Playing the waiting game

Being out of a job as a football manager can be a lonely time. Out of the spotlight and seemingly forgotten about, there is little you can do apart from keep applying for jobs left, right, and centre if they come up.

Last season was particularly tough with only the National League completing their season in full and with that in mind there was very little managerial movement unless you were in the Barnet hot-seat.

That of course was understandable across football given the lack of income going into clubs, very few could have afforded to sack a manager and pay him off along with the coaching staff and with no relegation on the cards anywhere no reason to either.

This season has already seen some movement in the opening couple of months and it’s not surprising given clubs needing to operate at the levels they are now and not dip down into the relegation places.

A settled season we so desperately need for clubs, players and managers to revive aspirations and ambitions, another year of stagnation for nearly all clubs is not good for the game.

Speaking to Neil Smith and Darren Currie, two current ex-National League managers out of work, over the summer both were waiting for someone to be doing a bad job to get back into the game. Not the nicest thing to be wishing on anyone but that’s of course how the management game works in some respects.

Neither have yet returned to the dug-out, a sign there aren’t enough vacancies yet or the right job hasn’t appeared if indeed they’ve considered some. On top of those two, Kevin Watson returned to the ‘unemployed’ pool earlier this week. Having only gotten back into the game earlier this year, his few months at Billericay Town interrupted by the null and void decision of last season and a start to this current one that just didn’t take off.

Junior Lewis, who was Currie’s assistant at Barnet, has only just got back into the game at Welling Utd under Peter Taylor, again having to wait for the Wings to start badly and Steve Lovell resigning.

Those on the outside will be looking closely at those clubs in or around the relegation zone and that goes for a majority of the non-league pyramid at all levels.

We’ve seen in recent weeks as well as Billericay both Aldershot and Barnet relieved their managers of their duties along with Gloucester City in the North, the fear of getting stuck into that rut of not winning games and the return of relegation haunts boardrooms. Those two I doubt will be the last of course and there will be guys out there like Smith, Currie and even Watson wanting and itching to get back into the game, I’m sure it can be a hard place without the feeling of a nine month season playing and training.

Hopefully, these guys won’t be out for too much longer but it’s very much a case of the waiting game for them all and I haven’t even touched on others I know such as Ian Hendon.

As we’re only around just over two months into the season there will be more manager’s losing their jobs one way or another, it’s part of the game and when it happens the ball starts rolling for fifty candidates at the top level to a chairman’s phone ringing off the hook at Step 5 or 6, glad it’s not me chasing the job or wanting to drop the phone in the bin……………..

Bees fans wait a little longer

The managerial merry go round is all of a sudden in full swing and it doesn’t matter how well you’ve done at a club it can still be the final nail in the coffin.

In the past 24 hours we’ve seen Notts County dispense with the services of Neal Ardley whilst earlier on Thursday Bromley announced that they had relieved Neil Smith of his duties as First Team Manager.

You might not think too much of it as manager’s lose their jobs all the time, but both clubs are currently inside the play-off places, which if Bromley maintain their form is the highest placing the club would have ever achieved.

Does this mean managers in clubs all around these two might be fearing for their jobs? Are they worried the end is close for them whether they win a game or lose the next seven? It’s a dangerous situation being created and while we’re not privy to the ins and outs behind the decisions other than the released club statements it’s hard to work out what exactly is going on.

Similar to Jim Gannon who on the surface looked to be doing a sterling job at Stockport County, a culture change they wanted to install within the club despite at the time the club appearing well placed for some success.

Both managers appeared to be doing a good job on the pitch, the league position shows no doubt and with 14 games left to go now, the final run-in, it seems an odd time for either boss to go and now remains to be seen if either side will fall away over the course of those games.

That now means there are three current vacancies in non-league’s top division those two coupled with the Barnet job, open since the mutual departure of Tim Flowers two weeks ago, although County filled their spot quite quickly which might suggest Ardley’s fate had already been sealed.

Many and myself included were expecting an announcement to be in place in time for this weekend’s trip to Yeovil Town, Paul Fairclough saying his goodbyes after Saturday’s home defeat to Chesterfield and his three match stint was over.

