Thursday, 8 June 2017

2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 n' all that

Last season, that is to say, the one before the 2016-17 campaign, I attended 206 matches... and chronicled (more or less) each and every one of them on this here long winded, self indulgent, bullshit blog, with added football content.
That is a crazy amount of games for anybody to watch, narrate and take photographs of, in such a short space of time; particularly somebody who has a family and works full time away from football.
In fact, hands up... it borders on a severe mental illness sized case of obsessiveness.
Yet, in spite of setting out not to do anything like as many games this time around, I have actually surpassed that total across the course of the season that is just coming to a close... and I think that still has at least one more fixture to squeeze out of the tube as of yet.
As long as it's my unwavering enthusiasm for the game and the culture (subculture?) surrounding it, that continues to inspire my prolific travels, and it never becomes just some sad exercise in number crunching and list ticking; then I would anticipate that the total amount of grounds I visit and games I watch next season, could well stretch beyond fifty again too.
As regards the past twelve months, for the most part I could've just cut and pasted the majority of my overview of the 2015-16 season, which appeared on THE66POW in June 2016 and recycled it under the guise of a new post, such were the similarities between the two campaigns.
The Mansfield Town Under 18 team that I was involved with for my second (and last) season, won their league title again, even though they found opposition teams raising their game to topple them as reigning champions.
But of course, success in development football isn't merely measured by the haul of silverware that any team accumulates, but the fact that six young footballers signed pro contracts this months, to join the four who progressed up through the ranks last year, is the true measure of this sides achievements; and the quality of some of the lads who have been released was quite staggering and highlighted just how brutal the game football can be, how high the bar as been set and just how narrow the lines between making the step up, or dusting yourself down to face whatever the next big decision and challenge in life might be.
The one thing that all of the lads must keep doing, whether they are staying at the club or not, is to never stop believing in themselves.
It is easy to excel when things are going well and people are blowing smoke up your arse, so to speak, but it's how you deal with the down time, when things don't seem to be going so well, that will ultimately make or break any aspiring footballer.
Self doubt is the quickest way to render yourself ineffective and will derail anybody who was on a journey towards fulfilling their ambitions.
Matt Salmon with Zayn Hakeem
Sadly, shortly before last weekend, we were informed of the tragic news that our popular young club physio, who has worked with the development squads over the past few years, and temporarily with the first team, had passed away, having lost his battle against cancer at the age of just 25 years old.
The impact of Matt's death was earth shattering to those who knew him and worked/played alongside him.
Words could never be sufficient enough to express the immense sense of loss we all felt upon realising that we will never see Matt again.
The supportive words and messages of condolences from across a wide spectrum of local football grapevine, were greatly appreciated and meant more than anybody could ever know.
Thank you all.
Away from the Stags youngsters, I also donned my 'jackass of all trades' tour jacket, over the course of the season, to help out some good pals in local football, who were in need of a helping hand, firstly: AFC Mansfield, who I liaised on with a pre-season media project and stood in as match day secretary for one early season game only, when that smashing bloke who looks like Norm out of Cheers, namely: Peter Craggs, failed his stuntman exam and was absent for what I believe was possibly the first time ever since the club's formation, from his duties with the Bulls, nursing an ankle injury.
And from October onward, I have subsequently been involved on the committee at Maltby Main, after I stood in for their club secretary John Mills for a couple of games, when old age and decrepitude dictated that he needed to take a rest.
Elsewhere, I've done peripheral bits and pieces, including Newark Town, when the club stalwart and all round good guy Richard Lane had other, more prioritous things to deal with... and he knows he only ever needs to ask should the need ever arise again.
It is always a pleasure to be asked to cover the Doncaster & District FA Senior Cup Final at the Keepmoat Stadium on an annual basis, which is fast becoming a job reporting exclusively on the triumphs of Swinton Athletic.
Next season, that is to say, the one after the 2016-17 campaign, I am remaining active on the committee at Maltby, filling in for holidays and absenteeism within the first team back up staff ranks;
but more often than not, I'll be spending time with Andy King and his coaches at Reserve team games, on the road in the Sheffield & Hallam County Senior League.
Personally I don't ever want, need or have any kind of specific job title at any club I am ever involved in, non league football is about rolling your sleeves up and getting on with whatever needs doing, wherever and whenever you roll up on any given match day.
And I am either a full on or phuck off kind of bloke.
Time allocation and prioritising are my forte, and I can turn my hand to most things after all this time.
But that is enough about me, because you all already know how spunking great yours truly is... and how thoroughly modest I am with it too ;-)
I'm aware that there are several promising young footballers, who have been patiently waiting for the following details... so without further ado: all players aged 18 to 21, who would like to come along and find out what Maltby Main FC is all about, while trying out for our second string, who play men's football on a Saturday afternoon, should contact Andy King 07533855563 at your earliest possible convenience. 
Player recruitment roadshow.
Heading your way soon.
Failing that I will be trawling the usual circuit of South Yorks and North Notts football grounds with my player recruitment caravan in tow any time soon.
