Preseason. A phrase that is commonplace in football. A time where many football fans, especially fans of clubs within ‘league’ football, track the comings and goings of their team, totting up the net spend, usually it seems in the negative- in many cases in the tens of millions.
Preseason in non league is different. Not just because of the money involved, but due to the intrinsically unique nature of non league football. The part time status, the reliance on voluntary staff, the scale of available resources; be it pitches to train on, opponents to play against or even the simple need to have a good supply of fully inflated footballs.
Preseason. Prior to the season. For Tooting & Mitcham this mythical period prior to the season starting is in fact just the time between the last game of the previous season (the Surrey Cup final) and the first day of our current season (last Saturdays win away at Hertford Town). Preseason, rather call it “Between season”, or “Interseason”, if you insist on using a fancy Latin prefix.
For the management, coaching staff and administrators of the club, the task of preparing for next season started immediately and in truth the wheels where already in motion from the final game. The under 23s played the following day and won the Champions of Champions final. Now, many of that squad have been promoted into the first team squad- Akheem Belford, Shamal Edwards, Razzaq Coleman-Degraft, to name a few.
Another from that squad, Samuel Folarin, joined Abraham Odoh and Isaiah Jones, in signing for a professional club, in his case Middlesbrough FC. Some might be under the impression that these signings happen overnight and are simple to achieve. In fact our club’s chairman, in conjunction with the management team, worked tirelessly with the pro club in question, and the players representative, to achieve a deal that best= suits Tooting & Mitcham and ensures the professional development of the player. This hard work also led to another of Tooting’s youth products, Lexus Beeden, signing for Reading FC a fortnight ago. A deal that has been quietly in the works since the end of last year.
Trials for the under 18s, under 23s and first team and the whole youth set-up began immediately. Hundreds of young men turning up, in the hope that they could impress and be invited back for the preseason training that was set to start two weeks later. A good number were successful, particularly in the development squads, and are now involved in the set-up that has helped four young footballers become professionalplayers. The hard work for them has already begun.
Alongside the many trial days held, the management team worked hard to bring in new faces to freshen up he squad and help propel the team to a higher finish in the coming season. This work is comprehensive. I can’t suggest that I know what fully goes into recruitment at this level of non-league, but what I do know is that the results of the work done by the co-managers demonstrates a shrewdness that many fans at the club were unwilling to give them credit for previously. James Shaw, Didi Castanho, Nathan Daly and Nebay Haile (to name a few) were brought into the club very quickly, many from teams from a level above or from teams promoted the previous year. Proven players, who added quality and dedicated application to complement the existing youthful squad and the even more youthful recent Under 23s graduates.
Alongside these swift signings was the return of Dean Hamlin. Hamlin previously played for Tooting and Mitcham for five years, between 2006 and 2010, and was a firm fan favourite. His arrival, buried within the stream of player announcements made on the club’s Facebook page, led to much adulation and excitement on the club forum, fan Whatsapp and the fanbase’s growing presence on twitter.
“They tried to get the ball from Deano and he said No No No!”
Kyrique Garvey-Williams also arrived from Cray Wanderers Under 23s. A prospect who has received a lot of positive response from the fans after his performances in the preseason matches and the unearthing of the fact that he made an appearance for England Schoolboys v Australia.
Many of the clubs acquisitions have been viewed by some fans in relation to the few players that have left the club during the ‘interseason’- most notably the trio who signed for Merstham. I think this is a mistake. Two of those who departed, Simeone and Wedgeworth, were undoubtedly fan favourites. Simeone won the fans player of the year award and the managers player of the year award. But the new additions to the squad go way beyond replacing these two players. Not only do the incoming players, in my opinion, have much better credentials, they are also handpicked by the management and coaching team because they fit the principles of play they wish to work towards this year.
On top of this, the players have bought into the club and its approaches. They have bought into the project laid out by Ashley Bosah and Cornelius Nwadialor, the club’s managers. This has been evident throughout preseason and hopefully will bear fruit as the season progresses.
Let’s also not forget that preseason isn’t always about who comes and who goes, but also about who stays. Daryl Coleman, Dominic Morgan-Griffiths, Hady Ghandour, Danny Bassett, club captain Sol Patterson- Bohner and others have all chosen to recommit to the project. In the case of some of those named, this commitment was made in spite of healthy offers from near the top of the non-league pyramid. Further testament to the vision of the club being set out by those that work tirelessly behind the scenes.
