The 12th Man
Blog for the new 12th Man – Wayne Clark
I’ve now had a couple of weeks to reflect on my experience and have decided to try to offer a little bit of a summary by way of drawing this whole ‘blog’ thing to a close. I have enjoyed sharing my experiences via this medium and hopefully some of you have enjoyed reading my scribblings. I hadn’t really thought about writing about my experiences in the dressing room until I documented my thoughts leading up to the draw for the matchday programme. An abbreviated version of that article appeared in the BPA programme (whilst the unabridged version features as Day 0 on this blog).
Having written about my feelings leading up to the draw taking place it then almost became automatic that I should write more pieces during the course of my month behind the scenes. The only thing that remained was to identify the best way of getting my words into the public domain. Some discussions with Andy Walsh led to an agreement that I’d do it in the form of a diary or a blog and I pushed for it to reside on the DF website rather than on the official site in the hopes that it might help to drive up the traffic on this site. Whether that has come to pass or not I don’t know, I expect one of the administrators on the site could probably check the site statistics to see what difference, if any, has been made. I rarely used to visit the DF site but it is now amongst my bookmarks – well that’s at least one additional visitor then!
So, what was my objective when I started writing these pieces? In truth I probably didn’t really think that through until some way into the process. This unstructured approach almost certainly goes against all of the best advice for those who choose to publish a blog, oh well! Now, in retrospect, I can probably better assess what I hoped to achieve. I hoped to gain and share an insight into how much graft is ‘put in’ on Mondays and Wednesdays at training. I wanted to discover how strong the team spirit is within the FC United changing room. Most of all I think I wanted to discover how ‘they’ feel about playing for FC United. All of those aspects were about me taking from the experience and I feel that I’ve achieved all of them to a greater or lesser extent. Hopefully I’ve also given a little something back too through these articles.
I truly have been impressed by the amount of hard work that is put in between matches. As best I can tell, all of the players really look to apply themselves in the training sessions at MANCAT on Mondays and Wednesdays. There seems to be a nice balance between hard graft and fun. The coaching staff – Margy, Soulie, Daz and Chuks – all work tirelessly with the squad to give them the guidance and coaching that they need to enable them to express themselves on match-day. Sometimes that doesn’t translate into a performance but I’m pretty convinced, after my observations at MANCAT, that any such match-day failings are not down to any fundamental failing in the training regime.
Despite my arrival in the dressing room coinciding –and yes it was a bloody coincidence before anyone starts – with perhaps the worst run of performances in the club’s short history I saw no evidence of any lack of cohesion or togetherness in the dressing room. Like all clubs, I’d guess, there are a range of characters at ours. I did not see any evidence of any cliques or factions amongst the players. Everybody seemed ‘together’ and no-one looked or behaved like an outsider. During my time there were a few youth team players who were called up to the first team squad and they all were treated well and accepted into the bosom of the squad with little fuss or drama.
My only criticism, perhaps not the right word – let’s call it an observation of a potentially negative characteristic – of our squad is that they are collectively far too quiet. There are more than a few funny men but apart from our captain there are not many vociferous ‘leader’ types in the current squad. Even Chaddy, in my opinion, is more of a leader by example than a shouter although he does have his say. I’ve been in a few dressing rooms in my time and this one was about as quiet as it gets – again let me make it clear that I do understand that results were poor and that may have had a quietening effect on the team. Margy has already made it clear that there will be comings and goings this summer and I’d hope that he brings in a few ‘talkers.’
In terms of what it means to ‘them’ to pull on the FC United of Manchester shirt ………. I’m still not sure. To a man they all know that they are privileged to play in front of such a large, faithful and partisan crowd week in, week out. That aspect is beyond doubt and Margy makes frequent reference to the duty that they owe the support in his team talks. I wouldn’t like to say how many of them truly ‘get it’ in the larger sense though. A good few of them do but there almost certainly are some who don’t really understand what we’re about and where we’ve come from and how we’re different. Andy Walsh mentioned at the recent General Meeting that the club/board would be looking at measures to help to bridge the gap that has built up between the team and the supporters, hopefully that might include the provision of some information about our background and why we’re different to newly arriving players.
So, there it is. Here endeth the story. It just remains for me to formally record my thanks to a few people.
Thanks to Andy Griffiths for ensuring that the 12th Man concept was resurrected this year and for being a perfect mentor. He could not have been more attentive and concerned that I was enjoying myself throughout the process. He even managed to arrange to present me with a couple of signed photographs at the Presentation Evening to cap it all off. Cheers again Andy.
Thanks to Yvonne Griffiths who sold me the winning ticket!
Thanks to Steve Evets who pulled that ticket out of the hat.
Thanks to Margy, Soulie, Daz and Chuks for welcoming me into the squad and for letting me get involved.
Thanks to Sam, Grant, Will, Joe, Thomas and John Marsden for their patience as they allowed this (former) goalkeeper to generally provide comic relief during training sessions and match-day warm ups.
Thanks to all of the rest of the squad who allowed me to infiltrate ‘their’ domain with seemingly little reservation.
Thanks to my employer (well mostly my immediate boss even though he’s a rentboy) for allowing me several ‘early darts’ to help me ensure that I didn’t miss any matches or training sessions throughout the month.
And finally, last but not least, thanks to my wife, Mrs 12th Man, for her patience in listening to my excited story-telling most nights after training or matches and also for being content for me to do this even though it meant that she saw even less of me than normal for a whole month.
Well, it’s over. My reign as 12th Man has come to an end and happily, at the 11th hour, the boys signed off with a victory. I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the experience and to finally enjoy the sweet taste of victory put that little bit of icing onto the cake. For my final game to also coincide with Youth United Day, with so much youthful enthusiasm on show, further emphasised how special the occasion was. Add a tinge of poignancy with Nuge’s last game and you really do have a potent cocktail to tug at the heartstrings.
I had loose plans formulated for the day but, on Friday, Mrs. 12th Man offered to drop me off for the match and to come back to fetch me after the post-match festivities at the Swan and Cemetery. Result! I would be able to sign off with a few post-match drinks with a free taxi ride back to Wigan just a ‘phone call away.
So we set off from home in good time to get me to Gigg Lane before the 1300 designated meeting time for the squad. I dropped my kit off in the dressing room before heading outside to soak up the atmosphere that, even at such an early hour, was already beginning to simmer. I chatted with a few different people and heard a rumour or two about players expected/hoped to arrive in the summer. Even before this season has been put to bed plenty of our supporters are already looking forward to the 2010/11 season and which reinforcements will be arriving to push us further up the table.
I watched in amusement as various players and staff members took turns in the stocks and emerged in varying states of wetness. One or two seemed to get off quite lightly as they were just targeted with wet sponges but a couple had also been victimised with the contents of buckets being summarily dumped upon them once they were securely installed in the stocks and therefore helpless to defend themselves. Most had sensibly changed from ‘street clothes’ to training gear before entering the stocks but Ben Deegan hadn’t completely made the connection between wet sponges/buckets full of water and the effect upon the victim’s clothing. He was seen muttering about what he was going to wear post-match as he stood dripping in jeans and tee-shirt.
I went back inside and met up with John Marsden who was already starting to set out the kit. Between us, well it was his idea mostly, we decided on a modest wind up at the expense of Sam Ashton. He had been ‘rested’ in each of the last three matches so we decided to place the goalkeeper’s kit on the hooks adjacent to where Grant Shenton always sits (which is some way away from Sam’s place just inside the door). I’m not even sure if he noticed or not before Margy announced the line-up which did indeed include our Sam in goal.
I took up my usual position in the dressing room and was one of the first out of the changing room for the warm-up. Regular readers (!) may have noticed that I have previously made it clear that I don’t really hold much stock in superstition and pre-match rituals however, having seen the team defeated at home against Ashton in midweek, I had decided that I had to do something to try to break the run of poor results. After that match I got my hands on a pair of white shorts – prior to this I’d worn black shorts during every warm-up – and a pair of black Admiral socks – I had been wearing my own old Tempest black socks up until now. So, for this my final match as 12th Man, I wore white Admiral shorts and black Admiral socks in the hope that this might somehow have a positive impact on how things would unfold between 3:00 and 4:50. Desperate or what?
The warm-up was good although also somewhat embarrassing. I don’t think that I could ever get used to the whole ‘autograph’ thing. I’ve signed a few shirts and footballs in the dressing room during this month and that has been bad enough but to then have real walking talking human beings asking for me to sign for them has been strange. There were a few youngsters in the MRE very early on who were naturally enough drawn to the goalkeeper warm-up that was just beginning. They then started to ask Sam to sign and then Grant and then me. I could take a few minutes explaining that I’m just an imposter and not really worthy of signing but these were young kids who probably wouldn’t have appreciated a knock-back so I just signed. So, be aware, there are a couple of footballs and FC United flyers that have been tainted with my scrawl that are now in circulation, you have been warned!
We were joined by kit man Andy and also by Mason who was to be mascot for the day. We played keepie uppie for a little while before forming into a larger circle for some (mostly) one-touch passing. The goalkeeping warm-up started to get a bit more involved so Andy and Mason drifted away to do some shooting into the MRE goal whilst we upped the intensity of our work. I paired up with Grant with John serving for Sam. Grant and I alternated serving for one another so I again got to partake in a lot of the drills. Sam was kind enough to remark at one point that I had improved a lot in the month that I’d been working with them. I think that he was genuinely praising my efforts rather than using it as a backhanded way of telling me just how crap I had been at the beginning of the process ……….. I think!
