Thanks to those of you who came to the Fans and Managers Forum last week. There was a good turnout and it was an interesting and worthwhile couple of hours.
Below is a transcript below of the questions and answers between supporters and managers on Wednesday 11th September.
Bernard: Fire away!
Andy Massey: Can we just find out where some of the players are?
Johnno: Brooks and Drew both away on holiday. It’s difficult cos we don’t like the lads taking a holiday in the season. Drewey struggles with work anyway, but it’s his best pal’s stag do. Brooksy we knew about before we signed him. Stopforth’s injured with his ankle, Edgie’s banned – first game last night. Owen Roberts is injured; pulled off with his calf on Saturday. Flanners was supposed to be playing at Ossett, but he’s has had a bit of a setback. So we’ve got half a dozen players there.
Andy Massey: What about players like Kuba?
Johnno: Kuba’s been offered a course in London, a chef or something. Apart from that, we’re down to bare bones; last night we had four eighteen year olds and me on the bench, and Bernard playing nearly the full match.It’s easy to go out and sign players, but once your lads get back then you end up with a squad of 25, and start losing key players cos they’re not getting a game every week, which we can’t afford to do. What we do well is that we’ve got a group of players, maybe 12 that have played over 80 games, and that just doesn’t happen at non-league.
Andy Massey: Replacing Mark Ayres – are we looking for a centre-half. I know we’re playing Robbo there as an emergency centre half, and he always gives 100 percent, but are we looking?
Bernard: If you look at the back end of last season, when we had our strongest back four fit, against Mossley – we did leave Mark Ayres out if you remember. Flannery’s a great player who just keeps having a set-back. He’s said he needs another week, then another week. He did that to us again at Ossett where he was down to play. He’s texted us to say he’s not available. We’re all doing what we can to get him fit, and we’re reluctant to go out and sign someone just yet. Good centre halfs are hard to come by at this level, and while we’re at this position in the table players are reluctant to drop down.
Andy Massey: Is it still Flanner’s knee that’s the problem?
Johnno: It’s his hamstring now, for the last six weeks or so. It was his knee, but now it’s his hamstring.
Bernard: If we don’t get Flanners back then we’ll have to look elsewhere, but we think he’ll be back this weekend.
Johnno: Flanners and Dawson are such good players though, it’d be really difficult to replace them, or Danny or Robbo who can go and play in there. Cos we’ve had the same players for such a long time it’s really hard to bring a couple of players in for a few weeks. If they come in on loan short-term then it’s just for themselves, not for the team.
Bernard: We also have trouble with loan players not wanting to be cup-tied in the FA Cup. That doesn’t really solve our problem.
Rob Moss: Borderline first team players who are on the bench – they tend to get a bit rusty. This will be a problem with Tom Toth and a few of the others. Is there a way that we can keep them match fit and also keep them happy?
Johnno: Three of the lads on the bench at Ossett are out on loan at the moment, at Rochdale Town and at Barnoldswick. We try to tell their managers that they have to play them, which we can’t do, we can’t force a manager to play them. Our record for bringing in under 21 players is frightening, something like 40 players, but we can’t risk results to give youngsters a run-out. Loaning them out at a good standard in the Northwest Counties is great. Reserve teams don’t seem to work for young players or players returning to fitness because if you tell someone like Jon Robinson to go and spend six weeks in the reserves getting fit then they’ll just go and find another club.
Rob Moss: Adam Morning – given he came from Skem, he didn’t really fit in too well in our team. Now he’s gone back to Skem, so do we know what happened and why it didn’t seem to work out?
Bernard: I’m good mates with Adam, and he tends to try and get away with it a bit. We had a good laugh with Adam, but I think that at Skem he had a bit of discipline, which is probably what he needs. Deep down he knows he can play at the higher level, but despite a few offers from other clubs he decided to sign for us. He found at training that he couldn’t keep up with the lads, and in the first couple of matches he was a bit off the pace. That said, he’s gone back to Skem and has scored 4-5 in the last few matches.
