The Cray Wanderers Interview – Joe Vines

The first of a series of interviews with key figures at Cray Wanderers from past and present. Joe Vines has been a huge part of Cray Wanderers since making his debut in the 2000-01 season. After ten seasons away he returned to the club in the Isthmian Premier and then in 2017-18 was appointed Assistant Player Manager and been part of the clubs recent successes. Here Joe looks back on his playing career as a Wands and elsewhere and how he came to being Assistant Manager and his thoughts currently on football and the lack of it.


Thank you for taking the time to speak to me Joe. I’m looking to expand my horizons and try to get insights from around the club during these unusual times. Before we get to the current situation in football which I’m sure you have opinions on for those that maybe are not aware of your past with Cray Wanderers perhaps just a recap on your career.  I started watching Cray Wanderers more religiously in the 2011-12 season but for those like me who weren’t around before that you were at Cray Wanderers in the early 2000’s as a young player in the Kent League via our reserve team. How was that experience for you?

It was funny because I had left school and at 17 I played for Cray Valley PM and I went from Sunday League kids football straight into playing adult football on Saturdays.  Their Chairman at the time was the father of one of my team-mates so I got invited down there. I was doing an apprenticeship at the time so I was working in Milton Keynes so I could play for Cray Valley on a Saturday but never trained. I just turned up and played. So I had a couple of years there until I was 18 and then I don’t know if you remember a guy named Mark Hammond who is now Bromley’s Assistant Manager. Hammo is a friend of mine from when we were kids and I was over Coldharbour in Mottingham playing five a sides with my dad and he was over there playing with his friends like Marc Petters and Jamie Wood and asked whether I would like to play for their 11 a side team on the astro pitch. So that was my introduction to that group of players who were all playing for Cray Wanderers at the time.

Joe in his reserve team days playing at Oxford Road alongside Mark Dudley and Mark Twiner

So I played with them for the summer and then suggested me to come and play for Cray Wanderers. So I went to Cray and played in the reserve team. During that summer league I was playing left midfield so I started there as I was young, strong and athletic back then so when I signed for Cray I was a left midfielder. Then I broke into the first team quite quickly in left midfield under Ian Jenkins and then after a few games although I never lost my way, I wasn’t great in left midfield so he asked where I would like to play, so I said as centre-half. It was a very good side and a great place to be for a 19 year old kid and I broke into the team in 2000-01 and had a very good year. I won Supporters Player of the Year and won all the trophies that year and although we didn’t really have great success, I’ve got very fond memories of that year in particular. I played in the FA Cup for the first time down at Cowes Sports and made some friends for life like Jamie Wood who is one of my best friends outside the game, Marc Petters and Drew Watkins. We had terrific players too like Peter Cirillo. A lot of the old boys would remember him, he was hard as nails. It was great all round to be fair at that time.

Can you spot Joe in this Cray Wanderers team shot from the FA Cup trip to Cowes Sports

You mentioned the Player of the Year award, you may very well be the youngest ever winner of the trophy for the club. I’ve checked the stats for the season, you played 31 matches in all competitions. Only Drew Watkins and Mark Dudley played more so certainly you played a lot of games for one so young.  As a youngster, if on the odd occasion you maybe had a bad game or maybe one where it was a physical battle for you was there a player in the team who could have put their arm round you a bit and look after you on the pitch?

Joe in the six yard box with Adam Woods, Adam Heaslewood and Peter Cirillo vs Bracknell Town, September 2001

For Cray I can’t remember if it was that season but I played with Frankie Coles. Colesy is a very good friend of mine now. As I was always the youngest, this might sound silly but as a young man I always used to hang about with boys that were older than me or play in teams with boys a year above me. There was Colesy, Jamie Wood was older and made me feel welcome and used to socialise on a Saturday and Sunday together. There were quite a few in that team though to be honest.

