Two years, two promotions. As a club, Weston-super-Mare have come a long way since I took charge just two short years ago. Our reputation is growing, meaning that better players are willing to sign for us. We will be playing in the Football League for the first time. Things are looking rosy!
So rosy, in fact, that I am now being seriously touted for vacant management jobs away from the Woodspring. League One side Bradford City are one of a number of clubs to sack their manager at the end of the season. The bookmakers have made me favourite to take the job, although I haven’t yet had an approach and wouldn’t be interested anyway.
I told the press that I wasn’t interested, which cheered the board and fans who had worried that I would be persuaded to swap Somerset for West Yorkshire. No chance.
Very soon after our promotion was confirmed, the club was visited by representatives of the Football League who informed us that our ground, despite having just recently undergone an expansion, would have to be upgraded again to comply with their safety standards. We have never been flush with cash, so to be forced to shell out £157,000 doing up the ground was a blow for the team, although it couldn’t be argued that the Woodspring needed a touch of paint here and there.
Our squad budget would be hit hard by this, I was sure of it.
Our unexpected promotion was not the only shock of the season. Queens Park Rangers rather stole our thunder by pulling off a remarkable result in the FA Cup final, beating Manchester City 1-0 thanks to Djibril Cisse’s goal. This will have somewhat overshadowed our impressive season, but I am not jealous.
Mainly because I didn’t have time to be. The bookies weren’t wrong when they tipped me as the favourite for the Bradford job, as the Bantam’s chairman called me up with an offer that he hoped I couldn’t refuse.
Bradford are a great club with excellent history, a stunning ground and a faintly ridiculous wage budget, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave Weston. We have come so far and I really feel we can go further, so I decided to reject the offer from Bradford.
In all honesty, it would have to be a really special club that could drag me away from Weston at the moment, but Swindon have decided to stick with Paolo Di Canio so it isn’t available.
As I was being hailed by fans of Weston as a true and loyal man, I was busy doing my best to ensure that the club wouldn’t go bust in the next few weeks. My first port of call was to sell off any players who were worth something and who were replaceable. Sam Cowler, back-up ‘keeper last season, was definitely that. Plus, I was even able to get £60,000 for him. Gillingham must have too much money…
Next on the list was David McMillan. He was a great asset for us when he signed at the end of our first season, scoring a number of goals that helped us just get over the line in our fight with Truro City for promotion from the Blue Square South. However, he wasn’t able to cut it at Blue Square Premier level and he definitely wouldn’t cut the mustard in League Two, so I decided that it was best for everyone if he moved on. He agreed, leaving on a free transfer to join Truro City. Good luck to him.
Whilst I was wheeling and dealing, the Blue Square Premier play-offs were coming to a head. The final would be between Wrexham, who despite getting 98 points still finished second to us, and Luton who ended the season in fourth place. In the end, Wrexham ran out comfortable 3-1 winners and will now be joining us in League Two. Considering they finished 10 points clear of Luton, they probably deserved it. Welcome!
With the playoffs concluded, we were finally handed our prize money. They chairman was delighted, as with this money and the money from the sale of Sam Cowler, we had already managed to get the money we needed to pay for the expansion of the ground.
So, without the pressing need of raising funds, I continued to trim the fat from our squad. Wade Small was the next to leave, following Sam Cowler in joining Gillingham (although this time, on a free transfer). Small was, frankly, rubbish for us. He was never in form and, whilst he wasn’t first choice, he got enough chances to prove himself. A move was probably for the best, but what exactly Gillingham expect from him is a mystery to me.
Another good bit of news dropped into my inbox just a few days later. Yannick Texeira Barbosa (Captain Barbosa)’s goal against Newport County was voted goal of the season. He was chuffed and the award was fully justified.
Captain Barbosa’s goal was just a distraction from my real work, however. Next through the Woodspring exit doors was Marc Hughes. Hughes had an unfortunate time at the club due to a series of bad injuries that have hampered him since mid-way through his first season with us. He started off in excellent form, but as his injuries piled up his goals did the opposite. He would make a comeback only to then get injured again two weeks later. Perhaps a fresh start will do him good.
I was the next person to be recognised for my work last season, as I was named Manager of the Year for the second year in a row. Honestly, I deserved it, although a case could be made for Andy Morrell of Wrexham, even though his team were predicted to go up and we were predicted to go down and HA, I WON.
In international news, England’s victory in last year’s European Championships meant they had qualified for this summer’s Confederations Cup. This was pretty new ground for England and they were handed a tough group containing Brazil, Japan and the might of Fiji. England kicked things off with the tie against Fiji. Naturally, they fell behind after 23 minutes as the Fijian full-back lobbed Joe Hart from 20 yards. England weren’t European champions for no reason, though, and proved it by storming back to comfortably win 3-1 thanks to goals from Frank Lampard, Ashley Young and Theo Walcott.
Their next game was against Brazil. Naturally, England won 1-0 thanks to a penalty from Peter Crouch in the second half, although they were helped out as Brazil were reduced to 10 men for the last 20 minutes of the game.
Their final group game came against Japan. The game was a thrilling 2-2 draw. England rushed into a 2-0 win courtesy of Darren Bent and Theo Walcott, but a second half recovery from Japan saw them claw level in the last minute.
That result meant England qualified for the semi-finals and a game against reigning world champions Spain. England may have beaten Spain during their march to the European Championship title last summer, but this year a single David Villa goal was enough to send Spain through and leave England facing a third-placed play-off versus Uruguay.
Ridiculously, England went on to beat Uruguay 1-0, sealing themselves third-place and surely making Stuart Pearce one of England’s most successful managers ever. This is madness.