Earlier today I was asked: "What are you doing with your time now that the football season is finished?"
You mean, people actually think football ever stops!?
It's actually the busiest time of the year for those of us who are involved in the admin side of the nuts and bolts mechanisms of the game. So I will answer that question in due course, during the few minutes that I'm not almost constantly using my phone, on 'football business' over the next three or four weeks. My Experia battery has been getting a proper hammering of late, but hey ho!
That obviously means that wheels are in motion and stuff is getting done... so, bring it on!
The EFL Championship was by far the most interesting division in a 'football as a form of theatre' kind of way, throughout the duration of last season.
Opinions as to managerial reign of Gianfranco Zola was polarised among supporters at Birmingham City, where approximately 34.78% of Blues fans thought he was a poor appointment and not fit for purpose, while the over riding majority just reckoned he was shit at his job and had no place being at St. Andrew's in the first place.
Rome wasn't built in a day, but if Zola had been in charge of that job, it would never have been built at all. The foundations would never have been in laid properly, nor the finish touches added.
Sure, he tried (but ultimately failed) to get the team to play attractive football.
There were a few, but far too few, glimpses of what he was trying to achieve, but he lost his way big time and was seemingly cocooned inside his own vision and worldview, blind to the fact that Blues had to get the basics right, otherwise their high speed downward spiral was heading straight down the plughole.
Y'know... the basic stuff, such as stopping the opposition scoring and getting a few goals and points on the board yourself along the way; as well as playing over elaborate, tippy tappy stuff from side to side across the middle of the park. Occasionally, but seldom aesthetically nice to watch passing football in short spells was getting City nowhere fast... apart from Division 3/League 1. It was a car crash of a season for the St. Andrew's based club, of the multiple pile up variety... fascinating yet very scary and macabre in extremes to watch at close quarters.
Maybe Zola will reemerge elsewhere and produce the finished article team of his desires. But he certainly nearly finished Birmingham off as a viable Championship side.
However, despite Zola making a complete mess of his reign at St.Andrews, by far the worst shift I saw them put in was during a 4-0 defeat at Newcastle United, which proved to be Gary Rowett's penultimate game in charge.
In League 2, Mansfield Town and (the majority) of their supporters, have been riding on the crest of a wave, known as the 'Evans effect', as the Stags began to show traces of being a far better team than their twelfth placed finish would suggest they are shaping into.
It does make a nice change to see Mansfield featuring among the favourites for promotion next season, rather than the usual predictions of impending doom.
But the Field Mill faithful are going to have to give it time for all of the new signings to gel, before finding out what next term holds, because although some of Evans many Summer signings (twelve so far to date) are of proven quality, all this actually equates to in real terms as of yet, is that the controversial Stags manager has bought a lot of players in to the club... pretty much as he has done during his previous spells in management elsewhere.
I'll stick my head on the chopping block and predict that Mansfield Town will be in contention for either a promotion or play off spot next season
Evans is passionate about the game, maybe too passionate at times... and he is a proven winner.
But I'm old enough to know that nothing in football is a formality, so although I really want the Stags to do well, having seen false dawns before, I shall only allow myself to be cautiously optimistic and open minded about what lays ahead.
While accepting that any of the many teams at Mansfield Town that operate below the Football League level are all part of a bigger strategy that is in place to feed the first team, who are the be all and end all at the club, pretty much like they are anywhere else, I am not 100% convinced that any of the home grown lads from the academy set up, who were signed on pro terms in either 2016 or 2017 will get even a sniff of first team action.
That is not a slight on any of them, far from it! It is an observation, as to how the pecking order works in football... inasmuch as, it can be a very rewarding game, on many different levels. But in reality, it can be brutally harsh too.
Of course, there are better judges than me of when (and if) any of the clubs highly rated prospects are ready to make the step up to the next level; but one needs to ask... in future years, will talented young players want to develop their game at a club where the development teams win trophies, or go somewhere else, where they have a reputation for and better record of giving youth a chance in the Football League?
Steve Evans has been given a mandate, and a budget, to get his team promoted and ultimately he will be judged on results and maintaining a healthy league position. But, alas, it won't make a blind bit of difference to the clubs expectations of him and his management team, nor his objectives, reputation and future employment prospects, whether he gives the lads who have come through the club ranks an opportunity to prove themselves on a bigger stage or not.
Moving swiftly on... Maltby Main FC, arguably overachieved when they had a good 2015-16 season and finished in the top seven in the NCEL Premier Division. At the end of that campaign I picked out Spencer Fearn at Maltby and, ironically, Karl Rose at Frickley Athletic as THE66POW's  managers of the year, given that the South Elmsall based club had also finished seventh in the Northern Premier League after several years of perpetual struggles against relegation.
Their progress certainly didn't go unnoticed elsewhere as clubs with a few more quid to chuck around, enticed a few pivotal players away and Mr Fearn subsequently had to effectively rebuild the team in the first half of the following term, which understandably saw the Miners flirting with the teams at the foot at the table for several  months while they regrouped and found their footing again, before turning things around and clawing their way up to mid table safety with a great run of form and several astute signings after the new year.