Before going on to the 2001-02 season where you played a handful of games, I’m not sure how relevant these things are for clubs these days but I always think that Testimonial games were designed for players like yourself, who come through systems, reach the first team, leave, come back, leave then come back. I certainly would advocate such a game perhaps at the new stadium once completed.

That would be nice. I did say to Gary Hillman once the stadium goes up I would love a brick with my name on it. I moved to Sidcup from Camberwell when I was 10 years old and I went to Primary school on Oxford Road. So, we used to jump over the fence and play football there when we were kids. Myself, my brother and Sammy Wood. We always knew about Cray Wanderers as they were our local side. I used to watch a lot of non-league when I was a kid, Dulwich Hamlet, Kingstonian etc because my uncle Francis played for them.  So I’ve always had a good grounding in non-league and not just football. I love the lower levels as it gave me access to players in a way that Premier League/top level football you never get that contact. 

So when I first joined Cray Wanderers some of the boys who played at that time were players like Adam Woods and John Denton. I went to school with them and when I was year 7 they were sixth formers and they were like my heroes and I used to play football with them in the playground as they let me join in as an 11-12 year old. So playing with them was brilliant for me. John Denton is a very good friend of mine, Mark Brooks, Jamie Turner were all fantastic people and looked after me.

Many of Joe’s Cray Wanderers team-mates from 2000-01 at a legends match in 2018.

You played 7 games at the start of the 2001-02 season and in between you returning in 2011-12 you set off for adventures elsewhere. Did you switch dressing rooms that season and go on to Bromley?

Yes, I got approached to go to Bromley by their manager Stuart McIntyre and saw it as moving a level up. What I was interested in was progressing through the levels and see how far I could go. Cray had offered me a contract and was minimal money so we were talking pounds and pence. So I went to Bromley and got a couple of quid but nothing major and I broke into the side and won the Player of the Year again and did a clean sweep of the prizes. I remember Mark Tompkins who played for Cray at that time, we had a drink in the summer in Chislehurst and he said that “he is a Bromley legend , you’ll never be a legend like me”. I said thanks Tommo and at the end of the season I remember him grabbing me and saying, “well done mate, you’ve done brilliantly and deserved all the accolades you’ve got”.  With all due respect, I always knew I was a decent enough player and had the attributes, the physicality, pace and strength but just wanted to keep pushing.

The second season (2002-03) we went through 3-4 different managers in quick succession.  Lewes had approached me but I turned them down because I was working in Bromley and then Crawley Town came in for me. So I went down to Crawley for about 5-6 weeks but they didn’t stop winning. So they won their league that season and went up to the Conference. Lewes came in for me again and I thought I have to play football, I can’t just sit here for 5-6 weeks watching games. It was enjoyable as the players around me were so good but I needed to play.  So I went to Lewes and they won the Isthmian League South in 2003-04 but the following season saw the restructuring of non-league and the emergence of the Conference South.  So we won the league and ended up playing three games in a week.  We reached the playoffs and beat Basingstoke, Yeading as it was then and beat Kingstonian in the final the following Saturday which meant Lewes were promoted to the Conference South.  I had another year at Lewes in 2004-05 and finished 4th in the Conference South under Steve King but I never played enough football. At the end of that year I went on loan to AFC Wimbledon for a bit and they won the Isthmian Division One South.  Steve King offered me another year contract after that but I just wanted to play and ended up going back to Bromley under George Wakeling and Billy Smith which was the start of the love affair with those two amazing men.  I jumped about for the right reasons at that stage.

Later on in my career my tolerance for disagreements with people, mis-truths and broken promises became less and less which is probably why I moved on a bit more as my career started to finish.

As I mentioned earlier, my first real love affair with Cray Wanderers where to the point I gambled with my Arsenal season ticket was the 2011-12 season. A bit like you I like the ability in non-league football to gain easy access to players, referees, opposition players and fans in the bars after. You can’t do that at Pro level. You returned to the club that season but of course since your first stint with the club we had moved up into the Isthmian Premier. We really had a great team at that time didn’t we?

