I can’t tell what’s exceeded my expectations. My illustration of the squad or the squad itself.
After possibly the strangest and shortest interview as a manager I’ll have in my career, Bob whisks me away to the managers office. Upon arrival, I’m greeted by a tall, bearded bloke with a man bun and a shorter, skinny man with a slightly receding hairline, both wearing full Lincoln city tracksuits.
I’m introduced to Kevin Bates, the first team coach, and Michael Bostwick, our caveman-esque holding midfielder. It’s only a few minutes through this meeting that Batesy has to go which leaves me to quiz Michael about his limited knowledge of his squad, in particular the strengths and weaknesses. A severe lack of pace up front is balanced out by a strong physical presence all over the field. Mental note made. He’s only had a couple sessions with the team so the rest of our chat is about our careers and have a good laugh about some stories from our early days. It’s nice to develop a friendship quickly with someone who could be a key player for the squad.
Before I leave the room, Bostwick stops me and looks me dead in the eye. “I know you haven’t met everybody else yet boss but I spent 5 years at Peterborough trying my hardest to become a leader. I just ask you throw my name in the conversation when you’re deciding who’s captain.”
I’m took somewhat aback and, as always when under pressure, use humour to deflect. “If you shave that beard of yours, you’ll be in with a shout.” He can’t help but smirk slightly. “Haway mate, can’t let the lads wait too long.”
I’m a firm believer that footballers are completely different people on the pitch. That’s why I’d asked Bob to arrange a meeting on the morning and a training session on the afternoon. To meet both sides one after another. In the meeting room, there’s already a few players waiting for me. Matt Rhead and Ollie Palmer, two strikers who are 6’3 and 6’5 retrospectively. A couple lads on loan, Scott Wharton and Danny Rowe are also in attendance early which suggests they’re hungry and eager to learn. Cameron Stewart, a tricky winger with good feet according to Batesy, also walks in 25 minutes early as I’m introducing myself. The room gradually fills out as I hatch the plan to show I can be human in the meeting room but I can be a right twat on the training field. Pushing them over the edge but catching them before they fall. The meeting goes well. I learn some inside jokes and nicknames between the group as a bit of banter can go a long way at a football club. I send the lads off for their lunch and tell them to be ready to train in the next few hours.
The training session was very much a transactional experience. I learnt a lot about what I’m dealing with while they learn about what level of effort is required to play for me. Who’s a slacker and who’s a grafter is clear after this session. Alex Woodyard, one of three solid holding midfield options alongside Lee Frecklington and Bostwick, and Matt Green, our only striker with any remote pace, particularly impress me with their hard work. Rhead can barely complete half a pitch sprint without his legs giving way but that’s not out of a lack of effort. 17 year old Danny Horton seems to be less than interested with proving himself, ambling around the pitch but with the ball at his feet, he shows flashes of brilliance.
Me and Kev spend the next couple hours as the sun sets picking our best 18-man squad and for the most part, we agree. While a 4-4-1-1 is constantly suggested, I take to the whiteboard and show Kev who’s in charge early doors. We play my way.
We’ll play a 4-2-3-1 to compliment our selection of wingers and defensive midfielders. The attacking midfielder will be more of a second striker and the wing backs, currently Nick Eardley on the right and Sam Habergham on the left, will be allowed to overlap but not encouraged to. Standing back, I can’t tell what’s exceeded my expectations. My illustration of the squad or the squad itself.
I remind myself to get Bostwick, Freckles and Woody together at some point before the first game and explain that rotation is gonna be common in their positions. While Sam’s surname is worthy of a spot in the team alone, he’s not very fast or good with the ball at his feet. We also need a younger, faster striker and maybe another centre back. Competition will be brought in during the transfer window as well as some players leaving, particularly those I deem surplus to requirements. Batesy tells me however that Dorrian has a few rules for me regarding signings:
- Try to build a squad for the future. Minimise loan signings as much as possible (maximum of 3 loanees per season)
- Try and bring through players from the youth set-up and scouting system
- Don’t punch above your weight in the window (permanent signings from the league above or foreign equivalent only)
- Keep the squad primarily British (only 7 foreigners at a time in the enitre squad)
It’s only when he says this that I realise everybody was in fact British apart from one player: Michael Antkowiak, the 17 year old keeper from Poland. Poor lad probably feels a bit excluded but I like the idea of a British club. Don’t get me wrong if I find the next Henry in France or Ronaldinho in Brazil, I won’t hesitate but the idea of a truly British club is rare nowadays. As we’re walking out into the car park, I ask Batesy about arranging some pre-season friendlies to get some playing experience underway in this formation.
“Don’t worry boss, I’ve already got us some games lined up. A small tournament, couple groups then a semi-final/final knockout. First game is in a couple days time. I’ve heard Doncaster were invited too.” This is brilliant. Competitive games against some fellow English clubs will do us a world of good. “Great stuff, when are we off to the Keepmoat then? Or are they coming to us?” Kev looks awkwardly at the ground before clearing his throat.
“Unless there’s a Keepmoat in Denmark, it’s neither.” This is no longer brilliant. My first game with a brand new style of playing is going to be as far away from home we’ll probably play for a long time. As I prepare myself to bollock Kevin, he informs me the prize fund for the winner is just under 1.3 million pounds. My mouth begins to salivate and continues to all the way to the hotel with the thought of the quality I could bring to this squad for that amount of money.
The next day is dedicated to meeting everybody at the club from members of the board to the chefs. I hold a meeting with our 3 first team scouts requesting our most experienced scout stay in England while our Scottish scout returns home for his business. Dylan Hughes, the remaining scout is sent to Germany to try and find some talent before Bundesliga clubs swoop in and nurture them into god’s. Selfish bastards.
We only have the one youth scout, by the name of George Kelly, who I request to spend the next 9 months hunting for the next Wazza in lower leagues and grass roots football. He seems excited to try and unearth some quality talent while having a bit of a road trip around the country. Who wouldn’t?
It gets to 5pm and all the lads are loading themselves onto the bus. As I’m doing a head count. Rhead tells me Bostwick’s car broke down so he’s ordered a taxi to meet us at the airport. That just leaves Danny Horton. I go over and ask club captain Luke Waterfall about Danny as he didn’t seem interested in training or the meeting yesterday. Apparently, Danny’s a bit of an egomaniac and thinks he’s already made it. Regularly late, has a bit of a mouth on him and doesn’t really respect his senior players or staff. After reviewing his footballing ability and his inability to be on time by almost 40 minutes now, he’s the first player in my managerial bad books. I ask the staff at the stadium to tell him the details of the flight if he shows up. Strike one Danny.
We arrive at the airport about an hour and a half before our flight takes off. With only a few minutes before the gate opens, all I can think of is the hairdryer treatment Horton is going to receive when up steps a completely clean shaven Michael Bostwick. The lads start giving him a bit of stick about how he needs to glue it all back on. I can’t help but smile ear-to-ear.
“The armband will look a lot better now that shit’s off your face.”