With the season now underway, our away-day travel club manager Grant Morris caught up with Wood Chairman Danny Hunter.

They spoke about his hopes for the club this season, they spoke about the improved playing budget, about the first team, about the key players lost in the wake of our Wembley defeat and the squad rebuild that now faces manager Luke Garrard. They also touched on the Chairman’s own expectations, plus his thoughts on our supporter’s expectations for the new league campaign.

GM: Thanks for speaking to me at such short notice Danny.

DH: No problem Grant.

GM: With our season now four games in, our supporters want to know what your hopes and aspirations are for the 2018/19 season? What we are looking to achieve as a club this season and where you expect the club to be in the foreseeable future and beyond?? 

DH: Well, most of the things you’ve just asked Grant, I’ve been pretty vocal about in the past few months in interviews and in the recent Q and A, so most of our old school supporters already know my mind.

It’s my normal early season mindset, and I still remember what I told you when we first got promoted to the National League. That by simply staying at this level, it would be a success and it is still a huge challenge for me three years on. But, I also think like a fan and like most supporters we are perhaps unrealistic at this time of year. Why? Because we all get carried away, especially after Leicester went and won the Premier league, and we all quote Leicester City as our example of ‘anythings possible in football’ haha – which it is… 

But in reality, I can’t afford to think like a fan and I cannot afford to get in front of myself in regards to making silly predictions, especially after the unexpected success we enjoyed last season. Or, perhaps about what are perceived to be good signings made in pre season. I simply feel we’ve lost too many of our key players since Wembley and as such, we still have a squad rebuild on our hands… 

So rightly or wrongly, I firstly need to have a mindset that says staying up for a small club like ourselves is success. That says survival at this level must always be my first priority and objective, especially in the early stages of a season. But as a fan I do also accept ‘survival first’ does sound so bloody pessimistic Grant.

But reality must dictate and when you have such a small fan base, survival will be our first target and anything else, including a decent league position or a decent cup run, can then be embraced and properly enjoyed as an over achievement… 

I know that’s a really tedious answer Grant and I know I do sound as boring as hell… But I recently told our supporters who attended the recent Q and A that exact same thing – I told them they need a Chairman who’s a realist, especially, as I said, in the early part of any season at this level, or as a club we could be in trouble… 

However, I’m an experienced old campaigner now and based on what I’ve seen over the last month, I genuinely don’t think we will be stuck in a relegation battle this season, not with our quality. Plus, we are a much better club, squad and team, than we were when we first came up. We also collectively have a much better understanding of this level and what is needed, plus we’ve put in place a much better infrastructure than we had three years ago.

My day to day staff are three years older, three years wiser and they all have experience regarding the level. While for me, Luke has reacted intelligently to our success of last season, and the subsequent pillaging of the pro clubs who came in and gutted our talented squad.

Since mid-May, we’ve been reassessing our options and that has gone on all summer, with the upshot being we lost five key players. Plus, we’ve got Kane Smith out to a long-term injury. So, Luke needs my patience and our understanding, so he can calmly rebuild and put into practice the lessons he’s learnt over the last three years… 

I’m very hopeful that come September’s end, we will be a bit wiser regarding our strengths and especially our weaknesses and as such, we’ll be a lot more competitive. We would also have played five of the title favourites in Wrexham, Orient, Chesterfield, Salford and Sutton and we’ll soon know how close we are to these clubs. 

My thoughts are that we could be in for a difficult first few months as our new players settle in, but after that we’ll be fine as the games against the promotion favourites will be the perfect barometer for us to gauge our progress, gauge the squad and hopefully with a few wins, we’ll gain a bit of confidence along the way and go on and realise our potential… 

GM: Is it fair to say you feel we could struggle this season? As that might surprise a few of our supporters and myself after our recent big-name signings and last season’s success?? 

DH: No that’s not what I meant and not quite what I said…. I said I can see us having a difficult or erratic first eight weeks or so until the new players get used to each other, until the players get used to Luke, to his way of working, to his formations and systems and before they feel completely settled in at their new club.

Over the last twelve months Grant, I feel I’ve become a more understanding Chairman and I feel Luke has become a better manager. I also know we are a small but much improved underdog football club both on and off the park. I just feel I have to guard against putting unrealistic pressure or expectation on a new dressing room. As we try to rebuild what was an exciting team to watch and as we try to get as close as we can to what we achieved last season.

To do that, Luke and Cameron must somehow get the balance right and get the squad right, while all the time remaining competitive on half the budget of the bigger clubs…  So I cannot bury my head in the sand by setting the bar too high as I have to be a realist and I have to remind our supporters the realities, or what I call; the ugly truth.

But, you all know, that to try and recreate the best season in our history will be almost impossible. As it means finishing higher than fourth in the National League, going to Wembley again, retaining the Herts Senior Cup, beating another pro club – and that achievement took us 70 years to conquer – and by getting to the Second Round proper of the FA Cup – all the while bedding in a new squad of players… 

GM: Thank you Dan, point taken. However, over the last 10 years or so, after every promotion we’ve been told by the experts that we’ve gone as far as we can, and we’re normally favourites for relegation. It does annoy me that all of yours, Luke’s and the club’s efforts always seem to go unnoticed by people outside of the Town. 

