Alex Redmond had been looking forward to this day. Jeff Daily, the old manager, was retiring. For Alex, his deputy and now replacement, this was his first managerial post. The thirty-four year old was excited to say the least. Eddie Mitchell, the team’s chairman, was there to greet Alex as he pulled up in his old Ford Mondeo. Outside the small Avenue Stadium where the club play their home games, the affable chairman offered his hand.
‘Welcome to your club, Mr. Manager,’ a wry smile leapt onto Eddie’s face,’you’ll do her proud.’ Alex readily took the hand and shook it.
‘I can only hope that I do,’ Alex said, trying to humble himself, and not appear as too excited.'
‘She’s in a tough shape, though I don’t need to tell you that.’ The chairman, relaxed as usual in an open collared shirt led his new manager into the clubhouse. They had been friends since Alex had joined the club as a coach two years ago, after he retired from professional football.
‘Well, it’s not as bad as they are saying.’ Inside the clubhouse Alex nodded towards the local paper. ‘We can do a lot better than not be relegated. A top half finish is entirely within our grasp.’ Eddie nodded but looked away. He knew that Alex had known of the club’s financial situation for a while, but he had never admitted it to him.
‘You know, I really hope so. She may be small, unknown, but, there’s just something, some... spirit around here.’ The two men looked around the small room, where the secretary staff usually worked, with it’s buzzing artificial light, it’s old fridge and dingy kettle in the corner. Still, there was something.
‘Let me show you your new office.’ Eddie led the younger man into one of two doors which were at the end of one side of the room. It looked out over the carpark, with a small desk and chair in front of the window. All the pictures and knick-knacks of Jeff’s which until the day before had furnished the room were gone. There was a stained desk, a large metallic filing cabinet, a telephone and that was about it.
‘Like I said, we’re in a tough shape at the moment. Not even a computer, but I will get that sorted for you soon enough. Jeff, as you know, was of the old mould. Not a great man for technology.’ Both men sat in silence for a minute or two.
‘You know as well as I do that I can’t offer you any funds at the moment. We are just not in that position. Many expect us to be relegated out of the league anyway. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.’ Alex contemplated on this for a short minute.
‘Well, then I’ll just have to get out-of-contract players, and some on a free. We should look into getting a parent club too, it wouldn’t hurt us. But right now, if that’s the way things are, I better get to work phoning around and looking at players.’
‘No rest for the wicked, hey? Good luck, I know you’ll do a great job.’ With that Eddie left the room, and Alex got on the phone.
The hunt started for new blood to revitalise this team that had already given up on the season. Everyone was writing them off, and they were believing it. Alex was familiar with Northern Irish football, and knew that it was often overlooked as a source of talent. Phoning around his contacts, one name was been suggested to him time and again, Niall Morgan, a 17 year old from Dungannon. Getting the number for the club’s manager, Alex was able to bash out an agreement. Niall would be sent over to Dorchester on a free, but Dungannon would get a slice of any future transfer deal. It was what Alex had hoped for, and soon he got into negotiations with the young man’s agent; his father. The deal was struck on the phone, and Niall would be the first, of hopefully many, signings that would grace Avenue Stadium.
Pre-season was a busy time for any manager, and especially for Alex. With a backroom staff of only five, including himself, it fell to him to deal with training schedules, contracts, and a lot of day to day running of the place. There were friendlies to prepare for, luckily Jeff had taken care of that before he left, and it was about time that Alex met the players for the first time as manager.
‘Alright lads, quiet down,’ the team had just returned from their summer break, and were busy catching up. ‘We have a lot to get through.’ They were used to being spoken to by Alex, he would have to whip them into order before Jeff got his bit in. ‘People are saying we can’t do it this season, that we are bound for the Sunday leagues. They say you are a bunch of pretenders, that I can’t manage by myself. There is only one thing to do, and that is to prove them wrong. Things are going to change around here, we are a proper outfit, and we are going to act like one. I know most of you are part-timers, some of you are here full-time, regardless of that, I want to see everyman pull his wieght. There will be new blood in here soon, and there will be competition for each and every place on that starting eleven. We are here to work, to do our job, to do it proudly and to do Dorchester proud.’ The atmosphere was hard to read. The team were quiet, they liked some of what they heard, disliked other bits. ‘You’ve had your summer break, now it is time toget back into shape. Roy,’ here Alex motioned towards Roy O’Brien, the new Assistant Manager,’will be helping you do just that. Tog out, lads, seasons nearly here.’
