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Wandering to the top

A classic road to Glory
Started on 9 November 2021 by JT
Latest Reply on 4 February 2022 by JT
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Dorking Wanderers FC: Pre-season 22/23

Possibly one of the busiest pre-seasons in my living memory as we looked to shape a squad ready for the Vanarama National without breaking the bank and killing Team cohesion. It has been a difficuly line to tow at times but one that is needed to give us the foundation to tackle this league. A division where out of the 24 teams that play in it, 17 are Professional and we are one of the 7 that are Semi-Professional. So let's look at what I did


So there were a lot of outs. Most of which were expected but there was one man that has left that I didn't want to lose but in the end he didn't accept my new contract. That man was Jason Prior, our 2nd highest goalscorer and our 2nd highest assister from last year. He had 39 goal contributions across all competitions and I had offered him a new contract on less money than we was before but he decided to drop down a Division and sign for Kidderminster instead leaving on a free. Stuart Nelson retired from football meaning we also needed to find a goalkeeper as well as another Striker to go with Mullings. Vice captain Ed Harris decided to cancel his contract when we signed some new centrebacks as he was threatened about game time meaning our rebuild job got even bigger at the back.

They were the only players that i hadn't fully counted on leaving, on top of this we did move on a number of fringe first teamers as well as a couple of U23 players that were never going to make the first team squad. Some Familiar names that left were Dan Gallagher (back up CM last year), Matt Briggs (Back up right winger), Nicky Wheeler (Veteran winger), Callum Kennedy (Left back), Sam Al-Abd (Centrehalf), Isaac Philpott (Right back) and Guiseppe Sole (Back up Striker) all left the club clearing up a large pot of wage budget.


It was just as busy in terms of the incomings as we signed a number of new players to fill out and improve the squad. So let's meet the new Dorking men.

In Goal we have signed Callum Hawkins to be our new No.1 this season having been released by Burton Albion. Last year he was playing in lower league football with Mickelover and conceded less than a goal a game there. This was certainly one of the trickier positions to fill but he is generally well rounded. His positioning (4) does worry me and I could see myself adding another keeper during the season if one comes up. As he is signed to be a back-up, it shouldn't cause too many concerns.

The defence was the one area where I had highlighted a rebuild was needed and that is what we did. Firstly Jack Davies returned on loan from MK Dons to compete for the left back slot as well as provide some cover at the heart of the defence. He got 14 assists for me last year and I am hoping he can do the same again. Mitchell Roberts is one of two new centre backs at the club. Released from Birmingham he has played a little League 2 football in the past. A solid allrounder without any excellent stats, he is a left footer giving me some good balance in the defence and I hope will be a solid starter this season. The Second centre back in at the club is Icelandic U21 centre half Borsteinn Aron Antonsson who joins on a free having just left Fulham. He is 18 years of age and 6"6. That pretty much tells you the reason why he stood out. He needs to work on his heading and he is a little slower than i would like but with a few years under his belt I think he can improve that physicality side. An obvious threat from set-pieces he will be most likely be the 3rd choice this season but is certainly an option should we need to chase the game and get more threatening from set-pieces. The final defender in at the club is right back Blaine Rowe who joins on a free from Coventry. Here to be back up to Steve Lawson, he again fits the mould of solid player with no real weakness to his game.

In Midfield we added a couple of ex-Tottenham boys with teenagers Oliver Turner and Jezreel Davies signing on early in the pre-season. I have a couple of tactics in mind this season as we may move away from the 4-4-2 so that we can get an extra midfielder in hence the new players. One change we are going to do in the 4-4-2 is move the CM (Support) to a Ball Winner. We are likely to have less of the ball in this division and I am hoping Davies can compete for that slot with my next signing. Turner on the other hand is there for his potential and will likely compete for the Mezzala role this season. Henry Ochieng is a Kenyan International that was released from Hemel Hempstead last year. His Mentals are really strong for this level and he has been made our Vice Captain for the season. The final midfielder sees some more competiton on the left flank with Dan Sparkes joining from Maidenhead on a free transfer. A Vanarama National veteran he gives us experience but also brilliant set-piece capabilities and crossing. Some vital attributes for a team that loves to cross the ball. His arrival also means we can move Bobby-Joe Taylor back to left back if needed to really provide us with the ability to get the ball in the box if needed.

