The Festive Thoughts of Tony Russell

Cray Wanderers go into the Festive season on the back of two contrasting results after last Saturday’s defeat at Bognor Regis Town which followed a superb home performance against Potters Bar Town.  Here Tony Russell looks back at those games, the impact injuries have had over the first half of the season, a look ahead to matches against Worthing, Leatherhead and Margate, his thoughts on a new You Tube vlog about him and his personal highlights of 2019.

Thank you Tony for your programme notes and online thoughts throughout 2019 and a very Happy Christmas to you and your family.  Your comments are very popular and thought provoking and I appreciate the time you devote to letting the supporters know what’s on your mind.   Firstly let’s look back to Saturday and a very difficult result for us at Bognor Regis Town.  What are your thoughts on how the game went on a difficult away trip for the Wands?

It really just summed up our season so far in that we have had so many players out all the time and I’ve never known anything like it and struggling to cope with it if I’m honest.  I’ve seen every team in this league and the analysis is quite simple, if we’ve got everyone available we can more than compete in the league.  If we get people out and play against the top sides and Bognor Regis are a very good team then it is hard for us.  However, it is a game of fine margins as we play very similar to Bognor in the way we set out to play and the way we control the ball.  If you get a team that is dis-organised against you, you can carve them open and we’ve done it in the past scoring nines, sevens, sixes etc regularly.  On Saturday we had boys filling in spaces and maybe out of positions so it only takes one cog in that wheel to not understand what we are trying to do and we’ve got a lot people high pressing and all of a sudden they break that press we are open at the back and the first half in particular was carnage and we did well to keep it at 3-0 nil, it could have been anything if I’m honest.

We made a few adjustments at half time and we’ve looked at the stats of the second half and we’ve had more of the ball and more shots than them so was one of those crazy games in that sense.  At half time it wasn’t motivation we spoke of that changed it we just organised better and told the players what they should be doing. The positive that comes out of it although the scoreline looks brutal I thought what we got out of the boys at half time was good.  The fact that a couple of goals have been unlucky, a shot has hit Mitchell on the shoulder and sent Lewis the wrong way and Jay has tried to clear off the line and slipped and the forward has tapped it in sums up the day for us and everything that can go wrong did go wrong, but we tried to score up to the very end and didn’t give up and that is a credit to the players.  It will be a good learning curve for us and it has dented the player’s pride 100% but we have done some good work this week and done some running, video analysis where we talked to the whole staff about what we should have done and what we want them to do. On Wednesday we had a positive session and done some work on real basics of what we are trying to achieve, how to press and to play.

It was going to be hard for us wasn’t it without players available on the day of the calibre of Barney Williams, Ben Mundele, Tom Phipp and Bradley Pritchard especially against a good side like Bognor Regis Town?

We have 16 players and that is it.  If people are out we are into choosing first year U18s players which is all that is available to us and we have no U23s this season.  It is just a brutal situation with all the injuries, we can’t cope with it and we have done so well up to this stage to get through it like we have but have come up a little short on Saturday and it is what it is.  The aim for this club is to get better and better every year off and on the field.  For the next stage of our development we need to get a full time academy, produce our own players and then this will never happen again and that is the plan.

You also have to give credit to Bognor Regis Town, if teams are allowed to play well against us full play to them.  Take nothing away from them but I remember my first year at this level of football I probably learned more than I’ve ever learned and sometimes when people give you a problem it’s your job to go away and find the answers and next time you play them you are ready for them.  That’s what we have done. They have made us work on stuff that maybe we’ve papered over the cracks and got away with against teams but opened up some areas where we need a lot of work and that’s what we have done.  It’s a learning curve and we need to be better and tip your hat to Bognor they played really well and they deserved the win. It can go two ways, at half time I could easily have shouted at everyone and threatening to get rid of them but it wasn’t like that, it was more okay, it wasn’t good enough and I put myself in that category. Our prep work could have been better and done more on the defensive side rather than the attacking side so we’ve all learned a lesson. I’m not the finished article and nor are the players but we are still learning and this will only make us better and we’ve worked hard this week. Me and Vinesy have been working and talking non-stop on the phone, watching the game, passing comments and plans long term which is good and one of the positives to take out of Saturday.            

Let’s go back to our last home game which was a totally different performance and result, a 4-0 win against Potters Bar Town.  I felt this was possibly our most complete performance of the season and saw us at our very best.  What were your thoughts on the game?

