Boreham Wood Football Club Chairman Danny Hunter spoke to the club’s Media and Communications Manager Grant Morris after the team’s final league game of the season at Chester last Saturday.
GM: Thanks for giving me a bit of time Dan. I know things are pretty busy for you at the moment, with the new stadium pitch, the new floodlights, the dugout’s installation and the new astro training facility build and investment.
DH: More than happy to chat Grant and it gives me a chance to thank you, our supporters, who have been great to me, and thank the dressing room and the club for a tough second season at the new level.
GM: Now the dust has settled Dan, and with a large part of the squad already signed for next season, what are the club’s hopes for next season?
DH: If I’m honest Grant, we are still looking at what perhaps went wrong in the second half of this season. We’ve got a lot of things around the club to weigh up and to consider carefully. It’s always important that I don’t sugar coat things after the season ended poorly, especially as we got a win at Chester on the last day and did finish 11th. That in truth doesn’t tell a true story of a season of two halves and, as such, if we do get sentimental, then no lessons would have been learnt. If that’s the case we’ll most definitely struggle next season and that’s not something myself, Luke or the club want. So it is, of course, important for us all not to rush to make a wrong decision but I feel in recent months that certain people with an influence have not been happy at the club. As such we’ll take a view on a case by case basis and it’s normal that some players and staff will be moved on.
What I can tell you Grant, is that it’s been a mentally draining season for myself, Luke and the full time staff and the players. So perhaps the dressing room staff by Christmas were mentally tired, but the inconsistency, excuses and performances from thereon in, when taking just 22 points in our last 25 games had been apparent to you all for over 5 months. However, with a good summer of player and staff recruitment, with our 1.5 million pounds facility and new Desso pitch build having already started, I believe we’ll be energised and back on track very quickly.
In truth people have not been very happy recently and they know it’s not good enough to have been completely indifferent since November, especially with a squad as talented as ours. As I said above, we’ve taken just 22 points in our last 25 games and no matter how you want to sugar coat it, that’s relegation form over half a season and if we hadn’t started the season like we did, we’d have been relegated.
That said, Luke and myself are so grateful to you and the fans who all stayed with us and the club when we needed you. You never turned on the dressing room when you could have done – we have all seen supporters at other clubs turn on the manager and even with it being difficult we still somehow managed to finish as high as eleventh which was pleasing. As a reward for that, I’m paying for Luke, the players and staff to go away for a 4 day break in Puerto Banus to recharge the batteries in May as an end of season thank you from me for their efforts. After that though the season is over and I’m then only interested in what we can achieve for next season and what we need for this club’s future.
GM: OK Dan let’s review the season a bit, can we go back to last August? We started the season so well and right up until our FA Cup replay defeat to Notts County, the confidence and atmosphere around the club seemed fantastic. We led 2-0 late on against Notts County, got pegged back to 2-2 before losing the replay. We were playing good counter attacking football at that point of the season, looked on course to finish in and around the top 8 but since then there was a decline in form and our points per game stats. So what went wrong?
DH: In truth Grant, your summary is fair but perhaps I’m not the right guy to be answering that as it’s more Luke’s domain. I’m not sure I could even answer your question with any certainty or conviction based on what I saw from Christmas. The reality is the players in the main stayed the same, we actually had far fewer injuries in the second half of the season, perhaps Morgan Ferrier’s niggly injuries were a big loss? But the squad was always strong, always hard working and always seemed committed other than, say, Gateshead at home. So the answers do need to be found but you need to save that one for Luke.
What I can say is that we ensured our budget was strengthened, especially after we sat 7th in the league table in late November. Luke brought in more than a few good players in key areas to supplement the squad between November and the end of February. But the upshot was it all fell a bit flat and it just didn’t happen for us. But you are right Grant, we started the season with confidence, with ambition and with a momentum from staying up the previous season.
I also felt the squad that Luke built last summer was balanced, strong and the team spirit seemed very good. In truth and in hindsight we did always lack the goals that would have made us outsiders for the play offs. But, as you said, from November onwards we fell away slowly at first but more steeply recently and had become disjointed by the season’s end.
GM: Has there been anything going on behind the scenes, that you can perhaps share with us that could have affected either the management, the staff or the players? Was there anything you felt that led to our downturn in form since November as it was pretty clear in your programme notes against Gateshead, that you were acutely aware of our slump, the recent stats, the poor points total from the last 20 odd league games and, like our die-hard supporters, were concerned about how we might start next season.
DH: No Grant there’s nothing I want to share with you, stop looking for a scoop ha ha. Anything said or nonsense dealt with should always remain in house. I’ve learnt over the years, it’s an emotive time at a season’s end because you have to move some people on and some people choose to move on. As such your emotions in football need to be controlled, be truthful but it’s a month when proper leadership and direction is needed if you are a Chairman. But I can say I was pretty confused by the whole season if I’m honest because without question we had progressed quite beautifully early doors but since, and without any solid reasons, we fell away pretty badly in the last 25 games.
