Steve gives his verdict on Season 2019/20
‘They (the players) really were a pleasure to work with’
Mid May 2019, Euphoria? Celebration ? Yes, and why not; we had just won promotion by navigating a unique play off system and whilst I always had faith in my players those outside the club were perhaps a little surprised that we were the ones to join title holders Dorking Wanderers in elevation to National South from Isthmian Premier.
Let me tell you that the euphoria was only to last for a few days as the realisation quite quickly set in that in taking the Angels back to non league’s 2nd tier an enormous challenge had been set for myself and Barry. With our season ending later than normal due to that extended play off programme we had no time to lose. Firstly there was a grown up conversation with the Board to establish a realistic budget. Of course managers will always look for more money but in the end we arrived at a figure that I felt I would be able to work with and would enable me to provide the team with the stability required to consolidate in National South.
With the budget sorted I then decided I would not release any of the previous season’s squad. They had done brilliantly for me and I wanted to reward them all with the opportunity to play National League South football - they deserved that chance. Three of them, Arthur Lee, Callum Adonis-Taylor and Adem Ramadan decided to leave for all justifiable reasons and that meant there was some recruiting to be done. Khale da Costa, a winger joined from St Albans City and central defender Rian Bray moved across from Hampton & Richmond Borough, two players with National South Experience and finally midfielder Tommy Brewer transferred from Kingstonian.
And so all too quickly pre-season loomed. It can be a somewhat surreal experience. Supporters prefer wins, mangers and coaches are more focussed on individual performances and trying to find those triallists that may have slipped through the net at other clubs. It has to be done but it’s often a disjointed period and all you really want to do is get to competitive games which is where you will really be able to judge your own players set against the overall standards of National South.
Looking back I see the season in two distinct parts. Up to the turn of the year the experience was slightly frustrating. We learnt that, unlike the Isthmian League, even though the overall performance might be good enough, the tendency to make a mistake could prove costly and that it was far more difficult to get yourself back in the game. Opposing sides were better at managing games and sometimes possessed the quality of striker that could suddenly turn a match in their favour. That said our home form was reasonably satisfactory once we had claimed our first win against Concord Rangers.
The real worry was our desperately poor away form despite an early encouraging draw at Bath City in August. We were to have to wait until late November for another away point although it was a good one at play off candidates Slough Town. Perhaps the tide was turning, as the following month we came seconds from defeating Hemel Hempstead Town away but in the end had to settle for a point.
And so we approached Christmas unable to move out of those bottom four or five places although fortunately never cut adrift from the pack. It was around now that problems started to emerge with the pitch drainage system which combined with the heavy rains was resulting in home match postponements. The situation worsened to such an extent that only two further home games were possible before the season ended in mid March.
It was to the great credit of my payers that they succeeded in turning around that poor away form and as a result there was just one defeat in 2020, away at Chelmsford City. We’d learnt from our experiences in the first half of the season and suddenly we became a hard team to beat with a mean defence and the ability to come up with goals sometimes against the run of play.
Of course the serial postponement of home games meant that we were regularly playing competitively only every two weeks which isn’t great for a semi-professional player and whilst we were able to arrange some friendlies to maintain fitness levels it’s never the same as a league game. Again, credit the players who seemed to take it all in their stride and just got on with the job of collecting as many points as possible to ensure we escaped the drop.
You will have noticed that I haven’t picked out any particular players for praise as hopefully once we are able to come together again we will be able to bestow our normal set of awards to the lucky recipients. This gives me the opportunity of saying in this piece that the entire squad warrants huge congratulations for the way they responded over the entire season but in particular during that second half. If they won they would celebrate wholeheartedly, if they lost they would be really down and certainly their own worst critics. In defeat I often didn’t have to say too much, they said it all for me, but the togetherness within the group was amazing and they really were a pleasure to work with.
The ending of the season due to Coronavirus was of course extraordinary and unprecedented and there will still be debate as to whether that last game at Concord Rangers should have been played but what’s done is done and we must now look to the future. That future as I write this is still very uncertain since although we’ve played our last game of 2019/20 we have no idea when 2020/21 will start and in what form.
What I do know is that football will return and with the people we have running and supporting the club that the Angels will continue to be a member of the non-League family. Finally it’s a huge thank you to all of you who put up with some very unpleasant weather, some long journeys and a few disappointing defeats but we certainly knew how to celebrate when we won! The support was just fantastic and never wavered. I look forward to meeting up with you all again hopefully in the not too distant future.
Our picture shows Jason Williams equalising for the Angels against Maidstone Utd on New Year’s Day at the Gallagher. Final score 2-2. Picture by Wes Filtness.