Well, I think we can all agree that last season was a whirlwind of emotions. Before I sent the players off for their well-earned summer break, I just had time to hand out a number of awards to one member of the squad in particular.
Big Cherno Samba was a revelation for the club last year. It is fair to say that, before this season, his career hadn’t matched his early potential, but over the past few months he has gone some way towards proving just why he was such a hot shot in his youth. He bagged 30 league goals in the 36 games in which he played, although he would have scored closer to 50 if he hadn’t spent quite so much time offside over the course of the year. As reward for his scoring exploits, he bagged the Blue Square Bet South Top Goalscorer award…
…And the Blue Square Bet South Player of the Season…
…and the Weston-super-Mare’s Fans’ Player of the Year award.
The greedy bugger’s car boot was rammed as he left the training ground after the awards evening.
But it wasn’t just Big Cherno who was being rewarded for his season’s endeavours. I had been nominated as Manager of the Season. I wasn’t able to vote for myself, but given the numbers below it seemed pretty likely I would walk away with the gong regardless, so I did what all good people would do and voted for Mark Harper of Hampton and Richmond Borough who finished the season with a 22% win ratio. Quality.
Shockingly, my vote was not enough to win Harper the award and, as expected, I was called on to the stage to pick up some well-deserved recognition for my role in Weston-super-Mare’s historic season.
It was to be a busy summer on all fronts, with Stuart Pearce leading England to the first tournament of his reign; Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Fans of football worldwide will be glad to see the omissions of James Milner and Aaron Lennon, although Pearce did still take Peter Crouch which was a decision that mystified many.
England got off to a bumpy start, finishing second in their group behind Poland and only scraping through ahead of Israel on goal difference.
In the quarter-finals, England were drawn with Croatia, a tricky tie, but goals from Frank Lampard and the ever-long Peter Crouch saw the Three Lions through. Strange things were in the air, clearly, but weirder was to come as the Republic of Ireland knocked out Germany with a routine 2-0 win.
For the first time in a tournament since 1990, England had reached the semi-finals. As a reward, Pearce’s Three Lions were drawn against world champions and reigning European champions Spain. The fairytale was surely over…
Or not. England held on for a 0-0 draw, before calmly dispatching the Spanish on penalties. Ridiculous.
46 years since winning the 1966 World Cup, England found themselves in the final of a major tournament. It had been too long. Who would England be playing in this historic game? The Republic of Ireland, who also edged their semi-final on penalties, knocking out co-hosts Ukraine.
The most unlikely of finals, then, took place in Kiev. The Irish were merry, the English could barely take their eyes off of the action on the field for long enough to throw punches at the locals. It was a special day. Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to the epic hype, but at least Frank Lampard scored the only goal of the game to give England the win.
England had won their first ever European Championship and their first trophy since the 1966 World Cup! Baddiel and Skinner will have to record a new song, Frank Lampard will go down as an England legend and history will forever forget that Glenn Johnson was England’s right back on the day they finally broke their international hoodoo. Also, Wayne Rooney played well. Huh. That really stuck it to those who doubted Pearce when he was appointed…
After the excitement of the Euros and the week-long hangover it produced, it was back to the nitty gritty of navigating our way through Weston-super-Mare’s first ever Blue Square Bet Premier season. I had a little check and found that we were, unsurprisingly, the media’s favourites to drop straight back down to the regional division.
Although, oddly, we were also being tipped as having an outside bet of promotion.
Anyway, at least expectations were realistic back at the Woodspring Stadium, where the board told me to avoid relegation. I was given £600 a week extra to try and get the job done, which I was determined to spend wisely after (whisper it) slightly over-spending last season in search of promotion. I am not sure what to expect this season, but given we are by far the smallest club and with the smallest budget in the division, no-one should be fooled that this season will be easy.
First things first, then, I decided to trim the fat of our squad. All of the deadwood from last season was let go, as well as a few of our better performers who, unfortunately, I deemed not good enough for the step up in quality. Gone were the inconsistent Harpal Singh and Brett Trowbridge, the ageing Ali Gibb, penalty king Ben Kirk, and the frankly poor Simon Gilbert.
I then decided to secure our key players from last season to another year’s contract. Cherno Samba, Brian King, Dean Lawrence, Liam Darville and Gavin Whelan all got new one-year deals to reward them for their strong seasons. I was about to go and find players to fill the now gaping holes in the squad when a double-edged sword of a bigger ground and worrying financial news fell on my desk…
With £153, 000 leaving the club coffers, money was even tighter than usual. Once the work was finished we would be able to fit in some extra fans, but the truth is we barely attract over 500 most weeks so it is not going to help us much in the short term. Unfortunately, it cannot be avoided and league rules mean we needed the work done, but still, survival will be that much harder now. In an attempt to bring in some more money, I arranged a mammoth pre-season schedule against a whole host of Premier League and Championship teams in order to raise some funds. Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and Bristol City were amongst the teams that were to visit the Woodspring, as well as a return for the vanquished Blackburn Rovers from last season.