I do feel like I have improved and got much sharper during the month. There really isn’t much that can be done to turn back the clock – I am, after all, 48 years old and nearly 10 years removed from my days of playing competitive (11 a-side) football – but I do feel like my reactions have sharpened again and my hands are ‘softer’ again now. The hand to eye co-ordination is still there and I felt like I just needed a bit of hands on practice in order to tune that in again. I’ve also been happy about how my touch has also developed during the month. I’ve always been a goalkeeper primarily so I’ve never really invested a lot of time working on my touch and passing but with repetition this month that is another aspect where I have made improvements. I have been shocked at how relatively weak my kicking has become since I stopped playing. I used to be able to ‘ping’ a ball 50 to 60 yards without much effort but now, even after a month of some practicing, 30 or 40 yards would be a long ball for me.
I again took up my position around the penalty spot as Sam completed the catching crosses element of his warm-up. Inevitably, I suppose, after doing this in a few training sessions and a good few matches now he finally managed to ‘get me.’ There have been a few collisions and on one occasion he even knocked me over but he hadn’t until this day really got me. That’s mostly down to him not wanting to clatter me and not because there hasn’t been an opportunity to do so.
On this occasion John delivered a ball in from the left that I ran in on. I heard Sam’s shout and therefore knew he was coming so I braced for an impact which never really arrived, or at least not in the way that I was expecting it. Sam punched the ball clear and barely collided with me (phew!) until he stepped on my right foot (ouch, that stings!). He immediately knew what he’d done and asked if I was ok and I immediately dismissed his concern as unnecessary. “I’m fine, I’ll just need to clean these boots now that’s all,” I said as I looked down at the muddy uppers punctuated with a stud mark running neatly along one of the 3 stripes on the outside of my right boot. Adrenaline (and later alcohol) kept me going for the rest of the day but as I write this a few days later my middle toe on my right foot features a tinge of redness that it didn’t used to have and my whole foot has a low-level dull ache when I walk. Anybody know a good ‘no win, no fee’ lawyer?
I did my usual ‘stand in the goal-mouth whilst various players fire shots’ thing both immediately before the players came out and again at half-time. Happily neither of the Bury FC groundsmen on duty voiced any concerns about us using the goals during the break unlike had been the case on Wednesday night. It was a far more satisfactory experience fielding shots in front of a populated MRE – partly because of the atmosphere and also because the shots off target were (sometimes) returned to the pitch by someone other than me having to go fetch as has been the case at home midweek matches. I say ‘sometimes’ because it seems that a large percentage of the warm-up balls were ‘lost’ during the course of the afternoon. Post-match saw Roy Soule in the dressing room looking somewhat confused as to where they’d all disappeared to. I’d have to guess that many found their way into the MRE and never found their way back onto the pitch but I could be wrong.
As has become my habit I retreated to the dressing room early in the 2nd half to shower and change before returning to watch the final 25 minutes of the match. On Wednesday I’d gone to my usual main-stand vantage point to observe the closing stages but decided to stay near the dugout at the players’ tunnel for this final match of the season. I was soaking up both the sunshine and the atmosphere feeling more and more nervous as the minutes ticked by. And then it happened, Red Legend Nugent picked the ball up on halfway and turned towards the right flank looking for options – nothing on. He then turned to the left and saw a killer pass. Tough enough to see it but to then deliver it with the precision that he did directly into Jerome’s path made it something very special indeed. Jerome lashed the ball home and 2,871 (minus a handful of Matlock supporters) went wild. The remaining 10 minutes dragged until referee Toner finally put his whistle to his lips to blow time on the match and on our league season.
It’s been a while since I’ve felt such emotion at a football match. I genuinely could have cried. I had hoped against hope that somehow the boys would manage a victory to close off the season on a positive note and to relieve me of the ‘12th Man is a Jonah’ tag. Then the added dimension of Rob Nugent’s retirement took the level of emotion up just another notch. For him to play as well as he did and to have played such an instrumental part in providing the winner was positively poetic, I thought. As the players were shaking hands with everyone at the MRE I walked up to Karl in front of the main stand and expressed my gratitude that ‘they’d finally won one for me!’ The boss grinned and gave me a big hug.
I also had a really nice exchange with Andy Griffiths on the pitch as the ‘celebrations’ were drawing to a close. He has been a perfect host in ensuring that I’ve been ‘looked after’ in the early stages of my time as 12th Man and I will be eternally grateful to him (and his glamorous assistants) for running the draw this time and ensuring the resurrection of the concept. He was very kind in praising the way that I’d grasped the opportunity and ‘thrown myself into it’ wholeheartedly.
After the customary speeches and a couple of presentations for youth team star performers everyone made their way back inside. I can now confirm the obvious that the FC United of Manchester dressing room is a much happier place after a victory! Thank goodness that I actually did get to experience it. We made our way into the lounge(s) under the main stand to meet family members and sponsors. A few people asked me how I felt having come to the end of my time as 12th Man but I insisted that it was still on-going. My rationalisation being that I would consider it over only when I went back into the dressing room to collect my kit bag prior to leaving for the Swan so, by that logic, as long as my bag was still in the dressing room so I was still 12th Man. I later found that thinking to have been a bit misguided as I went into an unlit and empty dressing room to see no bag there at all. Some helpful soul had obviously seen my deserted bag sitting there and had liberated it and dumped it into the corridor outside of the lounge. So, in reality, I’ll never truly know when my reign ended because I wasn’t even there at the time!
I got a lift from John Marsden with Sam and Chaddy up to the Swan and managed to catch up with a few mates. I had a really good chat with John with whom I feel I’ve bonded during this whole process. Hopefully I’ll be able to spend some time working with him and Sam at a community coaching event in the near future so that I can provide an article to hopefully better publicise the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how our community coaches deliver the good works that they do.
I also had a great little chat with Nuge who, more than anybody else probably, understood the emotions at play on this day. It would be crazy for me to compare my feelings at the end of this month with Rob’s at the end of a stellar 5 year FC United playing career but he genuinely did appreciate the parallels. He’s a great guy and I sincerely hope that there is a way that he can maintain an involvement that will see him sticking around in the future. I’ve no doubt that we would see him as a member and supporter, as a minimum, in the future but I think he’s got much more to offer than that so hopefully that’ll come to pass.
By way of completing this story arc (in a way that Ken Loach himself might be proud) I found myself stood at the bar in the Swan when I looked to my left and saw Steve Evets standing there with a plaintive look on his face as yet another barmaid ignored his plea to be served. I reintroduced myself to him as the bloke who had bought the ticket that he’d selected as the winner when the 12th Man draw was conducted back at the Durham match. I tried to explain how grateful I was to him and what a great time I’d had as 12th Man but, despite my best efforts, I don’t think that he really understood how much it all had meant to me. Whether he did or didn’t understand my gratitude isn’t clear but he did, at least, allow me to buy him a drink – a very small token in comparison to what his random ticket selection has meant to me during this last month.
Well, what can I say? Foolishly I’d targeted this match versus Ashton as the most winnable remaining fixture after the loss at Burscough. I’d imagined that the lads would all be looking to put in a performance and that perhaps Ashton might be winding down as the close season rapidly approaches. As it turned out the Ashton boys looked well up for it whilst ours again failed to add very much quality to a generally decent work-rate.
The frustration in the management team is palpable. This is surely the toughest time in Margy’s reign – perhaps it’s easy to motivate and manage a team that is always playing meaningful games whereas the challenges associated with getting a team to perform when there is nothing at stake (apart from personal pride etc) is a very different proposition. We’ve always had something (more than pride) to play for until the very last knockings of this season. It’s a different challenge for the boss and the experience that he is gaining now will improve him as a manager and will certainly teach him things about his current squad that he otherwise would not easily get to know.
It is clear that preparations for next season have already begun with the incumbents now having very limited opportunity to prove that they deserve to be FC United players in season 2010/11. Karl and Roy have been scouting a few players for a little while now so I’d guess that they have already formulated a plan for how the squad will be fortified. When we started out we were all warned by our friends from AFC Wimbledon that the non-league game is much more transient than the professional game and so it has proved with many players coming and going in our first 5 years of existence. I suppose we should all steel ourselves in readiness for more departures this summer. On the bright side we can speculate about the new faces that will be brought in as replacements – world-beaters to a man, I’d expect!
I should have realised that it was going to be a crap night; my journey was tortuous because of an accident on the M60 near Prestwich causing general havoc on the north side of Manchester. I arrived at Gigg Lane just a few minutes later than scheduled and made my way straight to the changing room to dump my bag. I greeted a few of the guys who were already around and grabbed a programme to read Margy’s notes – pretty hard-hitting with no punches pulled, I thought. I popped out to pick up a half-time draw ticket and then waited for the customary team announcement. A few changes, as anticipated, but on paper a side more than capable of competing with Ashton United or so I thought.
I trotted out and had a kick about with John Marsden who, it seems, was largely satisfied with my most recent blog entry – he might have had an ulterior motive for feigning approval though as we discussed the possibility of me joining him and Sam at a community coaching session sometime in the near future in order that I might ‘do a write up.’ Hopefully I’ll be able to free up some time to make that happen in the near future but time away from work might be at a bit of a premium in the short term as I need to build up some goodwill again in the office in exchange for all of the early finishes that I’ve enjoyed since my 12th Man adventure commenced.
I’ve generally not been too involved in the goalkeeper’s match-day warm-up activities. I’ve done a few little bits here and there but I’ve been mindful of not wanting to impose myself on Sam, Grant and John who have their own routines. The pre-match warm-up is critical for a goalkeeper and if it goes well (or badly) it can set them up for a good (or poor) day. The quality of service that they receive is also important – there is an art in providing service that is sufficiently challenging and therefore functional in getting the eyes, hands and feet all in tune. John Marsden has developed his serving ability during this season and Sam, in the absence of a dedicated GK-coach, likes to work with him.