Maltby Main v Frickley Athletic. Pre season July 2016.
Frickley for their part had a hideous season, with Rose falling on his sword after an awful start results wise, before coming back to see the last couple of months out, after Lee Morris had done his level best to steady a sinking ship.
Ultimately, Frickley were relegated into Division 1 North of the NPL, before being moved to the South Division, when Ilkeston went out of business and Goole AFC were reinstated into the North section. In the interim. Fearn replaced Rose at Westfield Lane, amid a shit storm of incredulity among the more outspoken and volatile ranks of the Frickley fan base and Maltby called an EGM to discuss finding a replacement manager. Following an initial angry reaction, particularly on the FAFC fans internet forum, a string of impressive signings, things seem to have calmed down and it would seem that 'Spen' is going to be given an honeymoon period of sorts, to show he is up to the job, before he is thrown the the dogs and torn limb from limb should he not come up to required standard.
Give him a chance I say, you'll not hear anybody at Maltby badmouthing the guy, who did nothing but good for the club. Though he better stop nicking all of the Miners players any time soon, or I will smash his face in!
Steve Adams, John Styring, Jordan Hall, Mark Higginbottom...
and Don Estelle?
The EGM, in my humble opinion, represented a turning point in the history of the club.
The solidarity, optimism, camaraderie and togetherness that came out of that room. showed to me that Maltby Main weren't down and out, or even taking a standing count... in fact the heartbeat of the club was beating stronger than ever.
In the aftermath of that gathering, the enthusiasm bordered on euphoria, as anybody present would testify. Together Everybody Achieves More.
And in no time at all, a new management team were installed to great acclaim and behind the scenes the troops had been galvanised into action and are raring to go.
Welcome to Muglet Lane: Jordan Hall, John Styring and Mark Higginbottom, the new management team... and welcome back Steve Adams, who has been installed as the director of football, with Andy King remaining at the helm in the reserves set up.
Good luck to all of the players and other personnel who are moving on, both to Frickley and elsewhere.
It would have been easy to lose all of the impetus and feelgood factor that has been building at the club in recent times, but that is not going to be allowed to happen.
Once the players who are staying loyal to the club and those coming in click into place together, under the guidance of the new management structure... watch Maltby go!
It's going to be a very interesting season.
All for one and one for all n' all that!
Right, I suppose I best do one of those 'best of' things, like proper football bloggers do, some categories will have more than one winner:
Players of the year:
Reece 'Wez' Wesley - Maltby Main
Shawn Mitchell - Maltby Main
Nicky Darker - Maltby Main
Tim Lowe - Cleethorpes Town
Connor Smythe - Handsworth Parramore
Jodie Ellis - Market Warsop Ladies
Young players of the year:
Kieran Harrison - Mansfield Town U18
Kane Baldwin - Mansfield Town U18
Henri Wilder - Mansfield Town U18
Cain  Smith - Mansfield Town U18 & Romulus FC
Nyle Blake - Mansfield Town U18
Liz Harris - Mansfield Town (Dev) Ladies
Jack Weatherell - Lincoln City U18 & Rainworth MW 
Jack Fixter - Lincoln City U18
Reece Fielding - Doncaster Rovers U18 & Frickley Athletic
Joe Pugh - Doncaster Rovers U18 & Frickley Athletic
Jack Wilkinson - Collingham, Lincoln United & Gainsborough Trinity Youth
Three for next season:
Keaton Ward, Aiden Walker, Jake Dumbleton - All Mansfield Town U18
Manager of the year:
Marcus Newell - Cleethorpes Town
Paul Marshall - Pickering Town
Curtis Woodhouse - Bridlington Town
Best games:
Immingham Town 3 v Wyberton 2 AET - Lincs League Cup Final
Best team performance(s):
Burton Albion U18 0 v Mansfield town U18 6 - EFL Youth alliance (NE)
Maltby Main 3 v Cleethorpes Town 0 - NCEL Premier Division
Market Warsop Ladies 6 v Mansfield Town (Dev) Ladies 2 - Notts Girls & Womens League Senior Division
Retford FC 0 v FC Bolsover 7 - CMFL North
Sutton Rovers 1 v Swinton Athletic 5 - Doncaster FA Senior Cup Final
Best referee:
Ian Jackson
Best programme:
Maltby Main - Obviously!
Mansfield Town - .Stands to reason.
Handsworth Parramore - Good work Mr Robinson.

Best website:
The official Toolstation NCEL website
Frickley Athletic - Highly amusing stuff Mr J!
THE66POW - But you all already knew that ;-)
And last but not least...
Team of the year:
Cleethorpes Town
Predictions for next season:
1) Handsworth Parramore will finish higher in the NCEL league table than they did this season, as will Worksop Town.
2) Top half finish for the 'little club with a big heart' Maltby Main FC
3) Campion will be promoted from the NCEL first division.
4) THE66POW will carry on, albeit in a different format.
5) I will get a photograph of John Stainrod (Handsworth Parramore) smiling.
Right I'm off for now. Enjoy the silence!