Rob Moss: For me he didn’t seem a great improvement on what we already have.
Bernard: On his day he’s a fantastic player, but you could feel his commitment wasn’t there, he wasn’t as committed as the lads we already have. At Skem, with a baby on the way, he’s on contract and is getting a reasonable salary. Perhaps Tommy can get the best out of him too.
Johnno: The thing with Adam is that he’s really settled in at Skem, it’s a club that he just fits in at – where everything seems to click. He’s a bit of an enigma, and perhaps took a few liberties in training with us, and we let him.
Rob Moss: I think we’re all so used to having loyal, committed players at Rammy.
Johnno: We’ve always had soldiers at this club, hard working scrappers who give 100%, but we felt at the end of last season that we were missing just a little something. Owen’s brought that, and we hoped Adam would, but it just didn’t work out. We’re still mates, and a lot of the lads are still in touch with him.
Katie Worsick: Is Owen going to be out for a while?
Johnno: Against Stockport, when Flanners pulled up, Owen felt his calf. Then against Colne he came off after ten minutes, then the same in training. Against Liverpool he came back and was excellent, then he had more trouble on Saturday when maybe he wasn’t quite ready. Katy doesn’t think it’s as bad as before. He probably won’t be playing Saturday, but it shouldn’t be too long.
Rob Moss: Richard was talking about the possibility of filming the matches. Obviously we don’t want that to be available for other teams. Do you think it’s a good idea?
Bernard: I’d love to see that, but I do watch a lot of opposition team videos and it’s really useful to help us set up differently. You can see the same players making the same mistakes, and that’s really handy.
Johnno: Warrington do it, and Clitheroe, so Bernard will sit and study them all. We do go to matches, and Jocker goes, but it’s always easier to sit in the warm at home and watch it. It’d be really useful for us to see how we play, watch the video before training and pick out mistakes and whatever.
Katie Worsick: We could keep it all private to supporters club members or whatever, to stop other clubs watching it.
Bernard: Where’s all the negatives? We were expecting loads of negatives.
Katie Worsick: Do you think now that we’re in our second Evostik season that teams are sussing us out a bit?
Johnno: Last year there were only one team that were champions. We came up and blew away a load of teams, and we were still on that crest of a wave from winning the league. This season they’re all setting up different against us because we’re not an unknown quantity. We have to learn to adapt, but at the end of the day we’re non-league footballers and we don’t have much time in training to work on formations or whatever. You also have to play to the strengths you have. If we didn’t play the expansive style of football that we do then there’s no point Dom Smalley or Phil Dean being at this club. I’m not saying they’ve sussed us out, I just think that teams have set up differently, and we’ve been a bit naive. We don’t mind losing though if we’ve put in a good performance like at Warrington, but then at Ossett Town we were an embarassment.
Rob Moss: Against United we played 5 across the middle which, against that kind of team worked really well. When we take the lead, do you consider swapping to that kind of formation to pack the midfield and close down the opposition a bit?
Johnno: We did it at Ossett Albion and it worked really well, and it’s good when it does. It’s great that we do have players that are so versatile. It feels like an 18-man squad cos we have so many players that can play in so many positions. Robbo playing at full back, and Pilkie who played centre mid-field on Saturday and then left-back last night. We signed Jordan as a striker and he plays at right-back, he’d even play in nets if you asked him. They’re all like that. Even Shents thinks he’s a centre-forward.
Rob Moss: How’s Shents confidence after the end of last season, and his couple of pre-season mistakes?
Bernard: We’ve tried to look after Shents. He’s only 22, but he’s made a few stupid mistakes and we’ve given it him in the neck. In five years I’ve had nothing to say negative as there’s nobody better in goal than Shents.
Johnno: He’s been brilliant for us, and very loyal when some big clubs have been after signing him. He dropped a couple of clangers at the end of last season, and that throw-out against Curzon, but since we had that do with him he’s been our best player. He’s been absolutely superb, and kept us in games. He’s even saved two penalties.
Andy Massey: It is silly mistakes that have been letting us down recently though.