The final signing was Slavi Spasov who has the job of trying to replace Jason Prior. The Bulgarian has just been relased by Oxford United. At 6"3 he is taller than Jason Prior but certainly not quite as good. He is young though and has time. Like Antonsson he can't really head but he has good Jumping Reach and we will be working on that on the training ground to get him ready to win all of those headers.

On the field

As you can see pre-season has gone pretty well as we largely played lower league teams. Still our performancs against Southend and the Cardiff U23 side were encouraging. We have largely stuck to the 4-4-2 that won us the league but we have now developed two back up tactics to give us different options

Both are still utilising the wing play style that we have been accustomed too but both of these tactics give us an extra man in midfield. Partly to make better use of the new signings and our stacked central midfield options but also to allow us to adapt to the opposition. At times last year, we were probably too rigid in our 4-4-2 and i want to make sure we have options now should we be facing a formation that may trouble our 4-4-2. I think there will be at least another 2 signings in the first few months of the season as we look to bolster the squad.

The board are wanting us to fight bravely against relegation and our initial pre-season prediciton had us in 22nd out of 24 teams and getting relegated. However, after the transfer business we are now in 16th. My aim is to get comfortable mid table. Somwhere between 10th and 16th is ideal and then we can build a team from there to go challenge for the play-offs title.

Thoughts and Analysis

The Stadium may be the death of me as we now have a £16k per month cost to repay for a stadium that will literally only give us an additional 1k seats. It is crippling amount of money and the clubs finances are taking a battering. We need a big cup run for sure or a big player exit. Bobby Joe Taylor has had a £20k bid from Crewe which i rejected and he didnt make a fuss as we have an agreement that £160k is the amount that we would accept. We may need to accept less if we can't improve the situation.

With our opposition professional we are already running a tight ship in the wage department. In fact despite all of these signings, we are now spending around £2k per week less than we did the whole of last season meaning I have managed to improve the squad whilst also cutting costs. We have Darlington first game of the season at our temporary home in a battle of the 6th Tier champions. Can we stay up??

Dorking Wanderers FC: August 2022

So here we are in the Vanarama National and another season beckons. First up were Darlington who were also promoted last season having won the Vanarama North last season. We were at home in our new temporary ground in Crawley (15 miles away from Dorking) and the boys put in one hell of a performance as we won the game 4-0 to really stamp our authority as being a decent side. Shamir Mullings opened the scoring again and bagged himself a brace but it was also the goals of Bobby Joe Taylor and Debutant Slavi Spasov that sealed the win.

After the match, we secured one more new face as once again we signed an Ex Tottenham player as defender Tobi Omole joined on a free transfer to make it 3 ex Spurs youngsters signed this window. Omole is a physically superior defender to what we have here and has blistering pace. He will flip between left back and the centre half positions this year depending on the formation we play this season.

Just a few days after the Darlington thrashing we went away to Yeovil Town and this time we were the ones that were thrashed as Yeovil smashed us 4-1 in a game that really opened my eyes to what we might face this year. In the first half we were awful struggling to get any of the ball so we move to a 5 at the back situation to give us more in the centre of midfield and it worked in the fact that we looked more threatening but the result didn't change.

We then entertained Torquay and I thought I would test out one of the new formations and we played the 5 at the back formation and we managed to get another victory in a hard fought 3-2 with Bobby-Joe Taylor scoring a superb free-kick to edge the victory to us. A 1-0 win over Boreham Wood followed with Spasov scoring again before we blew a 2-0 and a 3-2 lead to draw 3-3 with Crawley Town in what I am dubbing the "Peoples Pension Derby".

Back with our 4-4-2 we racked up two more victories against Weymouth (3-0) and Solihull Moors (1-0) to cap off a very good first month of the season.It leaves the table like this and with us very much in the play-off spots. Now I am concious that we have played 4 of the bottom 5 so far this season so perhaps our good results are because we have played poor teams rather than us being good, but either way I take it

Analysis and Thoughts

A great start to the season and one that I wasn't expecting. There have been a lot of goals at both ends and we do need to get better defensively but to be fair I am still trying to work out my best team. Up top it is easy with Mullings carrying on his goal-scoring form for last season with 5 in 7 whilst new boy Spasov has been inspired bagging 6 goals to lead the goalscoring charts. Bobby-Joe Taylor is the best player in the league with a massive average rating and has had Wimbledon sniffing around which has slightly ruffed up his feathers.

