Wood gaffer Luke Garrard spoke at length to Boreham Wood FC Media and Communications Manager Grant Morris, about his first 20 months in management. We wanted his thoughts on us staying up next season, the players that he’s released or lost since the end of the season and much more.
Luke also speaks about the squad he’s putting together, and what he expects from his second pre-season as manager of Boreham Wood Football Club.
GM: Luke let’s start by firstly congratulating you from everyone at the club on securing a top half finish. As your first senior managerial position, you inherited a very difficult situation 20 months ago and so it must feel like some achievement in the progression made by finishing eleventh?
LG: Yes it does feel like some achievement, especially after last year and being 90 minutes away from potentially losing our status as a National League side. The last month of the season last year was tough and after the Southport game I honestly feared the worst but, as a group, we were able to do the unthinkable and win three games on the bounce. I honestly feel that put us in good stead for this year, the momentum enabled us to make a good start and we were able to achieve what I feel was a very successful top half finish.
GM: Luke we are not a club who make many staff changes, with many having been at the club for a number of years, so what are your feelings on losing your coach Junior Lewis to Dagenham. Also Luke are you confident that with one of your backroom staff departing and with our talented Academy Head Coach Cameron Mawer’s promotion to first team coach that you can both keep us away from those dreaded relegation spots and keep us moving forward? I guess a strong start is going to be massively important when you look at the strength of the league this season?
LG: Losing Junior will be tough as I felt as a Management Team we worked really well together, he added great experience and game understanding which I felt helped us progress as a squad. But he has decided to move on to Dagenham and I wish him all the best. We have added Cameron to the first team management as Coach, and I honestly believe he will be a huge addition to the team. Cameron has an enthusiasm and hunger to want to progress, an understanding of the level as a player and also as a temporary scout utilised in the last 18 months giving me detailed reports on players and opposition. He will bring an energy and drive to help continue the progression of the Football Club.
The League, in my opinion, this season is going to be the toughest since we were successful in gaining promotion to the National 2 years ago. You look at the two sides who got relegated, and the four teams that gained promotion, add them to the existing big hitters at the level, a positive start is going to be key. We know as a group how important points on the board at the start will be. We will work hard throughout pre season to ensure we can hit the ground running.
GM: Self praise isn’t easy Luke but what do you think your strong points have been when you look back on your first season and a half here as manager? What were the main factors, in your opinion, that kept us up in 2016/17? What were the reasons we saw a real progression in the first half of last season and why then did it fall away after Christmas?
LG: I’m definitely not one for self praise, but I believe I work extremely hard as a Manager of this Football Club, that has been a trait of mine since I came here 10 years ago and I feel that was a key reason for me getting the job 18 months ago. I don’t fold under pressure, and I feel that was one of many reasons we managed to stay at the level last year. I felt the staff and players came together after a particular curry night out and like I said previously managed to do the unthinkable.
The season just gone is still being dissected, you look at the start and think of the reasons we faded. You can look at many things and question whether that was the factor, but it’s definitely something that I have yet to find the answer for. Would I do things different at times? 100% but I’m 31, 18 months into my young managerial career – I’m learning on the job and I see myself improving from all this.
GM: Having sent two long term loan players back to their parent clubs from last season in Anthony Jeffrey and Jason Williams we are promoting three of our Academy players into next season’s first team squad. We’ve only signed eight senior players to date on contract and as such we’ve still got a bit of a rebuild on our hands. What’s your thinking on these points?
LG: We currently have eight lads signed, which I’m very happy with and I feel they are a great base for us to build on. The Academy boys who will join the squad in pre-season deserve every opportunity for what they have achieved this season, and they can be the surprise package to add some real excitement to this already promising squad.
We have targets that have been in at the club the last few weeks, and conversations are ongoing. We have identified who we wish to sign and that is something we will not pull away from. The eight lads we have on contracts are all very good people and have a togetherness which I want to add to so hopefully in the next couple weeks you will see some players who can add to the squad.
GM: If I look at my notes from a year ago you had at this time sent back or not retained up to 18 loan or out of contract players from our relegation fight, while we retained just six. You then signed five experienced players from National League clubs as we entered mid June last year. As it stands you’ve retained eight well respected players at National League level from this season and all have a real pedigree and are experienced at this level. Was that important for you you to do that, before you released players and before you look to bring in more quality to Meadow Park?
LG: The eight players were all signed prior to the end of the season, which was a welcome luxury as we were in a good position knowing we were safe, these eight players have shown they can compete at this level and will have learnt lots about me, the staff and more importantly the club.
Last year we did some great business in June and that is something we have plans to do again. However, we also signed four very good players during the pre-season period, Morgan Ferrier, Angelo Balanta, Grant Smith and Femi Ilesanmi so patience is again going to be important. Currently everyone is looking to do their business, and getting the signatures are of course important but I won’t be rushing to make the wrong decision.
GM: The eight who have been retained and our Academy players all seem very happy to be here, that is surely so important for the team spirit in any dressing room? However, I can tell you that the lack of signings have quietly worried the Wood Army at this point so what are your thoughts on the lack of new signings and, with just eleven existing players including the Academy lads signed to date, what can we expect this summer?
LG: The spirit of the group is good, the majority of the existing squad was in attendance on our post season tour of Banus, which I can imagine has made them grow as a group. We are also planning a pre-season tour which again will only gel this bunch of players closer together, that will also allow for new signings to find their feet and get to know their new team mates that bit quicker.