Rob Moss: And something I’ve noticed at this level is how clinical the opposition are at finishing. Give them a sniff of goal and it’s in the net, whereas we like to hit the bar a few times.
Johnno: It is always just one or two little chances or mistakes. If you look at Curzon Ashton, they created nothing against us, but won the game 3-1 with shots from outside the box. And at Ossett Albion we missed a penalty, and Andy Dawson had 10 clear headers in their box – he said himself that the could be on 30 goals already this season. But he’s playing as well as he ever has for us, he’s outstanding and is pulling a lot of the lads through.
Supporter: Does Grant get any specialist goalkeeping training.
Bernard: We’ve got Lewis back, and he’s done most of the pre-season with Grant.
Johnno: It’s difficult to find the funding to pay for this kind of thing, but it is really crucial. This is why it’s great to have Lewis around, and he’s a good lad. We’ve got a lot of the younger keepers working with him too. We had Chappie, who was one of the best about, but he got ate up by FC United.
Andy Massey: Can I just say that I think Owen Roberts will be a great asset to us this season.
Johnno: Since we lost Pughie we’ve not really had a proper left back. Pilkie was fantastic there last season, but he’s not a left-back, and you lose that little bit of balance. Ayresy was never a left back either, but because they’re good players they can carry it. We’ve been after Owen for a while, and now it’s just fallen into place.
Rob Moss: What will you do different next season to make sure we hit the floor running.
Bernard: I’m not sure we can do much more. We can only do what we can do, and we’ve followed the approach that professional clubs take. The fitness work has been really tough, especially after a hard day at work. Next year we maybe need to look at some bigger pre-season games. It was good to have United and Stockport this year, and maybe we need more of that quality.
Johnno: Don’t forget that we finished pre-season really strong against Airbus and United, and then came the game against Curzon Ashton. But Curzon have finished in the top two over and over again, they’re a good side. We went to Ossett Town needing to win, and we’ve gone chasing games, which has put a lot of pressure on us. We needed the win, and we now have it. The confidence is starting to really come back now. Us, Clitheroe and Mossley are all in the bottom four, what’s that about?
Supporter: And this is a new experience for the lads. They’ve never felt this, after all the success.
Bernard: Fighting relegation at Ossett – bottom of the table clash!
Johnno: It’s new to all of us. All we’ve ever done is progress, and all of a sudden. When we took over the club we were averaging 110, and now, even when we’re losing, we’re clearing 200, easily. A lot of the fans don’t remember the bad old days where we got beaten every week. To do what we’ve done over the last four years, and then all of a sudden it go wrong, it’s a bit of a shock.
Andy Massey: That’s why we’re not giving you any stick. Cos we know you can do it.
Bernard: We’ve not been getting any from you perhaps, but we have been getting it. Harry’s been giving us some – threatening to sack us.
Johnno: In the changing room they’ve been brilliant. They’re all confident lads, though there’s been a lot of soul-searching, but that’s a load of crap – we’ve lost four games for God sake! The general feeling was that we hadn’t started. If you’re playing well then you think you’re not good enough, but we’ve played crap, and we know there’s a lot more to come. We know we’ve got good players, and good players not fit. It’ll always come right though, we’ve got the good players. Some of the teams we played last year were poor, but we know that we’re not poor. Is it a hangover from the Skem game? We’ve held our squad together, but New Mills lost every player, Mossley and Clitheroe did, but the lads have all stuck together and we just need to get the season started.
Supporter: Fans just need to remember that it’s a long season and look beyond one or two bad results. We’ve got some hard games coming up, and even if we don’t beat Darlington or Stocksbridge, it’s not the end of the world. Remember last season with teams like Cammell Laird, who were doing nothing until March, and then they set the league alight.
Johnno: People forget about Mossley, they were joint top in February, and Trafford were the same. We just kept chugging along. People forgot about us with the poor start last season, and then we come through the back door.