It was a very good performance and I said to the players afterwards for the first 70 minutes at least the most complete of the season we’ve done.  I thought we were dominant at the back, in midfield and up front. We could say the final scoreline flattered them and they were lucky not to have at least two sent off.  The first one, the defender has dragged down Andre Coker when last man and got a yellow card.  Then another player has done a two-footed tackle and shin high in the second half on JT and a very poor challenge right in front of the dugout.  I think the player himself thought he had been sent off and just got a yellow card.  We also hit the underside of the crossbar, had a goal disallowed and missed a penalty. The last twenty minutes we lost our shape a little bit trying to score with every attack and a bit like a boxer who knocks someone down twice outboxing them and suddenly forgets why he did it and starts shooting from the hip and lost our form a touch but you know what I’m like I’m always striving for perfection.

Potters Bar were a good side and I’d seen them play against Brightlingsea Regent on the Tuesday and thought they were excellent and told the boys to expect a tough game.  If before last Saturday you took the Carshalton game out which was a funny game as they had two shots and scored twice but we had a good long run of form and had been playing well for a while and were going along nicely.

Bradley Pritchard had a great game and this is his time of year.  There are certain players that come into their own at different times of the year and are seasonal players.  When we play at a slower tempo it doesn’t suit him but is still a good player but when we enter the winter months and the games get a little more frenetic and a bit more turnover of ball he is brilliant. He has this habit of nicking balls back and wins it back really quick and thought against Potters Bar he was the best player on the pitch by a mile.  It was a shame he wasn’t available against Bognor Regis but had to miss the game for personal reasons.  Jerome Federico up to the injury had a great game too.

We scored some good goals too and great to have Denty back as he has come back from injury and Andre had been working hard behind the scenes to get his form back and we’ve been pushing him hard and good to see him score and with a smile on his face and hopefully the catalyst to kick on as it has been a bit stop start for him with injuries and form.

Tom Phipp is staring to do a bit more acceleration stuff and is coming along nicely, Barney has got a bad eye and bruised ribs following the Carshalton game and not ready to start.  Ben Mundele is a bit of a concern, he came off with a groin problem against Potters Bar and hasn’t recovered yet.

There were also worries about Jerome Federico during the Potters Bar Town game when he was stretchered off.  It seems that perhaps the injury wasn’t as bad as first feared!

No, he came through fine, he twisted his knee during the game and jarred it and luckily there was no ligament damage. Once it was iced and he could move about he was alright.  He was a bit stiff the following day and Ally was working on him during the week and at training worked away from the group and she felt there was a good chance he could have been in the squad for Saturday and he did get a place on the bench.

Let’s now look ahead to the festive fixtures which begins with a trip to Worthing on Saturday in the Isthmian League Cup.  Then on Boxing Day we are at home to Leatherhead and on News Year Day are off to Margate.  We’ve played Worthing fairly recently so know what to expect but what about Leatherhead and Margate, what sort of games are you expecting.

In my six years of management at either VCD Athletic or Cray Wanderers I have never taken part in the Isthmian League Cup so this will be a new experience for me.  Ideally we do not really need the extra games however after last week the game has taken on more importance.  Worthing are joint top of the league and are flying and a tough place to go and whenever we’ve been to hard places to go we’ve been found wanting.  The result itself can look after itself but we want a good performance and reaction.  We may rest one or two but we’re going to go with a strong squad and some of the U18s on the bench so will mix it up a bit.  We need to get ourselves back on track so that is the aim.

Leatherhead are a very decent side and have good options going forward.  The play two up front and have a 6’3 striker from AFC Wimbledon, Tommy Wood and alongside him Ibrahim Olutade who they’ve got on loan from Maidstone United. They’ve got flyers out wide and experienced centre-halves like Will Salmon who was at Met Police for a long time and Jerry Nmanami who has been there years and can kick a ball a mile so can be quite direct.  They are a good side and we can expect a hard game against Jason Lillis’s team and there will be a contrast of styles.

As for Margate, any side that is managed by Jay Saunders is going to be organised and decent. I’ve know they have had quite a big turnover of players and lots going in and out so don’t know how many are still there from when we played them in August.  When you look at their teamsheet they seem to have new names popping up and maybe not a settled side yet but I think when you play against a manager I think it is important who you are playing against manager wise and Jay is a very good manager. We will have to be organised and they will have plans for us, but it is a 3G pitch, I’m sure there will be a bumper crowd, Joe Taylor hasn’t too far to go.  Jay is one of those managers I get on really well with and a good opportunity to chew the fat with him but they will be a good side. If we get everyone available then I fancy anyone and no team will bother me but if we don’t and we have four, five, six out every game then it will be a struggle.

