To take to the field yesterday was a miracle and an example of what can be achieved when you have got great people pulling together. We had put together a squad over six weeks that could compete for Dunstable Town FC in Step 3 of the football pyramid and of course they needed to fit a certain profile. Young hungry players that want to move their career on and use our club as a pathway to something great. But of course that means the players are learning a lot as we go and they are not coming into training every day. So we don’t have the readymade solutions that other clubs can benefit from. Of course managers at the top clubs and all the way down to our level including our league have the ability to offer players financial packages and when Manchester United, Man City, Chelsea etc need a player in a certain position they go and get the solution. They don’t start the league with their U23’s and look to teach them under the spotlight in competition. Even at our level our competitors yesterday in a ‘pro rata’ relative similar situation are able to replace players with proven players and have the budget to support it. For example Redditch had a centre midfielder that we recalled playing against our coach Kevin Gallen and he shows the experience he has.
So on the pitch we are having to learn as we go. 2 months ago we started recruiting and now we have the squad we believed showed that hunger and desire together with attributes and ability we can work with. We are delighted with the players whilst we will have difficult days we know they will also produce great days. As we led up to our first week in this league we had a player return to Portugal and a key defender on a pre-planned trip. We lost two players who we had been sent to a professional trial in Germany. We have one injured and one that decided to return to university. Suddenly we had some concerns and we turned to some players that we had known previously. We promoted a former Luton Town player that had been excellent in our development squad and we signed two players that we had history with having worked with them at QPR bringing the ex QPR number to 3. On the Friday night we found there was a mistake in the registration and therefore our replacement we planned for was out. So we went to Redditch with another replacement to our already young and rapidly trimming squad but we did so proudly in our gleaning new training kit and aboard our mini busses that have kindly been supplied and supported thanks to excellent work from our chairman in building local community relationships.
As we arrived our physio who has been kindly supporting us free of charge while we ensure our sustainable future asked “Has anyone seen the 1st aid kit”? You see, whilst we have had to assemble all these players from scratch we have also had to learn about a lot of things that normally get taken for granted. We have now got another new volunteer kit man who has great personality and also made for a supporting driver and even chips in as a vocal fan from the stands. We had done a checklist but we tried to play down any distraction like this as on and off the pitch we keep finding what we are missing and just resolving it. However, he informed me that we couldn’t get in our club to get it anyways because it was locked up. Oh well, looks a bit tin pot but can we find a solution and Redditch United’s staff very kindly helped him. Sign of a great club. Anyway, we were already secretly a bit concerned. Our first game on this stage for these young players. We were a bit depleted. We are on a 3G pitch which feels different fans are starting to click through the turnstiles. A first for many of them and I did think maybe we would have been more comfortable in this transition on our home grass. But the baptism has to happen somewhere and in some ways, there is the theory of learning to swim is best done when launched into the deep end. So as the lads started to ask for tapes etc we just tried to play down the error and not lot let it become a distraction.
5 Minutes to two pm we are ready to hand the teams in and then came another punch. Our striker is not appearing on the registrations website. If he plays were in trouble. Of course that was a big blow. How we ended up in that situation is unknown but as bad as it feels, it’s thanks to the diligence of our secretary to not cut corners and double checking. He certainly prevented us being dunked in hot water, not for the first time. So, we need to reshuffle. I speak to the player along with his replacement and we go through some of the organisation that we had. It is what it is but again we tried to play down this issue and the lads got on with the warm up. The lad who was now out of the squad showed a great attitude where quite frankly he would have been justified in being angry.
We spoke before the game about the significance of what we are achieving against all odds. We spoke about who we are doing this for, maybe family and loved ones. We spoke about where we want to go as a club and individuals and we spoke about why we are doing it. It was a discussion to remember for the whole season and how we then cope with the ups and downs that would come and how we had become a new family.
Now, that’s the players off down the tunnel, now we have another rule, there is bench wear required that if we don’t comply the club gets a fine. The first I had heard about this was last week and the poor guys behind the scenes had the blue lights on and got there extinguishers out to yet again put out another fire. They acted on the news but the solution was not there for our first fixture and we got changed into trousers, jumpers and shirts for the bench and Kevin donned a casual jacket to cover up his kit. We did think we might be able to simply cover the logos with tape, oh yeah, we forgot the 1st aid kit. Plan C then.
I’m sure some people must have seen us come out and think wow, these guys all think they are Jose Mourinho. We got to the pitch, oh blast, another problem. Our host told us we are only allowed on the pitch without football boots. No shoes or trainers. The dugout is across the other side of the pitch and I wasn’t great at long jump in my school days prime so I really don’t fancy my chances of clearing the width of this pitch. Maybe the players could give us a piggy back? We opted to walk around the pitch and I’m sure the fans must have thought that we looked more like three guys walking to the pub rather than a dugout.
The game got under way and things didn’t look to bad. Ordinarily we can cope with conceding some pressure as we have incredible pace on counter attacks. Suddenly out of the blue, whack, a penalty. My gut feeling was it looked very harsh and on review of the video I said ………………………………… Anyway,8 minutes in and were one nil down. This is where experience is so important. We speak about it, we practice it, but reality is only experience helps in the heat of the moment. Nerves quickly set in and we did make a series of mistakes which quickly led to a second goal. 10 minutes gone 2-0 down. Disaster. What happened over the following 20 minutes is pretty much what you expect when young inexperienced players are debuting at the highest level they’ve ever played at against solid experienced paid players. It was the most uncomfortable period of our whole coming together at Dunstable and it came in our first ever competitive game together. They couldn’t cope with the disappointment and doubt and confidence soon came into play. In that period Redditch scored two excellent goals when we afforded them too much time and space. But, let’s be fair, they have some excellent players. 4-0
A tactical switch and some other changes were needed to stop this escalating into an embarrassment. I know these players are good enough so I didn’t want to let this happen to them. Half time we explained the changes and had to have some pretty tough words.
The second half they proved what they can do as they put Redditch on the back foot and we created a number of chances. A special mention perhaps for Brandy and Nimmy. They did everything we asked we also had put on Aaron on who had a couple of really good runs and crosses. When he gets running he’s terrifying. These three players are 18, 17 and 17!
We have a saying the players know…
“In football, when its going good, you find out about players, when its going wrong you find out about people” So they will all learn, they will act differently in future to mid match set backs.
Suddenly we had this team on the back foot and these young raw lads along with the efforts of the rest of the team had showed and proved they are more than capable of coping. As they threw themselves forward we took some risks that exposed us more than usually and urgent defending resulted in some corners from which they scored but overall, what was important was that we had gone out to be in a football match, take the game to our opponent and that will help with the belief and confidence. It might take a while for the lads to believe in themselves as much as we do. That might happen in a few months, it might happen in a few weeks. It might even happen Tuesday. One thing I know, is someone is going to be in for a big shock. Guaranteed.
Thanks for supporting us
Come on you blues