The Vanarama Column – Eastleigh Football Club

The Vanarama Column – Eastleigh Football Club, by Glenn Moore

When Eastleigh owner-chairman Stewart Donald quit the club to take over Sunderland in the summer Spitfires supporters could have been forgiven for fearing the future. The insurance tycoon had bankrolled their push to make the Football League, transforming the Silverlake Stadium in the process. However, ownership rules meant he would have to wind up his investment in the Vanarama National League club and non-League history is full of meteors who crashed to earth after a benefactor departed.

However, there was no sudden firesale of players and the team began the season well, allaying concerns. Until, that is, there was further disruption in October when manager Andy Hessenthaler left to return to Dover and three directors, including Mark Jewell, the chairman, stood down, Jewell due to ill health. Worries increased when, despite there being more than 70 applicants to replace Hessenthaler, the club appeared to have taken the cut-price option by appointing his assistant Ben Strevens.

Strevens played more than 600 senior matches, nearly half of them in the Football League for Barnet, Dagenham & Redbridge, Brentford, Wycombe and Gillingham. He was subsequently part of Eastleigh’s 2014 promotion into the Vanarama National League and had a couple of brief spells as a caretaker manager. However, this was the 38-year-old’s first full managerial role.

It may, or may not, have been a cost-conscious decision – the club suggested the salary had attracted several notable candidates. More importantly it has proved the right one. Strevens has not just been a steady hand on the tiller, he has built on Hessenthaler’s foundations so well the Spitfires have soared into the play-off places.

Saturday’s 2-0 victory at Salford, which enabled Eastleigh to leapfrog their much-fancied hosts into fifth, was their fifth successive win. After losing their first league match under Strevens the Hampshire club has lost just three of the subsequent 18, two of them to Wrexham and Solihull Moors, the top two.

Although Eastleigh continue to rely heavily on seasoned ex-Football League pros, including Chris Zebroski, Oscar Gobern and Mark Yeates, they do not have the high-profile names of the team that reached the FA Cup third round in 2016, such as James Constable and Dan Harding. While chief executive Kenny Amor recently told Solent Sport ‘the budget is quite large’, he added ‘we have managed on a shoestring compared to before with a much smaller squad’. Paul McCallum, 25, has emerged as a key player scoring 21 goals in what is easily the most prolific season of a slow-burning career.

Amor said “in our wildest dreams we could not have imagined making the play-offs”, but now there is more than just ambition on the line for a team that was in the Wessex League as recently as 2003. Promotion brings extra costs but also significantly greater income, which would make a big difference to a club facing, indicated Amor recently, further adjustments without Donald’s largesse. It is likely the club will move towards a squad based more on young, hungry, local players rather than former Football League veterans.

Vikki Orvice RIP – by Steve Howard

Vikki Orvice, the FWA’s vice-chair and a long-standing National Committee member, lost her long battle with cancer today at the age of 56. She was a much-loved colleague to many of us at the FWA and especially at The Sun, where she covered athletics and football.

Former SunSport chief sports writer and FWA member Steven Howard paid tribute to his colleague on the Sun’s website, and we are honoured to reproduce it here:

Article below via The Sun website.

Images courtesy of News UK.

IT was Saturday August 4, 2012, and London’s Olympic Stadium was a crucible of bubbling, patriotic fervour.

Jess Ennis-Hill had just won gold in the heptathlon and Vikki Orvice and I were furiously putting over our copy knowing Mo Farah was due to start the 10,000metres in under half an hour.

Then from the other side of the stadium came a huge roar.

“What the **** was that?” I yelled at Vikki alongside me.

“Greg Rutherford has only gone and won the flipping long jump,” she shouted back over the din.

Not long after, Farah would make it triple gold – three inside an astonishing 44 minutes.

It was the greatest night in British athletics, perhaps the greatest night in Olympic history.

Certainly, neither Vikki nor I had known anything like it.

At the time, Vikki was in remission from the cancer that had first struck in 2007 – and which, devastatingly, would return in 2014.

For the last four years she fought valiantly – and with no lack of humour – against the odds, her life a strength-sapping treadmill of chemotherapy at London’s Marsden Hospital sandwiched inbetween her jobs as athletics correspondent and football writer for The Sun.