On the occasions when Grant has been on the bench or not selected he still usually goes through many aspects of the warm-up with Sam. This gives Sam a short respite to catch his breath and to formulate his thoughts. When Grant starts Sam doesn’t generally participate (except as a server) so for this match I was only expecting to get involved when it was time for Grant to deal with crosses but when he wanted a breather I was urged to ‘step in.’ I’d never received service from Sam before, not even in training. I stood there with some trepidation and my unease only increased when I noticed the slightly manic grin on his face. He fired in some close range (8-10 yards or so) volleys that I dealt with ok but he was really pinging these serves in. Happily they were unerringly accurate so within my reach and my hands were generally secure.
After handling 8 or 10 of these it was again time for Grant to step in and Sam’s serving intensity went up another notch. Grant coped admirably and I checked to see whether the same manic grin sat on the servers face. Not really, Sam was smiling but the smile lacked that slight touch of mania that I’d seen before. Again Grant stepped out and I was back, literally, in the firing line. Grin now restored his first serve in this session was fired directly at me at great speed and at a slightly awkward height. Face height is straightforward as is something fired at the stomach. This one was somewhere in between, in the split second that I had to react I figured it too high to accept into my belly but also just too low to comfortably catch in front of my face. I ended up closing my hands and arms around the ball just as it resounded into my chest – Sam’s grin got bigger and even more manic. ‘Alright?’ he asked barely stifling laughter. ‘I’m fine,’ I said, ‘but I think that you’re probably enjoying this a little too much.’ He grinned.
Things continued in this vein for a while. Sam tried to increase the ferocity of his serves and inevitable the level of accuracy suffered. He launched a serve or two into the empty MRE seats before then hitting another good one straight at me. By now my rhythm had been disrupted by the erratic service and I ended up not catching the serve. My inability to hold on was noted and duly critiqued, ‘Get those hands up!’ The very next serve was ferocious as usual but marginally off line. I thrust out my left hand and at arm’s length caught the delivery one-handed. And I mean caught it, I don’t mean batted it away or juggled it or anything like that; it stuck, as secure as a secure thing. Both Sam and Grant were clearly impressed and whooped their approval. A fun moment.
Grant completed his warm-up and I then pitched up in front of the MRE goal to pick shots, from various individuals, out of the net. I probably saved a couple and a few were certainly off target but most did find their target. Sam took and scored from the spot as about the final act as the team emerged from the tunnel to commence battle. I assisted in collecting the warm-up gear and dumped it adjacent to the dugout before taking my position ready to watch my team prove themselves.
A fine goal from Marshy who got his head to a terrific free-kick from Jerome looked to have set us on our way but a very soft penalty award – even the Ashton bench were mystified – and a goal worked from the Ashton left saw us on the back foot again before the break. Half-time was crap because the Bury groundsman was adamant that we should not ‘play’ in his goalmouth. I had a bit of a kick around with the substitutes but it was far from satisfactory. I shall, with the utmost respect, completely ignore any such instructions about staying out of the goalmouth on Saturday. It would be rude of me not to give the MRE inhabitants a close-up view of my abilities ……… or otherwise during the interval against Matlock.
As I grew bored with the kick about I saw Sam, now showered and changed at pitch side, so I thought I’d go take a closer look to check on the state of his grin. It had now subsided! We had a debrief on the first half and also discussed an individual who had been spotted in the crowd and whether this individual’s presence might be indicative of him giving consideration to playing his football wearing red next season. Time will tell.
As the teams came out I went in for a quick shower and to change. As I was nearly finished getting dressed Jamie Mack came in and advised me that we were now 3-1 down. Bollocks! Rather than making my way to the bench in my civvies I decided to make my way back to my usual Gigg Lane vantage point high in the main stand near halfway. I met and greeted all of the regulars and took up my usual seat, surprisingly vacant. A couple of them were kind enough to speak highly of my scribblings on this blog which was nice to hear. We all had a bit of a catch up and just before fulltime and therefore just before I went back downstairs one of them advised that we were actually winning 1-0 in the time that I was back in my normal place. Good job that I don’t give any credence to any of the superstitious nonsense about the team’s results being more tied to where I sit than how they apply themselves to their work otherwise I’d definitely watch from the main stand on Saturday. Sod it – I’d stay away completely if I thought that it would guarantee a victory!
I can’t believe that my month is nearly over. It seems like just yesterday that I first walked into the home dressing room at Gigg Lane before the BPA match as this adventure began yet somehow I’ve already arrived at the final week. Inevitably, with the arrival of the final week, so comes the final training session. I’m going to miss these Monday and Wednesday sessions a lot – I’ll also miss the special level of involvement that I’ve enjoyed on match days but at least I’ll still be in attendance at matches. After this session I don’t anticipate attending at MANCAT again and I will miss it. I’ll miss the chats and the gossip, I’ll miss the pre-session keepie uppies, I’ll miss my limited participation in some of the goalkeeping drills and I’ll miss observing at close quarters as our team are put through their paces.
Another straightforward drive from Burton on Trent saw me arriving in plenty of time. Perhaps for the very first time (on my last time) I was the first arrival. Cedric Krou arrived shortly after me followed by John M and Sam. I completed a phone call in the car before going in to change and I’d just about completed my transformation from work clothes to ‘play’ clothes when Sam and then John came into the changing room. We exchanged banal pleasantries before the bombshell was dropped. “I’m not happy with you,” said John. “What’s the problem?” I replied. “It’s the blog, I’m not happy about what you’ve written.”
At this point my mind started racing as I frantically try to recall what I might have written to offend John. Eventually, with my mind blank, I asked for a clue, I was still racking my brains – had I betrayed a confidence? Then, for a moment, I thought I’d figured it out but then realised that I hadn’t actually published the full facts behind the cause of his car accident on the way to Burscough so it couldn’t have been that. Then he spilled, “The bit where you said that I wouldn’t be able to handle a keepie uppie duel with Kyle. That was bollocks, I could take him.”
I laughed, slightly relieved that it was just something trivial – as I’ve said before I’ve taken a little bit of a chance in choosing to write these articles and I’d be genuinely upset if anything that I’ve written caused any ill feeling. I’m mindful of the privileged position that I’ve been enjoying and would not want to jeopardise the likelihood of the club running the competition again in the future. For that reason I’ve tried to offer an insight without going too far or without divulging too much. It could be difficult for the next 12th Man if I’d got this wrong and either the management team or the squad felt that I’d ‘crossed the line.’ I drew the discussion to a close as I made my way out of the changing room by suggesting that perhaps John should demonstrate his keepie uppie abilities outside. I was tempted to tell Kyle what John had said but decided against.
Sadly, the pre-session warm up game was fairly uneventful. I personally put up my worst display – I blame the footwear. Kyle and John were stood some distance apart from one another and, despite John’s earlier claims, I saw no evidence whatsoever that he would come anything other than a very sorry second best in any kind of ‘war’ with Kyle Jacobs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disparaging John’s keepie uppie skills because he is without a doubt one of the best two* keepie uppie participants amongst the non-playing staff. Despite his presence in the elite amongst the non-playing staff he still lags some way behind all of the players and would surely be hopelessly embarrassed in any one on one contest versus Kyle.
Footwear – a vital part of equipment for footballers. On my first few appearances as 12th Man I wore an old pair of Umbro moulded football boots but they were far from in good nick. My decent football boots had been a discarded soon after I retired from playing 11-a-side football many years ago so I’d then purchased the Umbro moulds. They served me ok for a couple of years of playing baseball – generally a fair weather pursuit but a split in one boot makes them far from waterproof for football so I decided to invest in a new pair. Mrs 12th Man approved this capital investment so I’m now the proud owner of a decent pair of Adidas boots.
These boots have transformed my performance – or perhaps not – but until this final training session they only ever saw the light of day on match days because I still possess a pair of Nike (sorry, but they do pre-date any boycott) dimple soled astro boots/trainers which I used to wear when I played 5-a-side regularly. Those dimple soled boots were serving me ok at training but the left shoe is/was splitting and looked in danger of completely failing if pressed into service for too much longer. For that reason I decided to wear the Adidas boots to training and that’s why my keepie uppie performance was substandard.
Chuks was again running the session and he called us all together with a couple of blasts on his whistle. As usual the outfield players started with a gentle jog around two laps of the perimeter of the big pitch whilst us goalkeepers went over to do our thing. A brief warm-up with all of us – I think we were 8 – in a large circle passing the ball randomly around the group. Next up we continued the same drill but instead of kicking the ball to one another we threw it.
The main drill for today saw us taking it in turns as goalkeeper with all of the other ‘keepers taking up positions as attackers with John firing in crosses. This was an interesting exercise with the goalkeeper generally coming out on top. It was suggested that there might be a forfeit to be paid if any ‘keeper conceded 5 goals before making a single save or catch on a cross – the usual forfeit of song and dance was mooted but throughout the whole exercise I don’t think that any goalkeeper let in more than 3 before making a save or catching a cross.
Sam was finding his new-found role as striker extraordinaire much to his liking. He scored a couple of decent headers but was soon complaining as the variation in quality and inflation pressures meant that some of the balls that we used were rock hard and heading them was potentially headache inducing. Sam was also happy to see that one of his headed attempts even forced me into a rare low save that very nearly could have been described as a dive. It’s no secret that my aged frame does not deal well with all of this diving about lark anymore. I’ve been picking and choosing the drills that I’ve participated in and you certainly won’t have seen me throwing myself around like a teenager when standing in goal during warm-ups and at half-time on match days so I think Sam saw it as a small triumph that he’d forced me off of my feet.