Joe in the 2011-12 Isthmian Premier squad , back row 6th from right.

It was interesting as I was at Tooting & Mitcham United and they beat Cray Wanderers in the Isthmian South Playoff Final in 2007/08 and got promoted. Cray obviously went up the following season which was testament to them really because it is very difficult as I have seen it subsequently when you lose a playoff game the feeling of that can scoop the middle out of you if you let it. What Jenko was very good at was building a team spirit and what he did was he leant on players to help bring in players they knew. There was already a good togetherness and there were no cliques in there or bad eggs.

We had a very good side then, players like Tyrone Sterling, Mark Willy, Chris Saunders, Sammy Long, Leigh Bremner, Jack Clark, Tomy Whitnell, Aaron Day etc. Many of those player would get in most fans all star teams. I remember that season we were very much in the hunt for the playoffs at Easter.

Aaron Day is a very good friend of mine, I see a lot him. Tyrone and I speak occasionally as he is still involved with the club at Community Scheme level. We had very good players which Jenko did well to get to gel. I don’t really know why we weren’t closer to it. There was a lot of money flying about in that league at the time but we were more than competitive. The following season we brought in Shaggy (Michael Power), my brother (Paul) and we battered Hampton & Richmond away and again we had a very good side.

Off the field during the 2012-13 season the club’s application for a new ground at Sandy Lane in St Paul’s Cray was rejected by Bromley Council.  At that time, would this have had an effect on players and would you have all shut that out of your minds as out of your control?

Cray Wanderers before an FA Cup tie with Thamesmead Town, Sept 2012 with Joe middle of back row.

I think it is slightly different from a player’s perspective. Depending on who the manager is, you try to protect the players from that. It is not an unnecessary distraction but if selling a new stadium is part of your pitch then you can keep players for 5-6 years. It is a long drawn out process and not an overnight situation.  When I came back in and there was talk the stadium was going to be built I said I know but I’ve been hearing about this for 20 years which I have. For Gary Hillman it is a labour of love for that man, the time and effort and resources he has put in to try and get it done and come so close on more than one occasion it is a wonder he is still going.  He hasn’t got a bottomless pit of money but has obviously been very clever to bring in good people around him who are helping make that dream a reality.

Eventually that team breaks up and the management and players go their separate ways. In 2015-16 the club were in their second season in the Isthmian North and now under the management of Tony Russell. That season you came to the club to play a handful of season in the autumn. How did that come about?

Newly appointed manager in the summer of 2015 – Tony Russell

I was there for about ten games but only played in four of them. I was retired at that point, I’m sure I had a ban or I’d done something and wasn’t considering playing. I had had a lot of injuries in the latter part of my career, had a replacement knee and I was fighting a battle. Funnily enough, “Razor” Ray Powell is a friend of mine although Tony and I know each other and have done for many years we weren’t really friends. We weren’t enemies either but we used to say hello to each other over a crowded pub, “How you doing mate”, “yeah, good” but we didn’t know each other very well. Razor who is an electrician was doing some work in my house and mentioned that Tony was struggling with Ben Payne injured or suspended and said to Tony that I was fit and available to help out.

Ray Powell

I came in and I remember I played at Harlow Town away and their whole game plan was to let me have the ball and I was running through the centre of midfield literally towards the centre-halves like the parting of the red sea. We laugh about it because I was good on the ball technically but what Tony was laughing about as he often says, that I am strong minded, not frightened and some players wouldn’t want the ball as it is not coming off for me whereas I said give it back to me, we’ll go again. I think we really hit it off from there but more than anything what I remember about that period was the attention to detail that many of you would have seen especially with the You Tube videos.  He thinks about the game very differently to most people and I really enjoyed it especially the preparation and confidence and the way he wants to play tactically. Secondly, I had an opportunity to help some of the younger players, like Nathan Fox. I sat next to him, whispered in his ear about decision making, when to do things, when not to do things and his game really came on and ended up getting a move to Brentford. Lovely kid, good player and he just needed someone to give him a lift through the processes and like me was a young centre-half.

