By Grant Morris
With the season now looming, media and communications manager Grant Morris spoke to Wood Chairman Danny Hunter about the coming season, the improved budget, the revamped first team squad, his young manager Luke Garrard and about his own expectations for the coming season.
GM.. Thanks for speaking to me at short notice Mr Chairman, with the season nearly upon us, our supporters will want to know what your hopes and aspirations are for the 2016/17 season and what we can hope to achieve or expect to see in the foreseeable future and beyond??
DH.. Hopes and aspirations Grant are often misguided at this time of year. Especially with supporters up and down the country getting carried away and expecting too much from their clubs. I will try not to get in front of myself in regards to making silly predictions or forecasts regardless of our perceived good signings.
I think survival for a small club like ourselves is the only objective for me at this stage of a pre season. Survival with our support base must always be seen as success to me and anything above that including decent cup runs, must be embraced as bonuses that can excite the town, me, our staff, our manager, our players and of course our fan base.
I know Its boring being a realist Grant but as a Chairman you have to be. That said and based on what I’ve seen in the last month on the pitch, I think we’ll certainly avoid a prolonged relegation battle this season. I say that because I have last seasons as a comparison and I know that we are now a better team, that we have a better squad, we are a year wiser at this level and we’ve re-acted I think intelligently to what we’ve learnt over the last 12 months.
So I’m hopeful you’ll see us being competitive from the first league game on August 6th, when we play the title favourites Forest Green Rovers. It couldn’t of been a more difficult start I suppose but we’re fine with it, as the game will be a perfect barometer to gauge our progress.
GM.. So we can expect a better start to the season then Dan, as we only had 7 points after 11 games last season and three of those points came from our opening day win against Halifax??
DH.. Yes I do expect us to accumulate more than seven points after the first eleven games this season. Playing two of the title favourites in Forest Green and Tranmere Rovers early on though not easy, will be good for us and as I’ve already said it will give us a good gauge on where we are.
In just twelve months Grant, we are a much improved club both on and off the park and our fans and other clubs know that.. So I have to guard against us being over confident but also remain quietly bullish so as not to dampen both our dressing room optimism or our supporters ambition.
GM.. So if we do get off to a good start Chairman, is there a glimmer of hope where you can see us challenging for a play off spot??
DH.. In truth Grant no and I will not set the bar too high.. It’s safe to say that for us to create the best season in our history, means us finishing sixth from bottom and getting to the first round proper of the FA Cup and this dressing room is more than capable of achieving that.
GM.. Over the last 10 years after every promotion we’re seemingly told by the experts that we’ve gone as far as we can and the club is rarely given any credit for its achievements.. Yet after every promotion Dan, we seem to find a way to consolidate and continue our progress both on and off the field.
Now we’re at National Premier League level have we now maxed out and finally reached our tipping point, as the increase in the clubs playing budget, the catering, security, medical and transport costs must be huge and a strain on you to support??
DH.. Well the budget is the budget Grant and that has needed increasing every year as we have gone up through the leagues but the amounts are not for yours or the supporters eyes and ears right now ha ha but it does sting a bit..
Our upward journey is testament to our staff and we give hope to every small club that sustained success for a little club is possible. That said success has not been without its problems, It’s s been a long, tough journey with many doubters, that’s taken me 17 seasons with plenty of set backs. It has though been a fantastic journey and there’s so many people for me to personally thank and mention but it would fill every line of this interview to name them all.
The main partners in our journey though know who they are and I’ve been very lucky to have good managers, loyal staff, patient supporters, talented players and a supportive council to help me. Plus I’ve always prided myself over the years on being bloody organised and realistic.
These rules though simple, have played a massive part in our progress and I still stubbornly stick with our very simple formula, of only ever taking small steps, never spending what I haven’t got and never putting the clubs welfare at risk.
GM.. That’s underplaying your hand a bit Dan, in your time here you’ve spent millions. You’ve built the training facilities, the gym, bar and the offices. The new stand has transformed the ground, we’ve now got study suites, classrooms and a mentality within the dressing room that got us National league football for the first time in our history. Is it all luck or is there a secret of all of our recent success??