All three Olympic gold medallists later sent message of encouragement and support during her cancer battle.

Fittingly, for a daughter of Sheffield, she had a core of steel.

 

But the long, unequal struggle ended this morning when Vikki died aged 56.

The grief engulfing her sportswriter husband Ian Ridley, her family and her many admiring friends is only partially mitigated by the relief it is finally all over.

If she was a fundraiser, arch supporter and poster girl – her own words – for the Marsden, she was also a massive source of encouragement for every young girl who wondered whether they, too, could make it in what was the very male enclave of sports journalism.

Yes, Julie Welch was the first to start breaking down the barriers on The Observer in the Seventies.

And there were other sports journalists like Hazel Irvine and Kate Battersby when Vikki first arrived in Fleet Street in the Nineties.

But they were few and far between.

The difference with Vikki, though, was she was the first woman to be appointed as a football writer on a red top.

It may have been a decade or so after the worst male excesses of the Life on Mars generation but the profession was still top-heavy with men behaving badly and contemptuous of women in the pressbox.

Working at the coal face of sports journalism, she was not just a pioneer but a suffragette on the slow, back-breaking march towards equality.

At the end, she would stand at the pinnacle, a vociferous defender of women’s rights and ceaseless promoter of their abilities – a director of Women in Football and a significant figure at both the Sports Journalists Association and the Football Writers Association.

At the age of ten, she entered a Daily Express competition, saying she wanted to be a sportswriter.

Her subject? Her beloved Sheffield United.

She would finally achieve her ambition in the face of constant prejudice but it was a long journey.

Recalling her early days on national newspapers, she said: “I went to Arsenal v Norwich on the opening afternoon of the season.

“The main stand at Arsenal had a mural on it and I was basically sent along to write about that because, you know, it was a bit girly and stuff.

“But it actually turned into a good story because Norwich won.

“I remember somebody came over to the sports desk on the Monday morning saying ‘Why did you give that match to HER? I should have been there instead’.

“I would later have lunch with the sports editor who said a woman could never do the job full-time. In those days, you didn’t even question it.”

Then in the summer of 1995 came her mould-breaking move to The Sun.

Her all-round talent was quickly recognised and she would soon become the paper’s athletics correspondent, a role which she relished – covering all of Usain Bolt’s world records – and in which she would prosper.

She would also strike up enduring relationships with many of the sport’s leading lights – chief among them Paula Radcliffe, Ennis and Farah.

She did so because these people trusted her. Many times she was given information she couldn’t write about and didn’t – her scrupulousness being rewarded later with bigger stories she COULD write about.

As such, she produced a series of old-fashioned scoops during the golden age of British athletics. An era that saw the GB team go from one gold medal at Atlanta in 1996 to an astonishing 27 in Rio in 2016, second only to the USA.

Nor was there anyone more excited about the new crop of outstanding home athletes like Dina Asher-Smith than Vikki.

During all this, she was a sounding board for other members of her profession unfortunate enough to themselves be afflicted by cancer.

She was also fundraising – one reference to a charity event with Radcliffe showing both her unquenchable spirit and humour.

She tweeted: “I am walking 5k with Paula in the Race for Life. She has a personal best for the event of 14 minutes 29.11 seconds but is recovering from a broken toe and hence is not running.

“I have a personal best of 19 months in remission from secondary cancer – hence not running, either!”

I met Vikki twice for lunch in the last few months with former Sun sports editor Paul Ridley, the man who not only brought her to Fleet Street but also gave her the athletics job.

Once when, complete in black wig and showbiz sunglasses, she looked a million dollars – despite the chemo.

Then again just before Christmas in Soho when she was obviously struggling a bit.

Dressed in a stunning, full-length, camel overcoat and carrying an elegant black walking-stick, she climbed into a black cab that was to take her to see a concerned Sebastian Coe.

Noticing the anguish in my face, she said: “Don’t worry, Steve.”

What style. What class. Still thinking about other people to the end.

Vanarama Column – Salford

Vanarama Column December 6th – Salford City, by Glenn Moore

Since automatic promotion was introduced 31 years ago no club has won back-to-back promotions into the Football League. Even meteors such as Fleetwood and AFC Wimbledon required a season acclimatising to the fifth tier before climbing out of non-League. This season Salford aim to break the mould.