 After every promotion Dan, we’ve always found a way to consolidate and then continued to progress ourselves both on and off the field… So has finishing fourth last season and getting to Wembley finally seen us reach our tipping point?

Can we realistically hope to ever repeat our trip to Wembley or go one better and win automatic promotion, with such a low support base and what you described as an average playing budget… Especially as the club’s non footballing staffing costs must also be huge??

DH: Well, I think quite deservedly Luke is now getting the recognition his talent and hard work deserves. While the playing budget is the playing budget Grant and that has been increased each and every year in my tenure, as we have gone up through the leagues. But as I’ve told you many times before, the budget is not for yours or our supporter’s ears haha, but right now, the budget increase does sting a bit.

Our upward journey through the leagues, especially over the last decade has been fantastic for the club, for me and for our old school supporters. And no, we’re not quite at this proverbial tipping point just yet. As I have another new stand to build and a new set of staff to train, mentor and steer, but as I said earlier, patience will be key… 

Patience is needed because there’s no easy route to improving a football club or getting to the Football League – bearing in mind that it has taken me nearly twenty years to get this far. I know that our journey has involved me making an awful lot of mistakes, where some very good people have got me out of a hole haha. But, I make less mistakes now I’m older and I do think I’ve appointed a very good young manager and I do think I’ve got a team of very loyal staff around me and I know I’ve got a loyal, if small, fan base who have been great to me… 

So, I’ll be trying to help our talented manager and our group of ambitious players and staff to achieve their goals over the next two seasons and we’ll perhaps need a bit of luck, a bit of understanding and a bit patience to get there, but we’ve got some wise old heads and some experience within our ranks?? I also feel I can still steer our club on to greater heights but as a realist, I know if we do hit the buffers at times, then patience from you all will help us to come again… 

As for your comment regarding my day to day staff. Yes, the staffing costs do add up but these are trusted members of staff who are very much needed. Their wages are not significant to the football club, but they do underpin the club and my other companies. As such, these people are essential to a growing part time community football club, and their mindsets energise me.

Trust me though Grant, our staff are incredible people, they work smart, they are loyal, they are hardworking, and they provide me with all the stability and backbone I need, while offering this town an incredible service to both their football club and their community.

So enough about tipping points, as I’ve been hearing those comments since I arrived here in 1999. I’ve perhaps been at my tipping point since day one here haha, but truthfully the fear of failure in both my business and football life still drives me on… And I understand more than anyone, that after last season’s 2-1 win against Blackpool, after our Herts Senior Cup win, after our trip up Wembley way and after taking fourth place in this league… It’s going to be ever so difficult to ever top that…

GM: So, is the plan Dan to continue getting more supporters through the gate through cheap season tickets and by raising awareness through the local schools and through our community programmes?? But wouldn’t it also be fantastic if people started taking up our cheap season ticket offers and started turning their backs on the pro clubs? 

Our newer supporters I’m sure will still want success but will start to understand our journey over the last 10 years or so. But it’s clear by your comments today that you feel it’s getting more and more difficult to achieve promotion, when eight or nine clubs in our league are spending upwards of a million pounds on their playing budgets, and plenty of the others are not far short of that… So financially, what do you think we have to do to be competitive at this level?

DH: What do we have to do to be financially competitive? Well you could start by praying that my lottery numbers come in on Saturday haha. But in truth Grant, we can’t get anywhere near what the big boys are spending in this division. And I don’t want to bleat about that, so good luck to them, because if I had it I’d spend it. As in any business, there’s a premium to buying the best and you have to accept that some will spend more than others. I simply cannot spend more than I can afford or more than I am prepared to cover and for me it really is that simple.

But that means I just cut our cloth accordingly, and yes I am as I get older perhaps getting more community focused… I am certainly more organised, I know what I have to do to continue our progress and I must work smarter. I know I must be more cost effective in my approach and I know we must keep attracting good partners to our football club and keep our amazingly loyal sponsors on board…

But our staffing levels and budgets are all very much under control and as the custodian of our football club, I don’t believe in paying people to do a job that they can’t perhaps do better than me…

So, I won’t employ a puppet chairman, employ a puppet chief exec or employ a director of football at this football club in the foreseeable future. As we need to spend that money on the playing budget, on the facility and on our infrastructure. I also feel better when dealing with my employees on a daily basis, dealing with our finances and dealing with all of my head of departments face to face and on a personal level. But by doing that and not taking a salary, it really does save me a hefty chunk of change… 

But Grant, you’ve known me for close to twenty years and I’ve never worried too much about what other clubs with the huge budgets are doing, as we cannot ever compete with them and as such, I’ve tried to build a bespoke club and academy that works for us and our infrastructure.

GM: Great answer and thanks for your honesty Dan. Right next question, it was only a year ago that everybody had us as relegation fodder and look how wrong those pundits were. We are now no longer seen as National league new boys and when I looked at the prediction leagues from the pundits recently, nobody seems to be relegating us this season – is that a good thing??

