CONGRATULATIONS TONY RUSSELL – 200th GAME IN CHARGE OF CRAY WANDERERS VS. ASHFORD UNITED
The Thoughts of the Manager – Tony Russell
Congratulations Tony on your 200th game in charge of Cray Wanderers this afternoon from all at the club. A Hollywood script writer couldn’t have dreamed up the importance of your 200th game as we require just two points for promotion. What are your thoughts on what will be a tremendous tussle with Ashford United and a look back on some highlights of the first 199 games in charge?
It only seems like yesterday when I joined the club! To say my 199 games in charge have been eventful would be an understatement. I took over from Tommy and OB and they are a tough act to follow, they came in mid-way through the season with the team in dire straits and they did an unbelievable job to keep Cray up that year. It’s no surprise that they continued their good work at Thamesmead and now at Ashford! I wouldn’t say that I know Tommy really well on a personal level but, all the dealings I’ve had with him have been 1st class and always upfront and honest. I listened to his podcast interview, which I think was for Kent Messenger, he spoke really well. He has old school values, that I share myself about respect and honesty. Today’s game will be tough – I went to watch them against Hythe last week and for 60 minutes it looked like there would be only one winner. Unfortunately, they just lost their way in the game and Hythe took the points and I’m sure Tommy would have been disappointed. They’ve got some very good players, Motty, their goalkeeper, is a friend of mine and he is a top keeper. He has played in the national league with Welling and also represented England’s C team. Lee Prescott (who many will know from his time at Cray) again, is a very good player and someone I rate highly – we never wanted to lose him, he wanted to play higher and you have to respect that. Sam Corne is someone I brought through the youth team at VCD and gave him his first team debut at 16. He then went on to star for Welling and Braintree in the National League. Jay May, who played a key role in taking Maidstone from the Bostik South to the National League. Lastly, Dan Parish who is a natural goal scorer. So their threats are there for all to see.
The most important thing we need to do is learn from Sunday’s game – I felt we didn’t control our emotions enough. It’s hard when the referee puts in the sort of performance that we saw on Sunday, I get that. We played with far too much emotion. The best way I can describe it is when a long distance runner comes down the final straight and attempts to run too fast then ends up losing his shape and running style and in turn actually ends up running slower than he would’ve done if he’d just held his form. We have to stay calm, keep a clear mind and enjoy it. You can’t enjoy being anxious or shouting at a referee or getting involved with what the other team are doing – just hold your form! You don’t go and get a league title, you let the league title come to you. If we stay relaxed, stay on the game plan and put in a performance, results look after themselves. In return, the medals will follow! I won the North Division with VCD on the last game of the season that was as tense as it’s ever gonna be but, in a perverse sort of way, I enjoyed it. When I woke up Sunday, I had that feeling in my belly, that feeling you get when you when big games show up, you have to embrace that feeling, you have to enjoy it – this is why we play the game, we play the game to win. So when you get in a winning position you make sure you enjoy it. Not many people get in that position, so don’t waste it by not enjoying it – otherwise what’s the point!
What are my highlights!
Tilbury at home on a Tuesday night. (My first home game) I know it doesn’t sound very glamorous but to me that will always be a special game. As soon as the buzzer goes in the dressing room I leave the players to it and make my way to the bench. I remember that night just standing there waiting for the players to come out, and then the song “The Wanderers” came on the tannoy system and remember just smirking! I was still waiting for Jenko and Joe Francis to come out and tell me to sit back in the dug out! I remember when I played for the club, I know it might sound silly, but there was something special about playing for Cray Wanderers. We didn’t have our own ground or a massive fan base but, we had something that felt different to clubs I’d played for previously. We had that fearless attitude – we didn’t fear any team, in fact, most of Jenko’s team talks would be him dismissing the opponents as just not being good enough (if any of the players are reading this they would smirk at that last comment!). So, to go full circle and have the chairman Gary Hillman (who was my chairman as a player), come in for me and say that he wants me to lead the club going forward meant a lot to me! I broke my leg playing for Cray in an FA cup game and I remember laying in the hospital bed a few hours after the game. Gary came to the hospital to make sure I was alright. He said that he would look after me and make sure I would get paid even though I wasn’t on contract and the club even paid for me to do my rehab at Millwall FC. I have old school values it’s the way, I’ve been brought up, so I’d love nothing more but to pay Gary back for all those years ago, and get them promoted back into the Prem! When I look back at the 4 years I’ve been at the club, it is unrecognisable.
I met Martin Hodson when I first came over and he took me to the lock up to show me all the equipment we had. We laid it out and we had 2 kits, 6 footballs, a bag of a few bibs and cones, some old tracksuits and a few bags, that was it! Then he took me to the training facility – we used to use the Priory in Orpington. It was a 3G pitch but it was very narrow, the 18 yard box is an 18 yard box! The problem we had being in a narrow pitch was if you took 4 strides either side of the 18 yard box you’d be off the pitch, So it meant all your work of shape and patterns of play were not very realistic and made working on things in training very hard work. We only had ¾’s of the pitch so shared it with a ladies team as well, they would moan that balls was coming into their session. We had no youth set up connected to the football club, so if we had any injuries or suspensions you may only have 2/3 on the bench. So for the first 6 months of me being at Cray all I ever seemed to do was moan. Which in turn made David Francis nickname me Diva! We laugh about it now, but it was a very frustrating time.
Fast forward 4 years, 15 youth teams connected to the club. We have a youth team who got to the 2nd round of the FA Youth cup only being beaten by league one outfit Portsmouth. We have an under 23’s packed full of exciting young talent, one of our top goalscorers Freddie Parker is a product of that. On a Monday we have a yoga teacher who comes in to do injury prevention sessions, followed by video analysis session with a fantastic software in Hudl that allows every player to have an app to view clips of things we are working on or examples of where we would like them to improve. On a Wednesday we have 2 hours on the main pitch at Bromley which is a great facility. 23’s will train with us and the last half hour of the session we will set up the 23’s in the shape of the opponents we have coming up and I can get out on the pitch and set up the game plan for the forthcoming game. We still have a lot of hard work to do but we are miles ahead of where we were when I first joined and I am extremely proud of that.
I’d like to say thank you to Gary Hillman, Dave Francis, Michael Paye and Jason Miller for their continued support. I can have all the ideas in the world but if the owners don’t back me then all that changes doesn’t happen. A lot of hard work has gone into getting us to this point from a lot of people & talking to other Managers I know I am lucky to have such support. Lastly thanks to everyone connected at Cray, from the moment I walked through the door you have made me feel welcome which allowed me to settle in quickly and I can’t thank you enough for that. Keep cheering the boys on & please try & enjoy it!