FM Scout is the only community you can talk Football Manager in real time. Here are 10 reasons to join!

Bringing Football to a Rugby Town - Harper Tanner's Tale

Taking the reins at Bath City FC Harper Tanner tries to steer the club from Non-League annonymity to the promised land
[]] Pages  
Po Red5's avatar Group Po Red5 2018-02-22 10:36
gb 45 posts 1 likes joined Jul 10, 2015
Part 16

The images shared on social media had the desired effect. Calls had come in from various people requesting sittings and booking consult time with Lauri. The studio, particularly Ian himself, were very pleased not least as it was driving footfall and interest in the studio. One particular call had really caught her attention however.

A fans group had seen the picture of the centurion; four lads wanted stylistically matching tattoos all a slightly different Roman in the colours of the club crest. All four were students at the University of Bath; all four had spent a few seasons following the club their shared house overlooked. Each wanted a centurion bursting through on the back of their calf, a memento from their university days and their few years following Bath City. Lauri had liked the way they’d talked, she’d liked the sound of the project and had agreed to meet with them all at the same time to discuss what they wanted and the scope of freedom she’d like to have over the finished designs.

The appointment took an hour, in the back room of the studio usually reserved as a break space for Ian and Chris and now Lauri between sessions. One would have the image exactly as she’d sketched out; the second wanted a similar centurion but with a slightly different pose; the third wanted his to have no helmet, an exposed face roaring his defiance; while the fourth told her to do whatever she wanted, her style was such that whatever she came up with would be perfect. All four would need a full day initially with a returning full day session to complete the design. She’d offered to throw in any touch up work required after the second session had healed up.

Before long the four had shared their impending tattoos on social media and Lauri had started pencilling out the remaining three centurions, filling page after page of partial sketches in her pad as she sat behind the counter. Lauri also received a few messages from up in Edinburgh, asking when she was back in the city for a guest session and where could they book slots. It was nice to feel wanted.

Harper again had a quick turn around on his week. On the Saturday coming, the 20th, he’d be taking his lads 170 miles to the north east, to play Bishops Stortford. After the away trip to Truro that would feel like a very long trip indeed.

The players were upbeat following the six nil drubbing of Truro and while Bishops Stortford had just endured a three nil defeat at the hands of Hungerford Harper was keen to avoid complacency. The players had a day off on Wednesday to recuperate and the plan was to train Thursday and Friday a mix of both technical, tactical and physical sessions before travelling up on the Saturday morning bright and early. Other teams in other leagues might fly the 340 mile round trip but Bath City were considered lucky to have a coach as opposed to having to drive themselves like a lot of teams at the level they operated at.

Harper had returned to the coach for the trip back from Truro a little late again after his walk with the fans. He’d been excited and enthusiastic on the trip back, joining in the songs and the celebrations but was still all the same a little distracted.

Ava stole half an hour with him, quickly touching on the game and asking a couple of questions about their dominance before the notebook and Dictaphone disappeared into a pocket. They walked together, inches apart in the falling rain talking about the meal and about nothing of consequence. Eventually she stopped him on a little footpath between two grassy spaces linking Treyew Road with Treworder.

She asked him if he was ever going to kiss her properly or just flirt and dance around the issue. He’d hesitated a moment and then as the rain tumbled around them her lips had found his and rendered the question moot.

On the coach ride up to Bishops Stortford his thoughts turned over Ava, the little mouse, and Lauri; they snicked across Bath City and how his career had led him to this point; briefly they touched on George Rigg who had so completely been usurped by the sixteen year old Chris Coade in the right back position, mostly through his own insistence.

The text messages from Ava when he eventually read them were short and to the point, Are you free this week? I want to see you. Dinner again, my treat? The second, received at the start of the match at Truro was blunter still, You do look rather sexy in the rain, Mr Tanner ;p

Chris Iwelumo had told Harper he seemed distracted during training. It had been a distracting week he’d told him but said no more, shrugging it off as lack of sleep and little else. His assistant was forming a close partnership with Harper, the two of them worked well together. The board were happy with how they were progressing and the developments they were pushing through in training were having an impact across the club at both senior and junior levels. In truth Harper was beginning to see Chris as more a friend than anything, a compatriot on a journey with him together as opposed to his assistant. It was nice to have someone to rely on, that supported him.

As the coach pulled into Woodside Park, a rather more impressive ground than many in the league, Harper dropped Lauri a text. Hope it’s a good day today, send me a pic of the finished tat? X The first session for the first of the students was today, outlining and detailing on the centurion as she’d first envisaged it. Harper had loved the design, as had a fair few of the players and staff at Bath City. It wasn’t to Maggie’s taste per say but she’d been very complimentary about the composition herself, even asking if they could use images of the completed tattoos in some of the club’s marketing and social media presence. A few of Harper’s players had also expressed an interest in Lauri’s work and at least two that he was aware of had contacted Inkspiration to enquire over sessions with the gaffer’s wife.

Woodside Park had two long seated stands across either touchline, with standing terraces behind the goals. Adjacent to Birchanger Services and the golf course it was a stones throw from Stansted Airport and the constant buzz of aircraft overhead gave the place an odd air. The weather had at least improved since midweek, a muggy grey overcast a significant improvement on the torrential downpours which blanketed their last game.

