to tell you it’s a shame when the evening has to end but I think getting Smudge out the house and back down to the ground for the first time in over 18 months cleared out a few cobwebs and there is a possibility he was going back for more at the weekend as Cray faced Bishops Stortford!

Great guy to know, fantastic company and I hope we get to repeat it later on this season, who knows maybe I’ll get him up to The Hive for more than one or two beers……

Hornets lack sting as Wanderers claim the points

Wednesday night football this week gave me a couple of opportunities for something a bit different and the chance to meet up with former Bromley boss Neil Smith.

With living down the road from the Hayes Lane ground Cray Wanderers share with Bromley it was an ideal time to catch up with Neil having worked out it’s been 18 months since we last got together so it was well overdue.

It was also going to be his first visit back to the ground and club where he spent 10 years before being sacked in March last year, probably better it was Cray to watch and not the Ravens.

Horsham were the visitors in town on the back of six straight wins and now looking up at the play-off’s instead of those below them. Having watched them eight days earlier at home dispatching Wingate & Finchley 2-0 it’s not often I watch the same side two games in a row but the chance to grab a game with Neil was an easy choice to make.

Cray are certainly in a transitional period under new boss Danny Kedwell, a man with a great reputation through the non-league game and whilst he runs Ebbsfleet Utd’s academy this is his time to cut his managerial teeth.

Results and performances have been hit and miss but looking at his squad there is a wealth of experience that should see them find their way to a decent run of form.

Both sides traded early half chances without threatening either goalkeeper, but with Cray starting to win the midfield battle with on loan former Bee Sam Skeffington pulling the strings alongside Cameron Brodie, another loanee from Dartford.

And it was Cray who opened the scoring on 16 minutes, a ball across the box wasn’t quite collected by Jamie Yila but fell kindly for debutant Kyel Reid whose left foot shot found its way past Sam Howes in the Hornets goal.

Yila thought he had doubled the lead just after the half hour mark but his free kick found the wrong side of the net. Horsham looked to work their best chances through Lucas Rodrigues but the winger was unable to provide the needed spark and with Rob O’Toole and Charlie Hester-Cook well marshalled by the Cray backline the home side went into the break with the lead.

As expected at the beginning of the second half the Hornets cranked up the pressure and for a good 10 minutes or so Cray struggled to both retain possession and get out of their own half.

Cray were close to a second on the hour, Reid’s left wing cross headed straight at Howes by Chris Dickson as the home side began to get a footing back in the game.

With Reid not pushing his full back towards his own goal Kedwell brought on Anthony Cook, just as the Hornets own substitute Lee Harding danced his way through the home backline and his rasping effort wasn’t far past Jack Turner’s post.

Just as it could have been 1-1, moments later the scoreline did change. Skeffington broke forward and fed Yila whose shot was saved by Howes; Dickson however was on hand to double the home side’s lead.

 With Cook providing pressure on the Hornets midfield, the loose ball was picked up by Brodie who slid an inch perfect ball into the path of Yila who made no mistake to put the game beyond the visitors with eight minutes to play.

Just as Cray seemed set to claim a clean sheet to go with the three points Eddie D’Sane was fouled in the box and Charlie Harris claimed a consolation goal with a thumping penalty past Turner, but that couldn’t take the shine off a decent home performance.

A few around me were surprised at how there wasn’t more from Horsham given their current form, but with so much Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday over the last few weeks quite conceivable that the legs finally caught up with them, that’s also to take nothing away from Kedwell’s team who put together an impressive performance and one that hopefully starts off a good run for the side.

Great performance from young Brodie in the Cray midfield, reminded me very much of a younger Harry Taylor whilst Skeffers energy I know all about from his time at Barnet last season, as Neil pointed out too Kedwell made his substitutions at the right time, Freddie Barton also stood out well at right back.

Neil picked out Harding who tried hard to get things going for the Hornets when he came on, but the game was getting away from them as he entered the fray.

Great to catch up briefly after the game with Dicko, someone we’ve featured on our PNLP podcast a couple of times, and with Neil knowing everyone there were conversations with Dartford boss Steve King, Keds after the game and some great people at Cray, Gary Hillman the chairman and Sam Wright the CEO.

Got to also mention Charlie Bradford who puts together some fantastic reports from all the games he attends and nice to meet a couple of fellow Twitterati, Colin Head and Victor Klarfeld, an evening well worth the late night drive home………..