Cray Wanderers 2021-22 – Pre-Season: The thoughts of Danny Kedwell

After a couple of seasons unlike many of us would have ever seen the 2021-22 season at this stage looks to be going to plan and Cray Wanderers begin their pre-season schedule with a trip to Sevenoaks Town on Tuesday 6th July.  The club are embarking on a new era after the appointment on April 10th of Danny Kedwell as manager of the Wands and a host of new coaching and playing staff.

Here Danny looks forward to his first pre-season as a manager and gives us the lowdown of his impressive backroom/matchday team and squad arrivals the fans can expect to see next season.

First of all Danny on behalf of myself, the club and supporters we welcome you to Cray Wanderers FC and your coaching staff/matchday team and new players who have arrived at the club in the last few weeks. It is testament to you and all the hard work to get a playing squad together as we were in a bit of a pickle on March 18th when we had so many departures from the club. So a big thank you to you all.

Thank you and it was such a quick turnaround as well. To get all the players I want and backroom staff in two months even I was shocked how quickly it has gone.

Our first pre-season game is on Tuesday (6th July) at Sevenoaks Town. This is your first pre-season as a manager. Please let us know your thoughts on the importance of pre-season and how it sets the scene for the season ahead.

It is very important and also to get the boys minutes as well making sure the whole squad gets to show us what they can do. Especially important this year as I have a whole new squad. I’ve played with a few of the new players but there are some I haven’t and also a chance to look at different formations I will be trying to see what best suits us as a team. It is very exciting but in a way very important that we get it right and this is what pre-season is for.

Our pre-season schedule includes three home matches and one of those is against AFC Wimbledon on Sunday 18th July. For those supporters that are perhaps not aware of your footballing journey, the Dons were one of many clubs you are remembered at with great affection. Tell us a little bit about some of your playing career highlights.

My highlights started really at Wimbledon. I’d come through the lower non-leagues and it was at Herne Bay when I started to get noticed and kicked on from there. Then I went to Welling United and had two great seasons there getting over 26 goals both years. It was at Wimbledon where I believe I played my best football. The first year there we won the Conference South and the first in the Conference finished just outside the playoffs. In 2010-11 I was given the captaincy and the team reached the playoff final and I scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out vs Luton Town at the Etihad to get Wimbledon back in the Football League. From there I got my move to Gillingham.

Before I came to watch Cray Wanderers more regularly in the 2011-12 season I saw a handful of Gills games including three away games (a 6-1 win at Hereford I recall vividly) and I could tell then that you were well over with the Gills fans. Also you were still very much involved playing the last couple of seasons and can fans expect to see you playing this season.

Gillingham was my boyhood club and used to go and watch them when I was a kid so there was a lot of love there. I would never have left Wimbledon for any other club but when Gillingham came knocking it was a no-brainer. Then to win promotion in 2012-13 and win a championship for the first time in their history was unbelievable and you couldn’t write how much it meant to be involved.

The last couple of seasons I had been at Havant & Waterlooville but because of Covid many of us didn’t really know what was going on so had a spell at Hollands & Blair as their league re-started before the Conference South and I went back in October-November to Havant up to the end of the year.    

As for this season it is a hard one as I need to concentrate on the team first but I will be signing on as a player and keeping myself fit but more importantly it is about getting the team and squad right so they can compete this season before I can think about playing. There is no doubt that at some point I will be coming on as it will be a long season, there will be injuries and tiredness so I’m sure I will be getting a runout somewhere.

We haven’t had much of an opportunity as yet to really focus on your backroom/matchday help for this season and this may be a great opportunity to do so. We have, your Player Assistant Manager, Andy Drury, Fitness coach, Jon Main, goalkeeping coach George Howard and physio Paul Smith and all with great credentials.

George Howard, Andy Drury, Danny Kedwell, Jon Main

Andy Drury has got great experience and has played at EFL Championship level, his knowledge of football is second to none. I’ve played with him the last 4-5 years and just listening to him in changing rooms down the years as to what he would do and always make a lot of sense. He would often say to me “Dan, if we don’t play this formation, we are going to lose” and that is what happened. He is one of those that knows every single player, you ask him about a player he knows him so has a frightening level of football knowledge. Add to that he is an unbelievably talented footballer and can still play so I’ve got a win-win with Andy.

Jon Main was a real hero with the fans during his spell with Cray Wanderers in the 2005-06 season and had a reputation as being a super-sub. Our new fitness coach is also a former AFC Wimbledon player.

Yes, Mainy was my strike partner at AFC Wimbledon.  He has been around non-league football all his career and came on the scene late but he is a good lad, the boys will love him and every changing room I’ve been in and had success we’ve always had someone like that. We had a player, Simon Bass at Wimbledon who is at Portsmouth now, Jon was that sort of calibre. He still wants to learn, he knows a lot of players and always been in and around football and I just want to get him on the ladder. 