Rob Moss: The thing with this division is it’s almost like two divisions. We did well against the poorer teams at the bottom and then struggled against the top ones; but then it’s not like the northwest counties where we have to finish top. In this league there are four places to play for.
Johnno: This is why teams from the counties do well when they come up. It’s been that many years of hard work, the momentum carries you through. Remember that first game we took over at Newcastle, we got stuffed 5-0. I remember saying, “What are we doing Bernard!”. But the team that beat us 5-0 went on to win thirty games and broke every record in the country. It’s the same with Curzon, they beat us 3-1, but they’ve got 100% record so far. In twelve years in semi-professional football I’ve only won one first game of the season, against Flixton. Last season we drew with Cammel Laird; someone scored last minute with a header (can’t remember who it was), then beat Ossett Town and Goole, we thought it was a brilliant start but they finished near the bottom. It’s a long, long season, but it is hard to take losing the first four games. Warrington I don’t mind, we played well there, but at Ossett Town we were shocking and that was disappointing.
Supporter: When do we get Edgie back?
Johnno: It was his first ban against Ossett Albion, but it’s not too bad cos he’s injured. He hurt his ankle on a run pre-season, and then in training last Thursday he’s done it again.
Bernard: He’s 34 and it’ll take him a bit of time to get his fitness and sharpness back. He came on against Padiham and he’s broken the lad’s leg – it was a fair tackle, but because some of that sharpness has gone he’s been caught out, and that’s what happens when you’re not fit.
Johnno: This is a problem we have, cos if we’re playing Saturday Tuesday then we only get an hour with them Thursday night. This is why we need to let players out on loan for a bit, to get them back to match fitness.
Rob Moss: Who do you put in alongside Gary Stopforth as a first choice?
Bernard: I’m an option Robbie! Whoever you put in there is always going to look weaker because of the effort and workrate, but I think Spencer’s worked well in there when you’re passing. Maybe when we go to places like Cammell Laird we’ll need someone like Edgie who’s disciplined, but so much of it is down to who we’ve got available. We were trying to sign someone this week, but he’s gone to Stockport and you can’t compete with that kind of club.
Johnno: We got hold of Si Garner last season, which we were really pleased with, but he’s gone to Northwich Victoria for the money, and who can blame him.
Bernard: He’s a good player and we won three straight games with him, but he wasn’t match fit as he’d spent ages on Chorley’s bench. Northwich have put him a left-back to get him a game, but I don’t think he’s happy playing there. He’s playing for the money now, and we don’t really want that. He’d be a great player to get hold of though and we’d love to see him back at Rammy.
Andy Massey: I’m not sure we can get better in the middle than Grant and Gary though.
Johnno: You’re right. If you look at Ossett Albion last night, Grant’s run half the length of the pitch, gone past five players and got us a penalty.
Bernard: He’s put a bit of bulk on as well, he’s a lot stronger and he’s happy with the work that he needs to do the work at this level. He knows he’s got to put in the work here before you can start thinking about playing higher.
Johnno: Don’t forget with Grant that when he was 15 at Oldham, Bolton put in £100,000 for him. Then he snapped his ankle and they had to put pins in. They let him go, and it took him a long time to adjust to non-league football. On his day though, he’s an incredible player. We signed him as a wide man, but he’s brilliant in the middle of the park.
Bernard: He finds passes that other players can’t find. Because it’s been dry, some of those passes haven’t been coming off, but when we get a bit of zip on the surface he’ll be belting.
Johnno: A lot of the lads have said the same, wait til it rains a bit.
Rob Moss: What do you think of the crowds here? We’re getting decent numbers, but we don’t really get an atmosphere. Like when we go to away games, we all spread out, and you don’t know Rammy are there til we score, and then the whole ground celebrates.
Johnno: Mossley last year was mad because everyone was stood together. At home our fans seem quite a bit older, and they’re not going to be banging the stand and singing. Our fans are lovely people, and they aren’t the kind. Maybe with a few younger ones coming through though we’ll get a bit more going. All it needs it ten kids with a drum and you’ve got an atmosphere!