There are no hard and fast boundaries in preseason. Player recruitment doesn’t stop with a fanfare led by a Scottish man in a yellow tie. This process bleeds over the other aspects of preparation for the upcoming campaign. During this preseason, the coaching team has had the luxury of training on an extra weeknight. I say “luxury”, but its important to note that this costs the club something, an additional three hours of pitch hire and some additional wages for support staff. This investment pays dividends, though, as it has meant that the first team has trained three times a week and on most weeks has also had at least one preseason friendly. This might not sound a lot, but that time is invaluable. When trying to stitch together a squad- in a social sense as well as a tactical sense- that extra time on the training pitch allows for more care to be taken, for a plan to be properly executed and not rushed. It allows players to feel comfortable, to make mistakes and learn, to find common ground and lets the squad develop their own unique character.
On top of this the all important physical side of preseason preparation, the race to get fit and then even fitter is given the due attention. YoYo tests, the more sophisticated and scientific older brother of the bleep test (or so I’m told) was used to test the players fitness at the beginning of preseason and again at the end of the six week process. To be fair to the players, they turned up in good condition, with a good number
working hard to keep up their levels by working in the gym prior. All players ended the process scientifically proven to be fitter, with Nebay Haile and Danny Bassett achieving near perfect scores in the YoYo test.
Matches came thick and fast through the preseason process for the club. A near perfect run was put together, with a 1-1 draw with Ramsgate and a closely fought defeat to Charlton’s under 23s the only blots on the team’s nine game schedule. Convincing wins over Carshalton Athletic, Corinthian Casuals, and even Reading FC under 23s helped to create a positive feeling within the club, as well as amongst the fanbase.
At the midway point of the preseason programme, the first team took a well-earned and much needed weekend away to the beautifully scenic city of Bath. The trip was an opportunity to train in a different environment, but more importantly for the squad to socialise. And socialise they did! Although the stories from the weekend are reassuringly held tightly behind pursed lips, the result of that time spent away has paid dividends. Another wise investment by the club.
Preseason isn’t all football. Well, let’s say it’s not all orientated around the young men playing the sport. Much hard work has gone in behind the scenes by countless volunteers to improve, clean and revitalize the infrastructure of the club. Charlie Rowe has built the club a website that is befitting of the clubs stature, an endlessly renewing source of up to date info about the club. Phil Nightingale, with the help of his son, Duncan, and brother, Mike, continue to expand, complete and refurbish different corners of the stadium. Improvements that will undoubtedly improve all of our matchday experiences and ensure the club maintain its grading status. Steve Harrold, Peter Donoghue, and others chip away at preparing the club shop, club signage and general facilities in preparation for the coming season.
Nick Shaw continues to be a source of great energy and enthusiasm at the club. If we were honest, a lot of the club’s new and renewing sponsors would not be in place if it wasn’t for Nick’s hard work during the off season. Alongside this, Nick built from the success of last seasons race night, with a fundraising quiz (big up to the excellent quiz masters Adam and Joel) and the recently announced comedy night. Nick also led the stadium clear up day, which saw over a dozen die hard Tooting and Mitcham fans give up their Sunday to clean up the stadium; sweep the terraces, clean the plastic chairs on the main stand, wash high vis jackets and give the boardroom a nice deep clean. For all the football that goes on at the club, were players become ‘heroes’ for well-timed goals and last ditch tackles, I think it can be easy to miss the true ‘club heroes’ who swept the stand that day, that rolled up their sleeves and put in a shift, with only the reward a pint of lager or a can of soft drink.
There are ups and downs in preseasons, much like there are in the season itself, which started last Saturday. Not all of the players trialling at the club were kept on, hard conversations were had, other opportunities offered. Some players will have to wait their turn to play, after others have impressed in nine preseason friendlies played. The odd training session felt flat, the heat sapping energy from all ready tired legs. The under 23s suffered an uncharacteristic defeat.
However, as a totally unneutral, incredibly biased individual, who does in fact have an agenda, I would say that Tooting and Mitcham’s preseason went extremely well. Training sessions were led, and undertaken, with vigour and genuine excitement. Players integrated themselves seamlessly with the social and tactical fabric of the squad. A new crop of talented and local young players are being shaped within the academy and the under 23s team. The matches played showed promised against tough opposition.
The vision of the club set out by the management, and supported by the chair, has been bought into by the players and hopefully now by the fans.
The Hertford Town result was a good start. Roll on the first game at Imperial Fields.