Since being taken over by the five former Manchester United players from the ‘Class of 92’, as their youth team generation has become known, Salford City have raced from the eighth to fifth tier. As the busy Christmas programme approaches in the Vanarama National League they sit a point and a place off the summit and the promotion spot it brings. This after a slow start in which they took eight points from their opening six matches leaving them in the bottom half of the table.

“We are delighted with where we are,” said Gary Neville, co-owner and in many respects the driving force behind the project. “At present we’re maybe slightly ahead of expectations. We expected a tough start but with the investment we have made, and the managerial appointment [former Scunthorpe manager and Scotland international Graham Alexander] we thought we would be up there challenging.  Our approach has always been to be in contention going into the New Year. We have a tough run of fixtures coming up and if we’re in touching distance in mid-January we’re on course.”

Neville added: “We are well ahead of our initial plans. We have won three promotions in four years, we thought it would be one every two years. The initial aspiration was to get into the Football League because the original idea was to have an academy, to give young players a chance. We realised we needed a team for them to move into, and to have a proper academy you need to be a Football League club.”

Thus the rush, which has provoked resentment from less well-funded clubs. Besides Neville, his brother Phil, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes Salford are also owned by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim. Neville points out “until this season we’ve matched Peter 50-50, we’ve put millions into the club. We could have used that money to buy houses, or cars, or leave it in the bank, we didn’t need to do it. We chose to come into Salford. We could have gone into a League One or League Two club, but we wanted to stay close to our roots. I find it hard to understand the negativity about ex-footballers using their own money to invest in a football club.”

Salford have formed an academy, a women’s team and are developing community and education programmes. Moor Lane has been transformed into a covered 5,000-capacity venue. Crowds have gone from 220 to 2,000+ with an emphasis on making it an affordable fun day out – Neville said his family recently chose  a match at the Peninsula Stadium rather than Old Trafford.

The former England international added: “We have retained the original people who ran the club, who made sacrifices and subsidised it. We have the cheapest tickets [£10] and season-tickets, we bring interest to the league and to games, we’re respectful of opponents. How is that ruining non-League?”

Sir Alex Ferguson unveils a plaque to commemorate the announcement that Salford City’s new stadium is named The Peninsula Stadium with Payl Scholes (left), Gary Neville (2nd left) Ryan Giggs (3rd left) and Peter Done (right) Pic PA images.

FWA student member lands dream job at Fulham

FWA Student member’s remarkable story – by Brendan McLoughlin

Adam Micklewright, an FWA student member, has landed his dream job at Fulham – less than a year after being in a coma fighting for his life.

The University of Gloucestershire BA Sports Journalism graduate recently landed the role of academy communications executive with the Cottagers – just weeks after securing a first-class degree on his course.

It is an all the more remarkable achievement given the serious medical condition he found himself in only last autumn.

While socialising with friends, he suffered a blackout, collapsed and cracked his head on the corner of a pavement. It left him with a triple fracture to his skull and a severe bleed to the brain.

Medical staff put him into an induced coma for two weeks and, miraculously, he was discharged from from hospital just four days after waking up.

After a period of rehabilitation, Adam resumed his studies four months later and went on to pass his course with flying colours.

He is now pinching himself after beating off fierce competition for a job with Premier League Fulham – the club he has supported since he was a boy.

Adam said: “My first few months at Fulham have been fantastic. I’m learning a lot about the industry. There is always a new challenge to take on every day which suits me perfectly. I’m learning something new most days whether that’s technically or personally – I’m loving the job.

“I have several match days under my belt now, which filled me with a lot more confidence with new systems and styles. The hotels we stay in at away games aren’t bad either!

“The accident did hit me hard, although I didn’t really know too much of what was going on, it’s like being trapped in your own brain. The hospital staff in Bristol were great with me and I can’t thank them enough from getting me through a potentially life-threatening injury.

“The only side-effect I’m having is slight concentration issues, which considering the extent of my injury is something I’ll take every time.”

Adam was selected to represent his course at the Midlands FWA Lunch last spring and was among students invited to attend an FWA Live event in London in May. He has also received mentoring from FWA chairman Paddy Barclay.