For the forwards, he once scored 34 goals in one season so he knows how to finish. He will be working with the forwards more than anything else so I don’t think anyone will be moaning if you’ve got Jon Main teaching you how to finish and where you need to be and the forwards need that bit of experience to help them go further.       

Our goalkeeping coach is George Howard who played one game in goal for Cray Wanderers in the 2010-11 season. George’s story is really remarkable and one that shows never to give up your dreams and footballing ambitions.

Exactly, sadly George was involved in a tragic accident in South Africa a few years ago while he was a Gillingham player and was just coming through into their League One squad. George has always loved his football and I always promised him if I get a job in management he would definitely be someone I would take in so I’ve stuck to my word with that. I know he is young but he is a very good goalkeeping coach.  He was at Charlton as a youngster and in the same team as Jonjo Shelvey and then on to Bromley who Gillingham signed him from. I don’t know why as I scored against him in a pre-season game.     

We have also a new physio at the club in Paul Smith who is hugely experienced and I believe around the pro game over many years.

Everyone I talk too who are physios in the game still can’t believe I have got Paul here at this level. He is hugely experienced. He knows his stuff and is great to have on board. I worked with him at Gillingham. He used to look after us and if our usual physio wasn’t in he would come in and everyone loved him and great at getting boys fit and is top class.

Now looking at our new playing team aside from Charlie Allen, Lee Lewis and Martin Onobaghbe you have had to in a short time using a blank sheet of paper to get a team together so tell us a little about some of the new arrivals. Starting with the goalkeeper Jack Turner and again it looks like you have pulled out a real plum here.

Jack was a young goalkeeper coming through at Wimbledon and always knew he would be a great keeper and played against him the last 3-4 years when he was at Slough and is another one where I wonder how have I got him?, he is that good. To me he was the best keeper in the Conference South so to have him in the league below is a great signing.

Defensively we have Dean Beckwith who I had a year playing with at Havant & Waterlooville. He is very experienced and will be my skipper too. He’s been there and done it, knows how to win and compete in leagues so is a great addition to have and a leader. We also have Harvey Brand, EJ (Ejiro Okosieme) and Abdul Saccoh at the back. We’ve got a bit of youth and experience defensively and also a lot of pace.

In midfield, we have Charlie Allen who is quality and I played with him at Gillingham. His energy is absolutely frightening when I played with him. Nothing was too difficult for Charlie, he will run for you all day long, he will win you the ball, he will get in the box late so he is a pest. You need those sort of players in your team. He knows his job and you will always get the best out of him.

We have four or five players including Charlie who are very versatile in the squad. There is Fjord Rogers who is a young lad who can play up front, left or right, right back. Sadik Balarabe up front, he can play in the 10, Jamie Yila can play up front or either wing. Jack Hanson, he can play central midfield, up top, either wing. We have Cameron Broudie who we’ve signed on loan from Dartford this season so have versatility through the team and Anis Nuur on the wing.  Also we have Anthony Cook who I played with at Ebbsfleet who will be my Vice captain behind Dean Beckwith. They are both winners and why I’ve chosen them as my captains for the season.

Let’s look ahead to the Isthmian League Premier which starts in mid-August. A very strong league which includes the FA Trophy Winners Hornchurch, Worthing who have been top the last couple of years, and a host of clubs who are strong. Are you looking forward to the challenge of the season ahead.

This is what it’s about and you need these big teams in it but we are here to compete. We are not going to say we are going to win it. We are here to compete and see how we go but I will never say that we going to go and win it as I will be lying. I won’t be that sort of manager. We will go out there and give it our best and as you say some difficult teams but I’m sure we will be in and around it and that is what I am here for, to compete and be promoted and I believe I have the squad to be able to do that.

All of football was going through a very bad time with the pandemic so when you are ringing players up and you/they don’t know what is going on in their careers it is a bit easier to get players and those you know from playing with them the last couple of years that you really like. So that makes it easier to get those players over the line for you.  If we were in normal times these players wouldn’t be with us and still at their other clubs perhaps in higher leagues.    

Finally looking at the club as a whole, Cray Wanderers are working on a new ground but also have a great pool of youth teams and a top notch structure at the club which bodes well for its future. Also we can look forward to a new era for the first team.

We are also looking to build a scholarship plan as well which will be brilliant to have the U18s full time during the week and we are building to that also so players have a pathway to the scholarship and then hopefully the first team and that is what you need, home grown players coming through the system which will be brilliant.               

As for myself all the time I’m with this club I will try my best from the bottom up. It is not always about the first team, we have to be a family as a club and that is how you get success and all the time I am here I will help the club to do that.