Grays Athletic Season Review: 2008-09
The skies were blue when the football season began. Grays were quietly optimistic. As they stepped out at Eastleigh, many felt that they had a blend of players that could do something in the BSP.
Players such Mark Molesley had been signed on the strict understanding that the team would be committed to a passing game. The home pitch would only be used by the first team.
Unbeaten on pre-season friendlies, the Taylor/Kedwell axis was working well, with Molesley producing class from midfield. Even Matt Bodkin looked lively on the right.
Against West Ham, former trainee Ishmael Welsh produced a sparkling performance that indicated signing for the Blues could re-ignite his career.
Then came the soggy disappointment of Weymouth: Molesley scored in the 8th and Grays looked well set up. They lost 3-1. Kedwell was substituted, much to his chagrin
After a draw at Kettering and a victory against Northwich, a run of narrow and frustrating defeats followed. Against Mansfield, the team had so much possession with Welsh and Cogan firing in the crosses but Taylor and Kedwell were struggling.
The nadir came against Crawley where the Sussex outfit walked straight through the Blues, especially the woeful Stefan Bailey and inept Stuart Elliott (not forgetting Adam Gross). Ironically, Grays had gone 1-0 up and did so again against Woking before losing 3-1.
There was a good team in there: The Stuart/Ashton/Wilnis trio were fine. The team had to realise that a settled side was the best policy and that took nerve and faith. Welsh on the left, Cogan on the right, Molesley attacking and the newly re-signed Thurgood carrying water.
The game was all about survival in the BSP and where teams such as Eastbourne and Kettering were tipped for relegation, they were producing steady results with settled sides.
This is where the management structure came under close scrutiny and where the imprint of Mick Woodward’s personality was proving a major factor.
Impatience had taken the team from the Ryman Premier to the FA Trophy but since that day at Upton Park a decline had set in and many wondered if he had the right personality to lead a football club.
The club had become Mick Woodward’s Grays Athletic in a distinctly unhealthy manner and everything started to become personal. Someone needed to sit him down and say: “It’s not about you.” but any half baked historian will tell you that in life cycle of any dictatorship comes the haunted paranoid ramblings of self pity, blame and recrimination.
It appeared that he was looking for people to blame. At the head of the list were some of the fans who expressed opinions on independent fans forums. Next was the independently minded (meaning bright and articulate) players such as Ross Flitney and Sam Sloma.
Resignation and Meeting
Grays lost 3-1 to Woking. Mick resigned as manager and “put the club up for sale”. Naturally, there was the question as to the legal and fiscal ability to do that but it was once again a distraction from the football.
A meeting was held at the Clubhouse where various matters were discussed and suggestions were made.
1.Mick immediately made reference to forum members such as D ave, 1890 and Rick.
“Make yourself known. I’ll come and say hello.”
Mick expressed his disappointment at sacked managers who insisted on their contracts being honoured.
Mick expressed frustration at the lack of progress regarding a new ground.
This is an interminably slow process. Where are we as of May 2009?
The last reference in the political arena was this: The Director of Sustainable Communities, Bill Newman had recommended that a feasibility study be focussed on Blackshots. (Then) Council Leader Terry Hipsey and the Tory Cabinet had recommended that the study looked at Belhus as well.
Since then, the matter has not come back to Full Council or Cabinet. It will and with the football season over, YourThurrock will be chasing this one up.
You can feel for Mick on this one. Give the man his due. Give him the green light and he would roll up his sleeves, get the digger out and start building a stadium.
Let us make this clear. He isn’t a lottery winner, he isn’t a scrounger. He has dragged himself up to build a world for his family. He has tunnel vision (insert Railway joke here), a huge work ethic. In many ways, Mick is the type of person that made Britain the fourth largest economy in the world.
However, go back to the meeting and it was all about him. That self referential streak drove him as a businessmen. But there isn’t a Westview Rail Fans Forum, people aren’t chipping in regarding shift patterns and wage structure.