“Paddy and the FWA have been more than accommodating with me,” Adam added. “Whenever there have been events or guidance opportunities they have offered them up to me.

“My time at uni has put me in fantastic stead to fit in seamlessly through video, interview, reports etc. The lecturers have been great in easing me back into studying as well as guiding me through industry practices.

“It seems surreal when you’re walking around the training ground, saying hello to Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic, but it’s something you get used to and certainly with the U23s, they become your colleagues.

“As a first job out of uni, it is demanding. To be in charge of the academy coverage alone is a big task, but very rewarding which is something I’ve picked up even as early as now.”

Follow Adam on Twitter: @AMMicklewright

ENDS

Vanarama column – Dagenham & Redbridge

October 10: Dagenham & Redbridge – By Glenn Moore

The cavalry are coming, the only question is whether they have arrived at Victoria Road in time. A fourth successive Vanarama National League defeat on Saturday, by 2-0 at Gateshead, left Dagenham & Redbridge 22nd, already four points from safety.

Relegated from League Two in 2016 the Daggers have had a tumultuous period back in non-League, twice facing financial difficulties and now twice rescued. Local car dealer Glyn Hopkin kept them afloat for a year, during which John Still’s team missed out on an instant return when they lost to Forest Green Rovers in the play-offs. However, amid disputes with supporters Hopkins ceased covering the losses midway through last season prompting a firesale of players and the dissipation of a promotion bid.

At the end of the campaign the veteran Still, having said it was his hardest season in management, quit to join Barnet. The peripatetic Peter Taylor, once an England manager, five times a Football League promotion winner, took over.

The popular Taylor has had some tough jobs but few like this. The budget was cut by a third meaning fixtures like Saturday’s 560-mile round-trip to Gateshead are done without an overnight stay and the players packing their own lunch. For the next away game, at Dover, players will be driving themselves.

“People think I am mad doing this at my age,” said Taylor, now 65. “but I love the challenge. The only frustrating part is matchdays. We have a very young team – we did not have the budget to bring in players with experience at this level – and this is a tough league. They are getting better but they make mistakes.”

However, there is hope on the horizon. Somewhat improbably the Daggers have been acquired by an American consortium fronted by Tim Howard, the former Everton, Manchester United and United States goalkeeper. While the focus is on Howard the key figures are Peter B Freund and Craig Unger. Each have a record of investing in sports franchises with both involved with Memphis 901, a new club in the US second-tier United Soccer League, and minor league baseball team Memphis Redbirds. Freund has become executive chairman with Unger also on the board.

The pair flew over for a meet-and-greet with fans this week and have promised Taylor they will back him. There will not, however, be a quick fix. Taylor said: “They are serious and want to help but as I told the meeting, it is a shame they did not come in in June, then we could have recruited differently. The experienced players we need are either not available – or available for a reason.”

Taylor, a well-regarded coach, will thus focus on improving the youngsters he has, and adding experienced players of the right calibre if and when he can find them. “I’m used to coming into a club and aiming for promotion, but the target this year is to finish fifth from bottom. We’d take that. Then give it a real go for promotion next season.”

ends

Vanarama Column Feb 21 – Highs, Lows and Winning Goals

Highs and Lows and Winning Goals

By Luke Coulson, FWA and Ebbsfleet United

Throughout my childhood, misbehaviour was greeted with the usual disheartening punishment of spending a weekend behind closed doors. Those miserable days were spent peering out of an upstairs window watching my brothers and friends play football; the ultimate torture.  

Similarly, sat on the bench at 3pm on a Saturday watching my team mates play brings those feelings of frustration flooding back.

Two weeks ago, I was dropped from the starting eleven and forced, once more, to feel those disappointing emotions as I watched my team mates face an in-form Solihull Moors side. However, with 30 minutes to go and the game finely balanced at 0-0, I got the nod from my manager to get my shirt on. Taking my disappointment and frustration on to the pitch, I attacked the opposition full back at every opportunity to hopefully make an impact and prove a point.

That relentless and positive mindset had its desired effect and with 15 minutes to go, I scored the winning goal. Collecting the ball on the left side of the penalty area, I cut inside on to my right foot and bent a fierce shot into the far corner. I don’t write these blogs to promote myself but I have to say the goalkeeper had absolutely no chance.