Chuks called us over to join with the outfield players again for some (much needed some might say) finishing practice. Sam and Grant were bombarded in turn as several variations of finishing drills were run. Lots of crosses fired in from either flank, a neat drill that saw 3 attackers working against 2 defenders and trying to work sufficient space to get in a strike. The final finishing drill was bizarre looking, stunningly simple in concept and, I wouldn’t mind betting, very beneficial. A striker sets up facing goal about 22 yards out and central with 2 balls in hand. He simultaneously dropped/rolled both balls in front and then hit them in turn, one with right foot and one with left foot. A great workout for the keepers who no sooner had dealt with the first shot before the second one was inbound. Both Sam and Grant were breathing pretty heavily after this 30-minute series of frantic drills.
I spent these finishing drills acting as a glorified ball-boy offering encouragement as our talented custodians demonstrated their agility and stamina. There was an amusing individual battle that took shape over the duration as one particular young outfield player seemed unwilling to take on an early shot even when that seemed the best option. He repeatedly would carry the ball forward changing what was supposed to be fairly simple shooting practice into one on ones. On two or three occasions he carried the ball forward before trying to induce a commitment from the goalkeeper and on each occasion the keeper won the battle by making the save.
On the next occasion when the same pair were matched against one another the youthful outfielder managed to score after a prolonged series of feints and dummies. The fist pumping from this upstart, as his shot finally found the net, did not go unnoticed and on the next match-up the goalkeeper had clearly decided that a lesson needed to be learned. As a cross came in and the attacker advanced so the goalkeeper came out to intercept the cross and to follow through to ‘clean out’ the attacker. Everyone on the pitch knew exactly what was happening – especially the upstart – and there were no complaints from any party. All part of the process, all part of the game.
The final act of the evening saw Chuks running another interesting drill. I’m not going to be able to effectively explain it save to say that 4 teams participated in 2 matches side by side one another. At a whistled signal from Chuks the teams switched so that they were playing not only different opposition but also at 90 degrees to their previous match. There were a mixture of goals in play depending on which direction the matches were running. In total there were 4 of the small (hockey-sized) goals deployed and 4 tiny (hurdle sized) goals deployed. Each hockey-type goal was manned by a goalkeeper when it was in play. Sam, Grant, John and I played our roles almost to perfection – 3 of us kept clean sheets throughout whereas 1 of us conceded a couple of goals. Because of the fierce loyalty within the fraternity of goalkeepers I’ll not divulge which of our number let us down by being beaten.
So, my immersion in FC United of Manchester training came to an end. I managed to avoid shedding a tear as I collected my keys from Daz Lyons and made my way to the car. As I was belting up I noticed Sam walking behind my car ready to get into the car that John Marsden is borrowing whilst his is ‘unwell’ after its little accident. I exchanged thumbs up greetings with Sam and started on my journey homewards. Only as I turned into Hyde Road and headed towards the Apollo did I realise that the fellow with the Bolton Wanderers tattoo had hinged the rear wiper on my tailgate so that it stuck up at a jaunty angle. Cheers pal.
I stopped off at the Leigh and District branch meeting on my way home and happily they were all still in attendance. I had a brief catch-up, was relieved of £5 by way of my contribution towards our Player of the Season trophy – to be presented at the Presentation Night. I was also further relieved of the £3 that I owed for the purchase of the latest in a series of mini, micro, tiny, very small badges. Having safely taken delivery of my new badge I thought that I’d stowed it safely into my pocket but by the time I got home it was nowhere to be found. Typical bloody goalkeeper!
*perhaps not quite the achievement that you might imagine because, as far as I’ve seen, he and I are the only two in this category!
I completed my relatively short journey to Boston United’s York Street ground from Kings Lynn. Some while ago, certainly prior to commencing my stint as 12th Man, I’d made arrangements to work away at a sister company in Kings Lynn for a couple of days in conjunction with the match at Boston. The only downside to this arrangement was that I missed the journey on the team bus so my 12th Man odyssey will end with me only having taken one such trip on the team coach.
The weather was glorious and my arrival time was some while before the 1330 deadline so I decided to park up at the same location as I had done for last season’s visit to Boston. The half mile stroll to the ground would be a perfect opportunity to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. As I walked up to the entrance for players and officials a very helpful Boston official was happy to direct me to the visitor’s changing room where I dumped my bag before walking across into the social club to buy a Mars bar or two to get my sugar levels up a bit. I had a quick catch up with one or two friends who were already in the club waiting to watch the derby on the big screen.
Since the announcement about Ten Acres a few weeks ago I’ve sampled a few different clubhouses and I’ve found that my perspective has changed as I now look at the layouts with a much more critical eye as I begin to imagine what OUR clubhouse will be like. I think we could do worse than duplicate the Boston set-up, quite spacious with a decent size bar. All in all it seemed to tick quite a few of the boxes on my own personal checklist for things that a Ten Acres clubhouse should have.
I went back across to the changing room just before the derby was to kick off and was soon joined by kit man Andy Griffiths. My predecessor as 12th Man seemed unusually stressed as he came in. I asked the most innocent of questions, ‘Decent trip?’ and soon discovered the source of his stress as he remarked that his car had broken down on Friday evening and he’d spent a large chunk of the ensuing period worrying about how he was going to get himself and kit to Boston. After chatting about the problems with his mechanic there seemed some hope that a quick fix might be in order on Saturday morning but in fact the fault proved to be a bit more serious meaning that alternative transport had to be sourced. Andy was very reluctant to cause a fuss but decided that he’d better let Walshy know of his problem. El Presidente suggested a possible solution and within minutes our kit man was making final arrangements for a lift from Leeds to Boston and back again, in the back of a Transit van.
We sat and chatted about 12th Man stuff for a while before Ludo Quistin arrived, he also had travelled independently from the team coach. Ludo had clearly done a spot of shopping en route to Boston as he deposited the contents of a carrier bag onto a table. Various bits of food, snacks etc came out of his bag and would be eagerly consumed by his team-mates once they arrived. A few minutes later and a Boston official came in with some match sponsors doing a bit of a tour behind the scenes. One of the sponsors tried to wind us up with ‘news’ of a city goal from the Council House but neither Andy or I were taken in by him.
News came through to us that the coach had arrived so Andy and I went out to help carry gear in and to greet the weary travellers. The players all headed inside to deposit the gear before heading out to inspect the pitch whilst Andy Griffiths stayed behind to distribute the shirts and shorts onto the hooks around the room. Andy Walsh came out onto the pitch too and felt compelled to come over to me and verbally abuse me for my apparent negative influence on results since having been ‘inducted’ as 12th Man. I reiterated the same response that I’ve offered to everyone who has accused me of being a ‘Jonah’ in that it isn’t my fault and I was not prepared to shoulder the blame for poor results just as I wouldn’t take credit if we went on a winning run – I suggested that perhaps he was simply trying to deflect negative attention away from himself by using me as a scapegoat. With that silliness out of the way we had a slightly more serious chat about how busy things are on the ground development front.
It seems that things are moving forwards nicely but there is still plenty of work to be done before our dreams can be transferred from concepts to paper and then into a real 3-dimensional football ground. I’m sure that we’ll all get a detailed update on things at the General Meeting next Sunday but the message was clear that we’re going to have to find a large chunk of money to make our plans become reality. We also had a good look at the Jakeman’s Stand and Andy suggested that it might be a very good blueprint for what we’d hope to build at Ten Acres. It’s certainly the best terraced stand in our league by some margin and if we build one like it I think most of us will be delighted.
Walshy said his farewells and headed off whilst in the centre circle, as is their habit, the management team migrated away from the rest of the group, presumably to have discussions about how they want to set out their line-up to get a result. It’s kind of amusing to see Karl, Roy and Daz chatting away and then looking across in turn at the group of players as they presumably debate some difficult selection dilemmas – Sam or Grant? Kyle or Jimmy? Cedric or Angelos? Phil, Joe or maybe Gage? After a few minutes they appear to have come to a consensus and head back inside. We all convene back in the dressing room and Margy announces his line-up and subs for the day. Everyone then quickly gets dressed in order to head outside for the warm-up.
Sam, John M and I had a little kick around whilst waiting for Grant to go through his solo warm-up – just a bit of gentle jogging and stretching. John then did most of the ball work with Grant with me assisting with a couple of aspects. Rather than me just standing around, like a spare part, whilst Grant and John did their thing I stood in goal as Jimmy Holden and Daz Lyons delivered crosses in from the right wing that various people fired goalwards. After a while of providing crosses Daz broke off and called the players across to work through the structured part of his pre-match warm ups. At this point Grant took over in the goalmouth as John knocked in some crosses with me trying to make things difficult for Grant.
Most of the starters had left the pitch leaving the substitutes to fire shots at goal with me flapping at them. Word soon filtered onto the pitch that the Ginger Prince had scored at Eastlands putting United one up. Only later on was it confirmed how late the goal had come – the perfect time to score giving our bitter, wealthy neighbours no time to respond. Sweet! The few city sympathisers within our squad didn’t, as far as I could discern, betray their emotions when word circulated about the 3rd very late United winner in three derby matches this season.
I took up a position on the bench initially but when our subs came across I decided to take up a position on a small bench to the side of the dugout thus leaving the slightly shaded dugout bench to the subs. I sat next to Nick Swirad who was also enjoying the sunshine. Nick and I had brief chat about his pre-match shooting; I wanted to make sure that he had heard the derisory singing from the United support in response to one of his final shots as he badly shanked an attempt on goal. I’m happy to confirm that the chants of ‘What the ‘effin ‘ell was that?’ were indeed heard by our embarrassed young central defender!
As we went onto the pitch at half-time I caught up with Jimmy Holden and told him that he was not allowed to try to chip me. I’ve noticed during my time with the squad that Mr Holden appears to have noticed that I’m not the most mobile goalkeeper that he’s ever faced. He seems to enjoy the challenge of trying to make me look stupid by chipping balls over my head. Few of the others seem to bother with chips, Joe Yoffe does very occasionally but it seems like almost every other shot from Jimmy is yet another delicate ‘dink.’ I knew that he would completely ignore me forbidding him from trying chips and sure enough, if it were possible, he was even more prolific with his attempts. As I furiously back-pedalled to catch one such effort I shouted at him that he was obsessed. He just grinned.
