Welcome to the UTAS round up of the inaugural fans forum. Many thanks to friend of the pod Ryan Johnson for the below notes, and to Jordan Worland’s live tweets last night, the power of which were derived from his Samson-like beard.
GS – Godric Smith CBE
Director at INC., a London-based communications and marketing consultancy, and Director of the company that runs The Junction. Briefly held a Directorship on the board of the HS2 project (bodes well for any plans we have getting stadium development if he’s involved, given how long HS2 has been in the pipeline and seems to be going nowhere fast). From 2001-2004, he was Tony Blair’s spokesman and also took a role as Communications Director for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Having him on board should be a great thing given the size of the projects he’s worked on before.
He took a back seat throughout, but wasn’t really required as it was more of a football quizzing evening than the financials which will come later this year at the AGM.
BS (so to speak) – Ben Strang – Head of Football
Spoke at length when answering many questions. Came across very well and, while often giving guarded, politician-like answers, he also gave answers that were clear and I feel a lot of his effectiveness is behind the scenes, hence why we don’t really see his wage in the public eye being used to much effect.
MB – Mark Bonner – Assistant Head Coach
Chipped in now and again when questions were raised regarding the youth team, which is clearly still his area of expertise, despite almost being Calderwood’s Number 2. Not sure if this is a concern as you’d hope for a bit more experience from a No 2, but I suppose at this level you can’t get everything.
CC – Colin Calderwood – Head Coach
Charming and charismatic, spoke brilliantly and clearly. Happy to take on questions that weren’t in his remit but gave good answers from his point of view as the manager, accompanied by Strang who then gave the more behind the scenes and technical side of things. Spoke very highly of the set up we have here with the backroom and non-playing football team with recruitment. Made a point of coming round and thanking people for coming and exchanging brief small talk with everyone he could get to at the end.
BS – Disappointed with the season so far. With us finishing so strongly last year in strong playoff form, the view of the whole football operations team was that continuity was key in the decision making for the squad and summer recruitment. He said – as an admission of the thought process behind sacking Dunne when we did – that 20 games with less than a point per game (just 5 wins in those 20) meant a change of head coach was almost unavoidable.
CC – Has thoroughly enjoyed his time so far. Says whilst we’re okay at home, we’re poor away. The next few games can give us an insurance policy going into the tail end of the season, and points now will lift the burden of getting points later on (meaning we know what division we’ll be in and the planning for next year can be more concrete).
When we’re playing away we’re not playing at a level that allows us to win, including the second half at Notts County. Wants us to be attacking, aggressive, forward-thinking and to be the team that people look at and think that we’re going to score the next goal in the game. He said he has similar first impressions of United as he had when he want in at Northampton back in 2003, but we’ve warmed to him quicker than NTFC fans did.
We’ve had slow starts to seasons before, do we have issues with preseasons?
CC – The first game of a season is essentially after the first 10 games, where you’d hope to have between 15 and 20 points. Wants preseasons to be robust, to keep the players fit and safe, and avoid overloads. Good foundations for this from the physiotherapy staff. We need to be peaking between March and May rather than hitting the ground hard at the start of the season and fizzling out by October/November. Early pre season games are essentially training games, building up to the last two or three preseason games being real tests against teams from higher up the pyramid.
BS – Last year’s pre season under Dunne was similar to under Derry where he wanted the team to play as many games as possible to get their fitness up. Especially on the last weekend before the season started this year, we had two games on the Saturday before Port Vale (a) so that all players got serious minutes and were ready should they be called upon (this says to me Dunne didn’t know his best 11 going into the season, let alone the squad he wanted which is criminal).
This schedule was very Head Coach-led. It rings a bell when Derry was supposedly in charge of recruitment and we signed players like Sean Long and Tom Dallison, we had to be rescued by overspending and eventually getting Halliday and Uche. Neither went well, maybe there’ll be more control from Strang on these things going forward.
Q – What is the Maris contract situation?
BS – We’ve been working with Maris all season for a new contract, he’s had interest all season from other clubs too. As he’s 22 we would get tribunal money for him, even if he went to Scotland. Unlike Uche, rules in Scotland mean you have to be U23 for a tribunal fee rather than England where it is under 25. We couldn’t offer the right financial deal to keep Uche.
Q – Are we expecting a lot of youth players to be breaking into the first team?
MB – We’ve got players on the verge at the moment. There’s 6 or so out on loan at the moment – Davies, Knowles, Foy, Worman etc., plus Darling. The gap from the youth team to the first team is a big jump for young players to make. The best of our young players tend to leave before reaching senior youth levels, joining the bigger clubs in the area for big fees e.g. Chelsea, Spurs, Norwich, etc. The academy system we operate is better than when the likes of Berry and Coulson came through under Jez in the bottom half of the Conference. The team is also in a better place – it’s worth noting that under Jez we had barely any senior players that we could afford so it was youth players or no one. Players matured as they had to to help the club survive at the time.
We’ve tried to use the Checkatrade to blood younger players on occasion, but there are limitations where we can’t change too many players.
CC – Likes Darling, thinks he’ll be the next youth player to break into the first team – could be the new Coulson. Also likes Louis John.
Q – What is the situation with reserve teams?
CC – Thinks reserve teams are dead now. We have behind closed doors friendlies for fringe players and fitness for first team players at least once every 3 weeks. It might be good of the club to let us know about these, even a little match report each time like other clubs seem to do – see Luton’s from the other week as an example.
BS – We don’t have enough players to have more regular reserve games. Category 2 academies can have U23 teams much easier as they get better funding. We don’t have the facilities or funding to do this. We’d need indoors 3G for example which we simply can’t get at the moment. Only 2 teams in our league have Cat2 academies – Col U and Crewe. Financially difficult to run U23 as cat3. There’s a schedule of games for U23 teams for Cat2 teams and you have to organise your own which is almost impossible as all U23 teams would have league games each week against other cat2s.