Rob Moss: Like at Barnoldswick last year, we had a few of the players on the bank and had a great time. We just need a few that are up for it.
Bernard: Maybe it’s time to get a little tribe going Robbie!
Johnno: It’s always good away from home, cos you’re out of your comfort zone a bit, and we traditionally play better away. And the fans buy in to it a bit. We’ve got a great supporter base now. You do get a bit of moaning now and again, Warren even says to us that Gary Stopforth’s the worst player he’s ever seen in a Rammy shirt.
Bernard: We only lost the highest crowd last season because of that last game at Skem…
Johnno: Which was our fault! If we hadn’t have taken our following, we’d have had the record. Next home games we’ve got Darlington and Clitheroe, so we should get some big numbers for them.
Supporter: How do you think we’ll do against the big spenders?
Johnno: We’ve played two of them. Northwich are on £250 a man, and Warrington Town’s wage bill is something like £3000 a week. There’s five wealthy men on the board who each put £500 a week in.
Bernard: These clubs never have money issues, it’s always harder at a smaller club.
Johnno: We don’t have that kind of thing here, and it’s not on. We would never have a big disparity between money, like one player on £150 and another on £20. They’re all pals and they talk, and they’d start thinking, “Why’s he on £150?” The lads aren’t here for the money anyway.
Rob Moss: You can tell that by the way they play. They want to win. Not cos they’re getting handed money, but because they want to win.
Johnno: We never get any of that here. No-one asks us for more money, probably cos they know there isn’t any! Having said that though, Harry’s looked after us this year.
Bernard: Harry’s playing the game now. He’s looking after us and he wants to move on. He’s got a taste of the success and he wants us to do well.
Johnno: The thing with a lot of clubs is, if they’re struggling at Christmas then they pull the budget, and you see all these big name players leaving all of a sudden. Harry’s not like that. If he says it then he does it. He shakes your hand and you know what you’re getting.
Supporter: Once we get the website back, maybe we need to try and get the forum a bit more active.
Johnno: I think with the forum people are always a bit nervous about being the first to post, or to be critical, but we like that. If we play crap then we’re the first to admit it and we won’t go hiding. What we can’t stand is people spouting rubbish from 30-yards away. What are you shouting for? We’re standing here, come and talk to us, or ask us why we’ve done whatever. We’ve always been like that.
Supporter: To what extent can you react tactically to what’s going on in a game??Cos sometimes you’ll see us dominate in the first half, and then it’s suddenly not happening. You start thinking whether it’s us that’s stopped doing something or maybe they’ve changed something.
Johnno: The Padiham game – we were 2-0 down at halftime, and we took two pivotal players off the pitch and then went down to ten men. Yet we had more pressure in that second half that we had all game. It was sheer will power, but with that kind of game that’s what we needed. Normally the first half is too early to mess with stuff, but as the game wears on, depending on the score, you try different things. We’ve done it in the past where we’ve been winning 3-0 and we’ve took players off only to be hanging on for the win. You want to try and protect things or close the game out and they’ll score a flukey goal and suddenly you’re on the back foot. They’ll spot a few things and cut them out, but you’ve got to adapt.
Rob Moss: Some of these runs that Tom Brooks is making… if the midfield cotton on to them then he’ll be deadly.
Johnno: He’s given us another dimension. He can really stretch the game, him and Owen. We’ve always played through midfield, but these lads stretch things about.
Bernard: Brooksey’s scored more goals already for Rammy than he scored all last season for Radcliffe, so he’s really starting to enjoy his football.
Johnno: As poor as we’ve started, the squad is stronger than it’s ever been. As I?said before, we’ve got half a dozen lads who are missing, big match winners. And then you’ve got four 18-year-olds. You can see that we’re trying to do things right and bring through the club’s future. We’ve got the right spread of ages, with a couple of experienced players heading towards the end of their career, then you’ve got Spenno, Wiz, Shents, Dom, Jordan who are all 22, and the young lads coming through. We’ve been together that long that even players like Dawson and Stopforth have got years in them yet at 27.