July 14th, the first game under new management. Bradford PA, a non-league side, had made the trip down to Avenue Stadium, where only 180 people turned out. ‘Right lads, I don’t tell you what you need to do. These guys want a scalp, they want to be bringing back a scalp. Don’t let ‘em. Show them why you are in the BSS, and they are not.’ Morgan made his start for the club, but apart from that Alex played a familiar outfield ten, there were no other players to play. It was a nervy start, you could tell the lads had been away, but they soon found their stride. The first goal came from a cross. Left back, Jake Smeeton, curled it in to Nick Crittenden, a winger, who rose above his marker and headed it in from six yards. That was all the drama for the first half, except for some wasted chances on Dorchester’s part. Like the first half, the second started out slowly, before Dorchester were able to reassert themselves again. Ryan Moss, Dorchester’s best striker, thought that wasn’t saying much, stabbed in from a couple of yards out to double the lead on 65 minutes. There were replacements all round, and substitute Ivan Forbes made the most of it when he scored well with around ten minutes left on the clock. 4 minutes before full time Ryan Moss popped up again to seal a good victory for Dorchester. The back four, despite there short comings, were able to hold off Bradford easily, and Morgan did not have an accurate attempt to deal with.
Jeff had packed the friendly schedule, and it gave the team only five days before their next game, though with two games following that only two days apart, it would seem like an enternity later to the weary team. Alex was not resting though, as he had his squad to stregthen. He had sent his lone scout, Nicky White, up north to Scotland, and he was giving feedback on the various reserve teams. From them Alex was able to get a promising young striker, Stephen Reynolds from St. Johnstone, as well as a good attacking left back, Daniel Lafferty from the Celtic reserves. Both were young, 16 and 19, and Alex hoped they’d develop into good players for the team.
The next game was against Eastbourne Boro, who were one league above Dorchester in the BSP. They would prove considerably harder than Bradford, and it was a bore draw, with the back four been attacked again and again, and it was only down to young Morgan and some poor finishing that the score remained level. Dorchester had some chances of their own, but never looked like winning. Lafferty and Reynolds both started, and performed well, but with ample room for improvement.
The next game against Tamworth was far worse, even with the excuse that the players were tired, it was obvious that there needed to be a strong pairing at the back, something which was the biggest weakness in an already weak team. The 3-0 defeat was a wake up to call to everyone involved.
‘Eddie,’ Alex approaced the chairman who was waiting for the kettle to boil in the club-hub, as the set up had taken to calling it. ‘you saw how weak our defense was against Tramworth. I need some cash to bring in a few new players. I have already picked out two or three I want, and at the most, they’ll cost us 10 grand, but it’ll be worth it.’ Alex prayed that Eddie would listen, a club looking relegation clean in the mouth needed to spend some cash to try and fight. If the chairman didn’t put up, Alex was sure the club would sink without a trace.
‘Let me think about it. What about the free transfers you have coming in, can’t you find a decent defender?’
‘Free transfers are for the very young, or those who couldn’t secure a contract with their old club. Both would make poor defenders, one for lack of experience, and the other, well, why do you think they didn’t get a renewal?’
‘I’ll get back to you. On the bright side, I have approached Arsenal about becoming a feeder club. They said yes. We can poach a couple of their reserves on a free loan.’ Alex couldn’t believe his luck, Arsenal were taking Dorchester as a feeder?! Great news.
‘Thanks, I’ll have a look at their squads now.’ With that Alex ran back into his office, and switched on the new computer which he had bought himself, Eddie had not come through on his promise.
Rene Steer, a young defender, came in from Arsenal. Although he usually played out on the wing, Alex was sure he could form one half of a decent partnership in the middle of the defence. Lafferty was performing well, and the midfield, built around the youngster Scott Allan, who had come in on a free from Dundee reserves, was looking stronger as well. With all the emphasis on the back, Alex had nearly forgotten about the all important goal scoring partnership at the front.
'Roy,’ Alex shouted out of his office into the hub, where Roy Briggs was putting the finishing touches to the training regimes for the new season. 'we need some good strikers. Reynolds is too young to play consistently, though he will be a great scorer in a few seasons,we need someone who can pop 'em away today. I’m looking at Port Vale’s Kyle Perry. Could you have a proper look at him?’
'Right so, boss.’ Briggs was an able second, the two had worked together for a few seasons already.
Eddie had left a letter on Alex’s desk, the chairman had gone to London to meet with the Arsenal development staff, and that’s where the manager had found it when he came in on Monday.They were due to travel to Kingstonian for a friendly match, and Alex just wanted to check up on some things before he left. The letter read:
I have made availible ten thousand pounds for you to spend in the transfer market. This is all I have, for the rest of the season, and you’ll have to sell players if you want to see more money. Make the most of it.
Alex was ecstatic. He had only thrown the ten thousand pound mark out there so that if Eddie offered a lower amount, he could still get all he wanted with it. Straight away he rang up the Bognor Regis manager, and placed an offer for their experienced defender Duncan Jupp. For six hundred pounds, it was a great deal. As soon as it was done, he phoned up the Coleraine manager, where Howard Beverland played his football. A young right back, Alex had admired him on one of his scouting trips to Northern Ireland for Jeff, though at the time they didn’t have money for him. Two thousand pounds for a strong right back with an ability to go forward, as well as to improve, was a great piece of business. He felt that the two, Jupp and Beverland, would work well together, one able to hold back and defend, letting the other go up in support of an attack.