Perhaps the Supporters Trust can now empathise with Mick as they held their meeting, the vast majority of ignorant fans couldn’t keep their mouths shut for ten minutes. Perhaps then you start to think that, on the whole, they may all deserve each other.
The meeting continued with further issues being discussed.
4.Chain of Command
From which sprung the idea of a Chief Executive (we will come to him)
5. A Supporters Trust
Mick backed and since then has come to fruition
But what became clear was that issue after issue was centred on the club being the victim, even leaving training at Belhus because of “Golfers sticking their noses in”
The meeting ended with the statement:
“Don’t condemn me..as a man..but if i find out the person whose done it…that i have to deal with that situation..that i have to confront that person one day be that at Lakeside or West Ham…because what people don’t realise is that they have go users name but i know who they are…”
The O’Shea Years
Grays, under Tim O’Shea’s management beat Wrexham 2-1. The body language of the team was significant. It was as if a huge cloud had lifted. It was and remained the happiest day of the season.
Three days later, Tim had left the club and Wayne Burnett was appointed.
The defeats ( five in five weeks) kept coming but many, ourselves included, felt that there was something about Wayne that should be backed.
The turning point was the Carlisle matches. The team bonded in the Lake District and they worked hard for the replay. Sloma scored a superb goal in the replay and then the lights went out but the season had been re-ignited. The away win at York, the draw at Stevenage and then a superb run at Christmas saw what Grays Ath with a winning ugly regime could do.
But off the pitch the question was, to what extent was Mick’s personal financial circumstances affecting the future of the team.
In mid-October, budget cuts of up to 50% were announced. Some members of staff reported that pay cheques had bounced and left the club. Players such as Mark Molesley took up the loan option and went up a league. In his case, to AFC Bournemouth.
Mick had to act. He along with hundreds of thousands of businesses had to act. Mick’s point in his mid-October interview was that there are hundreds of businesses in denial. YourThurrock would agree. One of our financial contacts, a year ago, informed us about Southampton and there are many others, who tried to live the dream and are now paying for it.
This was the recession biting. Indeed look at the Press Box at Grays Ath. By the end of the season, veteran Pete Butcher from the Recorder had gone, no Yellow Advertiser, Non-League Today had gone and the Thurrock Gazette had relegated Grays Ath below pigeons and fun runners. Even humble little YourThurrock’s business plan looks forward a week at a time.
Mick recruited retired Firemen Tony Turburville to the club as Chief Executive. The notion was that a Chief Executive would add credibility to the organisation.
Tony assessed the situation and brought a series of initiatives to the club including the successful Kids For A Quid and Easter Soccer Schools.
Tony was gobsmacked at the lack of vision in the borough and that may be where he saw working at Hornchurch as more productive.
Wayne Blooms and Leaves
The ship had been steadied by Wayne Burnett. He wasn’t to every players liking but then again few managers are.
Did he have a problem with personality players? It seemed that way. One of his first acts was to axe Simon Downer. He clearly had a problem with Sam Sloma but he was carving out the results.
Players suchs as Scott Forrester, Gavin Dayes were not world beaters but they were doing a job and they were playing as a team.
Some, more perceptive than us, looked at the interview with Wayne at the Academy and after the Weymouth draw, rang us up and said that Wayne looked like a man on the verge of quitting. He did.
The official line was that Grays were not in a position to fulfill what Wayne wanted to achieve. This may have meant that they could easily cut the coaching budget to Gary Phillips.
And so the Gary era began. Losing by the odd goal to the high fliers and getting vital points at Barrow, Forest Green and Kettering. Players such as Jamie Slabber and Andy Pugh were starting to score the vital goals. Vital because Grays were now in a relegation dogfight. Lewes , Northwich and Weymouth looked doomed. One place was up for grabs.