Q – Are you concerned by our squad size? The backs of programmes suggests other teams have much bigger squads than us.
BS – We have 21 pros and 6 youth players. We don’t want 7 pros in the stand, financially not sensible to pay people to sit in the stand (why now a Corr contract each time then?!). Used to be much more flexible with specific loan windows which have stopped over the last few years.
CC – We don’t want to limit young players’ opportunities – see Chelsea and Hudson-Odoi potential, City and Sancho, etc. The new loan system makes recruitment and management work a lot harder. Likes the simple structure we have for backroom (simple?!). Says Strang does a difficult job in an excellent way. We’ve streamlined jobs that at Championship level are many layered and we do well in comparison (I presume relatively speaking).
Doesn’t like U23s too much, fear of club becoming a ‘nanny state’ like that (proper man’s opinion that).
Q – BS’ transfers and his reputation off the back of them?
BS – It is always a collaborative approach where there has to be a unified yes before a player is signed. Summer’s approach didn’t work with the continuity thing raised earlier. New signings mean that there’s a freshness to the group along with the qualities the players bring, unlike summer where few new signings were made. We may move on one or two midfielders, after new recruits on deadline day, to the Conference (Osadebe probably by the sounds of it).
Q – How did we get money for Azeez?
BS – Four or five, maybe six clubs in our division came in for him – let slip that Yeovil were one of them – Newport weren’t the first club in and he nearly moved elsewhere (seems that the competition for the player’s signature was what gave us a price).
The club believed regular game time would have brought confidence and form in front of goal, didn’t happen but think he has great assets (aside from shooting it seems, but he does offer a different kettle of fish with pace and physical presence).
Q – Is the Cambridge bubble difficult to attract players to (ie-mini London house prices and rent)?
BS – There are no specific limits on where a player can live, unlike Premier League where a lot of clubs says 30 minutes maximum for commute. We have good routes into Cambridge thankfully but others have it worse ie west country teams.
CC – Lots of players stay central in the UK which means they don’t have a huge commute to most clubs. Gives them off-field continuity as you don’t want to look for 12 months for a house only to then move clubs once bought. He lives in Northampton still, was good for Villa and obviously good for us too.
Q – Why don’t we transfer list players who won’t sign a new contract when they’re on their last year, like that lot up the A1?
BS – They aspire to do what Peterborough do to some extent, but they pay large money for this level for players they then sell on for much more. We can’t pay 6 figures in the hope of getting 7 figures in return. Had a smaller version of that in mind when signing players always thinking of potential sell on value, ie Lewis, Halliday, Maris. Tried to give longer deals to players to give them more chance to sell on like that but wasn’t “well received” (meant O’Neill probably). The club also doesn’t always have the finances to keep players who are nearing the end of their contracts, e.g. Uche.
Q – Will there be big changes in summer?
CC – To give us a chance, yes (didn’t say huge changes but would probably think double figures). Plan is to first achieve league status and then look. Players need to play well to earn a new contract. Changeover of players at clubs naturally happens but there is work ongoing as ever.
BS – Not got a top 7 budget but better than where we are, lots of teams this season especially top 7 have got big budgets, much bigger than in previous years. Our budget is mid table.
Q – What is our scouting network?
BS – Alex Fraser is Head of Recruitment and is the only scout we have (not sure how you can be head of recruitment when there’s no one to be head of!). Came from Spurs and worked at Brighton (before Calderwood was there) before coming to us in summer of 2017. CC and MB go to lots of games, MB goes to L2 games every week there is one midweek and United aren’t playing (he seems like he will eventually be a decent manager from how hard he’s working even though he was fairly useless as an interim for us). Club also use an online software to analyse videos of players a lot (hope this isn’t Football Manager online).
CC – Says it’s good to use contacts across the scouting network at other clubs (if a player isn’t right for L1 then may be recommended through contacts to us). Says he really likes Fraser.
Q – Will we be looking to buy any of our loan players?
CC – Not likely with the young players but Jones is out of contract in the summer at Bradford so is the only possible one really.
Q – Are we likely to use CC contacts at Villa?
CC – Likes the avenue of using Villa but not too much to be a feeder club of course. (Quick point that Rushian Hepburn Murphy’s first name was pronounced by CC as you would say Russian, if there was any doubt, but may have been the Scottish accent)
Q – Who’s out of contract?
BS – 7 or 8 including Jabo, Carroll, Forde, Halliday, Maris
Q – With a change of manager did we change anything in the recruitment process?
BS – Alex Fisher etc. work continuously without the need for a manager in place, so when Dunne went we kept him on. There weren’t players lined up to come in as we had no manager for most of the lead up to January, but there was a shortlist and targets.
Hepburn-Murphy was on the shortlist but it was made possible mostly by CC contacts at Villa, wasn’t CC’s idea initially to get him (seems like we were a little ambitious with who we wanted and chanced it thanks to CC). All decisions are with the whole team’s agreement, eg Fisher, BS, CC, etc.
Q – Why CC back into management from assistant role and why United?
CC – Says League Two football hasn’t changed, always some teams that try to play expansively. Thinks the standard has dropped since his Northampton days.
United are local to his house in Northampton, has found good staff who often work above and beyond week in week out, including BS who’s taken off some of the stresses oFf being a manager like dealing with agents etc (basically all the non coaching parts so he can focus on the team more, CC’s approval of BS’s work can only do good for BS’s approval rating with fans really)
Forum concluded with Godric Smith saying fans forum will be annual thing now, and the AGM will be in April.