Along with the players and fans some of the board had travelled across for the game, four of them flying from Bristol on a budget carrier. They were already at the ground when the players arrived, shaking hands and welcoming them in person before retiring to a bar with the upper echelons of Bishop Stortford’s executive team. It was rare for them to travel to an away game unless immediately in the vicinity and a few of the coaches and players Harper had inherited made rumblings of the fact.

Harper chose not to let it overly occupy his mind however. Lauri had remained a little disjointed from him and disconnected, in truth they both had been. They’d shared a couple of evenings just the two of them and Harper had made an effort not to return from training too late or be unduly distracted. It had been nice just enjoying each other’s company, cooking and eating together, playing a board game with a glass of wine and going up to bed together early and staying in later than they had been doing. She’d perked up a little as he’d made an effort with his attention but clearly this was a band aid and little more.

On the coach over, between his musings, Harper had gone through the team for the game and the strategy going forward; they’d keep an unchanged side for the present – after a six nil win any changes would be tantamount to folly. The intent was to harry and harass Bishops Stortford from the outset, to concentrate balls through the channels in the centre and as the players tucked in to compensate for the fullbacks to bomb forward providing width into the exposes spaces behind.

They expected a 4-4-2 from Bishops Stortford so when the team sheet was announced as a 5-4-1 it caused a few raised eyebrows. Clearly knowing they’d be on the back foot the coaches were setting their stall out not to lose rather than to win. Harper smelled blood in the water, even before kick off.

Bishop Stortford’s home colours of bright blue and white stripes had been deemed a little too similar to Bath’s black and white, so Harper again watched as his team ran through their warm ups in their change kit of sky blue. Behind the goal the away fans were already singing, despite the gloomy look above their spirits were high. Almost a hundred had made the trip to Bishops Stortford; two coaches had travelled up plus those who made their own way. There was a buzz as the teams made their way back into the dressing rooms for the final talks before the game.

Between them Harper and Chris set out the stall; an unchanged side with a high pressing, high tempo approach – give the very originally nicknamed Blues something to rattle them. Gjokaj had a few words too and then the doors were opened and then trotted into what amounted to a tunnel before shaking hands with their hosts and heading out onto the pitch. Kouassi and Ward of Bishops Stortford took the kick off and the match was underway.

Back in Bath Lauri had almost completed the outlining of the centurion’s head and the upper half of the calf in preparation for the detailing. The little digital radio in the room was tuned to the local station, giving irregular updates on the game as it would unfold. Her client, Nathan, lay on his stomach on the bench as she worked texting and chatting to her about football, music and the similarities between Edinburgh and Bath. For his part he was from Colchester, another Roman city and had started going to watch Bath because it was a cheap way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Also it provided a ready made excuse to have a drink or three. Lauri didn’t mention her own connection with Bath merely saying she followed the club for family reasons and left it at that.

Just as they took a break so Lauri could get another coffee and Nathan could grab a quick cigarette the radio broke in with the first major update, there had been a goal.

While Thanoi had lifted a lofted pass from the centre of the park to the onrushing Ideniran Sommerville had been pushed at the edge of the area and brought down for a free kick. Thanoi again swung it in towards the back post; Whitmore met the cross with a powerful header which came down into the six yard box. Osborne, back defending for Bishops Stortford hacked an attempted clearance high and hard as he fell, the ball crashing between the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper and into the roof of the net. One nil, an own goal by Osbourne and after only eleven minutes of play.

Bishops Stortford dug in following the goal, their five man defence suffocating Bath’s forwards and leaving men on the cover to intercept the advancing fullbacks and roaming midfielders. Going forward the Blues offered little in the way of danger, a handful of crosses and through balls and two efforts on goal both from twenty yards or so were all they had to show for their efforts. As a rather drab first half came to a close Bath held a single goal advantage.

Lauri continued with Nathan until all the outlining across the entire piece was done. The second session would be shading and would pick out the features and details more fully along with adding the colour. The majority of the piece would be greyscale, mirroring the black and white of the club crest with a bright and vibrant stripe of red vertical, painting a swathe directly up the figure as he burst through the ripping skin of the canvas. She’d saved a space along the blade of his gladius, every design like this she always signed and Nathan had been only to happy to agree to that. The signature would be hidden in the shadework, but it would be there if anyone went looking for it.

The second half had already kicked off as she took a picture of the work thus far before rubbing in the barrier cream and wrapping his leg in cling film. In a week she’d complete the design but after a break on Sunday she’d be starting in on the second sitter on Monday morning, bright and early.

As he pulled his jacket on and thanked her the radio sputtered into relevance again; in the 63rd minute Sommerville broke unopposed into the Bishops Stortford area and with his first real effort in the match put Bath two nil up, a carefully weighted strike into the bottom right corner of the goal.

“Get the fuck in!” He beamed at her. “I’ve a tenner that we get three today!”
Lauri smiled and asked if he was joining the other three to listen to the rest of the match.

“They’ve gone, I should have been there too but I got a better offer. I’ll just head for a drink and catch them when they get back later. See you next week Lauri.”

Nathan hadn’t been out of the studio ten minutes when the first of his comments lit up her phone with a notification, Great session with Lauri @Inkspiration on my centurion! New tattoo and two nil up, it’s a good day! Come on your Romans! She smiled, pressed like and began cleaning down the workspace before heading home. She had a hankering for goat’s cheese and had decided to stop in for a bit of shopping on the way home. Lauri clicked the radio off and said her goodbyes to Ian and Needles before heading out into the street. Minutes after the radio commentator would cut in again had she been there to hear it.

Ten minutes after the goal, and following a couple of changes on both sides of the pitch, Bath found themselves defending a corner. The ball was swung in from the right side, a high arcing ball which Gjokaj rose highest to clear. It came out as far as Ward who drilled a first time effort back into the box, Whitmore attempted to clear – El Hadji Ba attempted to clear – an impromptu game of pinball broke out in the penalty area before the ball found its way out to Kouassi who met it on the half volley. Davies barely had time to register a shot had been taken when the back of the net behind him bulged for two one in the 73rd.

Feeling emboldened by the goal Bishops Stortford pressed their momentum, pegging Bath back into their own half. The high tempo, high pressing game combined with the travel of the past week had resulted in some tired legs out on the pitch for Bath City.

Eventually the ball found Chris Coade about twenty five yards out from his own goal wide to the right. He rounded a man and then took on a second, jinking past the onrushing midfielder and skipping into the clear. He played a quick one two pass with El Hadji Ba before driving a long diagonal into space for Jason Williams unmarked at the edge of the box. He took a touch, bringing the ball under control and advancing a pace in towards the middle of the park. On his favoured right foot he shot, hard and high – the goalkeeper parried it but didn’t get enough on it. His hand took the sting from the shot but the ball still found the top corner. The Blues had come within a goal for only five minutes, the 78th seeing the scoreboard tick on to three one.

Changes were rung almost immediately with the most tired legs being replaced and the team freshened up accordingly. George Rigg came on in the middle of the park to replace Ideniran and get his first appearance in midfield under Harper Tanner. Diallo had been replaced by McCootie and lastly Murphey had come on to give El Hadji Ba a much needed rest and an early sit down.
The game petered out after the changes. Harper pulled back the tempo and sat his side in a little deeper and Bishops Stortford had given their all but without the reward they were seeking – the fifteen minute spell their best in the game. Back to back defeats for Bishop Stortford saw them tumble into the relegation zone and Bath’s win gave them the top spot in the table for the first time in the season.

After the game the players celebrated, the coach ride home again having something of a holiday atmosphere. Harper had walked out with the fans with his hood up. Barely any fans were walking so he milled about outside the turnstiles to catch a taste of their mood before heading back inside just as he was recognized. Two fans, both about eleven or so asked for his autograph and he readily signed the front of their programmes before posing for a sheltie and escaping.

His phone had two messages from Lauri, one of congratulations and one a picture of the tattoo thus far. He also had a single message from Ava, Not at the game today – Andy White covering yours. See you next week? X

He tapped out a quick reply, I can be free Tuesday, we’ve no game on unless you’re busy?x

Ava’s response was instant, Never too busy for my favourite roman. See you Tuesday. X
"There have only been two world class goalkeepers; one was Lev Yashin, the other was the German boy who played for Manchester City."
Po Red5's avatar Group Po Red5 2018-03-12 13:16
gb 45 posts 1 likes joined Jul 10, 2015
Part 17

It made a pleasant change for Bath City to have a full week between games, a rarity in the lower leagues. After two road games, and over 600 miles travelled, it felt good to be back at Twerton Park.

Training had gone well in the week. The players were getting more and more confident and familiar with the tactics and the scheme they’d been given. A few of the younger players in the youth set up were really blossoming and even the naysayers in the inherited coaching pyramid were beginning to warm to it – good results had a way of eliciting those sort of reactions.

Lauri’s week had also been rather productive. The four students had completed the first sittings; all had posted on social media about the work and about Lauri specifically and her diary in the studio was filling up. She was still missing Edinburgh though and had taken to calling her mum most lunchtimes, just to check in and get a fix of the accent she was so desperately and unexpectedly missing.

Harper gave the players a day off following the game and Bishop Stortford and on the Monday they just ran through exercises, physical and fitness drills. The rest of the week they trained half days for the most part, the primary focus being teamwork and cohesion.

It took until Tuesday for Harper to find our why Paul Williams and the board had visited Bishop Stortford. He wasn’t sure what the technical term was for it but Harper mentally filed it under the category of “schmoozing”. Just before 11:00 on the Tuesday morning Maggie had been over, inviting him to a meeting with Paul that afternoon. Over coffee and a couple of home made cookies they’d given Harper the news, Bath had formalised their affiliation with Bristol City. The two clubs would play a friendly each off-season and Bristol would look to use Bath as an outlet to blood some of their youth players. As a side benefit Bath would receive a generous payment to help develop the club infrastructure, Paul was happy to promise reveal that the first thing on the agenda at the next board would be to formally commit to becoming a full time club.

Harper knew this would take time, probably the end of the season, but it was progress. He wasn’t even all that concerned about the influx of loan players the deal may potentially bring – just so long as there was no game time requirement included and so long as final say on their inclusion remained his.
Back in his office he met with Chris Iwelumo and broke the news to him. Chris could see the benefit financially that the arrangement could bring and if it meant bringing in players the calibre of Max O’Leary – providing they were fit and up for the fight – he could see the appeal. The news filtered through the rest of the club for the remainder of the day and through the squad the following day. By Thursday it was old news.

After training on Tuesday Harper let Lauri know the news about Bristol City and told her he’d be home late. He met Ava at Marco’s and again they discussed the news of the day, the result at weekend and ate a healthy amount of Italian food. She promised to be at Twerton Park for the game against East Thurrock and while he tried to keep it professional she didn’t make it easy for him. As they left she gave him another kiss and told him she’s see him at weekend.

In the car afterwards his phone lit up with a text message, I’m calling that our second date, Mr Tanner. Let me know when you want our third ;p

Despite his attraction to her Harper was conflicted. You know I’m married don’t know?

Right now I’m just enjoying this – I’m not looking for anything serious, just a little fun. Third date, Mr Tanner – let me know when works for you. X

East Thurrock were enjoying a middling season so far, a blend of wins and losses but overall nil-nil draws had been the story of their season. Newly promoted to the National League South they’d retained the vast majority of the team without change – the players clearly enjoying their new surroundings and stepping up against the higher standard opposition.

Playing in yellow and black The Rooks sitting twelfth in the season arrived early for the game against top of the table Bath. They took the opportunity to get a bite to eat before heading out to train as the fans slowly, gradually filled Twerton Park. The scout report was fairly straight forward – East Thurrock played a simply 4-4-2, putting in crosses where possible from the wide men towards a target man in the middle. A deeper defensive line played an unadventurous game and the central midfielders served little more than to shuttle the play out wide and close down the opposition in the centre of the park. The strike partner typically harried and harassed the defence in similar manner, playing more as a defensive forward than anything more attacking. It made them difficult to play against but also left them occasionally with little going forward on the rare occasions they made it into the final third.

Harper wasn’t offering many surprises by way of formation. Bath would trot out again in the Fantastic Five variant that had served them so well of recent. Davies kept the goalkeeping jersey and would barring any injury. Chris Coade, the young revelation at right back kept his place as did Whitmore and Gjokaj in the centre. At left back Dan Ball came into the side, giving Iacovitti a rest and a place on the bench. El Hadji Ba in the water carrier role remained in the squad, joined by Thanoi and Ideniran. The front three were comprised of Diallo on the right, Williams on the left and Sommerville as always through the middle.

As the Bath players carried out their warm ups, under the careful watch of Iwelumo the ground filled up steadily. By the start of play there would be nearly 4,500 in attendance and the atmosphere was charged and expectant. News that Bath had reached an official agreement with Bristol City had been met with enthusiasm from the majority of the supporters – the stories in the Non-League paper and the local paper both made optimistic reading. As he thumbed a programme before the players returned to the dressing room Harper paused on the section written by the chairman. Paul Williams talked about the future and referenced not just the potential for new players but the potential for new funds to affect change on the club as a whole. As he led the players back for the pre-game team talk he couldn’t help but feel that same bubble of optimism and enthusiasm growing again.

The players filed into the changing rooms and took a seat while Harper outlined the task ahead of them. East Thurrock would defend and sit in, they’d be conservative and look to isolate and spoil the game. They’d come for a draw – they’d be happy to leave with any points they could, it was up to the players in front of him to make sure that didn’t happen. Their play had earned them top spot in the division but despite how well they were playing he knew they could play better, greatness was calling – they could all feel it.

Iwelumo took over to go through the summary of East Thurrock and the individual assignments – each player knew them already after a full week of drilling but it was becoming a routine and it wouldn’t hurt to hear it one more time.

Finally Gjokaj stood and addressed the team – in the last two games they’d score nine goals, now it was time to show the Twerton Park faithful a few goals, they only needed to play as they had up to now and East Thurrock wouldn’t be able to live with them. To say the players were buoyed by the team talks was an understatement.

In the tunnel Harper again met with his opposite number, shaking hands they wished each other luck and as Back in Black burst out from the speakers above followed their teams out on the turf of Twerton Park. Harper walked to the edge of the pitch, stood for a moment and drank in the noise of the crowd. He turned to the box behind the dugouts and raised a hand, Maggie and Lauri stood together, huddled with a warm paper cup in hand – both returned his wave. Behind them Paul Williams and the other board members stood and applauded the players as they made their entrance. Over to the right of them, in a small section reserved for Press, stood Ava.

The weather was warm but slightly cloudy as the referee checked his watch and waited to blow his whistle to start the game. The sun when it broke through the clouds beat down with a furious brightness that threatened to make the day difficult for the goalkeepers. High balls and looping crosses could well be a challenge for outfield players as well to be fair. Playing the majority of his career in Scotland Harper joked that he wasn’t really used to playing in the sun, in truth though his players were more than prepared.

Diallo and Williams kicked off, the ball returned to the centre of the park and the sure feet of Dennis Ideniran. A lateral pass brought the ball to Thanoi and then he played a first time pass forward towards Sommerville in space in the middle, just in advance of the centre circle. East Thurrock were content to let Bath stroke the ball about, covering space but not pressing or challenging them when in the middle third. A minute or two passed without East Thurrock touching the ball, eventually a loose pass towards Coade was cut out and sprayed clear by Burns. The resulting throw in brought Bath City to within twenty five yards of the East Thurrock goal; their two central midfielders pushing back deeper almost providing an extra two defenders. The clearance was long and high. Harper noted that very few of East Thurrock’s players looked interested in chasing it down or making it their own. If all they wanted to do was defend then Harper was certain his lads would be only to happy to attack and attack and attack.

Content to let Bath City play East Thurrock sat back deeper and deeper as the opening five minutes ticked by. Their numbers prevented any entry into the eighteen yard box but the Roman’s invention managed to manufacture a handful of longer range chances.

In the sixth minute Bath City’s industry was rewarded, Ball broke down the left supported by Ideniran. Finding the young loanee Ball watched as he drove the ball cross field, into the path of Coade in space. Chris Coade chested the ball down and on the half turn swung a cross deep into the area, about ten yards from goal. Sommerville met the descending ball with an outstretched boot volleying it straight and true, past the flapping goalkeeper and low into the bottom right corner.

Any hopes that this might bring East Thurrock out of their shell however was instantly corrected, for the rest of the half Bath City collected the ball, moved it about and as soon as they entered the final third it was smothered and cleared up field or out for a throw. As the half time whistle blew Bath City had managed only one shot on target, the goal. East Thurrock for their part had managed two attempts on goal, surprisingly enough both on target but easily dealt with by Davies in the Bath City goal.

The players were clearly frustrated as they sat down and collected a drinks bottle a piece in the changing rooms. Harper told them they were playing well but needed to be more decisive, possession was all well and good but it needed to translate into an end product. They’d already shown if they can get through the defence they can score, all the game needed was for a few players to take more of a risk and take some chances – East Thurrock were happy to sit in, only managing to get forward following a foul or a break away. Yes it was frustrating playing a team that didn’t come to win but they were good enough to break them down, good enough to overpower them and overcome them – they’d shown that already this season.

As they took to the pitch in the second half again the frustration was re-forged as determination, the players watched as East Thurrock kicked off and then as a man pressed on and took the game to the Rooks. Diallo had an effort from twenty yards out; Williams broke into the box unmarked and had a shot on the angle from fifteen yards; even Ball, bringing the ball forward opted to jink inside rather than look for a cross and struck a stinging ball into the hands of the keeper and over for a corner. Each time East Thurrock cleared the ball Bath returned with another attack, each time Bath came onto them East Thurrock sat back deeper. The game was in danger of repeating the first half’s frustrations.

In the 52nd minute however Bath again found the net. A foul on Coade brought a free kick in a dangerous position at the edge of the area. Thanoi lined up his effort, looped it over the wall and around the helpless keeper – but not past the goal. His dead ball found the corner of the woodwork and quickest to react was Sommerville who, with a yard on the nearest defender and the goalkeeper scrambling, tapped in the ball for his easiest goal of the season.
Harper hoped the second goal might spur some life into East Thurrock but again the restart brought about a resumption in their defensive play. Bath continued knocking at the door but East Thurrock bedded in and refused to be goaded into anything approaching a football match.

Tempers began to fray a little in the Bath City ranks, Ball and El Hadji Ba both picking up a yellow card for harder than needed challenges and Ideniran needed calming down and leading away by his team mates after saying more than he should have to the referee. Ideniran made way in the 65th for Murphey and Rigg came on for Ball in a bid to settle them down. In the 68th El Hadji Ba also made way following another foul and the raise eyebrows of the referee, Iacovitti coming on to fill the hole between defence and midfield.

The free kick taken by East Thurrock was lofted into the box; finally taking a chance they’d had their defenders join the isolated strikers in the Bath penalty area. Usually the height they commanded would grant an opportunity to have an attempt of goal, the combination of Gjokaj, Whitmore and Iacovitti easily dealt with the problem. The ball was headed clear to Rigg twenty five yards from his own goal in the middle of the park. Forgoing his fullback duties he advanced through the middle, playing a neat one – two off Thanoi before finding Williams with a daring through ball. Williams, already advancing into the box when the ball was played took the last two defenders with him before cutting the ball back to the centre. An onrushing Murphey met the ball on the half bounce, driving hard and high to the left easily beating the goalkeeper and finding the net for 3 – 0 with 71 minutes played.

Despite the frustration of the game, the one sidedness of the tie left East Thurrock with no arguments as to whether the score line was deserved or not. Finally at three goals down East Thurrock sparked into some semblance of life. From the kick off they advanced down the right flank, Rigg offering little in the way of resistance as makeshift left back. The attack drew a corner and eventually the height and aerial power they could command saw some result, Allen headed down the corner into the six yard box and Sam Higgins pounced on the loose ball dinking it between the legs of Davies for a consolation goal with fifteen minutes left.

The next ten minutes was the most even of the match, Bath driving forward through the middle and East Thurrock exposing the space out wide in particular along the right hand channel. With only minutes left in the game Bath City launched one final assault on the goal at the town side of Twerton Park.

Coade took a pass from Murphey, linked well with Diallo and advanced himself into the space ahead. Diallo played in to Sommerville who lifted the ball and found Coade five yards from the touchline in space at the edge of the area. First time he returned the cross, a daisy cutter across the ground angled some eight yards from the goal almost parallel to the goal-line. Diallo made no mistake with his shot and making up for the wasted efforts earlier in the game found the bottom corner of the goal, inside the near post.

4 – 1 was perhaps a little unfairly one sided in some eyes of the game, a frustrating first half turning into a comprehensive rout by full time. The possession stats evidenced Bath’s near total dominance but the attempts on target could give East Thurrock hope for the season to come. If nothing else, as Harper said to East Thurrock’s manager after the dust had settled, if they played that way all season they’ll be tough to beat and might just surprise a few people.

The mood of the fans leaving the ground as Harper excused himself and ducked out to drink in the atmosphere had turned from frustration into celebration. Bath City were top of the league, on goal difference at least if not by a points margin. Their shortest turn around of the season would see them travelling again in a couple of days, through Cranbourne Chase to visit Poole FC on bank holiday Monday. For now though Harper allowed himself a few moments to enjoy the crowd.

As he turned around again to sneak back into the team facilities he was met by a young boy in a yellow jacket, a Bath City scarf around his neck. The boy perhaps eight stood rather nervously beside the entry door, a programme and marker pen in hand looking up at Harper. Just over his shoulder his father or possibly grandfather stood, a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder. The hand gave a squeeze and pushed the boy forward, ever so slightly.

“Mr Tanner sir, can I have your autograph?”

Harper smiled and took the pen, “What’s your name?”


“Hi Elio, you enjoy the game?” It had been years since Harper had been asked for an autograph and he wanted to milk the moment, just a little longer.

“Yeah, we were brilliant. Sommerville played really well.”

“Kieran Sommerville is his favourite player.” The portly figure behind him offered up.

Harper finished the autograph and message and smiled to the pair of them, “He’s your favourite player?”

“Yeah, he’s the best striker in the league!”

Harper laughed softly, warmly – the youngster’s enthusiasm was infectious. “Would you like his autograph too?”

Elio’s eyes lit up. Harper asked him to wait a moment and then stepped inside, making his way to the changing room he barked out once for Sommerville to come outside as soon as he was dressed and decent, he had a fan to meet.
"There have only been two world class goalkeepers; one was Lev Yashin, the other was the German boy who played for Manchester City."
Po Red5's avatar Group Po Red5 2018-03-14 08:49
gb 45 posts 1 likes joined Jul 10, 2015
Part 18

Bank Holiday weekends were something of a challenge for a lot of clubs. People in the back office, involved in promotion and PR, often took the opportunity to try to get more interest in the clubs from the local fan base. This however required money and buy in that a lot of the smaller teams just couldn’t afford. Bath City were in a better position than a lot of clubs but it was only in very recent memory that the team had really struggled, almost ceasing to exist.

A good spirit was building around the place however. On twitter a photo of a young boy stood with his hero, a player only about nine years older than he was himself had done the rounds. Kieran Sommerville was humble and took it professionally. It was obvious he was pleased, happy to have signed his first autographs but he played it cool and Gjokaj and Iwelumo kept him firmly grounded.

After the game Harper had headed straight home, getting back half an hour or so before Lauri did following a late sitting at the studio. As she walked through the door he was already a flurry of activity in the kitchen; red peppers had been stuffed and were awaiting the grill; a salad of fresh leaves and a balsamic dressing rested in a large wooden bowl; fresh bread from the bakery down the road and small dish of olives were already on the kitchen table. He kissed her gently, told her to change into her comfy clothes – some times the highlight of her day – and dinner would be ready when she came back down. When she did the plate that greeted her was peppers stuffed with feta, pine nuts and spicy cous cous, olives and warm bread, garlic and rosemary twists and a small black olive and anchovy tapenade tart to share.

Harper didn’t cook often but when he did he liked to make an effort; the kitchen sink and working tops were an absolute disaster area but that would wait until after they’d eaten. Lauri appreciated the gesture and the two shared a glass of wine or two and ate together, their feet resting against each others under the table where Fitz pretended as best he could to be uninterested in the food above his head.

Sunday was a quiet day. Following the exertions of the previous day and the very short turn around for all the players training was cancelled. Harper spent most of the day relaxing, walking the dog and trying to arrange his thoughts. Lauri was out for the majority of the day, meeting Maggie for a bite to eat and lunch and then spending the early afternoon with her, talking about upcoming projects and the like which they might be able to help each other out with. This left Harper mostly to his own devices.

He resisted the urge to reach out to anyone, to speak with anyone. He wanted the day for himself, to be by himself. A few times over the last few days his agent had called him and the senior team at the club had been in touch on and off; with the uptick in form several people were offering Bath City players and prospects. Just for one day Harper wanted to close himself off from it and deal with it the following day. He’d be working on Bank Holiday Monday; the least they could afford him was a handful of hours to himself.

When Lauri came back she was a buzz of excitement. She suggested they order pizza, picked out a menu and handed it to Harper before settling in on the sofa – in comfy clothes – with her sketch pad, an array of pencils, pens and colours and a small glass of last night’s wine. The pizza was hot and cheesy, the place Lauri had picked out being only a few doors down from Inkspiration and in getting to know the owners a little in the weeks she’d been there a garlic bread and some battered mushrooms had been added to the order without charge.

Monday when it dawned was bright and clear. A two hour drive to Poole for the game meant arriving at Twerton Park in the mid morning ready to leave straight after a slightly early lunch. The players arrived in dribs and drabs, Harper greeted most of them personally as they filed in and when the time came to board the coach everyone was ready.

Poole weren’t a bad side, despite being freshly promoted into the division. Harper sat on the coach reading the scout report while Iwelumo went over the coaches’ reports for the team itself. With no training carried out between the two fixtures the coach reports were not a huge amount of use to be honest, but it was a habit they’d formed and for whatever reason the superstition made sure that they followed the same schedule as previous winning days.

The table was beginning to look more settled; the cream was rising so to speak. Still plenty of time for that to all change, still plenty of time for good starts – or bad ones – to be proved aberrations. Still, the mood of the coach was expectant and enthusiastic.

Poole Town FC’s ground, Tatnam, was on School Lane and the pitch butted up against the playing fields of the local primary school. It was arguable who had the better facilities but only if viewed from a distance, squinting. If anything the grass on the football ground looked more threadbare than that currently marked out with a running track and what amounted to stands were overshadowed by trees the branches of which stretched out overhead. Parking, such as it was, was non-existent – the coach resorting to dropping them as near to the ground as he could get before turning around and heading down to park at the dog track a few hundred yards away.

In honour of the Bank Holiday Poole Town were running an offer, Kids Go Free, in a bid to boost their attendance numbers and hopefully prompt more support in the season to come. With three wins already this season The Dolphins were comfortably upper mid table, hoping to emulate their close rivals Bournemouth, only seven miles away and start a march up the divisions.

Despite the tired legs and the fatigue his players must have been feeling Chris Iwelumo and Harper decided not to muddy things too much unnecessarily. Davies would keep the spot in goal, Coade and Iacovitti playing fullback, Whitmore and Gjokaj in the centre of defence. In front of them, despite clearly tiring in the last couple of games El Hadji Ba had proven irreplaceable in the hole and Thanoi would partner Murphey to give Ideniran that little more time to recover. The front three would remain unchanged – in Harper’s opinion he’d rather have Sommerville, Diallo and Williams start and until one of them had a leg fall off that opinion would likely be unchanged.

Poole Town were expected to line up with a straight 4-4-2, as was rather typical in the league. They sometimes had played a narrow diamond in midfield but that wasn’t likely, not today, not in the scout’s opinion. Bath had proven all season up to now that their midfield three were a match for any foursome in the league, why would a team voluntarily drop that man advantage? Harper was confident and composed. About one hundred had made the trip down through Cranbourne Chase. Bolstered by the free kid’s places Poole anticipated almost 1,500 supporters in total. It was safe to say the Romans would be outnumbered on the south coast.

Poole’s best player so far this season had been Carl Pettefer, a diminutive, veteran midfielder who also wore the armband for the game due to injuries elsewhere in the squad. He would be joined in the middle of the park by new signing Corby Moore, a young whippet with something of a chip on his shoulder after being released numerous times in his fledgling career. It was those two that took the kick off, playing between themselves before laying the ball wide left for the winger and getting the game under way.

A nervy start it was safe to say opened proceedings. A few rash tackles drew fouls and a few hopeful balls forward from either side were easily snuffed out. Ten minutes passed with barely a shot in anger being made. In the centre of the park Pettefer shadowed Thanoi, more or less man-marking him while Moore looked to cover EHB and prevent his involvement. The spoiling tactics in the middle of the park were having success breaking the link play, a change was required.

When the ball dropped out of play Harper called over Diallo, the closest player to him at the time. A slight shuffle of formation was in order – if it was a zonal marking scheme Poole Town were employing the centre of the park then likely the change wouldn’t make any difference, if it was a man to man scheme however it might just crack it wide open.

Iacovitti moved into the hole vacated by EHB who dropped into left back. Williams moved back into the centre mid role, with Thanoi asked to push higher up on the left, almost as an advanced playmaker, in the gap between Poole’s defence and attack. This left the team slightly unbalanced and with the Famous Five looking more like a famous-four-and-a-half, still if nothing else it would likely reveal Poole’s strategy.

As EHB swapped places with Iacovitti Moore followed, opening a hole in midfield. As Thanoi moved up the field Pettefer similarly reacted, widening the hole – the centre of the park was suddenly devoid of Poole Town players. Spotting the opportunity Whitmore scooped up the loose ball and drilled a low clearance into the space around Williams. Williams, with space to run advanced into the opposition half, realising the break down in coverage Pettefer left his man to cover the distance. Jason Williams waited until he was within three paces and lofted the ball into the feet of the now open Thanoi. At the edge of the area and with the goal at his mercy Thanoi feigned a shot before rolling it across the centre of the box where Sommerville waited. From ten yards out Sommerville was yet to miss this season and he added to his already impressive tally in the 19th minute, one nil!

With the man trap exposed Bath City remained in their somewhat altered formation. Pettefer and Moore struggled to maintain their assignments – balancing covering a specific player now out of position with filling the appropriate place on the pitch was too much of a struggle. The space kept opening up in the middle of the park, despite their man advantage. After another five minutes Poole reacted, Pettefer moving into the centre again fully as did Moore – they were marking the space and not the man. Harper smiled, half the battle between the dugouts was always about making the other side play your game rather than their own. In that regard Tommy Kilick had blinked first, they were now firmly reactive as opposed to proactive. Harper reshuffled the pack again and the attacks continued.

Ten minutes later the net bulged again, Williams still in the centre of the park advanced on goal. He played a neat one two with Diallo at the edge of the area, carrying on his run past him and into the box. The shot was low and hard, beating the keeper Hutchings off to his right. 28 minutes played and it sat at two nil to Bath City, the day was panning out just as Harper and his team had hoped.

They weren’t finished yet however. A careless tackle gifted Bath City a free kick twenty yards or so from goal, just wide of the area between the touchline and the corner of the eighteen yard box. Iacovitti, freed from his fullback duties was in the box as were Gjokaj and Whitmore. Sommerville completed the complement of players and it would again be him that led the celebrations. Andi Thanoi whipped a cross into the area, easily clearing the two man wall. Gjokaj rose highest, heading the ball back across goal under challenge from Baggie. The ball still at head height found Sommerville at the edge of the six yard box, a powerful header onwards rippled the net and brought the score to three nil with six minutes of the half remaining.

As those six minutes ticked down the team on Poole’s bench scribbled in note pads and barked their irritation. The spectators were silent, save the one hundred or so who’d travelled down the A350. A rousing rendition of Shall we sing a sing for you had broken out. It was good spirited but the point was there none the less. The whistle that brought the first half to a close was welcomed by both sets of players and the dressing room Harper entered was excited and enthusiastic.

He tried not to let the players get too far ahead, it was only half way through the game and there was a lot of football still to be played. They were doing amazing work; they’d responded well to the difficult situation at first and reacted well to the changes requested by the bench. All in all it was more of the same in the second half please, and let’s get at them.

The second half started quickly, before all of the supporters had returned to the tin roofed stands they heard a roar from those who’d already found their seats or places to stand. The kick off was casual, the ball stroked out towards Williams who barely reacted to its movement. Poole Town stole the ball, Moore racing through space trying to make up for his dismal performance in the first half. Poole’s wingers had tucked right in, closing the spaces in the middle of the park – only fullbacks providing the width. Moore broke one tackle, then a second, looked to pick out a pass and found Sturridge open at the edge of the area. His chip over the defence left Sturridge one on one with Bath City’s Oli Davies. Sturridge calmly controlled the ball with the point of his right boot before lashing a venomous strike high with his left, cracking the crossbar and rebounding into the net. Three – one; surely nothing but a consolation goal, Harper could only hope.

As legs tired and players became slower on their feet the extra few days rest proved the difference between Bath and Poole. El Hadji Ba, usually a terrier in the middle constantly on the move to sniff out loose balls and wayward passes was running through treacle. Diallo who had terrorized defences with his pace and dribbling was suddenly no quicker than the defenders he looked to beat. Even Sommerville seemed nullified as the balls through to him were constantly a yard too quick or were intercepted before he could advance on them.

Murphey had been largely anonymous in the first half, despite the team’s overall good showing. He had the freshest legs however so it was El Hadji Ba who made way first, being replaced by Ball who slotted in at left back allowing Iacovitti to remain as the water carrier for the team. Diallo also had to be replaced, by the 60th minute he was dead on his feet. McCootie joined the fray and hadn’t even had chance to touch the ball when the game took another turn.

Exposed at the back a tiring Whitmore tugged the corner of a shirt before sliding in hard from the left, clattering Devlin and bringing a foul along with a yellow card. In the ensuing scramble in the area a bouncing ball fell to Bassele who, in the 64th, made it three two with all to play for.

The final change for Bath had nothing to do with tiredness. Whitmore, already booked once again went in somewhat more exuberantly than he perhaps needed to at the edge of the area. His upturned studs found the calf of the Poole Town striker, Marvin Brookes leaving the referee with no alternative. A second yellow in the space of a few minutes saw Alex Whitmore head for an early shower. While the resulting free kick came to nothing Bath would need to hang on for almost twenty minutes.

The space vacated by Whitmore was taken up by Iacovitti, Diallo made way and George Rigg would again make an appearance as a substitute in midfield. The front three would become a front two, Sommerville up top with Williams playing off him. In midfield Rigg would take the place in the hole, Thanoi and Murphey trying to stem the tide through the middle.

With a man down and tiring legs from first to last for the first time in the season Bath found themselves under the cosh. Thanoi, never the quickest, struggled to keep up with the pace of the game. Murphey, a backup at best was outmatched by his opposing number as Poole probed for the equalising goal. Only the actions of Gjokaj and Iacovitti kept Poole Town honest and the score unchanged.

As the game pressed on the crowd added their voices, roaring Poole on as Bath battened down the hatches and dug in. The fulltime whistle when it came had seen Bath perform a rear guard for twenty minutes, barely getting out of their own half. Without the first choice players in key positions and with a man disadvantage the Romans had been lucky to leave with all three points, in truth Harper felt a little like they’d robbed Poole of a point.

He shook hands with Tommy Kilick after the game and commended him on the spirit of his team, for a newly promoted side they might cause a lot of upsets if they play like that all season. Tommy congratulated Harper in turn on the points and the first half, saying he couldn’t wait for the return fixture at Twerton Park. Harper was less in the mood for a repeat performance however.

He was thundering as he banged open the dressing room door after the game, a Jekyll and Hyde performance Iwelumo had called it after the fulltime whistle had gone but Harper had a different take on it. The first words from Harper as he addressed the team left no illusions as to his opinion of the game. Had he realised he could be heard outside he might have chosen them more carefully, upon reflection though they fully summed up what he’d witnessed.

“What the fuck happened in that second half?!”
"There have only been two world class goalkeepers; one was Lev Yashin, the other was the German boy who played for Manchester City."

You are reading "Bringing Football to a Rugby Town - Harper Tanner's Tale".

FMS Chat

hey, just wanted to let you know that we have a fb style chat for our members. login or sign up to start chatting.