Defensively is where we are still trying to figure out the team. Lawson at right back is the only guaranteed name on the team sheet with the left back and centre back slots rotating. The Icelandic mountain Antonsson has been a surprise star so far as he was probably 4th choice in my head before the season started. However, the real surprise of the season has been James McShane. He played a lot of football last year and was one of the few players who didn't really shine. Very few contributions from the right hand side in terms of goals and assists he was almost on his way out of the club in the Summer. However, as an influential team member I kept him on so I didnt shake up the dynamics too much and when I failed to add a new right winger in the window, I was forced to keep McShane in the team and so far he hasn't disappointed bagging a goal and 4 assists for the team and for now his place is safe in the team

Dorking Wanderers FC: September 2022

So the wheel's have not fallen off the bus as we have continued our strong start to the season and we sit surprisingly in 2nd. I have heard it said a few times that Football Manager is more like Morale Manager and right now I can't deny our strong morale is allowing us to compete with teams that are far stronger than us and we see ourselves in the Play-off spots at the quarter way mark.

The Loss to Stockport at the beginning of the month did make me think we were going to find it tougher but our comeback from the match has been superb picking up 4 wins from 4 and securing me Manager of the Month for the 4th time in this save.

We also managed to secure a parent club at the 4th time of asking as we had the choice between Wycombe Wanderers, Millwall and QPR. I chose QPR as they should have the strongest youngsters and quite simply were paying us a little bit more than Millwall. Sean Adarkwa has been secured for the season on loan from them. He gives me another option alongside Mullings and certainly a bit more quality than what Rutherford is currently able to offer.

Analysis and Thoughts

Things have been going well so far this season but there are three immediate concerns on my mind as we move into October. There are

1. The fixture list for October looks brutal

Seven games for a part time side is going to be tough going but also our first three games are against 1st, 5th and 3rd meaning we could drop down the league a little if we don't hold our own. If we can come out of them unscathed and we get a good cup draw we should be Ok but this is the patch of games that could determine how our season plays out.

2. Bobby Joe Taylor wants out.

Our star man is not happy that I rejected Wimbledons advances for him even though they were way under the pre-agreed transfer amount that we set a few months prior when Port Vale came calling for his services. The rest of the squad back me which is great to see but Bobby-Joe is now determined to leave at the end of his contract which is this summer. So we may need to cash in on him in January so we get something from this.

3. Financially it is rough.

This new stadium combined with the renting of our home for this season is proving financially brutal for the club. The board have had to do two injections of cash for a combined £195k to keep us afloat. We are way under our wage budget (£5k per week) but we are still losing cash each month as we try and repay the £1.8m loan we took out for the new stadium.

A new stadium that will be 4k capacity which when I look through League 2 minimum stadium requirements will not suffice for the next promotion. So if we do get promoted this season we are going to be facing another big bill to improve the stadium and probably another year away from our home town of Dorking.The possible financial implications are causing me a headache.

Dorking Wanderers FC: October 2022

I said this would be the Month that would separate the Men from the Boys and as i expected we found the first two games of the month hard work. Notts County completely played us off the park as we were absolutley whipped 3-0. Against Aldershot we started well going 1-0 and 2-1 up but fitness played a massive part as we fell apart in the second hald with Aldershot's professional status really making the difference as we lost our 2nd game on the trot.

We did recover against Eastleigh mainly because they went down to 10 men but from there we kept a 100% record as we mixed the formation up a little to keep the momentum going. It left the table like this

So still in 2nd and we have somehow closed the gap to 1 point. Our promotion push feels even more real and as long as we can keep up with the pace, we might be on for back to back promotions which isn't unheard of for Dorking. Relegation is pretty much a non-starter as it was touted 50 points would be enough to keep up and having got 80% of the points needed we really now just need to focus on nabbing a play-off spot.

Analysis and Thoughts

The Main thought process has been to look at how we can improve the squad. Where are we not performing and where we are doing well. Central midfield is certainly the weakest area for us, which is surprising considering I added 3 new faces there. However, all 3 have struggled and its only been Josh Taylor who has produced any goods bagging 6 goals and an assist. We do have the Bobby-Joe Taylor challenge to sort out and although clubs are interested, no one is wanting to put money down to make him theirs, meanwhile Niall McManus caused a small uprising after complaining about not starting enough games.

I also might cut short Jack Davies loan deal as he has barely played and I dont want to pay £210 per week for someone to not make the bench. Also we can't really afford that luxury but with Bobby-Joe Taylor potentially leaving we will be short and would need a replacement. Could we get a better or as good a one for less than £210 a week, that is the question.