Scoring the winning goal of a football match is exhilarating. The elation and passion that overcomes you as you celebrate in front of thousands of applauding fans is unforgettable. Yet, the ecstasy extends even deeper than that when you see what it means to your fellow team mates who have worked hard every day with you to be in that position.

Subsequently, that positive cameo performance and winning goal was enough to get my name back into the starting eleven for our following match against Halifax. For the long journey up North, there was a new face amongst us with the club announcing the signing of Corey Whitely from Dagenham and Redbridge, and he made an immediate impact.

Despite us being own top, a dubious penalty decision for the home side meant we ended the first half trailing 1-0. However, after coming on as a substitute, Whitely opened his Ebbsfleet account and started the comeback with a close range finish at the back post.

The equaliser gave us all the momentum and with 58 minutes on the clock, I was able to score the winning goal again, my second in two games. However, the joy of scoring that winning goal was delayed as it came early in the second half and for all we knew; it may not have been the last. Yet, when I heard the sound of the full time whistle and my goal separated the teams, that unforgettable feeling washed over me again. 

For more about the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

For great deals on car and van leasing visit: http://www.vanarama.co.uk/

Vanarama National League column

Financial reality checks . by Glenn Moore

The collecting buckets are still shaken, with fans implored to throw in their loose change, but like everything else in football fund-raising has moved on. It was a supporter’s JustGiving page which raised the cash to pay off Hartlepool’s tax bill. The deed, announced on Facebook, staved off a High Court winding up order.

Pools are still in trouble though, and they are not alone in the Vanarama National League. At Chester they are preparing for Thursday’s celebrity match with Michael Owen and Colin Murray involved. At Dagenham & Redbridge there is a firesale of players. At Macclesfield the immediate crisis is over, with delayed wages paid, but Moss Rose is rarely flush with cash.

The crowds and headlines may be smaller but non-League football attracts just as much devotion as the Premier League – and without another fat TV deal to attract potential saviours the pain is greater when things go wrong as the likelihood of rescue is more remote. With four clubs facing problems this week’s The Non-League paper had echoes of the London Gazette, where insolvencies are traditionally listed.

It would be wrong, however, to deduce that the fifth tier’s financial model is inherently unstable. As in every division there are clubs living beyond their means as they ‘chase the dream’ of a place in the Football League (or a return to it) but in recent years the league has generally been in reasonable financial health.

Indeed, it can be argued each of the current quartet are a special case, rather than symptomatic of a wider malaise. Hartlepool, the most seriously threatened, are freshly relegated from the Football League. They thus receive parachute payments for two years totalling around £700,000 with two-thirds paid in the first season. That would normally ameliorate the impact but Pools came down carrying a debt burden reported by the local media to be £1.8m. That is more than a year’s turnover in this league and new investment has been elusive.

Chester are fan-owned having re-formed after going bust eight years ago. With the initial rush of triple promotions replaced by an annual slog against relegation interest had tapered away leading to a drop in membership and attendance. That seems to have caused cash flow issues, perhaps exacerbated by management decisions.

At Dagenham the owner, quoting anger at fans campaigning against his managing director, has stopped putting his hand in his pocket. This is not the place to debate the rights and wrongs, just to record the consequence which has a slashing of the squad to cut the wage bill by three-quarters to meet the club’s unsubsidised income. At Macclesfield the owner blamed ‘technical problems’ at his bank, which were resolved after players confronted the club chairman at a local country club.

Macclesfield’s budget is tight at the best of times yet the Silkmen are top of the Vanarama National League. It is some achievement by John Askew and his players. With the wages paid they resumed their winning ways. The dream that drives all these clubs was back on.

 

Vanarama National League Column

Glenn Moore looks at Kent’s place in the Vanarama National League 

Kent, the home of hops, apples, and the Channel Tunnel, has never been regarded as a hotbed of football. The Royal Engineers, the first FA Cup runners-up, came from the Chatham Dockyard; Chris Smalling, Tony Cascarino and Jon Harley grew up in the Garden of England; but in sporting terms the white horse county is best known for cricket. Excluding Charlton Athletic, never officially part of Kent since the club’s formation, Gillingham are the county’s only representatives in the Football League. They always have been, aside from three seasons a quarter-century ago when Maidstone United joined them before going bankrupt.