DH: Well It’s not a bad thing and we are going into this season with the nucleus of seven or eight players from last season’s squad. So, I make those pundits right, and come May I hope to be nowhere close to being in those relegation spots. But we’ll still need to ensure that our style of play suits our new guys and we can judge that in the next eight weeks or so. Then and only then, will we know if this squad can go close to a top 12 or top seven finish and then we’ll see if it can deal with the pressure of Luke Garrard’s training programme, his expectations and cope with what will be a long, relentless and exhausting season…

GM: Without putting words in your mouth, is it fair to say you’re expecting a backs to the wall type of season and do you feel that with the present levels of our home and away support, that promotion can’t ever be an expectation, but should be an ambition? 

DH: Yes that’s about fair Grant and yes I do expect a difficult season for me personally, because I also have a new stand to fund and build – but I also know that if Luke and Cameron can settle us down quickly and get this squad to gel, then it’s not impossible for us to challenge and enjoy another successful season. But for now, the high expectation levels cannot be set too high, I feel they need to be adjusted or they could perhaps suffocate us.

In regards to our support, it’s certainly getting better each year… But I feel if the home support doesn’t edge above a thousand within two years and if our away support does not improve a tad, then it would be difficult to ever achieve promotion.

But we’re moving forward in small steps and I’m happy things are improving albeit slowly. So let’s just bed in the new players and new staff quickly and let’s hang onto the top seven’s shirt tails until January – then we’ll see what an underdog club with its mojo back can achieve, as it’s amazing what confidence, a bit of luck and a bit of experience can give our dressing room come the business end of a season..

Our new squad must be seen as a work in progress, it is clearly a very physical and imposing squad, but it is also a small squad in numbers. I feel we might need to add a tad more quality offensively and in the wide areas, but it’s still very early to make snap decisions.

Experience though has taught me, that the togetherness of a small squad, can often be a huge advantage, especially when a new and talented group of players need bedding in. Trust me that has been evidenced here so many times over, with those three incredible promotions and Play-off wins over the last decade and the numerous cup successes.

GM: Finally Mr Chairman, Luke for me has done really well with his re-signings from last season and his signings in pre season. It’s clear in this interview that you and him work very closely on the budget and on player targets over the summer months. As a National League manager, is it getting harder for Luke and all managers at this level to sign players, extend player contracts and/or move players on without the use of agents who are getting more and more involved it seems at this level?? 

DH: What a good question haha… Yes, it’s getting more difficult not only for managers to do their jobs but for clubs to operate correctly because of agents and intermediaries. Most agents are now driving football to distraction and most agents talk a good game, but they don’t know the game…

They clearly only take money out of the game, they drive costs up and they never put into clubs or footballing industry’s infrastructure. That’s why I still have a court case outstanding with an agent, his agency and his intermediary and that’s ongoing as we speak.

But how managers and chief exec’s cope with their nonsense – is anyone’s guess haha, but I can tell you that if this pre season is anything to go by, it is getting much worse. Even at our level, players are being encouraged by their agents to tell managers, chief execs and chairman, who need to talk to them about disruptive behaviour, time keeping, performance, attitude, discipline or whatever it is, to go through their agent – when they are employees just like everybody else trust me.

Grant it’s honestly laughable… But you are correct, I do work closely with Luke in pre season and I have worked closely with him throughout the last three seasons. But not just in relation to players but by providing an improved training facility, a new Desso grass-master pitch, an improved floodlighting system and dugouts, plus a new first team changing room rebuild and of course an improved budget.

Luke would get any help or guidance, if he feels he needs it, and any help or opinion if he asks for it and he sometimes gets that when he doesn’t ask for it with his recruitment haha… Half of our present squad have been signed since May and I feel Luke’s standing as a manager and our investment in our pitch, training facility and our infrastructure are huge factors in why good players sign here and these things often help Luke to seal the deals…

But I also have other things to consider in April, May, June, July, August, September and October with some of my other companies. As these are the busiest building months for me Grant, especially with my properties and sports education programmes. These are also my busiest refurb months, the busiest exam months, the busiest recruitment months and all these considerations often dictate my budgets for all my companies throughout the whole year… 

In truth we might still sign a player or two, we are still busy trying to attract sponsorship and I have only recently tied up important contract extensions with the likes of Barnet and Southgate College amongst others. I want to enlarge my community department but that can only be done if the council stop putting obstacles in my way and we are still busy recruiting student/scholars for the BW PASE Academy…

If we’re successful, then I hope to build a new North Stand and increase employment levels in key areas. But it’s vital I show patience and support for Luke and my staff. As many of my staff like Luke are young and ambitious, but I know it’s only August and it’s a long and exhausting season, but they’re all still learning all the time. 

GM: Thanks for giving up your time Danny, let’s hope we have a great season and let’s have a decent run in both the FA Cup and FA Trophy… 

DH: My pleasure Grant, remember we shouldn’t get in front of ourselves, as you have seen what happened to the likes of York, Chester and Torquay recently, while Woking thought they were safe at Christmas last season and look what happened to them. So, let’s all understand our DNA is that of an underdog club and let’s accept an underdog’s mentality helps us to remain at this level.

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