Another solid month and if we can keep that going through November and December, I think we would be in a position to say the play-offs are almost a certainty. A Cup run would be nice but our 1st Round opponents are League 1 Lincoln and it will be a big giant killing to get us through to the 2nd Round for the very first time. Good news... is that game is up next!

Dorking Wanderers FC: November 2022

Another Month starting with a loss as that makes four months on the bounce where we have lost the opening game of the month. Depending on how you look at it, luckily for us that loss came in the FA Cup as League 1 Lincoln beat us 3-0 in the FA Cup 1st Round. It would have been nice to go on a cup run and for the first half we were very much in the match but as the 2nd half came about we crumbled.

Still we bounced back with 10 points from 12 in the League with the victory over Dagenham and Redbridge particularly scintillating as we were 5-0 up at half time. We did have a nice 2 week gap between the FA Cup and the game against Maidenhead due to our match with Southend being postponed as we had 4 players away on International duty (Ochieng (Kenya), Lawson (Togo), Antonsson (Iceland U19s), Jezreel Davies (Nigeria U19s) which must have been a first for the Vanarama National. So it left the league looking like this going into the Festive season.

The 50 points are up which is the target points total to be sure of safety but as you can see we are very much looking at the other end of the table as we are poised to be in a Title race with Notts County if we can win that game in hand.

Analysis and Thoughts

Overall the squad is performing and Slavi Spasov and Shamir Mullings are creating a strong partnership up top with 29 goals between them already. Unfortunately we dont have much competition for them as on-loan Sean Adarkwa is struggling. Now he does need more starts but the amount of 1 on 1s I have seen him miss, he looks out of form. I am keeping an eye out on strikers as I think we are going to need more firepower going into the rest of the season.

We still have a number of League 2 clubs circling around Bobby-Joe Taylor but no-one has put an offer in. I suspect in January when their window opens we will be fielding some bids and so we probably have just 4-6 weeks left of his talent. I am also looking to offload Alfie Rutherford as his wages are high for a man not making the bench whilst I suspect we may have some unrest from Oliver Turner who isn't starting nor is he deserving so.

So far so good and at the half way mark we are far exceeding where I thought we were. I have to remember in the 2nd half of the season last year we started to tire and results were not as easy. The difference being we had a 10 point gap whereas we are very much in a competitive fight and we don't have that luxury. The play-offs would be a great result and right now that is the goal for the season. A nice FA Trophy Run would be nice and we have Woking Away in the 3rd Round. That tie also next month.

Another month down and things are still great here in Dorking (Well Crawley for this season)
Some great results in there, with the slight exception of an expected loss in the FA Cup. Gaining ground on Notts County at the top is fantastic as it would remove a lot of stress to achieve top spot.

Dorking Wanderers FC: December 2022

We enter 2023 in 2nd place and somehow we went through the month undefeated in the league. The only slight problem is we drew a lot of games.. In fact we drew 4 out of 5 league games or 5 our of 7 games in total as we also managed to go out of the FA Trophy having lost to Woking in a replay.

I am not sure what quite went wrong but we just seemed sluggish as we struggled to get out of the traps. There certainly is a little unrest in the team with Neil Mcmanus causing up a stink, first about not playing, then i started playing him, so then he wanted a new contract where he was the star man. I said no, Ebbsfleet bid £300 for him and he got upset that i didn't accept the deal. They are in the Vanarama South. We have now agreed he will leave in the Summer but i can't help but think it has caused some issues. We also had Oliver Turner, one of the new signings from the summer complain about not enough game time and so Grimsby Town came in and bid £4.2k for his services. I accepted and he will be leaving in January. Alfie Rutherford has also been moved on for £1k as he joins Brackley Town

We do need to add some new faces to the squad and I should have another loan deal from QPR secured for January but I am also keen to look at some free transfers. Another striker would help as if Spasov and Mullings struggle, the on-loan Adarkwa is not cutting it at the moment. Central midfield has been a tough area for us with no one averaging over a 7.0 and with Bobby Joe Taylor possibly on the way out we are going to need some work on the wings.

All that being said, we are still in 2nd. We are in a strong position for play-offs but fatigue may be settling in. We have to remember we are one of the only semi-pro sides in this league and that may come back to haunt us.

Analysis and Thoughts

As we have started to falter. I have had to mix up the tactics and as you saw in the last game of the year we have moved to a back 3.