I can imagine the Wood Army are eagerly anticipating a few new faces, that is something that is definitely in progress. As previously discussed, players have been in at the club and seen all the work being done and we are still in discussions with regards to deals. I’m hoping we can get a few over the line to give the fans some excitement leading up to pre-season.
GM: Having turned down the club’s offer of re-engagement you are going to lose Morgan Ferrier and as such we’ll need a couple of strikers with proven quality up front. Would you rather go for just two with real pedigree rather than three or four with less experience at this level? In terms of the size of your squad size, will proven quality rather than having a big squad be a conscious decision by you or will that be purely down to the budget constraints of the club?
LG: Strikers at this level, and in fairness any level, cost the most money, they have the task of doing the hardest thing in football, and that is scoring goals. I would love four top strikers but I have a budget I have to adhere to, so I will see if I can get two real top top strikers and hope I have enough for a third where I feel competition will give them the drive to want to perform.
I believe 6/7 real quality additions to the already solid base, with the talented young Academy players, will give us a strong squad to start the campaign.
GM: So with your second pre season training programme now including an away training camp for the first time and with some pretty some exciting pre-season friendlies to look forward to are you where you had hoped to be at this stage or are you worried that we still have a bit of a light squad?
LG: The Squad as it stands is light, but we have targets that have been addressed and hopefully they will become signings sooner rather then later. Unfortunately we can’t shop at the top table so patience is key and the month of May is madness and when all players do the rounds. It’s for us to be focused and work extremely hard to nail the additions we have set out to sign.
GM: The Chairman often writes in his programme notes about the improvement he needs to make behind the scenes regarding our facilities. With the club spending a reported £1.5 million in the next couple of months on facilities, does that impact on your budget and are we going to be ready for this level of football in respect of our playing squad?
As an aside, does it help to have the onsite analysis suites, the new 4G Training facilities and gymnasium available to you and the staff? Also with us having introduced the daytime training programme and employing a our daytime catering department last season, has that helped in our professionalism? Can you tell us how different your second pre season will feel, compared to last season’s?
LG: Think I’ve done the squad question to death Grant – as for the new facilities it’s only going to be positive for the Football Club. I have purposely had meetings with potential new signings at the club so they can see exactly what is going on here. I think it’s important they see the infrastructure and vision the club has for the future.
The analysis suites, gymnasium and 4G Astro do help with our preparation, it will enable us to analyse opposition and get that extra bit on information into the players. The Catering department allows for the players to eat and refuel properly which is fundamental with all the travel at this level and to have the Chef cater for the player’s needs is important.
I don’t see much difference between the two pre-seasons, really only the training camp will be a major difference, the luxury for more contact time with the squad should allow for us to get as much tactical and technical knowledge into them at an early stage.
GM: The Chairman is also often quoted as saying our success as a club is very much down to our old supporter’s patience as he builds the club from the bottom up. He’s also quoted as saying our success in recent years is very much down to his loyal day time staff and that obviously includes yourself and new first team coach Cameron Mawer.
You have always believed in his vision over the last decade, you have come through the ranks and you know how the club, the fans and the Chairman think and work. Do you think the staff changes are a positive step and we can maintain this level of football next season? Or is it in anyway conceivable that we could ever dream of going further?
LG: I remember when I first came to the club, the difference from then to now is frightening. We were in the Ryman Premier then and now we sit at the highest non league level, the National League. Our first season in the Conference South we struggled and even though we managed to stay up I never ever felt in four years time we would beat Whitehawk to gain promotion to the National League.
So my point is, why not! Why can’t we progress into the Football League. The Chairman has a vision, the club has progressed and I’m a Manager that wants to manage as high as possible and I hope to achieve that with Boreham Wood FC.
GM: That’s good to hear Luke. We’ve spoken a lot about last season and the squad so let’s look forward now. It seems to me we have a great season ahead – are they your thoughts as well?
LG: They certainly are Grant. As I said earlier, a few years ago we were in the Ryman Premier with no real prospect of promotion and yet here we are in 2017 soon to start our 3rd season in the National League. And what a fantastically exciting season awaits us which I know the wonderful Wood Army are going to love.
I am sure it is still difficult for some of our supporters to believe the games we have to look forward to next season. Boreham Wood playing Leyton Orient – who would have thought it! Then there is Hartlepool United, another club who have never played at this level before. There is much anticipation at the prospect of those games and of course we also have another new club to play in Fylde who have just won the Conference North. Playing those clubs really excite me and that is before we think of the likes of Tranmere Rovers and Wrexham visiting Boreham Wood again.
The Wood Army give us fantastic support for which we are truly grateful and there is a huge amount for them to look forward to next year with the new clubs and plenty of away travel to famous footballing towns.
All these teams will be playing at Meadow Park so we need all the support we can get and it would be great if our wonderful Wood Army can bring friends with them and perhaps interest them right now in the fantastic season ticket offers we currently have – they are amazing value to see us play these teams.
Make no mistake about it we will be very competitive and are not overawed by any of our opponents. We have shown we can compete with the best and we can not wait to get started again next season!
GM: Thank you Luke for being so honest with me. Good luck next season and hopefully we can catch up again soon!!!
LG: My pleasure Grant.