With Jerome’s clever free-kick goal and a resolute first-half display from the rearguard we looked decent value for our lead but everyone knew that Boston would mount pressure in the second period and that it would be tough to keep them quiet. Sure enough, on the hottest day of the year, our lads ran out of steam half-way through the second half having spent a large part of that time without the ball. I’m not sure that anyone would argue against Boston being worthy winners on the day but the final score-line was probably a bit flattering.
Despite the heavy loss the dressing room was nothing like as sombre as it had been after the Burscough match. It’s no disgrace to be beaten by a very, very good side, which Boston clearly are, as long as the team have put in a performance whereas the previous weekend’s 1-0 defeat still leaves a bitter taste because of the nature of our capitulation. Margy was full of praise for his charges, he didn’t mince his words in explaining how badly let down he felt after Burscough but was encouraged by their response. The question was asked as to whether, had they played like today, they might have beaten Burscough. The consensus was that they probably would. Likewise it was suggested that Wednesday’s match versus Ashton should not hold any fears for them if they play to a similar level and maintain the intensity and work-rate for the full 90 minutes.
I again escaped from work a little bit early to ensure an on-time arrival for training. A50 and M6 traffic were not too bad but there was significant congestion on the M56 around the airport and all the way through to the Princess Parkway which slowed me down enough to ensure that I didn’t arrive until just before 1845. I still had enough time to get changed and make my way outside just before 1900.
It seems like a couple more people – squad members – have discovered my blog. Sam had mentioned to me a few days ago that he’d read a bit of it but seemingly he’s now had the chance to look in a bit more detail. Nick Swirad also mentioned, later on in the evening, that he’d had a look at it. He remarked at how long the individual write-ups are and I guess he probably has a point. Perhaps brevity isn’t really one of the qualities that I value in my own writing. Andy Walsh and I had an e-mail dialogue when I sent my first 12th Man piece in to the club – the one that was included in the BPA match programme – about word count. My first draft had been 1100 words or so, as I recall, so he asked me to trim it to 650-700 words in order to fit in the programme. After some agonising I managed to get it down to just less than 750 and sent that in to see if it could be made to fit. I don’t think it was further hacked about too much before publication so I guess 750 worked.
Maybe I’m being more verbose with this blog because my ‘normal’ football writing is always subject to such a tight word count budget. When I write match reports for the Non-League Paper the usual word count required is a miserly 220-240 words. The feature match from our league, not that we’ve been selected for that much lately, is given a massive 450 word budget but within that one is generally expected to include post-match comments from the managers. Seemingly I’ve got lots of words swimming around in my head and I’ve now found an outlet so they’re just pouring out of me by the bucket load. Hopefully the order that I type them makes some sense sometimes and portrays some aspects of the experience that I’m enjoying.
Sam joked, well I’m fairly sure that he was joking, to one of his colleagues as we were taking part in the traditional pre-session game of keepy uppies that they needed to be careful with what they say around me because everything was being regurgitated in this blog. In reality, I’d be very upset if anyone within the dressing room thought that I was betraying any confidences in these scribblings. On a couple of occasions I’ve checked things with Andy Walsh before uploading to the DF site because I’ve wondered if I might be straying beyond the line that divides between what can be shared and what cannot. On those occasions he’s always offered reassurances that what I’ve written is fine for publication and hasn’t even, although he did threaten to on one occasion, exercised any editorial discretion to sanitise my original offering.
All I’m trying to portray here is a realistic view of how things work within our squad and management team. In my ‘role’ as 12th Man I’ll never truly be ‘one of them’ and clearly my footballing abilities (or lack thereof) and my age will always set me apart from the talented young players with whom I’m rubbing shoulders. Despite these obvious differences between me and them I feel that they have accepted me into the fold and are not particularly wary of me. For that reason I’m pretty sure that I’m seeing the real FC United dressing room and hopefully some of the insights that I’m offering here will be beneficial in promoting a better understanding and awareness of some of the behind the scenes stuff that otherwise would only be known by those on the ‘inside.’
Anyway, I digress, back to the keepy uppies. As has become normal I did okay. I demonstrated a decent touch on a couple of occasions and even rescued what looked like hopeless situations once or twice but I also demonstrated ‘the touch of a rapist’ once or twice too. On one occasion Kyle Jacobs fired a ‘pass’ to John Marsden who was next to him in the circle. Everyone in the group laughed as John failed to control this virtually uncontrollable pass and had to fetch the loose ball to resume the game.
It’s not unusual for certain players to fire forceful passes at a team-mate in this game but this was the first time, in my experience, that a non-player (John and I being the only members of this elite group) had been so victimised. On the next pass that came to John he fired a waist high volley back towards Kyle and there was a collective gasp from the rest of us as this clear act of retaliation by John was surely the opening salvo in a duel between them. Just as we all gasped in surprise that John would throw down the gauntlet in such a way so he also probably realised the futility of entering into such a battle. Within seconds he was uttering his apology, “Sorry Kyle,” in the hopes of avoiding a battle that he certainly would have had no chance to win. We all laughed, including Kyle, before the game resumed without any further acrimony between the two of them.
Chuks took the outfield players across to do their work, so the goalkeepers broke away to do our own thing. Initially we were too many in number as Sam, Grant and Joe plus a couple of other young goalkeepers and me and John assembled together. The drills that were planned were not really practical to run for such a large group so the two youngest guys were sent off to do conditioning work with the outfield players. To start off Sam worked with John whilst Grant, Joe and I worked together too. After that initial set of drills we were joined by the ‘other’ youth team ‘keeper Tom Siwka.
I again chose to participate in most of the drills that Sam chose for us but decided against taking part in the couple that demanded a series of ‘short dives’ and quick recovery. The final exercise saw John ‘serving’ half-volleys from about a position about 18 yards and central in front of goal. The ‘keeper would start from a prone position on their stomach on the goal-line and on cue they would get up into a ready position as John fired in a shot. After a round of this we then went again with the goalkeeper this time starting from a position lying on his back with his head nearest the server. Sam went first and, as usual, did pretty well keeping out 4 out of 5 as I recall. Next up was Grant and he also kept out 3 or 4. At this point Sam decided that he wanted to demonstrate to John exactly how he should be delivering these half-volleys. As Joe Grantham stepped in so Sam took over serving duties.
Sam immediately started slamming half-volleys in at goal. Joe was bemused as the service that he was receiving was somewhat different to that received by those before him. Sam did fire his second one wide to the right making the score 1-1. At around this time it was agreed to prolong each ‘keeper’s stint until either they had kept out 5 or the server had scored 5 with a forfeit for whomever lost the battle. Inevitably Sam eventually ran out the winner by 5-2 or 5-3. Joe was then ‘forced’ to perform his forfeit by serenading the rest of us with a song (and dance) of his choice. Entering into the spirit Joe eventually gave us a couple of lines of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I just called to say I love you’ whilst performing a fairly cheesy impression of your Dad dancing at a wedding disco.
Soon after this impromptu karaoke session the outfield guys had completed their work and Chuks called us all together again to pick teams for a quick match to round off the evening. The match used full sized goals but they were set up across the width of the pitch. The sides were fairly well matched with 8 or 9 in each side with Sam in goal at one end, Grant at the other. I watched on from a position adjacent to Sam’s goal acting as a glorified ball-boy ……….. finally, I’ve found my vocation! If and when the ‘game ball’ was put out of play at our end then I’d simply deliver a replacement and then fetch the ‘lost’ one. This match had some unusual rules that I don’t pretend to fully understand. Goals scored in the proper goals were worth two whilst goals scored by dribbling the ball through one of five small goals marked on the pitch with cones were worth one point apparently. I’ve no idea what the final score was, Chuks seemed to have a good idea what he wanted the guys to work on and was keenly encouraging them as the match progressed, he might even know what the final score was.
We all started to make our way off but, as has become customary now, one or two were very keen to practice their finishing at the end of the session so I stood in goal whilst they fired in shots for 10 or 15 minutes. Whilst my presence in goal is not quite the same for these guys as facing a proper Unibond goalkeeper I’ve been told that it is (marginally I’d guess) more helpful to them than simply firing into an empty net – maybe that’s because they can rely on me to fetch their shots and return the ball to them! Finally, just before 2100 we all left the pitch.
Just before leaving I had a quick chat with John M to pass on word that I’d not be travelling on the team-coach to Boston and would meet everyone there. Before my 12th Man journey had started I had already made arrangements in preparation for the Boston match that I’d make a work trip to our Kings Lynn facility to do some work at that location on the Thursday and Friday leaving me with a relatively short trip to Boston on the Saturday.
A trouble-free journey from work saw me arrive at a sunny MANCAT, Nicholls Campus well in advance of the 1900 start time. I fully expected to be the first arrival but when I walked into the changing room I was surprised to see John Marsden already there. Moments later Sam Ashton walked in. As we changed into our gear we chatted away. Happily John is feeling a little better after his car accident on Saturday with some symptoms of a mild whiplash present but the pain seems to diminish if he remains active, it hurts most after a long period of inactivity.
Having dressed for action we all went out to do some gentle stretches and continue our chats. The subject of Saturday’s abject display at Burscough quickly came up as did the ‘I hope that the players read the forum’ thread on the unofficial forum. I can safely say that some of the players do ‘lurk’ on the forum and the slating that they’ve received has hit home to some of them. I didn’t conduct a survey to find out which squad members have been on and which haven’t but I’d imagine that the opinions from that thread will be known by the majority of the squad by the end of the long coach trip to Boston on Saturday, if not before.