In non-League football, however, it is a different story. Kent has long had a busy non-League scene, perhaps because of the lack of Football League clubs. In 1979 the original Alliance Premier League, the forerunner of today’s Vanamara National League, included Maidstone United and Gravesend & Northfleet, and within two seasons they were joined by Dartford. 

These days the Vanarama National League has a strong Kentish flavour. Dover Athletic, thriving since the return of Chris Kinnear despite a huge turnover of players, are the surprise leaders. A trio of local rivals are in close pursuit. Re-formed Maidstone United are fifth, two places ahead of Bromley (now a London borough, but part of Kent until 1965). Ebbsfleet, as Gravesend & Northfleet are now known, are three points further back. Hoping to join them are Dartford and Welling United, respectively first and third in Vanarama National League South.

What is notable about these clubs is the sense of progress and ambition with most playing at new, or refurbished stadia in front of rising crowds. Dover last year opened a new £1.3m stand at their historic Crabble home. Ebbsfleet’s own £5m stand at Stonebridge Road is nearing conclusion. Bromley, prospering in only their third season at this level, put down a 3G pitch in the summer and a new stand is to be erected next year. 

Dartford, meanwhile, have one of the most ecologically-advanced grounds in the country at 12-year-old Princes’ Park, with features including a sedum roof, floodlights powered by solar panels and water recycling. Welling are the smallest of the sextet, but with Mark Goldberg, once Crystal Palace owner, more recently Bromley manager, chairman, do not lack for ambition.

The most extraordinary tale is that of Maidstone. The Stones had to start again in the Kent County League’s fourth division, step 12 of the pyramid, after going bust in 1992. Playing on their former reserve team pitch they climbed into the Kent League (step 5) by 2001, but then had to ground-share in Sittingbourne and Ashford before returning to the county town, at a new ground, in 2012. At this stage they were in the Isthmian League (South) but inspired by having their own home, one which has become a community hub built around the 3G pitch, they won three further promotions in four seasons. Their 4-2 FA Cup win at League Two Cheltenham on Saturday confirmed the Stones are rolling again, as are their rivals in Kent’s fertile non-League garden. The Gills’ proud boast of being ‘Kent’s only Football League club’ is at risk again.

For more on the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

Find out about Vanarama’s leasing deals for cars and vans here: http://www.vanarama.co.uk/

Vanarama National League column November 1

Luke Coulson, journalist and footballer for Ebbsfleet United, looks at the precarious life of a manager in the Vanarama National League.

A week ago, Ronald Koeman felt the harsh sting of football management as he became the second managerial casualty of the Premier League season.

Koeman joins Frank De Boer and five other managers from the top four tiers of English football that have felt the axe from their clubs this season. However, the National League is a different level of cut-throat business entirely, with six managers already losing their jobs.

With the promise and reward of League Football, the stakes are high and a slow start in the National League can cost a manager his position. The five clubs currently lying at the bottom of the table have all sacked their managers this season and with the recent announcement of their new manager, Ady Pennock, Barrow are now on to their third manager of the campaign.

After beating East Thurrock in a replay two weeks ago, we will host Doncaster at home in the first round of the FA Cup this weekend. Yet, before we could even begin to think about the League One side, we had to re-focus our minds on the league and the three upcoming fixtures. Of those games, we hosted Barrow and Torquay United, two of the teams that have welcomed new gaffers to the dugouts during the season.

In late August, after only five games of the season, Barrow sacked their manager Paul Cox. Ten games later and four days before we played them, Micky Moore, their second manager of the season departed the football club.

When a manager of a football club is sacked, it can have an adverse effect on the team. The squad may have respected the gaffer and therefore there may be players that are disappointed and unhappy with the changes to the coaching staff. On the other hand, with a new manager to impress and positions up for grabs, the sacking of a manager can have a positive effect on the team. Therefore, as we welcomed Barrow to Stonebridge Road, we were very aware not to underestimate our opposition.

