Boreham Wood Football Club formed in 1948, and this season marks our 70th year celebrations. Saturday saw a historic cup derby against our biggest local rivals St Albans City, in the FA Cup 4th qualifying round, away at Clarence Park.
The superb 3-1 victory has been rewarded with an FA Cup First Round proper tie at home to previous cup winners Blackpool. And, should be seen as another small stepping stone in our progress towards hopefully getting into the Football League one day.
With emotions still raw, our new Media and Communications Manager Craig Draycott, managed to catch up with a happy, contented and slightly emotional Boreham Wood Football Club chairman Danny Hunter, after the game.
For his troubles, he got an unguarded, off-the-cuff questions and answers interview, that threw up more than a few interesting responses.
CD: Hello Chairman. Well, you told us before the game that the town and the supporters wouldn’t let you down; that Luke was ready to deal with anything Ian Allinson could throw at us and you asked for a turnout from the Wood Army, all of which happened.
Having had your faith in the club, the town and the supporters rewarded, what were your thoughts before, during and after the win?
DH: Hi Craig, my feelings during these big games, as I get older, are always very controlled on the outside. But today, I was also really calm on the inside and I think that was because I knew Luke was focused. I knew he was calm and I knew what we had in our armoury. I felt it would need a huge mistake or refereeing decision, for us to get done, as this St Albans City team, even with my pal Ian Allinson at the helm, wouldn’t be strong enough defensively, or clever enough up front, with a lone striker to hurt us.
Without being derogatory, we felt that they might not have enough offensively, if Charlie Walker was the one they played up top, and if he got isolated, they would be predictable and that’s how it turned out for crucial periods.
The pen they gave away was soft, but you see those given some days, and not the next. But, there was contact, it was given and our strength all over the park told. We scored twice, we hit the bar, we had further chances for both Angelo Balanta and Shaun Jeffers, and the game was over by half time. Across the whole 90 minutes, it was strangely never overly worrying, and if we’re being unemotional about it, apart from a 10-minute spell when they scored at three nil down, the game was perhaps an occasion for the fans, but as a contest, it was a non-event.
Remember, today was perhaps the biggest of all of the local derbies between the two clubs in our 70-year history. It was certainly the biggest in my time here as chairman, as my friend was managing in the opposition dugout. So, for Luke to tinker with his selection so intelligently was pleasing. For him to be so focused and calm was great for me to witness, and I’m so pleased for him, his staff and his dressing room, and of course, ecstatic for our much-maligned supporters, who were great today.
For this game to be televised was a real bonus for us, as it gave the players the chance to show who the top non-league team in Hertfordshire now are. I feel that the balance of power had shifted some time ago, but now everyone has had the chance to see it, and that’s important to our development, and I think it helps for our local council to see and hopefully they can continue to back our plans for the future.
For us to win such a big game so comfortably, was I suppose, a statement of intent in itself, and shows how much we’ve improved. It was a statement that says the gulf between the two clubs, presently, both on-and-off the field, is perhaps at its widest since I became chairman in 1999?
I also thought our supporters turned out in numbers and were great today, and I loved how many of my family, my friends, staff and even sponsors attended this game. As that shows just how committed they all are to our football club, our dressing room and to the future.
There really was a feel-good factor across the club for today’s game, and a mind-set, that said we couldn’t lose – it’s difficult for me to explain. But, the confidence was everywhere, from the boardroom, from the dressing room and you could hear the confidence and fun our fans were having on the terraces throughout the whole game. As I said, it felt like the whole club thought we wouldn’t, or couldn’t get beat.
CD: I was only employed in the media department by yourself in the summer, but I have heard lots of talk from people about last season’s match against St Albans in the Herts Senior Cup, where a young Wood side lost 1-0.
I have heard that their boardroom sent you a celebratory photograph of their owners, management and staff, from a local restaurant, raising their glasses, and that you were very unhappy about that?
Now that we have beaten them, have you got a response to that message, and can you enlighten me, and our fans, as to what really went on?
DH: No not really Craig, that’s really a private question, and the sort of nonsense that needs to be put to one side. What went on, was I hope, just a bit of high spirits on their side, after they’d had a few drinks, and nothing more. I feel it should have stayed private, and not been common knowledge amongst the Saints players and certain supporters, or spoken about openly in the boardroom.
But yes, they did send me a celebratory photo to my private email address. This I think though, has already done to death on their forums and in their dressing room. It’s not something that needs to be raised again today.
But, let me clarify something, the next day Ian Allinson, who knew absolutely nothing about this photo being sent, until it had gone, rang me up first thing the next morning and apologised. That apology was accepted and in truth, it really is yesterday’s news.