One or two players did remark that they’ve had to adjust their approach to things written on the forum after some quite personal ‘slaggings’ had appeared in the past. One player joked about how he was glad that he was relatively mentally strong because otherwise he might have been driven to retirement several times already based on the inputs from (some of) ‘our expert support’ who frequent and opine on the forum. The irony is that this individual is certainly his own fiercest critic who well knows if/when he’s played poorly and he is also probably one of the most honest players in the squad too. He will hold his hands up and acknowledge when he’s not performing rather than just put his head down and hide. Maybe some of his team-mates could learn from him?
As start time came the usual game of keepie uppie started. After a few minutes Chuks Akuneto called us all together. Chuks is the youth team manager/coach and he was running tonight’s session which was to be a joint session involving the fit members of the first team squad plus a selection of youth team players making a total of about 25 of us. Chuks is a really nice guy who is well respected by his youth team charges. He has a decent football pedigree as a former Nigeria international and has previously done work at Trafford FC before coming onboard with FC United. He advised us that his session would last about 90 minutes in total before us, as goalkeepers, split off to do our own thing for the first hour or so.
For the goalkeeping session we numbered 5 with Sam and Grant being joined by youth team ‘keeper Joe Grantham plus the 12th Man and John Marsden. Sam co-ordinated the drills and I took part in some of them but I also decided to give a couple of them a miss. I was fine with the handling stuff but at my advanced age I do struggle with the diving and getting up stuff – one off dives are ok but doing a drill that involves a dive followed by quickly getting back up into a position to save a shot and then to change position in readiness for another dive etc is tough for an out of condition ex-goalkeeper. I characterise the situation as this, my hands are still goalkeeping hands but my legs are definitely those of a spectator now!
I certainly see the benefit of these types of conditioning drills for goalkeepers and reckon that I’d have been a much better goalkeeper in my younger days if I’d ever have had any proper coaching. In the clubs that I’ve played for in the past goalkeeping training generally just involved everyone doing some jogging followed by a few half-hearted sprints before lots of outfield players assembled to take shots at goal with us as goalkeepers trying to keep them out. It’s not exactly qualifying as specialised training of the sort that ‘real’ goalkeepers benefit from these days. The key focus of specialised goalkeeping training is to reinforce good basic techniques through repetition with the added bonus of developing and enhancing physical strength and stamina.
Many people think of the goalkeeping position as the least physically demanding on the pitch and that may well be true but it is also the single position on the pitch where either physical or mental errors are most heavily punished. If/when your team’s ‘keeper makes an error there is a very good chance that it will result in, at best, a chance for the opposition or, at worst, a goal. Most errors committed by the outfield players are covered by teammates behind them but as the last line of defence we don’t have that luxury. The physical conditioning aspect is important for goalkeepers because there is a strong relationship that sees levels of concentration dipping as tiredness sets in and then mental mistakes become much more prevalent.
We had just about concluded our work when Chuks whistled for us to join the outfield players for the final workout of the evening. A small square pitch was set up. Each side of the square was probably about 25 metres long and there was a small goal positioned midway along each side. Each of us 4 ‘keepers took up residence in a goal whilst the 15 or so outfield players were split with 5 attackers wearing bibs and 10 defenders without bibs. The ball would be started with the defenders in possession and they would pass the ball around whilst the 5 attackers would expend vast amounts of energy chasing around trying to intercept a pass. On those occasions when the attacking group did gain possession they were at liberty to attempt to score into any of the 4 goals.
This is a frenetic game which is aimed to teach the importance of maintaining possession. It was played at an incredibly high pace with plenty of sweat spilled by all participants. Each individual match lasted less than 10 minutes by which time the 5 attackers had well and truly covered every (plastic) blade of the pitch. The 5 attackers were then subbed off with 5 replacements coming from the sideline to supplement the defence and 5 of the existing defenders taking up the bibs to become attackers in the next match.
It was very impressive to watch the silky skills of these players at such close quarters. Some seemed to have exquisite vision which saw them rarely taking more than 2 touches before picking out a team-mate in space whereas some others were content to beat an opponent before delivering a pass. Carlos stood out as the one individual with outstanding dribbling ability, his balance and touch was awe inspiring at times. From the youth team there were several eye-catching performers – Carl Fitton, Josh Burke and Luke Kolakowski all excelled.
The mismatch in numbers between defenders and attackers ensures that few goals are scored in these games but some goals were scored. My goal was leading a charmed life early on, I wonder if I was being victimised as the only over-24 year old goalkeeper on the pitch? On a couple of occasions shots rained in, as the out-numbered attackers stole possession, only for the frame of my goal to rattle as the barely off-target efforts somehow stayed out. In addition, I made a couple of close range saves, generally by simply parking my bulky frame into the line of fire.
The funniest moment, well it was funny for most of us but perhaps less so for Joe Grantham, who was in the goal opposite me, came about when Carlos nipped in as an attacker to try to corral a bouncing ball. He arrived just ahead of Joe and struck a volley towards goal that Joe kept out with his face. Almost everyone descended into laughter but Joe Yoffe was alive to the possibilities and collected the rebound, now adjacent to Sam’s goal. Yoffe took the first shot which Sam saved, Yoffe got to the rebound but Sam again made the save but finally at the third or fourth time of asking Joe headed home from very close range after pouncing after the ball bounced back off of the crossbar.
After 4 versions of this game had been completed Chuks set things up for the final drill which was a series of one on one races. All of the outfield players lined up in two lines with each pair then racing. The race was started by a goalkeeper throwing the ball up for the outfield player to head, he then had to do a shuttle run back and forth to some cones set up nearby followed by a 25 yard sprint to the finish line. Lots of encouragement was offered by teammates and coaches alike as players tended to be paired up with other who played the same position.
Once the outfielders had gone through 3 or 4 versions of this shuttle then a special race was set-up for us custodians. Again run in pairs, with Sam and Joe going head to head before Grant and I brought the evening to a close with the final event of the night. Each goalkeeper’s starting position was laying down flat on their back, in front of them a coach, either Chuks or Daz Lyons, would bounce a ball on the floor, the keeper then was to leap up and catch the ball before sprinting back to the far wall of the pitch, perhaps 40 metres away.
Not sure who won in the first race, probably Sam, but I was too busy psyching myself up for my head to head with Grant. There may have been some favouritism shown for my benefit as Chuks gently lobbed the ball for me whereas Daz clearly did something less straightforward for Grant. I only know this because as I started my sprint – it’s definitely a relative term, by the way – I could hear Grant swearing over my left shoulder as he eventually retrieved Daz’s ‘poor’ serve. I’d like to say that this unofficial handicapping saw me winning this particular race but that isn’t strictly the case. Had the finish line been the same as the one that the outfield guys had used then I would have won but Grant tracked me down in the second half of the sprint as we went from the outfielder’s finish to the perimeter of the pitch. Oh well, there’s always Wednesday!
Burscough is the nearest Unibond Prem ground to my home in Wigan apart from ‘our own’ Gigg Lane which is about half a mile closer. I set off on a glorious day with a real sense of optimism that FC would finally manage a victory during my 12th Man reign. When looking at the fixtures for my month immersed in the squad this one, along with the two games versus Ashton stood out, to me at least, as the most winnable. BPA, Guiseley, Kendal, Boston and Matlock are all chasing promotion so tough games would be expected but Ashton and Burscough, much like us, look to only have pride to play for being mired in low to mid-table positions.
I parked up adjacent to the ground and strolled around to the changing rooms with Angelos Tsiaklis who had arrived with his dad at about the same time as me. Angelos was impressed with the spring sunshine and expressed that he’s much happier playing in warm weather than in the depths of winter. We dumped our bags and joined a handful of colleagues on the pitch. Talk was about this being a first visit to Burscough for FC United and also for many of our players although Phil Marsh was fairly sure that he’d played here during his stint with Hyde United in the Conference North.
Jimmy Holden was tasked with running the obligatory Grand National sweepstake so he went to work on a newspaper with scissors to populate a coffee cup with pieces of paper; he and Deegs did the rounds to sell each horse at £1 each. One of the 40 pieces of paper would represent a £40 pay-off for one of us depending on events ten miles away at Aintree. For the record, for my £2 stake money I picked a rank outsider in Conna Castle and the reasonably well-fancied State of Play. Could be in with a shout but most of the others in the changing room could equally make a case for their choices too, they would all be in with a chance until at least 4:15!
Another newcomer to the squad arrived in the shape of Scott Cheetham who is another youth team prospect who is being given a chance to impress after doing well for ‘da yoofs’ this season. It is a happy consequence, perhaps the only one, of our mediocre showing this campaign is that we really have nothing to play for at this stage of the season so the opportunity to blood some youngsters has presented itself. It is a tough balancing act for the management team to give these lads a run out – I know that based on recent lacklustre performances many supporters have called for Margy to ‘just play the youth team’ for the rest of the season to see which of them might be able to make the step up.
There are, however, limitations in what can or indeed should be done by way of introducing these youngsters to first team action. Initially, they must have been registered with the league prior to the deadline which is now past but more importantly they must be given the best chance to succeed which means bringing them in at the right time and in the right numbers. To send a team of eleven youth team players out against a hardened Unibond side is only likely to end one way – in a heavy, demoralising defeat. If one or two youngsters are eased into an otherwise experienced side from time to time then they will have a much better chance of success and they are unlikely to have their confidence shattered by the experience.
It certainly helps our club in its recruitment of youth team players if there is a clear route to the first team and this has now been established with the likes of Nick Swirad, Jamie Mack and Grant Shenton having graduated from the youth team to becoming fully-fledged first team squad members in their own right. Likewise this season we’ve seen Gage Eme, Stefanos Iannou and now Scott Cheetham all making debuts.