Having experienced similar circumstances, I know what the current Barrow squad have been going through. Chris Todd signed me for Eastleigh in the January of 2016, yet after four games of the following season, he was dismissed from his duties. Chris was the first manager to have ever bought me and subsequently gave me a chance in the National League, so I was personally disappointed to see him leave. Ronnie Moore was brought in to replace him but after three months, we were once more without a manager. In early December, Martin Allen left Barnet to become our third manager of the season but was sacked 14 games later to continue the rollercoaster of managerial changes.

It is difficult to mentally prepare knowing that a new manager is about to take over. You hear constant rumours about who may take the job and it’s an unsettling period for the team. It is a worrying time for each player because a new manager may not like their individual style, or not play a formation that brings out their full potential.

Each manager has his own way of playing, training and managing the team and consequently it can be difficult to become used to a new manager especially if you don’t agree with his philosophy.  In that case you keep your head down, work hard and don’t complain if you want to play.

Before the announcement of Ady Pennock, we were able to claim all three points against Barrow and their interim manager Neil Hornby with a 3-2 victory. However, that win was followed by a defeat three days later against Torquay United. Similarly to Barrow, Torquay United decided to have a change of management early in the season, sacking Kevin Nicholson after four games and replacing him with Gary Owers.

Following the loss against Torquay, we came away with a hard fought and well deserved point at Sutton United. The draw means we now sit 13th in the table, still only three points adrift of the playoffs as we take a break from league duty this weekend to prove ourselves against Doncaster in the first round of the FA Cup. A challenge we are more than ready to overcome.

Vanarama National League Column Oct 25th

VANARAMA NATIONAL LEAGUE COLUMN – Craig Harrison, by Glenn Moore

Some coaches begin preparing for life on the training pitch while they are still players, making notes about sessions put on by their managers, mentally filing behaviours, and taking their qualifications. Others fall into the job by accident. The strange thing is that sometimes it is the latter who are more successful.

Among them is Craig Harrison, coach of Vanarama National League side Hartlepool United. Harrison had quit football after suffering a career-ending broken leg while playing for Crystal Palace reserves in his mid-20s. He struggled with depression, came through that, but remained disenchanted with the game opting instead for a career in property development.

Then, for his 30th birthday party, wife Danielle booked a band. The guitarist looked familiar. He was Gareth Owen, formerly of Wrexham, whom Harrison had played against when on loan at Preston. Owen was player-manager at Welsh Premier League club Airbus UK and seeking an assistant. He asked if Harrison was interested.

“I said, ‘No, I’m not interested. I’ve moved on from that’,” Harrison, 40 this month, told the Non-League Paper earlier this season. He added: “A couple of weeks later I saw in the local paper they still hadn’t filled the post. My other half persuaded me to give Gareth a text to see what was going on. He said he was still looking so we had a chat and he offered it to me. I took it. That was in December. By the end of the season Gareth had moved on and they gave me the manager’s job.”

By then Harrison was smitten. His biggest problem was persuading part-time players to be as committed as he was. He rapidly acquired his badges and now holds the highest qualification, Uefa Pro Licence. In late 2011 The New Saints, after a rare season failing to win the Welsh League, moved in. With them Harrison won six successive league titles, four Welsh Cups, and played clubs such as Slovan Bratislava and Legia Warsaw in Champions League qualifiers.

Despite this success the chance to join Hartlepool was irresistible for Harrison, Gateshead-born and a former Middlesbrough player. It is not an easy job. Harrison is Pools’ sixth manager in four years, which underlines the instability at the club. Yet though relegated from the Football League last season they still attracted more than 50 applicants for manager.

The opening rounds of the Vanarama National League were a shock. Having lost their opening match at home to Dover Athletic, Hartlepool had two points after six matches. A 13-point haul from the next five games dispelled fears of back-to-back relegation and rekindled hopes of an instant Football League return. They are now in 14th place, only five points behind second-placed Wrexham in a tightly-contested promotion race.

“Looking back with a clear head, what’s probably happened is the four-five weeks at the start of the season has been vital,” Harrison said last week. “When it hasn’t gone for us you either go your separate way and the group fragments or you come together. What went on early season is probably one of the best things to happen for team spirit. It has come together over the opening weeks of the season.”

Harrison, who knows better than most how unpredictable football be, added: “Maybe the start was a blessing in disguise.”

For more on the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

For more about Vanarama visit: http://www.vanarama.co.uk/