 That trip to face the Glovers will be overseen by Head Of Performance Gary Anderson whilst the Bees continue to take their time in finding the right man. I believe the events of the past 24 hours have turned the chairman’s head that he is not yet convinced he has the right man for the job.

As Bees fans we know the next appointment has to be the one that can turn into the three year project that Barnet Football Club need. Having gone through two managers this season, both of which were not the right fit at all, the first we knew wasn’t, the second we hoped was but to no avail.

And whilst it might not be the best preparation for the weekend waiting just a few days longer might work out well to the advantage of the club. At the same time there is no midweek outing next week which would give Tony Kleanthous the weekend to finalise who exactly he wants in the hot seat and the structure in and around the football side of the club before the visit of Solihull Moors on Good Friday.

Can we expect Ardley or Smith to be in the frame now? I think so, at least one of them or maybe both, I don’t know what is in the thinking, both might even decide to have a few months off and see what’s available in the summer.

I would hope Smith is in the frame, not just because I know him reasonably well I think he can provide the stability we need but also is not afraid to tell it how it is. Plus his knowledge of southern based players would be an advantage if we aren’t wanting to spend out on long security of wages or relocation expenses.

I expect Dean Brennan and Harry Kewell still to be in the frame, however the longer it goes on you would think that maybe Kleanthous is not fully convinced by either appointment or he is making sure he exhausts all possible avenues.

Either way we’ve got a few more days waiting to see who’s next in the office at The Hive, but it must be done in time for Good Friday because it’s starting to look a little bit of a shambles the longer it goes on…….

Bees deny play-off chasing Bromley

Picture courtesy of HilligerPix.com (Twitter @HilligerPix)

Not for the first time this season there was a new face in the Barnet dugout, well I say new face but a very familiar face would be a better description as former Conference winning boss Paul Fairclough made a return as caretaker manager following the departure of Tim Flowers during the week.

The last time the Bees went through many managers in a season they were relegated from the Football League, but after Friday’s decision by the FA’s Alliance Committee to reject the proposal for Step 2 to continue, relegation is now off the cards. Despite the proposal which had no relegation from Step 1 the FA Council still need to ratify the null and void vote made by clubs last month that appears a safe bet.

A free hit it appears for the club whose ‘gamble’ if you like has paid off and no drama for a few months, but this is Barnet Football Club after all and no doubt there will a few twists and turns.

When the Bees come up against any of the National League clubs whose manager I know and speak to, it adds a little bit of edge to it. I’ve known Neil Smith for just over a year and in fact it was just over twelve months ago I sat down with him at Hayes Lane and heard some tremendous stories, a beer is waiting the next time we can actually get together.

Of course we spoke during the week after Flowers left and I’m sure Smudger wasn’t sure what to expect from Wednesday to Saturday in terms of the Bees personnel and formation.

Unbeknown to most Darren Currie was in attendance as Smith’s guest at Hayes Lane which I think is the first time he’s seen the team live since his departure last summer.

As per most games this season I went into it hoping the score would be kept down, I did ask Smudger if he would be so kind during the week! Having the division’s top scorer in Michael Cheek in their ranks and able to sign Courtney Duffus from Yeovil earlier this year, our defence were likely to be in for a torrid time.

What didn’t surprise was Fairclough’s formation, 4-5-1 but without isolating the striker as JJ Hooper found under Flowers. What did surprise a little was the attempt to play a passing game, as Currie would put it, passing with a purpose.

And that was to be the pattern for the Bees throughout the game instead of playing off the second ball launched up the field, and it almost gave Barnet an early lead, Ephron Mason-Clark forcing former Bee Mark Cousins into a smart save. At the opposite end Scott Loach was also in action, Joe Kizzi testing the Bees stopper.

As so often has happened this season Barnet were behind and early on in the game, Cheek breaking through only to be denied twice by Loach before reacting quick enough to pick out Liam Trotter who smashed the ball into the net.

The Bees weren’t behind for very long, Courtney Baker-Richardson was put through on goal brought down by Kizzi, penalty awarded and Kizzi sent off. I don’t believe it was either a penalty or a red card, you can argue you can’t tackle from behind but I felt it was harsh.