What I will say to clear things up once and for all, is this. Before that photo was sent, I’d done nothing since Ian had taken the job, but help him, and St Albans, in any way I could, up to that point. I had let him have good players for giveaway prices, I steered good players their way, I even arranged good training facilities, good medical facilities and fantastic gym facilities for St Albans, at hugely discounted rates, to give them a professional training set up. But after that photo, my help sort of stopped, and unfortunately for them, so did their season.
CD: I know that you still have a great relationship with Ian Allinson, as I saw for myself in our boardroom at the recent Eastleigh game. But Chairman, can I push you and ask if the relationship with the St Albans’ owners, and secretary, is as good as you would like?
DH: ‘As I would like’?? What a strange question ‘as I would like.’ Craig, it’s not a popularity contest for us all. We’re all winners and we all run very successful businesses, and not only two rival clubs. I simply want to run the best club I can, and it was, in hindsight, a stupid photo to send, and it aggravated things at the time, nothing more.
Today though, is not the day to bring this up, but as you’ve now got me at it, I probably did feel that certain things could have been handled slightly better. But, it’s hardly a big deal when we’ve just knocked them out the cup, and you will probably get me in trouble if you keep on with these questions haha.
CD: Okay, one last question on the photo-gate subject Chairman, and we can return to the game.
Because Chairman, I know that our supporters are interested in this subject, and it’s what makes local rivalry so good. So, could you at least enlighten us on some of the things that were done to upset you?
DH: I simply felt that Laurence Levi should not have met and interviewed my then director of football Ian Allinson, behind my back, while Ian was still employed by us. Ian has since explained the circumstances, which I took on-board, but at the time it hurt, and in truth, it did perhaps add some spice to today’s game for me.
But, for lots of other reasons, today’s win is special to me. That has to include the treatment of my father when he managed there. Plus, the fact that I’ve had two opportunities to buy their football club and that’s meant I cannot help but watch what goes on there closely. I also have so many friends and family who live there, so knocking them out does feel great, but beating Ian does feel strange and as such it makes it a bitter sweet FA Cup win.
As I said prior to kick off, this was a game for the ages, and what’s gone on in the past can now, I hope, stay there. We did our talking on the park, we’re now in the hat for the next round and Ian and myself are still the very best of friends and that’s what’s important to me.
CD: Thanks for such honest answers Chairman. I know that you still hold Ian in such high esteem and I know how much you like the town of St Albans. You must do, as you often socialise there, so sorry to be pushy on this, but thanks again for such candid answers.
Can I now touch on something, having not known you for very long, that I was told just last week. And that was that you have strived for many years to be the top non-league side in Hertfordshire, is that true?
With Watford and Stevenage now both in the Football League, surely nobody can dispute that tag any longer. Especially having won so comfortably here today, and of course, with us having already achieved National League status.
DH: Yes, it is true, I felt for many years, that going into the start of every season was a real struggle at our club, and in truth, when we were in the Ryman North, it was a bloody nightmare to stay afloat. I think over the years we’ve become a bit of a marmite club, with of course, a marmite Chairman at the helm haha. And in certain quarters, we never got the credit that our club really deserved. I always felt that would remain the case, until we became the top non-league club in Hertfordshire.
So, for the last ten years or so, what we’ve actually achieved here has been driven by trying to be better than all of the other local clubs. In my opinion, what we’ve built at Meadow Park, is phenomenal, and I feel that it’s brought us a begrudging respect from the doubters.
But, I’ll take begrudging respect after three promotions in 10 years and I’ll take begrudging respect for our year-on-year progress. But outsiders should remember, it’s all been done slowly and it’s all been achieved with the club debt free. Apart from our fantastic new pitch rebuild last summer, which I have Arsenal to thank for, it has had relatively little to do with the Arsenal Ladies being here. That’s why the progress we’ve made has been gradual and why it had to be made step-by-step over 18 seasons, as I had to finance it, and it couldn’t be rushed.
Craig, I know that compared to the Tranmere, Orient and Wrexham’s of this world, we’re still a very small club. But, I feel a few southern based clubs like us, Bromley, Dover, Maidstone and Sutton, have shown others the way. I feel with good staff, good players, a bit of investment, a business plan and with a bit of ambition, that you don’t have to bankrupt a club to be successful, even if you get poor crowds.
It does mean that you need progressive people around you, it does mean you need to get rid of negative people and it does mean you need to create a club with more than one or two income streams. But yes, it was an ambition of mine to be the top non-league side in Hertfordshire, and I think that’s now been more than achieved.