But Grays away form was poor. This is where Gary’s limitations as a manager were exposed. Against the high flyers away, the team had no backbone , no parking the bus, no steely draw. What was defeat by the odd goal at home became thumping defeats at Oxford, Burton and then came Histon.
The events of that night are well documented.
Argument for the Defence:
Mick felt that the laid back style of Gary Phillips could end up with the team being relegated. This was a runaway train. His natural instinct was to jump on board and pull the brake.
That is what he did. No more goals were scored. He remained on the side line and the team were not relegated. Hardly Queensberry Rules but this is a prison rules time and the gloves were off.
Gary was humiliated but the fact that he didn’t resign there and then, proved the point. Gary is a lovely guy but by not standing up for yourself, you ended up with Roddy Collins and Eddie Youds being feted and on the last day of the season, your job, apparently without your knowledge was advertised in the NLP.
Having said that: Bills to pay, mouths to feed. Not a time for principled stands.
Arguments for the Prosecution.
Gary was humiliated that night. You are either a mature football club or you are not. Mick’s defence is that “I brought him back into football” Does that justify in treating staff like indentured slaves?
Could this happen at Dagenham, Orient, Palace or Spurs. No, because the fundamentals apply. Otherwise people will treat you as a joke.
Perhaps that is what the recession has exposed. When push comes to shove, whether you are Visteon or RBS, years of ethical codes go out of the window.
Mick knew perfectly well what: “There’s only one Gary Phillips”meant and that was why he went into meltdown.
It happens that the team survived with a fine goal by George Beavan against Crawley.
They were able to relax and carve out a fine final win on the last day of the season against Forest Green. Needless to say, even that game was mired in controversy as Blue Square reported irregular betting patterns. The matter is now in the hands of the FA.
60 players have pulled on the jersey for Grays Athletic.
Some signings such as Lee Cannonville have been marked down as “File Under Lord Lucan.”
Jamie Stuart has been a rock as Captain. Yes, the distribution has been ropey but game in, game out he has given everything. He has been the one constant in the back line.
For a large part of the season, Stuart Thurgood looked a pale shadow of himself but he has pulled his form around and when the chips were down produced magnificent performances to secure the teams survival. However, seeing his treatment of Sam Long, someone needs to clip Thurgoods wings and tell him when enough is enough.
Barry Cogan. He has faded in and out of games but is still a special player who can surely flourish in a higher league. His work rate was tremendous and his ability to cut n from the right was also special. We would be very surprised if he was at Grays next season.
The same applies to Ishmael Welsh. Back in November against Rushden he was poor and seemed unable or unwilling to go past defenders. Carlisle re-ignited his season and he certainly flourished under Wayne Burnett. Not forgetting his wonderful goal at Forest Green.
Kenny Davis has been criminally under used. A true future talent. A young team could be built around him.
A young team could be the key phrase. The harsh economic reality will have hit many players. It is all there in the London Gazette.
Many young players will be emptying from the Academies as well as many players simply unemployed. Jobs such as an Usher at the Thameside Theatre have 50 applicants for one post; Teaching Assistant: 150.
It will be interesting to see what the market can bear in the Blue Square Premier.
We would like to think that this time next season, we will be writing far more about what went on, on the pitch.
Having said that, we have really enjoyed it, travelling up and down the country and hope to be doing the same come nine weeks time.
There are many issues that will be looked into during the close season. There are many questions to be asked.
Mick Woodward intends to stand down as Chairman at the next AGM. Who will be the next Chairman. Indeed who will be the next manager?
Someone will take it on. For a young manager, this could be a vital first step. How many of the players can they retain?
We would like to think that the future is the Supporters Trust and as Exeter celebrate another promotion that a Paul Tisdale may wander into town to work in tandem with an ST.
Standing in the Daggers Clubhouse yesterday, creating the bonhomie there doesn’t take a lot of work but the club cannot underestimate the amount of ill-will in the borough engendered by the club over the past few years. There is a fine line by a family run club and an army of occupation.