Summer Optimism

Last week I had the pleasure of taking part in the 4th annual London to Amsterdam bike ride in conjunction with Prostate Cancer and the Football League. Now whilst this is clearly a shameless plug for you to visit my JustGiving site ( there is a genuine reason for me bringing this up which I’ll get to shortly. In the meantime however, any donations will be greatly appreciated.

But first, allow me to explain about the ride itself: Four years ago 35 slightly foolish football league fans, lead by Luther Blissett rode from Webley to Ajax over two days (with an overnight transfer on the ferry from Harwich to Hoek Van Holland). In the second year there were over 160 of us, year three 230+ and this year, spread across two rides (one being Barnsley – Hull – Rotterdam – Amsterdam and one being London – Harwich – Hoek Van Holland – Amsterdam) we has 418 riders (supplemented this year with Titus Bramble, Viv Anderson, Terry Butcher and of course, Luther Blissett). It’s not an easy two days, but the atmosphere is phenomenal. I love the camaraderie among fans in the lower leagues and this ride reinforces my belief that we are a far friendlier bunch than those in the upper echelons. Sure, the two guys riding on behalf of the newly formed EPL got a fair bit of stick, but in general the banter was free-flowing and entertaining. Two days in the saddle, sharing a cabin on the boat with three men you’ve never met before and the all-important Saturday night out in Amsterdam (purely a cultural affair you understand!) mean that you get to talk a lot of football. It is noticeable however that after a night out in Amsterdam the conversation is somewhat less on the Journey home the following morning…!

One of the questions I got asked a lot this year was about how I felt with all the changes at Crawley and my optimism for the coming season. And to be honest until I was asked I’d not given it much thought. But after a couple of pints I was able to put my thoughts in to some vaguely coherent words and they seemed to come out extremely positive. To try and explain my thinking, let’s start with the squad (as of the time of writing).

The clean-out began with the release of Gavin Tomlin, Shamir Fenelon, Andy Bond, Lee Barnard, Roarie Deacon, Lyle Della-Verde and Callum Preston. Whilst there may be a few players there that were right in the balance, it’s hard to form a strong enough argument to keep any of them. They all failed to deliver this season to varying degrees (with the possible exception of Callum) for whatever reason and there are surely better ready-made replacements already in the market. The clean-out itself I thought was a positive step. It was a clear statement that Dermot Drummy wants to play a certain style of football and that these players didn’t fit in to that plan.

Whilst Sonny Bradley wasn’t released, he clearly failed to agree terms with his manager and decided to leave. I have to confess that I’m not overly surprised and whilst I would like to thank Sonny for his ever-presence this season I do think that he’s missed out on an opportunity to develop. Whilst we may all be financially driven to a degree in our professional choices, whatever our trade, I can’t help but think that Sonny could have improved under Dermot and improvement is what is needed. He’s got the raw talent, but he’s showed on more than one occasion that when supported by a more experienced central defensive partner that he can excel. This alone tells me that with the right coaching he can really step up. I fear that Sonny has jumped ship a little too early and whilst the move may pay well this season, I am left wondering if he will regret that move later in his career. Regardless, I genuinely hope that his next move is a positive and successful one. You have to give credit to any player that played every minute of every league game this season and he leaves, I hope, with our best wishes and thanks.

If we then focus on the players we’ve kept: Gwion Edwards, Joe McNerney, and Simon Walton are all already on contract. Poor Simon has already been told that right now he doesn’t fit in to Mr Drummy’s plans. And actually, I quite like that. I like that he’s not been railroaded in to keeping players that don’t fit his footballing philosophy. It would be very easy for him to just accept the three players he has on contract, but he didn’t. He made a very bold statement about the way he wants Crawley to play and this, more than anything is probably the major factor in my optimism. He’s not just talking about a strategy, he’s living it. It takes a brave manager to tell one of only three players that he’s got on contract that he doesn’t fit (no pun intended). It would have been very easy for him to just let Simon fester on the bench.

We’ve re-signed Jimmy Smith, Lewis Young, Bobson Bawling, Matt Harrold and Josh Yorwerth (although technically Josh is a free transfer I know). Whilst I know we won’t all agree about all of these (Lewis Young springs to mind), I think they’re all good signings. As I’ve said before, we need a much bigger squad this season. I would suspect that Jimmy and Josh will be far more regular starters than the others, but they’ll all be needed and they are all capable of doing a job for Crawley. If Dermot has managed to sign them on more “squad-like” packages then I’d say that’s shrewd business.

And then we move on to the new signings:
Chris Arthur – Defender – Woking
Yusuf Mersin – Goalkeeper – Turkish reserve, Milwall & Liverpool U21
Glenn Morris – Goalkeeper – Aldershot, Gillingham & Leyton Orient
Jason Banton – Midfielder – Arsenal U21
Josh Payne – Midfielder – West Ham United, Cheltenham Town, Colchester United, Wycombe Wanderers, Doncaster Rovers, Oxford United, Aldershot Town, Woking and Eastleigh.
Enzio Boldewijn – Midfielder – Almere City

All of the outfield players above are young and quick. They all appear to be of a particular mould and that supports yet again the footballing philosophy of the new manager. The goalkeeping appointments look good on paper and I can only hope that they fulfil their potential.

It’s interesting to note that we also have a new head scout in Turgut Esendagli. I would imagine that he had a fair hand in the recruitment of Yusef Mersin as he’s most recently been plying his trade (albeit mainly on the bench) in Turkey. I guess the proof of the pudding will very much be in the eating.

We still don’t know about Lanre Oyebanjo, but the fact that he’s not gone yet gives a glimmer of hope. It’s no great secret that he was one of our more expensive players, so I guess the challenge here will be financially driven.

Clearly we’re going for a young, quick squad next season. There’s a fear among many that League Two is a physical, long –ball league and that you need to have big, experienced lumps out on the park to win. I’m sure we’ll bring in a little bit of experience and metal over the coming week, but I like that fact that the focus right now is not there. I worry that the lower leagues can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we all go with the theory that you have to have big, slow, experienced battlers out on the park to win, then that’s what we’ll all end up with and League Two will become the place that once talented, now slower and fatter players come to earn their final pay packet.

What Dermot is doing is clearly a gamble, but I think it’s a well calculated one. He may not have the League Two experience that everyone talks about, but he’s hardly new to football. In fact, he’s probably got a lot more coaching experience than many of his peers, so maybe we should put a bit more trust in him than some are doing at the moment. Maybe playing fast, attractive football is the way to go. It might be a bit “Rostrum or Hospital” on occasion, but you know what, it’ll be fun finding out. The fact that the training ground challenge has been resolved so early and it would appear, effectively is great. Again, not just talking a good game, but doing it.

And back to the start: Yes, I’m quite optimistic. I am optimistic that we have a manager with a clear vision that’s being supported by the owners and he’s smart enough to get the bulk of his business done early. Let me leave you though with this thought: One of the guys I was riding/drinking with in Amsterdam last week heads up the Barnsley Academy. He said this to me: “Northampton were the best footballing team in League 2 last year and it didn’t turn out too badly for them did it…?”

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