With such ambitious at the start of the 2016/2017 campaign, finishing 5th and only getting to a cup semi-final was at first glace a big dissapointment. At the end of the season came a realisation that the club needed wholesale changes if we wanted to be successful. I thought it would be useful to give you an overview of these areas...
We saw nearly 200 players and picked out what we though were some of the most talented individuals. These players had claimed to have been at academies, some Premier League, and a few were very technical in their footballing ability. Whilst we did have some very good players, there were plenty who were not up to Essex Alliance standard, let alone above. Over the course of a season we registered over 80 players because we were unable to find a training venue to see them outside of match action. This ultimately cost us dearly as plenty of players who played at "X" club were probably just blagging us. Their were plenty who played just two games for the club,... their first and their last.
On the negative end we had players who bottled it when it came to the big games. We had Jermaine Defoe's nephew who was a prime example of a talented player with a shocking attitude who thought he was better than he was. Another was too lazy to travel to away games and lied about being unavailable for selection, only to find he was on the score sheet for another team. These are problems which Sunday league clubs face up and down the country, but they're not the sort of players I'm willing to tolorate.
On the flip side of that we had the pleasure of having Brandon McCarthy in our front line. He was a player destined for a higher level, leaving us for Barnsley U23's and then onto Brightlingsea Regent, now of the Bostik Premier Division (Step 3), although I understand he is now at Championship club, Middlesborough in their youth set up. Other top players included Stanley Green, who team mates quickly named Kante, due to his size and althetisism. At just 17, Stanley became one of the first names down on many managers team sheets. He is now training with a club in the National League South. Other mentions are big Simon, our commanding centre back and Jermeel, our top scoring and rapid winger from West London.
The Home Ground:
Hackney Marshes was always where I wanted to start the club. Iconic in it's history, the Marshes were not a bad place to play and the story of taking a club from there as far as possible is a good one. The changing rooms were decent to be fair, but having to share with the away team or get changed in the hall was far from ideal preperation before a game. Nor was the uncertanty of being sent on a 10-15 minute hike with nets, bags, corner flags and filming equipment. The pitches were bobbly and not condusive to the type of football we wanted to play.
The Fans Experience:
Like all small clubs, we had a very limited budget and build a functional but far from ideal Wordpress website that allowed managers to vote and score points. It was goof for it's purpose but the company we had build it put a developer who would be classed as a Village Idiot when it came to football. We had to explain basic formations, that subs benches do not have eleven players (he thought football was a 22 man game - I kid you not), so this was a constant battle from a user interface perspective.
We also appreciate that some managers were let down in voting certain players in, only to find someone else in their place come kick-off time. As we're not dealing with highly paid Premier League players, there were occassions when players became unavailable at the last minute. We will always try to combat this but it happens at our level so is beyond our control.
We began our pre-season during the first week of June, so we've been working hard to bond the new players for three months. There has been a lot of hard work from coaches and players alike and we hope this gives us an edge early on as our fitness levels should be at their peak.
We've had some very good results, including a record 8-0 win only to be smashed with a 12-0 win soon after. In truth, the teams we played were under prepared and we actually learned more from the game we lost. Still, with a record of W7D1L1 we have to be very pleased and confident that both teams can challenge for the title and cups.
I'd recommend you go and check out our video at The Hurt Locker where we beasted them on fitness. Some red faces for sure.
Overall, as a club that started with nothing to get to a club with two teams full of quality players and a new website/app we're pretty chuffed with things. Now we just need to go and smash it!