DH.. People are the secret, it’s that simple.. Perhaps a bit of cautious leadership on my part has helped steer the staff over the years. Being patient in later life and backing people to realise their potential has paid off. Perhaps as I’ve got older and wiser its helped my staff, our dressing room and our supporters to understand me and our football club a little more and perhaps I’ve made us all appreciate that with hard work nothing is impossible?? There’s been no secret to our success though Grant, just good people, no debt, hard graft, more good people and more than a bit of Lady Luck.
Grant sorry to jump back but you touched on catering, segregation and security costs in one of your earlier questions.. Your right that these costs are way too much and they are a burden of sorts to us but it’s important that people understand that they are very necessary at our current level.
For example our new catering department doesn’t come cheap but it is going to be absolutely necessary. It will also give local people employment and I will insist that we buy all of our produce from locally sourced companies. So initiatives like that if I can make them a success really do please me.
Remember Grant, our new supporters and our stadium visitors, whether they are away fans, home fans, Arsenal ladies fans or Arsenal development fans, they are all adding to the local economy with their third party spend.
These people use our shops, our pubs, our cafes, our newsagents, our petrol stations etc. They use the council owned car parks and they help our local economy by generating thousands of pounds of needed revenue.. Again our small local football club is making a difference to the wider community!!
Our local police now work closely with us to look after our visitors and they are more than fair regarding their costings but everyone should remember that all visitors to our stadium who use our high street, are genuinely helping the local businesses in and around Shenley Road and as such we’re helping the local economy to grow.
The security firms that we now use for our stadium stewarding are also pricing themselves competitively and on the whole these people are all providing a good service and again we are creating further employment.
Grant I want a ground and a match day experience that is inclusive and for everyone. I want days that are only about our football club, about family days, about enjoying a bit of success at National level and most importantly without incident.. So if we want to play in a big boys National Premier league, the council has to help, the fans have to attend, the supporters must feel safe and that means i must pay the going rates to ensure that everyone’s well being and enjoyment is our main priority.
As for us reaching our tipping point financially. I’ve been here since 1999 Grant and it’s been at its tipping point since the day I arrived.. Only now though is it highlighted all the more as we play the Tranmere’s and Wrexham’s of this world.
When you consider there are three or four clubs in our league with million plus budgets and plenty of others who are not far short of that.. Then it’s a miracle we’re at this level but in truth I’d say we are just about competitive financially and we never spend more than I can either afford or am prepared to cover.
It has always meant that we have to be more organised, brighter, better and more patient than the clubs who operate from a similar position to us. I have never worried about the clubs with the huge budgets as I cannot compete with them. That said we can now compete with the Braintree’s, Woking’s, Suttons and Bromley’s in the South of England and that marks real progress for a club like ours.
GM.. It was only a year ago Dan, that we were going into the season as the National league new boys.. On reflection were we going in blind as we had kept a lot of our successful play off squad and some of those players may in hindsight not been quite at the level required??
I also recall, we signed Billy Clifford, Danny Woodards, Preston Edwards and Harry Crawford and an injured forward in Charlie Macdonald quite early. Then a few weeks before the season started we signed Luke Howell, Conor Clifford and Scott Doe and took Jamie Lucas from Bristol Rovers on loan.. You told me before last season started, that you thought we were strong at the time but after we lost 8 of our first 11 games did you change your mind??
DH.. Blimey Grant, your memory is ridiculously good and hindsight is such an easy medium for us all to master. Also there are 6 answers needed somewhere in your last question, so I’ll try to touch on each of your points briefly.
Ok being brutally honest, though many of our play off final squad were very good players, they were not quite up to the next level. Hindsight is never available a year in advance, so perhaps our loyalty early on did get us into trouble and perhaps our naivety until we went to a day time training programme, did nearly did cost us relegation??
It’s no coincidence though Grant, that not one player from our play off final squad other than Calum Reynolds and Luton loanee Lee Angol managed to leave us and find a National Premier club or above and that is I suppose is a telling fact..
In the end I believe we stayed up last season because of our hard work, our defensive unity and the likes of Scott Doe coming to the table. We also used the loan market and the Anthony Jeffrey transfer money very well. We worked incredibly hard on and off the park and when people tried to divide us we stood firm, while refusing to accept what everyone on the outside felt was our inevitable and predictable relegation..