GM: Our lack of goals Dan, did seem play a massive part in our struggles this season but also played a similar part last season. At the same time our defence has under Luke and Jason Goodliffe always been very organised and strong. The stats seem to show me that we are defensively a top six side in this division and, if we can get a balance and sort out the goals for column, we would be a force next season. Do you agree or have any thoughts on that?
DH: I have an opinion but nothing more earth shattering than a supporter would have on the terraces. Every manager including Luke is looking for the next Ricky Miller or perhaps a fit Morgan Ferrier but few can actually unearth them and even fewer if you get somebody tried and tested can afford them.
So formations, team selection and players all over the park chipping in with goals is so important. But as an underdog club, hard work, team spirit, togetherness and a crowd increase is equally vital or you could end up relegated. Our goal problem though is very apparent, you are right it’s not really happened for us offensively over the last two seasons. So perhaps if I’m being a little critical, I’d say we don’t commit ourselves forward enough with real self belief and if you play one up top at home, you may get what you deserve?
I always felt personally that when we had Morgan Ferrier in our line up teams feared us more. When he was properly fit and firing as he was until November we were a very different proposition. Perhaps he was the big factor in our great start to the season and to our positive early season mindset? In hindsight when any team’s top goal scorer like Morg’s starts to pick up niggling injuries, it not only affects his fitness, his confidence but the team’s confidence. Who knows if he hadn’t had a stop start second half of the season, would we have had a slump to that degree?
GM: On the other hand Chairman, it does though show that we have come an awful long way in a relatively short period of time, when we’re questioning reasons why we we slumped from 7th to 11th in the National League. To be regretting that we haven’t finished as a top eight club, when playing in the National League for only our second ever season at this level, is testament to the club you’ve built.
Do the staff, supporters, me or the town expect too much of you, Luke and the club? Is it fair to expect you to achieve more than sustain football at this fantastic level with our poor crowds? Also, on that subject, were you disappointed that our home support this season actually dropped by nearly 13% compared to last season and did you know we ended with a crowd average under 500?
DH: Firstly, is it fair for people to expect more from me? In truth it is what it is and people pay good money for their opinion but in the main they are very fair with me.
Secondly, did I know our home support average had dropped 13% this season. Yes but it’s easy Grant to harp on about our lack of support and so many people do use that as an excuse to fail. Perhaps when I look at it even I’m guilty of that but the reality was, and is, we had crap support 18 years ago when I took over, we had crap support 10 years ago in the Ryman League, we had crap support in the Conference South five years ago and we’ve had crap support other than the die-hards this season.
But our budget or our ambition didn’t alter because of sub 500 crowds. I’ve never in truth heard our manager or players use our crowd size as an excuse and our slump was down to other factors I think. The reality is our crowd size and our town’s involvement was and is very disappointing but not just now, over so many years. However, now the season has ended, we can re-evaluate and of course it’s true to say, it’s not easy to attract good players or keep good players when your support base is so low.
GM: OK Danny, moving forward, you have stated previously that there will be an end of season trip away for the players and staff as a club thank you for the season. After that trip certain staff and players will be moving on. How does that work in regards to players and staff leaving and does that prove to be awkward? Also are there player target news you can tell us about for next season?
DH: Firstly no it’s not awkward, the trip is a thank you for last season but it is probably best to summarise your questions. Luke, the players and our staff will finish this season off together in Puerto Banus and we are still hoping to sign two players from our existing squad for next season but the others will either be moved on or will choose to move on.
One member of our coaching staff will be leaving as there is no offer for him and Luke now has his budget, he has his infra structure in place and he’s armed with his player targets. The season has only just finished Grant, our manager is knackered, the squad are knackered, the squad development will be a work in progress throughout the summer and, I hope whether the lads or staff are with us or not come July, that they have an amazing time together.
GM: Dan having seen the pitch works begin and the facility builds currently being prepped all over the club, it’s going to be a busy and expensive summer ahead for you. Being lucky enough to also be in a position where you share your plans for the future with me, it’s again a very exciting time. What happens every summer to our football club seems to shape the club for the foreseeable future. You must be so proud of the club that your Dad managed and your family helped build but what you’ve done in recent years is nothing short of miraculous. The facility is clearly going to another level and there is a collective feel to everything you are doing. You also always seem to keep your loyal staff around you and in recent years many of your younger staff are now in key areas. With Ian Allinson going and Luke Garrard replacing him the workforce is ridiculously young, is that a worry to you in regards to the experienced heads needed in key positions?