Pre-match routines were somewhat disrupted as news came through that John Marsden had been involved in a car accident at around midday as he was on his way to pick up Sam Ashton and Chaddy. Happily no-one was hurt but there certainly will be some damage to John’s no claims discount when he comes to renew his car insurance. Hasty rearrangements were made to ensure that our goalkeeper and captain and various bits of kit did make it to Victoria Park in good time. John also made it to Burscough but he was a little worse for wear after his traumatic journey and chose to keep a low profile rather than assisting in the goalkeeper’s warm-up. Hopefully he’ll be back up and running soon.
Again a few team changes were in order as Margy looks to test his squad in the run in. Grant Shenton stepped in for Sam to make his FC United league debut, Kyle Jacobs was introduced for Nick Swirad who has a niggling knee problem and a new front pairing of Jamie Mack and Joe Yoffe came in for Phil Marsh and Chris Ovington. After a quick pep-talk we went out to warm-up – seems a bit of a misnomer on the warmest day of the year so far.
I did some initial work with Grant in John’s absence but eventually Sam emerged to takeover and return the complement to his understudy who has diligently provided his services in warming up Sam for much of the time since the club has been without a specialist goalkeeping coach. Sam and Grant have a very good relationship and enjoy working with one another in training. Whilst Sam ‘gets’ FC and is content here it is certainly beneficial for the club to have someone as capable as Grant as a back-up.
Grant already has some NWCL experience gained with Maine Road as a mere 16 year old before he came to FC United and he was also part of our very successful youth team side last year. In addition to that he also plays for the very successful Langley Celtic Sunday league side along with several other FC United squad members. Whilst Grant’s goalkeeping education has been assisted through his training with FC United and by playing on Sundays with Langley Celtic, in my opinion, at this stage of his development he should be playing regular Saturday football too. I’ve spoken to him on a couple of occasions about this but he feels he is learning through his work with Sam (and Karl L and Joe P until they left) and doesn’t want to ‘leave’ FC United. I still reckon he’d be best served by going out to an NWCL team next season with FC holding his Unibond (well it won’t be Unibond next season, let’s say Northern Premier League until the new league sponsor is announced) registration so that he could be called back to us if needed.
Leading up to kick-off I stepped into the breach to again allow the subs and some others to take pot shots at me. I quickly noted that Scott Cheetham has got a sweet, sweet left foot. He struck a number of really nice shots in my general direction and I made a mental note to find out a bit more about him later on; unfortunately I’ve not been able, for a variety of reasons, to see as much of our youth team this year as I’d have liked. I have only made it to a single match so far but hopefully I’ll be able to take in another match or two before their season ends in a few weeks if my other commitments allow.
I again gathered up the bag with training gear as I made my way towards the bench. Having completed the tidying up by loading the training balls into the bag I took up a standing position adjacent to our dugout. The bench in the dugout was just a bit too small for our full complement of subs, kitman, physio and me to fit so I chose to soak up the Merseyside sunshine instead. Again, many of you will have seen the match for yourselves so I’m not going to deconstruct it here. Suffice to say that we were very poor throughout and, in the end, might have been beaten very heavily indeed were it not from a very good second half performance from Grant in goal.
The half-time whistle blew so I decided to stay out in the sun and subject myself to shooting practice. I was only expecting to be bombarded from the area in front of me, the pitch, but had not expected to have to contend with verbal barbs being delivered from behind. The majority of the vocal visiting support had taken the opportunity to assemble in the small covered terrace behind the goal that United would attack in the second half and some of them decided to exercise their rapier wit at my expense.
The eminently predictable and, dare I say it, unimaginative, “You fat bastard!” started the serenading. I guess that goes as fair comment but I certainly would have expected better. Sure enough the next discernible chant warranted higher scores on the ‘use of imagination’ scale. “Just for Men, Just for Men, Just for Men,” was, I guess, a recommendation for a hair product that I should consider adding to my shopping list. I’m not tempted to invest in any hair dye products as I prefer my distinguished natural look but thanks for the recommendation all the same. I may pass it on to Margy because he certainly has some grey hairs coming through; come to think about it I’ve only noticed them in the last week or two, perhaps it’s a sign of the stress that he’s under in managing a football club where a large proportion of his team seem unable or unwilling to execute his instructions on match-day?
When I told my wife about the “Silver fox” chant she was horrified. Apparently any regular viewer of This Morning and/or Dancing on Ice – and she watches both – knows that there is only one Silver fox and he goes by the name of Phillip Schofield. I think that I also heard a reference to ‘Granddad Ashton’ but I’m not certain about that one.
As the teams came out for the second half I made my way back to the changing room. Jamie Mack was sat there feeling very sorry for himself with an icepack attached to his ankle. I feel bad for Jamie who was a prolific scorer for the youth team last season but he has had his opportunities in the first team this season restricted by injuries. Late in the first period he went over on the ankle that has been problematic for virtually the entire campaign and was unable to continue. He fears that this latest setback will keep him out now until preseason. I sympathised with him and shared my own experiences of ankle problems and how I’d improved things with rest and then with some judicious stretching before future exertions.
After showering I went back out into the fresh air to see the match play out. I took up a position very near to where I’d watched the first half but now on the spectators’ side of the barrier rather than the players’ side. I took the chance to ask Margy about Scott Cheetham’s pedigree. Apparently he’s only 16 and Margy rates him highly. Being a left-sided midfield player means that Margy has a special affinity with Scott. When I remarked how impressed I was with his left foot Margy was quick to advise me that Scott is better at this stage in his development than Margy had been at the same point. We all know that Margy went on to play league football and thereafter to have a very successful semi-professional career in the game so if Scott keeps working hard perhaps he may soon be able to put pressure on Jerome Wright for a starting place on the FC United left flank.
The post-match changing room was again a depressing place to be. Karl and Roy are sensible guys and they know when their team have been beaten by the better side. They also know when their team have not matched the level of application or the desire of their opponents. This had been one of those matches where very few of the 14 FC United players on show could take any credit. Margy had kind words for one or two of the youngsters; Scott, Cedric and Grant as I recall, but no crumbs of comfort for the ‘established’ members of the team who, on the whole, had underperformed yet again. The patience of the management team is being sorely tested by a group of players who just are not getting it done at the moment. Karl, Roy and Daz deserve better from them than they are giving and if they carry the same poor work-rate into the next match away at high flying Boston then we’ll all end up being embarrassed.
My journey north from work in Burton-on-Trent to Bury was far from straightforward as the combination of an accident, or maybe a series of accidents, on the M6 north of Stoke plus the additional volume of traffic due to a certain football match in M16 resulted in a shocking discovery as I fired up my TomTom. The first thing my SatNav does upon initialising a journey is calculate the route and then it checks for delays en route. I travel from Wigan to Burton and back again as my work commute and I’m used to setting off on my way home with traffic delays of up to 10-15 minutes indicated but for this journey I was advised that the initial route chosen was subject to 137 minutes of delays/traffic.
So, that’s a 137 minute of delay on top of the 120 minutes or so that a ‘standard’ journey should take. That had my estimated arrival time at Le Stade as about halfway through the first half – not good. Happily TomTom went through its automatic calculation of alternative routes and immediately offered an alternative routing that would get me to Gigg Lane by 1815 hrs. Much better.
The scenic route took me onto the A50 and then the A500 at Stoke before firing me off through Alsager and a couple of villages before I joined the M6 at junction 17. Traffic was slow but I made steady progress until ‘ordered’ (by TomTom) to exit at junction 19 and head towards town. It did cross my mind that perhaps TomTom was confused and had decided to send me to Old Trafford as junction 19 onto the A556 was always the preferred exit when travelling up to see United when I had lived in Cambridge. After a short, remarkably uncongested, blast down the M56 past Ringway I joined the M60 and went anticlockwise via Stockport, Tameside etc to then join the M66 towards Bury. I safely parked up at Gigg Lane just before 1830 hrs.
Having endured a problematic journey I was glad to have arrived on time. I had noted John England as I’d parked up so greeted him as I walked towards the entrance. John delivered a bombshell confession that left me devastated …………. well, perhaps not quite devastated but maybe shocked. Apparently my UniBond registration did not go through on deadline day and therefore I’m not ‘really’ a registered player. John explained that he’d safely stored my completed form after the BPA match but as a result of the ground announcement the following day and all of the excitement surrounding that he’d not submitted the form to the league before the deadline passed. So, I’m still the 12th Man but am not registered and therefore am ineligible to make an appearance.
Realistically I was never going to be selected anyhow but I still felt disappointed. Whilst the management and the squad have welcomed me into the fold the fact remains that I’ve been living a lie and am not really ‘one of the team’ as I’d thought I was. This administrative error doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, I’m still welcome in the changing room and get to participate in pre-match and halftime kickabouts on the pitch and John was keen to point out that my name was always listed on his teamsheet as someone entitled to sit on the bench.
Fresh from receiving this news from John I made my way to the changing room feeling somewhat crestfallen. Soon after and Karl and Roy came in so, having exchanged pleasantries, I passed on the news to them both, “Karl, Roy, I’m not really sure how to break this news to you but it turns out that there’s been a mistake with the paperwork and I’ve not been registered with the league so you need to plan for the run-in without me.” Somehow this news seemed less than disturbing to them as they exchanged knowing smiles with one another. Perhaps they’d already decided that I wasn’t up to the required standard anyway?
The squad arrived, mostly on time, and the atmosphere within the dressing room started to transform to one of anticipation. A couple of players made their way across to the medical room to get some treatment prior to reassembling in readiness for Margy’s pep-talk. The boss advised of the same line-up as had started at Ashton except for the swapping of Nuge out and Chaddy in. He implored the guys to go out and enjoy the game, he emphasised that they should be playing with a freedom because there is no pressure on them, and all of the pressure will be on Kendal. He also told them to use the fact that Kendal had beaten FC twice already this season as a motivator, if they needed any additional motivation.