Walking back into Clarence Park though, must be like walking into a time warp. And, my memory in fairness, goes way back to when my father managed there in the seventies. Their lack of change is frightening, and surely can’t mean that everyone is happy? Because, apart from a lick of paint, a newer perimeter fence and the famous diseased tree, that’s now gone at the Hatfield Road end, it’s almost identical to when I ran around there as a kid, annoying my dad, who was trying to manage on a match day.
In truth, without investment, I now see Hemel Hempstead as the next up and coming non-league club in Hertfordshire. I think their chairman Dave Boggins has done a great job at Vauxhall Road, rebuilding what was, until he took it over, a club going nowhere. Each year, Dave tries to improve their facilities in some way, and by his own admission, Hemel still have some way to go. But, knowing Dave like I do, I believe he’ll get there in the end.
I still believe that all boards, chairman or owners, with clubs in the Ryman North, Ryman Premier or equivalent leagues, can succeed with a bit of patience, and a game plan. And, if they ever want advice from me on my many mistakes, then they only have to call.
We only got here after a lot of pain and after a lot of bad mismanagement, mainly by me in the early days. Only by stripping our first team budget back in 2002, and only by consciously starting with a different approach, did we begin to improve. That meant having to rebuild our club from the bottom up and by taking that decision, some of my supporters hated me for many years, and no doubt some still do haha.
But, I needed to re-invent our DNA, as I didn’t want a drinking club for the few, I wanted a club for everyone. I wanted to build an associated sports/education programme, with an elite academy, based totally at the club, that we could be proud of. I wanted a manager who understood how to work hard, and how to control his spending and budget.
Trying to find that balance was, in truth, a nightmare. We still had a promotion or two, but, we also had a relegation or two to deal with, and that’s how it would go. All the while, I attempted to build an infrastructure, that would be far superior to every one of our local rivals in Hertfordshire. Craig, I’ve stuck to that ethos, each and every year since then, and that was back in 2002 and that’s why we are where we are.
CD: It’s taken 18 years, you’ve had more than a few setbacks and it’s needed plenty of investment, but Chairman, we’re taking the bragging rights home to South Hertfordshire. We’re also into the FA Cup first round proper and you’ve clearly got a smile on your face this afternoon, that tells its own story. So, has today given you and the club anything that you didn’t already know?
DH: No not really Craig, I already knew we could deal with pressure, and beating St Albans City was probably sweeter for me, than it was for my young manager Luke Garrard and his dressing room. I feel it was just another game for them, as they were so professional about what they did, and they never had any doubt about what they would do.
I do know though, that it feels great for me to remember where we started back in 1999, and to watch everyone celebrate a well-earned win together on the Clarence Park pitch. I do know today allowed me to remember my father’s memory, and a time when he allowed me on the Clarence Park pitch, for a kick about after games with him, always at the Hatfield Road end.
I also know it felt great for the players to play in front of the TV cameras, celebrate in front of our supporters, and in front of a few opinionated Saints fans, and the old press guy over there, who can’t help himself but be cynical of me, our club and my father’s memory. I’m just glad Ian Allinson also thinks their press guy is an opinionated tool, I mean an opinionated fool haha… Only joking haha, edit that Craig as I’ll get Ian in trouble and it’s of course absolutely not true.
Anyway, back to your question – what do I know? I know that today, when the emotion goes, wasn’t a scalp, or in any way an unexpected win. Luke and the players would feel it was a job well done, and a win against an inferior team from a lower division, that wasn’t a surprise to anybody at our club.
I also know that my president and our club founder Bill O’Neill will celebrate his 90th birthday next week. And, he will now get the chance to see us play in the First-Round proper, and trust me, I so wanted us to win the game for him. This win was maybe expected in the year of 2017, but trust me, it was 70 years in the making, and that’s what makes our founder Bill O’Neill and his 90th birthday so special.
I know the doubters are entitled to their opinions, but Boreham Wood Football Club have in my time in the chair, gone from the Ryman North to the Ryman Premier, from the Ryman Premier to the Conference South, and from the Conference South to the National League, and I’m very proud of that. I also know that every time we get written off, and every time we’re called a tinpot club, it makes me even more determined to get us into the Football League one day.
I also know that today I’m bursting with pride at what Luke, the boys, my staff and our supporters have done. I know tonight I’ll enjoy talking to my sons, tonight I will love the energy in our town, tonight I will love our football club even more, and like any football fan, when you have just beat your local rivals, the world will always seem a much happier place.
CD: Thanks chairman, that’s an interview from the heart.
DH: My pleasure Craig, make sure you enjoy tonight, don’t drink too much and don’t be late for work on Monday.