DH: Blimey what a good question Grant. Firstly, yes very proud of what we’re doing for the people of this town, the supporters of this club and my father’s memory. As for the builds, the investment and the future builds, they have all been planned, been nurtured, been designed with the next stage in mind and I always build from the bottom up. The doubters have now gone but it’s taken years of patience and more than a tad of flexibility to get to this stage. That said, I’m immensely proud of what’s been done to date, proud of the people who have helped me and played their part in what’s been produced and what can hopefully be achieved in the future. Unfortunately we cannot predict the future but we can shape our destiny to a degree and if we take our eye off things then the budget could spiral? The staff could lose their focus? Another relegation battle may just be around the corner? So we must all remain focused, stay united as a group and be true to our beliefs.
As for the youthfulness or inexperience of my staff Grant, trust me only the youthfulness is true. These people haven’t just landed in those key positions, they have been with me for many years. They have been mentored, they are tested, they have been evaluated and they are trained in the way the club conducts itself and how the club works. These are incredibly talented, loyal and hard working people and when the pressure hits, as long as they understand the support network that underpins the club is there for them, then they, the dressing room and the club will be fine, as that’s what makes them special.
Did you know Grant if you took both myself and my Finance Director Ciara Dyer, who’s been with me 13 years, out of the equation, that the average age of my key staff, from my general manager, PASE manager, bookkeeper, first team manager, medical staff, academy staff, caterers, groundstaff, communications manager and bar manager is just 28 years old, while none have been with me under 5 years. Trust me that youthfulness is not our weakness, that’s our strength and that’s why I’ve built a club and will continue to build our club from the bottom up and not the top down.
GM: I have to say you are always adamant about how you run the club and without sounding disrespectful, you are demanding to work for at times. But in all my time at the club you never stop driving it on and as I told you in a recent email it’s never in my years here ever been stronger. So, and this is putting you on the spot, is it possible to get a small club like ours with such a small support base into the Football League in the foreseeable future?
DH: Firstly Grant, demanding me? Seriously though yes I know I’m demanding and quite often possibly impossible but sometimes both mine and others stupidity because of laziness does drive me crazy. In regards to your question re small club, small crowds and getting to the Football League, no, I don’t think we can for one moment, but who am I to say people can’t dream and if we’d listened to everyone who told us we couldn’t get this far we’d have thrown the towel in years ago. For me we need to stay focused and establish ourselves in this league first, as I’ve seen very big clubs like Halifax and York City get relegated in the two seasons we’ve played at the top level and that tells you how hard this league is just to stay in it.
For us to finish above the Wrexham’s, Torquay’s, Southport’s and York City’s this season, is an achievement and it will be even harder next season. So we will always need to manage certain peoples and staffs expectation. If I can perhaps raise a bit more investment and continue to build our infrastructure with a new stand, if we can get our crowds to grow gradually, then who knows what the future holds but for now I’m just proud to be at this National League level and holding our own.
GM: Lastly Mr Chairman, you started our Academy and PASE scheme all those years ago and you must be enormously proud of what they are achieving at the moment. They are now the National College Champions of England and Wales, they are in another National Cup final at Walsall next week, our Academy skipper has been sold to Wolves and we’ve also produced three England College internationals this season. At the last count around half a dozen boys, have been a part of our first team set up at National League level this season, so by any standard what a season for both them and the club, what’s the secret?
DH: There’s genuinely no secret Grant, just proper investment put in year on year into our facility. Good staff recruitment, with people who care about the boys and who understand the club. Always ensure you have a good secondary infrastructure is in place, with the correct medical staff, correct kit personal, invest in proper transport provision. After that it’s understanding our trial procedures, the hard graft that’s put in at the recruitment stage and importantly never lie to the boys about their ability or what you can offer.
All you need then are good players with the correct attitude, discipline and desire, so it’s easy after that ha ha.
In truth Grant some years you get lucky and get a good crop of lads who drop on your lap and other years you do the exact same things but the ability levels are not so good. Sometimes the blend will work from the off, sometimes it doesn’t. In truth though this present crop of lads are in my opinion, simply special and it shows in their work ethic, in their love for each other, in their love for the club and in their respect for the staff, their parents and the managers.
Remember they are at a very experienced non-league Academy. They have a Chairman who knows that investment in the right areas breeds champions, it wins leagues, it wins national cups, it gets boys back into pro football and even to America to do their degree. But more importantly for most, the infrastructure does get the boys successfully through their training programmes, their education courses and for that, we get the help of our amazing education partners Barnet and Southgate College and their hard working tutors.
GM: Dan thanks for giving up your Saturday and for being so honest. Finally, is there any chance of us getting a Q and A sorted with you and Luke anytime soon?
DH: My pleasure Grant and you’ve got absolutely no chance of a Q and A anytime soon. The manager, you, the supporters and the staff have to recharge your batteries, leave me to complete the club builds over the next three months and we’ll keep you informed as Luke shapes his squad.
GM: Thanks again Dan and hope the squad rebuild and facility builds go well.