The trips away were not good. The first they drew 0-0, and the second, against Boston United, was also a 2-2 draw. Without the two new players, who were still in contract negotiations, Alex had not had much to see. Roy was away at Port Vale talking to Kyle Perry, so everything fell to Alex to organise. There last trip was to Folkstone, where they suffered a two-nil defeat. With a week to go before the start of the league, Alex was not a happy manager.
It took a further two weeks for the negotiations to go through. Eventually both Jupp and Beverland signed, though they weren’t ready in time to play in the two three nil defeats which started the season. Those, against Chelmsford and Welling, were an ignimonius start to the league. The third match, against Team Bath was better. Though they were defeated, two-one, at least they got on the score sheet, through the young Reynolds. It was a week later, on the 23rd of August, when Bishop’s Stortford arrived at Avenue Stadium, when Alex was ready to reveal his new signings. The back four were totally new to the club, with Beverland, Jupp, Steer and Lafferty lining up in front of Morgan. The mid and front six were more familiar, with only Scott Allan and Stephen Reynolds being new signings, though Alex hoped that that would change soon enough. The first goal came inside two minutes when a cross from Ryan Moss met the head of the unmarked Stephen Reynolds to make it 1-0 Dorchester. Things settled down, with the stregthened defence making things easier for Morgan in goal. Around five minutes before half-time debutant Beverland curled in a cross which went too close to goal, but luckily, it went far too close and was his first goal for his new club. 2-0 Dorchester. Two minutes later though, Bishop’s Stortford pulled on back when Jupp’s headed clearance fell to Murphy, who slotted it in to score. 2-1 going into half time. That’s how the score would remain throughout the second half, with some great defending from goal scorer Beverland contributing to Dorchester’s first win of the league season.
‘Well done lads,’ Alex greeted them with a nod to each player as they entered the dressing room. ‘You did well. Great attacking spirit, and you dug deep to keep you lead and win. It was a deserved win.Congratulations.’ Alex was always brief with his players, and after they had showered and gone home for their deserved rest, he spoke with the chairman.
‘Three thousand pounds, Eddie, and look what I did.’ Alex gave the chairman and his friend a cheeking grin.
‘Well, it’s a good start, but how do you think they’ll do down the line? Jupp isn’t young, and Beverland isn’t experienced. Though, I trust you.’
‘They’ll work well together. I have a few more faces coming in too, so they won’t be the only ones dealing with all the pressure.’
‘Spent more of my money then have you? I shouldn’t have given you it all. That was my kids private school fees. You just better hope that you make the club a success so I can get it back, or else I’m sending the missus after you.’ Both men had a good laugh together, but Alex knew it was true. Eddie wasn’t a rich man, and he had given more than he really couldn’ve to the club. Alex would just have to repay him with an excellent football team.
Alex spent another six thousand pounds bringing in three new faces, Thomas Nolan was a promising midfielder from Kilmarnock, while Steve Adams was a more experienced defensive mid from Torquay. However, the real excitement was over Kyle Perry, a youngish striker from Port Vale, who had not been given a chance at that more illustrious club, but would be key for Alex’s plans at Dorchester. The first test for his new players would be at home against Weston-super-Mare, a good side, but one which the bookies expected Dorchester to win against. There was one last player which Alex brought in before that match, a very promising right midfielder from Lewes, the seventeen year old David Wheeler. Thus, having spent his transfer budget, Alex Redmond was confident he had put together a side that was capable of keeping Dorchester in the BSS, and possibly things even greater than that.
The teamsheet for that weekends game went up on Friday. Playing in his regular 4-4-2 formation, all four wing players, in midfield and defense, were encouraged to go forward,while one midfielder was selected to cover in front of the defenders. Nolan and Adams were to make their debut in midfield, with Adams being the one to help cover the defence, while Wheeler, who was still getting settled at the club, would sit this one out. Wes Fogden would take up duties on the right of the two new signings. The back four was kept from the victory over Bishop’s Strotford. Perry made his debut at the expense of Reynolds, who was demoted to the bench. Kevin Hill finished off the outfield players, playing to the left of Nolan and Adams, while Morgan was kept between the sticks. This was Alex’s preferred starting XI, though injuries, and in- and out- of form players would keep things interesting throughout the year.
‘Right lads, this is one you can win. Weston aren’t that great of a side, though if you switch off they’ll make you pay. I know you can do it, and I think you do too. For three of you this is your first time playing for Dorchester, for others it may be your second or third time. No matter, you are all playing for Dorchester, and you will all play proudly for that badge. Now, go out there, and do what you do best. You can win, lads, so... win.’
It was Weston who took the lead though, through a counter attack in the 40th minute. going into hald time it was 1-0 them. Perry scored though in the 59th minute to level it up, running onto a through ball from Moss. Though Dorchester pressed for a second, it wasn’t forthcoming, and 1-1 was how things ended. Kyle Perry made a good impact on the game, and came away with the match ball, and man of the match, for his contribution.
Five games into the season, this was how things stood in the Blue Square South: