October 5th, 2005 Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Blackburn
I couldn't believe it. 5 years of work with the School, and with Rovers, and it had all boiled down to today. There were scouts everywhere, from the big clubs - Liverpool, United, City - and from the England setup.
It started well, a couple goals, some smart runs, even some tricks; but then everything was turned on it's head. I broke through the defence, turning the centre-half inside out - which he took drastic exception to, flying in with both studs. I heard the crack before I even made it to the ground. I heard the gasp go round the pitch before I could register what happened.
The burning pain in my leg was unbearable. Through tears, I could see the ugly f*** of a defender leering over me; it was all I could do to refrain from rattling him with my good leg. The referee came dawdling over, clearly more concerned with his pretty-boy appearance, and duly dispensed a verbal warning to the gargoyle who assualted me. I was bundled onto a stretcher, and the rest of the guys got on with their game. As I left, my replacement, Connor Wickham, stopped to give me some words of support, before racing into a future which should rightfully have been mine.
"I think our chairman has this club's best interests at heart, and i'm delighted to be sitting here in front of you today, ready to carry those interests forward into a new season."
The sweat ran gently down my brow, as I gazed up at the press, who seemed to look back straight into my soul. The next question focused on the expectations...the expectation...jesus.
The silence grew more and more intense, I was completely losing my cool. Nobody wants to see their club hire an absolute wreck as a manager. I took a sip of water to steady myself, and smiled gently.
"If this club is going to develop and become a true force within English football, we all need to be ambitious, and aim high - that's exactly what I intend to do here. This club has fantastic ambition, and i'm delighted to be here to take that energy and ambition forwards."
Ok. Deep breaths. I can do this. The next few questions were basic - any transfer targets, am I concentrating on cup or league? I took it slow and steady, considered all my answers carefully, and didn't give too much away. When it was finally over, I relaxed in my seat, and breathed a sigh of relief.
I can't say I was overly excited - i'd set up a match between my main squad and the Under 21s just before the press conference, and we'd battled to a tough 3-3 draw. I'd seen some positives, but I was concerned by how lethargic we looked. We definitely needed a fitness coach to get these guys fit.
The board were determined to bring in a Director of Football...and at just 27, and with no other managerial experience, I wasn't really in a position to object...i'd deal with that another time.
Boss? the tentative call came from behind me. Luke Garrard, my Assistant Manager, was lurking just behind the Press Area, and he stepped towards me with a raft of papers in his hand.
"What's up, Luke?" I was eager to hear what he had to say - Luke had been around this club for almost 6 years now, and was a real fan favourite.
"Just got a couple ideas for loans you might wanna have a look at boss; want me to leave them here?"
I tilted my head slightly, taking stock of the 29 year old, who looked calm and confident...
"Tell you what, Luke - meet me in my office in an hour, ok? Oh, and stop calling me boss" I smiled, as he made his way out of the room.
"Ok guys, we've looked good in training, and we're ready for this. We're the favourites, and i'm expecting to see performances at that level - a good start in the league could do our season wonders. Get out there, and show me what you're made of!"
I watched them trot up the tunnel - the 11 men who would be starting this game. Halifax were already on the pitch, taking some light stick from the home fans. We kicked off, and for the first 35 minutes, created absolutely nothing. In fact, the entire first half was a disaster.
I couldn't pretend I wasn't disappointed, after we showed some great promise to run out 4-2 winners over Arsenal's Under 21s in pre-season. The following game, we caved 3-0 to Brentford...it seemed as though today was right in the middle of those performances...We'd just have to sort it out, and get back in with it for the second half.
We were working hard, and our efforts were duly rewarded after 88 minutes, as a tired-looking Scott McManus pulled Conor Clifford down just inside the box, earning a yellow card for his efforts. Joe Devera stepped up, and the 28 year old Centre-Back slotted the ball past Matt Glennon to give us a 1 goal lead.
Halifax barely had time to mount a new attack when full-time came, and with it, our first 3 points! I was delighted, and I made sure the boys new, as we headed out for a cheeky nandos to celebrate.
Overview: This month, we kicked off our season with an impressive tally of 6 wins from 7 matches. We've been particularly strong in defence, too; keeping 5 clean sheets and conceding only 3 goals. In our opinion, that's been key to our form.
Our strikers have been strong too, scoring 12 goals in our 7 games this month. Junior Morias is our current top scorer, and he's been looking incredibly dangerous in front of goal. We should look to build on those performances and start looking to play him in a more prominent role.
Ricky Shakes, who has been deputising in the centre of midfield, has put in 3 assists since you took over, making him invaluable. Our key focus in training has been defensive positioning; our feeling is that we should continue that kind of work, as it's clearly paying off.
SEPTEMBER PERFORMANCE Overview: Our quick start to the league seems to have really caught up with us, as we started to struggle this month. We don't have much feedback regarding individuals, but we do have some concerns around the fitness of the players. We won 3/6 games, suffering one defeat and scraping two draws.
A particular concern is conceding goals early in a game - as the season goes on, we need to tighten this up, lest other sides take advantage of this weakness.