We then got changed and headed out. I was jokingly abused by the Bury head groundsman as I walked out, something about how things must be tough for us if I’m part of the set-up now. I set up in the practice goal and fielded a few shots from Joe Yoffe and Ben Morris before we made way for Sam to ‘do his thing.’ Again John Marsden played the leading role in Sam’s warm-up with me helping out a little. In what seemed a very short while the call came for all of the starters to return inside to get ready for the teams to assemble in the tunnel. I stayed out, now in the MRE goal, with the subs who continued ‘shooting in.’
The teams soon emerged so I helped gather the training gear from the pitch as I came off. Once over near the dugout John Marsden asked if I would deliver Sam’s water bottle and towel to him so I trotted around to the MRE goal and placed them in the net. I wished him well before ambling back to the dugout. It looked like a decent crowd in attendance; obviously the attraction of ‘the other match’ on TV probably kept some away but there was already a good noise coming from the main stand.
I took up a seat on the bench behind physio Sam Rhoades and watched on as the match started out quite evenly. Kyle Jacobs, who came to FC from Kendal, was telling us about whom he rated from the Kendal side and it seemed like he rated most of them to be honest! He was probably right to rate them too; they looked a good solid side with everyone seemingly comfortable in possession. You’ll probably have your own view of the match so I’ll not go into much detail. Suffice to say 2-0 down at halftime turned quickly into 4-0 down before an hour had gone. Only then did we take the initiative for the final quarter of the match with a neatly taken consolation goal from substitute Jamie Mack being the highlight of an otherwise fairly miserable evening.
It was amusing to see both the Kendal and United management teams in agreement as their frustration mounted during the second half as more and more decisions by the match officials left many of us scratching our heads in wonderment. Eventually the occupiers of the respective technical areas were meeting in the neutral space between the two areas to sympathise or express embarrassment about an unjust decision that had gone against one side or the other. It was nice to see the mutual respect between the two benches in what might otherwise have been very trying circumstances. Perhaps it would have been different had the match been in the balance at this point but clearly the result was already beyond question.
We were getting score updates from the ‘big’ United match too but it was difficult, at first, to understand who was being truthful and who might have been on a wind-up. 1-0 up with Gibson scoring was believable but when we heard 2-0 up inside of 10 minutes there was a degree of scepticism. From time to time word would come to us directly from one of the Bury stewards, and he surely wouldn’t be part of any conspiracy to wind us up, and he confirmed 3-0 around half an hour in. Then word reached us of a German goal to make it 3-1 at the interval and the doubts began to grow. No-one, surprisingly enough, had any difficulty in believing it to be true when we were told that Rafael had been sent off. He’s such an impetuous player and full of little tugs and pulls it really wasn’t tough to imagine him taking the long, lonely walk to the tunnel. Now the doubts grew and when news of the Robben goal reached us everyone seemed resigned to it being a bad night on two fronts.
I’m not at liberty to discuss in detail the post-match discussions but suffice to say that the message came across loud and clear that the players have to take responsibility for their performance on the pitch. It matters very little what the management team say or do before or during the match if the team, the players on the pitch, don’t carry it out effectively between the white lines. Interestingly there were no raised voices, no teacups launched across the room. In fact, the silence spoke volumes.
Easter Monday and an afternoon trip to Tameside, what could be better? I arrived at Hurst Cross a good twenty minutes earlier than the designated reporting time and greeted Soulie, John England and Nick Swirad in the car park. I assisted our assistant manager in carrying some gear to the changing room from his car.
Having dropped off my kit bag and Soulie’s bag I went out and acquired a match programme and a hot chocolate before meeting up with Andy Griffiths. Andy and I had a brief catch up before the squad started to arrive. There was a bit of clock-watching going on as there is a committee in place who are administering fines for various misdemeanours in the interest of raising some money for the player’s kitty for the post-season Germany trip. Failure to wear a tie or late arrival accrues a £2 fine. The committee members are, it seems, exempt from paying these fines themselves.
I kind of felt sorry for Jimmy Holden who arrived late courtesy of his lift – committee member Si Carden – not quite getting them to Hurst Cross before the witching hour ……… “£2 please,” requested treasurer David Chadwick. There was also a debate about the appropriate levy for a squad member taking holiday during the season. One player who went on holiday very early in the season (under the rule of a different committee) had been fined £20 but the latest board seem to have a less stringent view and set a £10 fine for the same crime. Cue some discussion and much winding up of the player who had paid his £20.
Margy called the room to order and advised the line-up with the only change being Nuge in for Chaddy and a shuffling of substitutes. The boss called for his players to go out there and do a Barcelona – everyone seemed to understand exactly what that meant. My interpretation was that he wanted them to play at a high tempo and to work hard both when in possession and in order to get it back when Ashton got on the ball. The emphasis on work rate has been a constant in this first 2 weeks of my month long immersion into the squad. Both Margy and Soulie will (reluctantly) accept when results go against their team as long as their team has put the work in. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that the other team were better on the day but what our management team will not accept is if other teams work harder than our lads.
As normal we all got changed after Margy and Soulie had delivered their words of wisdom. Sam was warmed up by John Marsden again with me again chipping in with a little help in certain places. I again played the role of attacker as John put in crosses from the left flank. Sam confided in me that he reckoned John ‘had it in for me’ as virtually every single cross that he played in was perfectly placed exactly between Sam and I thus provoking more physical contact than usual. On one occasion Sam clattered me pretty well as he jumped with me to punch clear, happily he did punch the ball rather than my head. I half wondered if Sam was ‘getting me back’ after the wonder goals that I scored past him in the Marine warm-up. I think probably not. Anyway we exchanged a punch of gloves after I’d regained my feet by way of acknowledgement.
After Sam’s warm up I again stood in whilst some of the subs took pot shots at me. Chaddy was the only one who didn’t seem to want to play with us whilst Si Carden only played a limited part in things. Soulie and Daz Lyons even joined in briefly but Joe Yoffe, Kyle Jacobs and Ben Morris were the main protagonists. They all probably scored more than they missed or that I saved but Yoffe, being the only striker of the three, was the best of the group. Most of his efforts that were off target were attributable to bobbles on what was another very challenging playing surface. Kyle has a decent strike on him and Ben was just working on trying to place free-kicks mostly.
As 3 o’clock approached we made our way off of the pitch in readiness for the main attraction. As usual the bench banter was first class with everyone, and I mean everyone, on a big wind up of our erstwhile right-back Mr Jacobs. To be fair to him he took it all in good heart. The gist of the wind up was to praise the current right-back, Jimmy Holden, for every single small thing that he did with the implication being that Kyle might as well just hang up his boots because Holden was never going to give up the 2 shirt. To be honest Jimmy, along with most of his teammates, was in good form so it was quite easy to find good things to emphasise. Kyle took all of this light-hearted ribbing in a good spirit and was even heard to be offering praise to Jimmy at times himself.
Even, on those very rare occasions, when Jimmy lost possession somehow the blame fell neatly on someone else’s shoulders, “Jimmy played the right ball there, it can’t be his fault that (teammate x) didn’t read it.” “He’s just light years ahead of the rest of them out there, easily the best right-back at the club maybe even in the whole league.” I’m not completely sure but I think our right-back also drew praise for his influence on affairs for both of our goals too. It might have looked to the untutored eye that neither goal resulted from anything that Jimmy did directly but according to those on the bench he was right at the heart of everything good that happened including both of Carlos’ goals. If he just put his mind to it he could probably solve the world’s economic crisis and bring about world peace too.
I think everyone, even Kyle, is genuinely pleased that Holden has gotten a good run in the side and has found some good form. The fact that Kyle is secure enough about his own place in the squad to support the ‘joke’ at his own expense reflects well on him and also about how well liked he is in the changing room. A football squad is much like any other close knit group of people in terms of the dynamics. If teammates are taking the piss out of you then it’s likely to mean that you’re liked and appreciated. I guess that’s not a firm rule but it seems to ring true more often than not and I’m pretty confident is the case with Jacobs in the FC United team.
The half played out with United looking very strong and playing some very neat football on a difficult surface. That first 45 minutes would certainly go down as one of the best halves played all season. 2-0 did not seem at all flattering and as the teams came off it seemed that there was no way back for the home side. Whilst I didn’t go into the changing room during the break I know that the management team were full of praise for what had been achieved in the first half. They highlighted how well the team had fought and pressed the Ashton team all over the pitch and how that had given the platform for our attacking minded players to express themselves. I’d be pretty confident that the message as they went back out was one of ‘more of the same please’ but unfortunately, for whatever reasons, the shirts couldn’t quite deliver as Ashton bossed the bulk of the second period and, because of that, were probably good value for the point that they gained.
Again the post match atmosphere was slightly downbeat. The management team felt let down by the Jekyll and Hyde showings from the same group of players with no real explanation forthcoming from the players as to how the team that so thoroughly dominated the first 45 could have then capitulated so thoroughly in the second 45. Again Margy and Soulie came back to the same old chestnut of work rate – basically it was first class throughout the team until the 15 minute break and then, somehow when they went back out, the intensity was not there. Both were clearly frustrated. I said my farewells and made a swift exit in order to get some things done at home. I spent the journey back to Wigan wondering about how football managers deal with the inevitable frustrations that come with the job. They spend hours and hours working with players to build a team and to teach a system and then, in the space of 2 hours on any given day, they can demonstrate so clearly how much of that they have taken on board to fill you with immense pride before then transporting you to the depths of despair as they seemingly abandon all that has been so carefully instilled. A very tough job indeed!