From there I said to Tony, I’ve enjoyed it here but I’ve got my love back for the game and I needed to play and a team came in for me, I think it was Chatham Town and they said can we bring you in, you can be involved in coaching and the conversation a little bit more which I bit their hand off for. So I had a couple of years playing elsewhere at Thamesmead Town and Ashford United. I’d never won the Kent League as a player but I did at Ashford and then Tony asked me to come back in once Paul Lorraine had moved on.

Joe (no 16) as part of Ashford United’s SCEFL Premier League title winners 2016-17

That was going to be my next question. I still have a text message from Tony from June 2017 where he mentioned that you were appointed as his no 2 for the 2017-18 season. I was surprised as I was at Ashford United’s 7-0 win v Rochester United in the SCEFL where Ashford were promoted to the Isthmian South so I would have thought you’d still have a part to play.  So 2017-18 you come in as no 2 and it has to be said the four seasons (if you count the last two seasons) have hardly been a dull and quiet time for you and the team has it?

I suppose Tony suckered me in a little bit as I got offered the first team job at Glebe.  At the time I had just taken on a new role at work and was managing at three teams across the UK and travelling a lot. I said I can help you out where I can but I can’t really commit to training twice a week and Saturday’s as I have a young family. Pre-season started and I just got the taste for it and I don’t think I’ve missed a session. I was just intoxicated by it as I loved the way he approaches things and often he works through the summer, I work through the summer we have no days off.  As soon as things stop we are constantly looking at how we can improve the side whether it is by developing them or individuals or whether to recruit others.  I’m in my office now there is a picture on my wall of the Cray Wanderers team from the 2017-18 season.  It’s got wonderful players, Brandon Scott, Luke Medley, Jay Leader, Michael Freiter, Marcus Evans, Aaron Rhule, Junior Dadson, Michael Power, Nick Blue, Ben Mundele, Charlie MacDonald a really classy side.  We managed to improve on that and we had to see people go that is heartbreaking like Bluey, an unbelievable keeper. It was said we will never be able to replace him but with all due respect to him, Lewis Carey is now the keeper and has stepped in and the difference has been barely noticed.   I was having conversations with Lewis for two years because we were waiting for Bluey to make his announcement what he was going to do but we had a readymade replacement.

There are similar stories throughout. Michael Power, a very good mate of mine over many years scores 33 goals and then when it came that we needed a replacement, we signed Joe Taylor and the rest is history.

Looking back to that first season, 2017-18, I know it might come across as a little bit bitter but okay, Carshalton and Lewes were the most consistent teams and deserved to go up but the standard of football we played that season I thought it was a travesty that team didn’t get promoted.

Joe with Tony and Nathan vs Ashford United, Jan 18 – Pic

I think we had a five game period where we lost 2-1 three times and that is what done us in the end as it derailed us. We weren’t actually playing that badly but just made silly mistakes but we learnt from that. Carshalton won the league and deservedly so, Lewes were consistent and beat us at home. You can’t argue, the league table doesn’t lie. The playoff scenario where we lost to Walton Casuals, it is what happens on the day. We lost a player to a red card, we made mistakes in terms of our substitutions and we learnt from that and won’t happen again. I think you saw when we played Horsham in February 2020 when we lost a player early to a red card and we took a different approach to see out the game. So we know now how to operate with ten men and what you need from your team.  They are learning opportunities and you can moan and make excuses but ultimately if we hadn‘t lost in that manner we wouldn’t have won the league the following season.

The playoff game had one of my favourite moments as a Cray fan when Brandon Scott put us in front 2-1 but at the time it happened I went ashen as I knew there was still another half of football with ten men to go.