Last season though Grant is now boring me. It’s all consigned to the clubs history books and it’s now gone. It’s about us now, it’s about what we have learnt and what we are about to do.. Isn’t it about what we can do this Saturday and do this season.. What interests me now is what can this group of players achieve and what can this management team achieve?? It’s does interests me more at the moment than the past 12 months..
GM.. With us sorting out league safety on the last day of the season at Welling. The supporters, as all supporter do around the country, will be hoping for a better season in 2016/17. Are they realistic to expect anything other than a relegation battle next season with our level of home support and is it fair of them to expect a better start to this season compared to last year??
DH.. It’s absolutely correct for our supporters to not expect a relegation battle. It’s absolutely correct for our supporters to expect a better start and for them to expect a better season and dream about beating a pro club in the FA Cup and to plan for a trip up Wembley way in the FA Trophy.. Whether that expectation is realistic or not, is another matter and that is a completely different conversation that we can all have another day..
Every year Grant, that I’ve been Chairman and I’ve had a few gaffers remember. We finish our pre season with an expectation and we never have the luxury of hindsight. We think we’re either better than we are or we quietly say nothing but fear the worst. For the record I do think that this is the best squad on paper that we have ever assembled but it is a small squad and it has not got enough fire power at the moment and that is a worry to me..
Unfortunately we know we haven’t got the financial clout of the big boys. We haven’t got a Lee Angol waiting in the wings and we will as I’ve said have to operate with a very small squad.. The upshot of our small squad, is that it is fit other than Daniel Uchechi. It is focused, it is ambitious and it really does have great quality.
Experience has taught me over so many years that a small squad is not always a bad thing. It can often be an advantage, as has been evidenced with three promotion winning campaigns over the last ten seasons and all with small squads.
If we have got our day to day and backroom staff right. If we have got our player recruitment right and if our squad is adaptable, which it is. If we get lucky with both injuries and suspensions, then our 16 to 18 man squad with its quality, can make the managers and Chairman’s job so much simpler.
Why?? Because it allows every player to know where they stand. A small squad is often the catalyst for a closer dressing room and better team spirit. That spirit is hard to achieve with a big squad, players become unhappy and disruptive when they are not all involved on a Saturday. So a small squad can energise a whole club, for example it can energise our academy as it will use its players. It in turn energises our academy coaches who can see their work being appreciated and it can energise our young players as they can see a pathway to where they want to be..
GM.. Finally Mr Chairman, this has been your first pre season for years without Ian Allinson at the helm, has it felt strange?? Also has Luke done well in what is his first pre season as a National Premier League manager and without being rude, can we expect a more exciting brand of football especially at home for the coming season??
DH.. Firstly in case you haven’t noticed Grant, I have worked with Ian Allinson throughout pre season by providing him with half his squad up the road at St Albans. I’ve also sorted out his training facilities here at the club, so even though he has left us we’ll still see him around the place ha ha.
Secondly no it hasn’t seemed strange not working with Ian. The type of pre season needed at our level is more than full on. You don’t have time to reflect on those type of things, as we have so much to do in May, June, July and August. It’s probably true to say that those four months of each year, dictate what I can and cannot do throughout the whole season..
To answer the last point of your question “Has Luke done well in his first pre season in senior management”? yes I think Luke, his staff and the players have done very well.
I told you Grant when I appointment him, that I knew what I was getting. I understand him and how he works. I understand how he sets up his teams up and his teams will never be gung-ho.. He likes a more measured approach but again I understood that when I appointed him. People forget he’d worked for me and in my Academy, working his way up for nearly 10 years. His teams always mirrored him, they were always organised, they always worked hard, they always learnt quickly and they were always hungry to succeed..
I’ve seen all of those things already in pre season and in truth last season at times. So I’m not in the least bit surprised at our strengths and I’m looking forward to the season ahead immensely..
GM.. Thanks for giving up your time Danny and let’s hope we do have a great season and have decent cup run in both the FA Cup and FA Trophy..
DH.. My pleasure Grant.. We must not forget that our DNA is as an underdog club at this level and that must always be the case for us to remain here..
If we focus on upsetting some of the bigger clubs this season starting with Forest Green Rovers on Saturday. We’ll get ourselves safe soon enough and that will give us a platform to attack the FA Trophy in earnest. A trip up Wembley way is a dream that I have for the town and with luck over the next few years we can all realise that dream!!!