Since our last home game a new You Tube channel and vlog has appeared operated by a certain Henderson Russell and tells of his travels with his dad watching Cray Wanderers. Tell us a little about Henderson’s project!

With Henderson what you have got to realise is that since the age of 2 years old he has always come to football with me, so he has sat in dugouts, dressing rooms and everyone at Erith Town when I was there knows Henderson, he would just walk in the bar and everyone would know him and at VCD everyone knows him and at Cray Wanderers.  When you see me, he is always with me and even if I go and watch games he is with me in the car.  So when we talk about tactics, weaknesses and so on and he is now 13 and had exposure all his life to football and how it is played. He has got a very good knowledge of the game.  Don’t get me wrong I think his camera work needs a bit of improvement but what he has got is that everyone knows him and he will get a reaction and stand in the huddle without batting an eyelid whereas someone else comes in and stands there with a camera everyone would be put out and because it is Henderson and everyone is relaxed around him he is getting good content on the back it and as he got full access to the dressing room and huddles, and I don’t even realise he is there and just forget.  I remember when Vinesy first came in he said there has always been a bit of mystery around me and how I do what I do. I’m not like some managers and tweet all the time after every game so keep myself to myself how I go about my business.  People who have seen the videos have seen the one to one chats with Henderson and see me how I am as a person perhaps for the first time.

He has done one after a win and one a defeat but what comes across is that is that after Potters Bar we were still talking about how we can improve and do better and then after a 7-2 defeat and I’ve never conceded seven goals in all my time as manager but you see the reaction after the game when it was calm, thought out and no screaming or shouting.  Sometimes we play teams and beat them and you can hear the dressing room and screaming but we are not like that, we are thinkers and people like Vinesy and me as players have different reputations to what people actually realise but as managers it is just a little insight but I don’t know how long he is going to carry on but he does all the editing himself.  He perhaps needs to show more goals highlights on his videos but he was so gutted during the Bognor game  and so he didn’t want to film it but he perhaps have to detach his feelings from it and show everything even when we don’t do well.

It is good exposure for the club as it all about Cray Wanderers and also shows the Monday night analysis sessions which we have done for two years but not up to this point been open to a viewing audience.

Please see here the links to Henderson’s posts –  vs. Potters Bar Town –   

vs. Bognor Regis Town –


We’ve come to the end of 2019 and of course another decade and all in all it hasn’t been a bad year or decade for Cray Wanderers.  What have been your personal favourite moments of the year?

Obviously, getting promoted and winning the league was huge and something I and the club needed and had to do and was a make or break season.  If I couldn’t get it done last year it would have probably been time to pass the job on to someone else but it was good to deliver it under that kind of pressure.  It was different from the VCD Athletic promotion in that there was joy and no-one expected it with the same team, tiny budget but for us last season was demanding and set ourselves the goal for promotion from the start.

If I’m honest I look at things from when I came here rather than just last season. If I see how things were at the club when I arrived in terms of the club wasn’t set up to succeed, there was no youth structure, poor training facilities, a team not good enough and players here for the wrong reasons and to fast forward to now with the array of youth teams that we’ve got, the training facilities we’ve got, we have a yoga teacher, athletics track, we train at Bromley’s ground, goalkeeping coaches.  We are producing our own players, winning lots of games of football and it is not all about me, I’ve played my part in that and the club have backed my vision and helped me achieve that which is what I’m most proud of.  We’re seen as by many as a solid football club that is going places whereas when I came here we were fighting relegation and a lot of doom and gloom so to spin that round in 4 years and to have everyone looking at us maybe in envy with what we’ve got going on, the quality of players, the success, the ground and that is probably the biggest achievement I’ve ever done.

Martin Hodson will tell you when I first arrived here and I met him in Orpington and we opened up our storage locker and laid out everything the club had, all the equipment and I looked at him and thought, tell me this is a joke and look at it now.  We have cameras that can pop up, tripods and HD, stats on games and is now ready to succeed.  If we were to pull off the unthinkable and gain promotion this year we can handle it


In closing I’d like to thank the supporters for their terrific support during the year, keep believing and in 2020 we can give you all a good run for your money and to get excited once again and have a great Christmas and we look forward to seeing you all over the festive period.