But first I needed to scrape together a squad. Due to the lack of money the club could not turn professional, so I would have to depend on convincing players to sign on a part-time basis when they could easily go to another team in the league and get a full-time contract. It was going to be tough.
I was still searching for players right up until the last days of pre-season, but, in the end, I brought in the following eleven players to bolster the small group that were left over from last season.
First up was veteran striker Gareth Seddon. He is on big wages for us, but he is technically better than Big Cherno and will score a good few goals this season if he can find some form.
Next up was centreback Gavin Donoghue. Donoghue is a major improvement on Gilbert, our best defender for much of last season, and his heading ability will make us dangerous at corners, something we struggled with last year.
To replace the outgoing Lloyd Irish and the error-prone Paddy Gamble, in came Jack Dovey in goal. Jack is young and prone to being a bit eccentric, but the goalkeeper was a real problem position for me to fill this summer and he was by far the best I could get. He is also playing on a non-contract basis, meaning his wages are cheap (£60 per appearance, sucker!), so overall he is a good signing.
Young Graham Ryan is the best of a (very) bad bunch of youth players that we acquired this summer. His pace is decent even if his general play is shocking and Ryan will likely just be filling in for injuries as our fourth or fifth choice striker.
Kostakis Artymatas was a bargain find for the club. I brought him in to challenge for a central midfield spot and, whilst he is not a world-class player he adds another much-needed option to an area of the pitch where we are slightly light on the ground.
Right-back was a position that we already had a decent starter for in Liam Darville, but you can never have too many options and so I leapt at the opportunity to sign Welsh Under-19s international Lee Nasir. Also, Darville can fill in at left back (another problematic position for me this summer – I could only find one, Matthew Martin, who was even close to being good enough. He is so poor I didn’t even take a screenshot of his stats…), offering us some flexibility with our defensive options.
Another defender, Latvian under-21 international Toms Rajeckis (Latvian Tom) also signed on. Latvian Tom is just 17 but is already a fantastic player at this level and I would back him to remain at the club for a few years, especially if we can turn fully professional (although he has been at the club one day and already half of his attributes are dropping – we need better facilities and coaches!).
One big singing this year is the Norwegian right-midfielder, Mohammed Elyounoussi (Norwegian Mo). He is versatile, being capable of playing on both wings as well as up front, and he offers us a fantastic option going forwards that we just didn’t have last year. A signing I am very pleased with, he will be a big player for us.
With Gareth Seddon, Jamil Adam, David MacMillan and the injured Marc Hughes, we had a decent front line, but given the injury issues we had last year I thought it would be prudent to sign just one more striker to cover for the inevitable injury crisis. Wade Small is a much better striker than Adam and Hughes and will be a big player this season.
Left midfield was also a trouble position for me this year and it took me right up until the day before the start of the season to secure someone to play there. Scott Brown is a decent, if uninspiring player. I think he will likely be back up to Norwegian Mo. Although he isn’t the best player, he is decent enough and will do a job when called upon.
Finally, I signed Yannick Texeira Barbosa, the player I looked at this time last year. He is a fantastic talent and can play in the centre or on the right of midfield. His pace is good and he can score a decent long-shot. Let’s hope he pulls a few out of the bag in a Weston shirt..!
With all the new signings, I thought I would show you my preferred formation for the upcoming season, of course playing 4-4-2.
It is a team that can be deadly going forward (when Big Cherno isn’t offside) and is far more solid at the back when compared with last season. In pre-season, despite playing a host of ridiculously tough teams, we did not get embarrassed. We used the bigger games to gain fitness and team spirit (and money) whilst taking the smaller games a bit more seriously. We, of course, got our customary 1-0 win over Blackburn, as well as thumping my hometown club Chippenham Town 4-0. All of this earned over £120,000 for the club, which has gone a long way to staving off a visit from the debt collectors.
I think we are ready for our first game of the season. I feel confident and so do the lads. Finishing pre-season with four games unbeaten, including two games against huge teams, has given us a boost and we go into the game against Southport on a high. They are predicted to struggle this season (although not as much as us) and this is the kind of game we really need to win if we are to stave off relegation.
Oh, and by the way, this happened…
Join me next time for the first four fixtures of our debut campaign in the Blue Square Bet Premier. Leave a comment to let me know where you think we will come, or just to berate my poor financial handling of the club. Until next time, cheers!