Looking back we shouldn’t really have taken Rhuley off as we needed boys on the pitch who can carry the ball. It is obvious when you watch us play we create overloads and always looking for a numerical advantage. When you havent’ got that because you are a man down, you need players who can break lines with the ball and carry it into spaces. Players like Ben Mundele and Aaron Rhule can do that naturally, so taking him off we scuppered ourselves. We’ve learned from it and was a mistake we couldn’t recover from and Walton controlled the ball.

Looking back to the Isthmian South-East title winning season of 2018-19. The season was almost meticulously planned, very few slip ups and we were the most consistent team by a country mile. As you mentioned above we added or replaced players with terrific players that season. Joe Taylor came in November, Tom Carlse in February and I believe these were players on Tony’s radar for a while.

2018-19 Isthmian South-East Champions: Nathan White, Tony Russell & Joe Vines: pic

We’ve formalised it a bit more but the reason Tony and I liked each other was because we used to carry around lists of players where we would watch a game and say I like him, x, y, z.  When you are recruiting, scouting and doing talent identification pieces there are a lot of good players out there but are not Cray Wanderers players if you know what I mean. We have a very specific way of playing and we’ve got a formation that works for us that we can manipulate to suit the opposition. We play with a back four, we have a goalkeeper with great distribution. So you can have a great shot-stopper but if he is no good with his feet then he is not going to be a Cray Wanderers goalkeeper. Certainly not under Tony Russell. So we have to be careful and specific with our recruitment which we are and have created a database of 2500 players. We’ve got a scouting network that is out there watching games for us highlighting people and the opposition understanding their strengths and weaknesses. We are meticulous with our detail and I suppose people will only see what we do on a Saturday on the pitch but a lot of our hard work is done outside locked in my office or Tony going out watching games. We’ve built a good support staff around us. Nathan White, Grant Hall and Vikrant Dogra has come in and done some of the analysis stuff for us. We’ve got Ally Maloney who goes over and above the call of duty. It is not just about individuals, we are getting better at delegating the jobs out. Historically we haven’t been good at that as we are control freaks but we are getting better at disseminating some of that out giving people responsibilities which they are flourishing doing.

Joe and Nathan share a joke before the Walton Casuals league game, Jan 18 – Pic

To continue to progress and build in that manner the next phase for the club is that there is a big focus on youth. Developing your own players that can step up and replace any senior players leaving. It is a tough one because at the moment we do not have a stadium so is in process and there are hoops to jump through and a few more after so when you are looking at local teams like Bromley, they have affiliations with schools in the area so they have 30/40 kids going through their academy programme. We don’t have that luxury.  We are fortunate that we have had very strong individual youth teams especially at U18s but then they leave and get swayed to go elsewhere. Mark Dacey & Adam Fleming’s side were probably the standout U18s team with players like Freddie Parker, Lee Lewis, Kwame Poku etc but it is very hard to produce those teams constantly. Although the first team are currently in a good place, the infrastructure of the club isn’t as mature as it can be or will be so very much a work in progress.

So now we are in the Isthmian Premier for the 2019-20 season. Maybe we are a bit of an unknown quantity for a lot of clubs but despite at times an unprecedented number of injuries after being in the top 10 up to January after that we were unbeaten in the league, gone up to 2nd and were flying then the pandemic came along and the season was pulled from under us. How frustrating must that have been to you or did you look at it philosophically in these unusual times?

Joe on the bench vs East Thurrock United, Sept 19 – pic

You can’t put it any other way really, you are right that the injuries really affected us. We make no excuses for that, it is part and parcel of the game. We recruited really well again but it was the Margate game on New Year’s Day that was the turning point confidence wise and we had a really consistent level of performance. I remember talking to Jay Leader and he said I feel we like we did last season when we just can’t lose. The general feeling around the camp was one of not invincibility but you can roll anyone out in front of us and we were toying with them. We are lucky because the dressing room has got some very strong and influential characters in it. Players like Bradley Pritchard and Mitchell Nelson and the boys have a very strong camaraderie. You can seewhen the season finished we were going to carry on with that run.