Not that it fazed Baker-Richardson who got up and sent Cousins the wrong way from the spot for his first goal in black and amber. The frenetic mad start didn’t end there as Barnet were forced into an early substutition, Loach landing awkwardly after tipping the ball away and later known to have dislocated his elbow, Aymen Azaze coming on to take his place, all this in just the opening 15 minutes.

The Bees tried to make the extra man advantage work for them, evidently more passes were strung together over five minute periods than we’ve seen since ‘Currieball’ was the theme of The Hive, clearly some of those brought in by Flowers and even Beadle can play a pass, can keep it simple, was it just very taboo to play that way?

The Ravens had a good shout for a penalty turned down ten minutes before the break, James Dunne appeared to me to leave a foot in on a challenge but protests were waved away.

A minute later we had a second red card shown this one to Smith, deemed to have taken his protests over the non-awarded penalty too far and was sent to the main stand on the far side from the dug-out, the Bromley manager confirming afterwards he was sent off for foul and abusive language but failed to use any swear words when given the referee’s full performance I wouldn’t have blamed him, but we’ll come to him later.

Both sides had chances to be in front at the break, Mason-Clark hitting the side netting while Azaze’s flying save left honours even at half time.

The home side came out more on the front foot with Barnet struggling a little to get hold of the ball and make inroads into the final third despite the extra man advantage, the Ravens going in front on the hour mark.

The contentious handball rule came into play with the ball striking Liam Daly on the arm and Bromley with a penalty of their own despatched by Cheek past the diving Azaze.

Once again the lead lasted no time at all, in fact just three minutes as Mason-Clark stole away down the right hand side and crossed for Michael Petrasso who connected with a delicious volley past Cousins to bring parity once more.

The game seemed to tail off pretty much after that fourth goal although both sides had chances to grab a winner, but not before the Bees went down to ten man nine minutes from time.

Skipper James Dunne was given a yellow card for a foul, continued his protestations and received a second yellow card for his troubles, something you knew the referee was looking to even up.

Petrasso almost won it at the death for the visitors, his shot just missing the far post after good work from Harry Taylor while the closest the home side got to a winner in the final moments was a wild shot from Frankie Raymond lashed over the bar.

A very decent point for the Bees against a side who played us off the park back in November at The Hive and so good to see the players on social media afterwards saying they enjoyed the game they played in, makes you wonder what was going in the dressing room and on the training pitch to suck the enjoyment out of doing their job.

Dunney was doing for the first time this season what he does best, breaking up play and keeping it simple, he won’t need telling how silly the cards were and what will interest me is if we miss the first bit of that paragraph because we don’t have that other midfielder in the squad to do that job.

Great to see the players wanting to knock the ball around and looking comfortable doing it, Fairclough definitely took the shackles off and it showed, Lee Vaughan again looked pretty good, Taylor a performance we know he can provide and even Muhammadu Faal had more purpose in 20 minutes coming on than most times he’s stepped onto the pitch this season.

I don’t think I have mentioned referee’s all season but yesterday was clear to see there are some who think the game is about them. Both managers agreed after the game he was poor, that is being polite which they have to be, but shocking instead. Five yellow cards and three reds suggest a poor, dirty game which was far from the truth here, his whole body language at half time and full time showed to me quite pompous in his demeanour but seeing some stats last night on Twitter he’s card happy and all about me.

Onto Stockport away on Tuesday night, another tough game against a side chasing promotion and a chance to build on a good performance this weekend, Azaze will have a chance between the sticks for a couple of weeks at least and barring any knocks and unless Dunne’s suspension kicks in I would expect to see the same ten outfield players hopefully the same response as well, we’ll see which Barnet turns up in midweek……

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.

Thanks for the memories

July 2019. Darren Currie and I, you don’t ask you don’t get and Darren duly obliged with an interview the first National League manager I had ever sat down with. Fast forward 13 months and now my phone contacts list looks like a who’s who of great people who have hit the highest level of non-league management.

That month set this bog on the way to the figures I’m now getting today, it went nuts for views and visitors wanting to hear what he had to say, some insights you normally wouldn’t hear, exactly as I have tried to do with all managers and ex players I’ve interviewed and had live on video. I owe some thanks for that to DC and I know he’d be the first to say ‘it’s not me but the way you wrote the words’.