Back to reality and myself and the chairman were delighted when we received an unexpected email from the Football League…
We needed that money, we really did. For one thing, it allowed us to do this:
Finally! We can get players in all week for training and things, and no-one will have to work Sunday shifts at Tesco like last season…
Not unreasonably, then, the board expected me to keep the club in the division this season. Three promotions in a row is unlikely, probably, so I decided that this was fine with me. A season’s consolidation wouldn’t be too bad at all and we could always have a crack at promotion the year after if we stay solid this season.
Despite the conservative targets set by myself and the board, we have been made an outsider for promotion this season. Considering that we hadn’t yet signed anyone at this point, I think they must be enjoying some illicit substances in the bookmakers’ offices.
Our promotion has brought some new financial benefits to the club, but has also had a big impact on the attendances that we will be attracting next season. We are currently projecting that we will be selling around 700 season tickets this season, compared to the 150-odd that we sold last season. This is good for the club’s coffers, but also means we will probably be getting higher crowds this time round. Excellent stuff, I am glad that the public in Weston are getting fully behind the side!
So, to our new signings. Naturally, we had gone up a division so we needed to get in some higher quality players. First up was Pedro Guedes, a Portuguese ‘keeper who is much better than Jack Dovey and who will be a great asset for the club. He is only 18 and the lad clearly has a bright future in the game.
Next was right back, Vittorio Giglio from San Marino, who I somehow managed to sign on a non-contract basis. He is going to be a back-up for the right back and centre back positions, behind Lee Nasir.
Luke McCullough was my main defensive signing, coming in to offer a solid head at the back next to Gavin Donoghue. McCullough is a Northern Ireland international and, at 19, has plenty of potential to develop into a great player.
Yet more defenders, this time the Norwegian Andreas Nordvik. He can play right the way across the back line and can use his pace to protect our other, slower defenders. He also speaks Norwegian so he can make friends with Norwegian Mo. Nice.
Left-back was a position that we struggled to fill last season, playing a right-back out of position most of the time as we just couldn’t find a decent player to make the position their own. Hopefully, Claus Larsen can solve that issue for us. By the way, one of my scouts is Scandinavian, can you tell?
Next up, to offer some cover in the centre-back and defensive-minded midfield positions, is Hjortur Hermannsson. He isn’t a world beater, but he can offer some great cover and will put himself about.
Just to make Hermannsson feel at home, my Scandinavian scout also found me this chap, Bragi Bergsson, a central midfielder who can bring a lot to the team going forwards. He is a definite upgrade on our options last year and his natural fitness might mean he can keep going when the rest of our squad inevitably succumb to injury.
Alongside Bergsson in midfield is the Ivorian Alex Diabate, a quick and tricksy midfielder who might well end up playing a bit wider, given our lack of pace on the wings. He can also operate in the centre and he gives us the opportunity to mix up our style of play a bit more.
Sticking with the midfield, Simon Feindouno of Guinea is next on the incoming transfer list. He is creative and pretty good at crossing, so I will be expecting him to put pressure on Captain Barbosa for the right midfield berth.
Then, to give us some all round greatness in the centre of the park, I turned to Czech Republic under 19 international David Hruby. Hruby has it all to be a good midfielder at this level, and I am confident that he will be the engine room for my team. What a player.
The final Scandinavian on Weston’s books is Finland’s under-19 striker, Olli Sara. Sara is slow, make no mistakes, but he is a monster in the air and can take a mean penalty. He will be good, believe me. He also offers us the option of playing in a different way, which is always good. Sara is another player that almost ridiculously didn’t sign a normal contract, instead preferring a series of appearance bonuses. I’m fine with it.
I was conscious of spending a lot on wages, plus I was informed after all of the foreign players signed that I was obliged to have at least six English-trained players in my squad. Correctly worrying that I was right on the edge of that rule, I brought in Gavin Massey from Watford on loan for the season. Massey is quality for this level and should bang in a few goals for us. Let’s hope he can stay injury free; if he can, he could end up being our top scorer.
The last thing to mention, in terms of transfer activity, is the departure of one of the club’s recent icons. Big Cherno Samba scored a hat full of goals for us over the past two seasons, despite regularly spending his time either offside or in the physio’s room. Unfortunately, because of his recent injuries, I don’t think we can really rely on him next season, plus he isn’t anywhere near as good (on paper) as players like Massey or even Norwegian Mo. Therefore, it is with great sadness that Big Cherno and I have agreed that he be released so that he can find a club for the new season. I hope to bring him back to Weston at some point in the future, perhaps as a coach, so – fingers crossed – this won’t be the last we see of the big man. Thanks, Cherno, thanks!
So, with my signings made, I set about preparing for the new season by putting together a tough pre-season schedule. Again, as we were low on money, I decided to try and bring as many big sides to the Woodspring as possible to try and get some big gates and therefore some extra money in the bank. We welcomed Newcastle, Aston Villa and Norwich City, amongst others. Blackburn Rovers were back again for a third season, and, finally, they managed to avoid defeat. The stand-out result was our game against Everton. They played a team comprising of youth players mixed with senior pros and, really, they should have been swatting us aside given how good their team was. We hadn’t read the script, however, and absolutely trounced them 7-2. Talk about morale boosters!
We were looking good, and the team were gelling well. Plus, we made a lot of money. I felt confident ahead of our first game…
Before we kicked off the season, though, we were able to see who our first ever League Cup game was going to be against. Teams from League Two, League One and the Championship are present in this draw, so we could have picked up some genuinely big sides. Unfortunately, we bagged an away tie against Stevenage, which was hardly inspiring but was still a bit exciting.
So, now it’s the real deal. We kick off next season with our first game as a professional club, a home time against AFC Wimbledon, in just a few days time. Are you as excited as I am? How do you think we will do? Let me know in the comments! See you soon! Cheers.