The 2020-21 season has been curtailed and to me although I’ve enjoyed some of the season at times has just looked to be either jinxed or something wasn’t quite right about it.


It is challenging for everyone at the moment. The league/the nation/the world faced a very difficult problem that we haven’t seen since 1917-18 and the Spanish flu outbreak. Yes, we have had outbreaks of Ebola, SARRs and other diseases being transmitted in certain geographies but not to this global level. Again, I don’t believe our Government have handled it particularly well. Would I have handled it any better? I really can’t say.

With regards to the Isthmian League and how they have handled it I think it has been very difficult for them. Do I believe cutting the season off and making decisions independent of other feeder leagues below them and above was a wise thing to do? Absolutely not. Particularly when Step 2 clubs subsequently got Elite status and had promotions. When you look at the pyramid and how it operates, promotions and relegations are the lifeblood of football. Otherwise what is the point and was a premature decision  but they made it.

Stepping into this season, I don’t believe in my view they pulled together correctly the options and analysis. I’m involved in professional services working in an environment where I have to make strategic decisions. Those are made based on a selection of what might happen, if this then that scenarios. The league haven’t done that again. They should have wrote in if the league finished after 8 games then this should happen. If the league stops after less than 50% of the games this will happen. I have no sour grapes about us not going up the season before. They made the decision and it is what it is but they must have an idea in their mind and be clear around what they will do in certain scenarios.

I  think it is hard for the league as you are in a position where it is a voluntary role and usually the most difficult thing you have to manage during a course of a season might be some sort of disciplinary issue. Realistically nothing like this has raised its ugly head before so can’t argue that. The problem is in times of hardship you have to ask do you have the right people in place to manage that. What I know as someone who is senior in a business I have had to make certain decisions that have allowed us to subsequently flourish and grow which tells me I’ve made the right decisions. The state the league is in recently shows perhaps that mistakes have been made.

As I said to Tony in my last interview, I didn’t enjoy the last game we played at St. Albans City as I felt restricted and was rather a soulless occasion where none of our fans could go. Hopefully things will change ahead of next season.

I’m optimistic it is going to change. The vaccines are starting to take affect and I think as a nation will adopt the same approach as before. Be mindful, wash your hands but some things will change. Working full time like in previous years will not be the same, avoiding public transport and so on. There is a need for people to be socially together and human contact is part and parcel of who we are. We will never go away from that and football will be one of the first sports to come back to the normal again as before.

Just wrapping up, I mentioned to Tony before that we are lucky at Cray to have people like yourself, Tony and Nathan in such high capacities with great levels of business acumen. There is a lot of intelligent people in non-league football but I find when a team has a good FA Cup run and get a televised game on BBC/BT etc there is quite a patronising tone aimed at non-league players. Is that how you see it?


It doesn’t make for a good story though does it Mark. I remember when I was kid when I used to watch Kingstonian and my uncle Francis play and Dulwich Hamlet, you have a good run in the FA Cup and you get minnows like Aylesbury and the players pretended to be ducks when they scored a goal because they scored against higher opposition. It may have been that that team had a high budget and the Chairman put in a fair bit of money and weren’t exactly punching above their weight. There would have been full time footballers amongst that group earning good money and also in their job as a delivery driver. You open the newspaper and the headline is ”Postman always delivers” when a postman scores the winner against a full time side. It is sensationalism.  I’m genuinely not concerned for me and Tony is similar. We are happy in our own little bubble, I’m concerned what Tony thinks of me as we work together but outside of that don’t care what other people think. My focus is I am a glory hunter, I like to win things and I want to make sure I’m creating an environment for people who are involved with us who enjoy what we do and our time with us and that is what success looks like for me and I think we have been more than successful. There is a lot of happy faces on training nights and no gripes about our sessions and the information they are receiving. Off the back of that you tend to win a lot of football matches.