Today, Wednesday, the Barnet love affair is over for Darren with contract negotiations ending earlier this week for both himself and Junior Lewis. Very randomly Darren phoned me on Sunday evening, no need to but wanted get some bits out I guess about Southend and his own situation. I value the things all these guys tell me and I hope that I release the right things and keep some things close to me as I feel they should be, its hard because sometimes you want to tell everyone exactly what’s going on.

Whether you believe it or not, Southend was all paper speculation, looked to me like giving their fans some hope that an up and coming manager was the answer to their prayers. Some wondered why Darren didn’t take to Twitter and quash the speculation, I don’t blame him for having a couple of weeks off after the play-off loss and then seeing that team disintegrate before his eyes, but knowing that was going to be the case if promotion wasn’t achieved. I knew then also that Barnet had yet to offer him and Junior new contracts, a good two weeks passed since the Notts County defeat and not a word of contact from the chairman, does that sound like someone trying hard to keep hold of someone?

Darren wanted to stay, the chance to build his team, maybe on a much reduced budget but nonetheless an opportunity. I messaged him on Tuesday afternoon, Monday ‘didn’t go well’. That was my confirmation his time was up, never wanted to admit that to myself but it is what it is. I’ve had a blast being close to these guys all season, we’ve kept in touch through lockdown and hopefully I’ve got a few extra friends for life including Darren.

So now we move on again, but have we missed a trick? Despite whats going on around the world and here of course, could we have found some way to get some continuity at Barnet FC? Could everything have been communicated better? Yes and yes, the latter being the biggest reason this club has a divided fanbase because in my opinion they aren’t treated well. Not many people know this but a couple of fellow fans felt I should offer my services to the club, PR wise, to help things get better so I did.

I did get advised I probably wouldn’t get a reply, needless to say I haven’t and I’m not expecting one either, I’ll happily carry on what I’m doing now. Wednesday’s later statement I thought was a huge kick in the teeth for the supporters of the club, everything was ok with it until money was mentioned. Having ripped the soul out of the team, albeit the right thing to do with parachute payments gone and income scarce, but then unable to give your head coach and his staff contracts to continue their good work, we’d like to take your money for a season ticket despite the fact we have no management team nor 11 players to field, please part with your cash.

Why was that not split into two separate statements with the season ticket info coming later this week? So far by Wednesday, I think I’ve seen two positive reactions to that statement in contrast to more swear words than you’d hear from Danny Dyer’s mouth, an utter kick in the teeth in my opinion and another opening of the divide between the club and fans that Darren had being bridging with great success.

So then, attention turns to who is next in the hot seat at The Hive. Speculation will grow aplenty over the next few weeks and I have my own ideas on who might be in the frame and one or two who might not be.

Luke Gerrard at Boreham Wood will be top of a lot of lists, worked wonderfully well up the road from us and two great seasons for them out of the last three, but nice secure job currently why swop it?

Graham Stack would be welcomed back to The Hive should this be his first chance in permanent charge after assisting Hayden Mullins at Watford but also unless the Hornets dispense with his services then hard to see why he’d take the move.

I expect to see Ben Strevens’ name mentioned, also Neil Smith, people being impressed with both during my video interview when they joined Darren, however again both in secure jobs and unlikely to walk away from what they can achieve where they currently are.

My real outside choice is Kevin Watson, formerly of Ebbsfleet. When you look at his coaching CV it’s pretty impressive and I don’t doubt that had the season continued the Kent side would have not been relegated such was the good form they were in and he knows how to deal with reduced budgets, he’s one that might appeal.

There are also one or two more that stand out in the Isthmian League, lower wages are also an appeal here if thats the route Barnet are going down.

My personal choice would be Ian Hendon, Andy Hessenthaler and Lee Harrison as a trio but not sure the budget would allow for that to happen! Two who know the ethos of the club inside out and a third with unbridled passion and a future unknown at Dover Athletic, something that might appease people but they would have to hit the ground running.

For now though, thank you Darren Currie, been a pleasure to sponsor you for the past two seasons and setting this blog on its way to smashing its own records on a monthly basis, once a Bee always a Bee………….