I always had this tactic in the back of my mind this season especially after the signing of Omole who fits the WCB role well. I am going to use this for the month of January to see if it kickstarts something back into life so we dont start falling down the league. We also had our youth intake preview through and I can't quite understand what the excitement is all about

An Excellent intake and we have just one A level player. In a position we don't utilise. Either the person providing that report is an idiot or we have the next non-league superstar coming through our ranks. I suspect the latter but fingers crossed we have a star man on their way in.
Strolling through the non-league so far. Absolutely dominant last season from the get go, and exceeding all expectations this year too. Promotion will be huge though with the stadium being built killing the finances, league football may just see you able to afford to pay players. Great job so far and I look forward to seeing how Wingbacks and Wide center backs work together.

Dorking Wanderers FC: January 2023

A new year and a new formation. Could it be the spark that kickstarts the campaign to ensure we dont start faltering and dropping into the play-offs or even worse?

It is early to tell and looking at the results you would probably argue it has improved since December but kind of on par with the month before. We once again lose the first game of the Month in what honestly feels like FM screwing you over for having the audacity to close the game down because you have a day job. So it is still early to say and there are a few things to point out. The opening game against Crawley was just 2 days after the last game in December and we had to play a makeshift team with players out of position to just field a team.

We were excellent against a poor Weymouth side who are struggling hugely in this league whilst the Stockport game was actually more one sided than the scoreline suggests. Against a good Solihull Moors side we struggled, once again due to having to play games in quick succession. Our Part-time status is certainly causing us issues as we can't play twice a week our strongest 11.

League wise, you can see we are still in 2nd and we have actually closed the gap a little with Notts County, who we play in February in a game that will play a huge part on whether we can get back to back promotions or face the lottery of the play-offs. To help with the final push we have added three new faces to the squad. Alfie Lloyd joins on Loan from parent club QPR to give us another option on the right wing. No wages and no cost means it is a sensible move despite moving away from playing with a right winger for the time being but if we do switch formation and there is every chance we do that, he has the pace to cause some real problems for the opposition.

We then added a little experience to the side, signing Northern Ireland International Ben Reeves and DC Congo International Toto Nsiala to the side. Reeves can play in a few positions but will mainly be used a CM to help give us more cover in the centre of the park especially with the sale of young Turner. He was playing League 1 football not so long ago and has even played a few games in the Premiership many years ago for Southampton. A good solid allrounder that hopefully can add some experience to a fairly young side. Nsiala was recently at Ipswich having come through Everton's youth system. He is 6"4 and i love a set-piece goal and so will be a towering presence at both ends whilst also adding experience to the side.

Analysis and Thoughts

We are still hanging in there and with 15 games to go it looks like we will have a play-off spot at the very least bar a total collapse. The League title isn't out of the question but I am just not sure have enough momentum or form to keep it up. We certainly need to beat Notts County at the end of February to have a real shot at it.

I suspect we will need to change the formation on a week to week basis based on the players available. The need to rest players is getting larger and with Bobby Joe Taylor picking up a minor 2 week injury againt Solihull Moors we dont have a natural LWB to fit the 3 at the back formation. So we will flip back to the 4-4-2 that has largely got us to where we are right now so hopefully it will be enough.

I have seen that there has been a patch today and that has has seemingly de-powered some set piece stuff and in particular near post corners which I have to say has been working well for us. So that could hurt us a little but we have four players in the starting 11 that are giants (Mulling 6"5, Spasov 6"3, Antonsson 6"5, Nsiala 6"4) so we should still be a handful either way.


@Jack @TheLFCFan - Thanks for the comments. I agree we have done really well in Non-league football. I think we found our style early and built a team around that style and getting crosses in the box has massively worked for us. There is extreme pressure on getting back to back as financially we are going to be in trouble if we stay in this division for too long. The repayments hurt us and we dont have a big budget as it is and being semi-pro in this league means we can't attract the same level of player as the likes of Wrexham, Stockport who are bringing in players with lots of Premiership / Championship experience.

Although if we do go up, we are going to need to rent another ground for another season whilst also doing further work to the homeground to meet that expectation which will no doubt put is in more debt. I could see the situation where we never play in Dorking again as we can't afford to get a ground upto scratch and so we could be a proper Nomadic team.

Although the plan was for this to be a road to glory style adventure, there is a growing part of me that will make this more of a Lollujo Non league to Legend style save if we get an interesting team coming after our services. Ideally it doesn't come to that but if financially we are crippled then needs must
That game in February is going to be massive. Notts are certainly going along nicely but it looks like they dropped a good few points this past month. A win against them will be a huge momentum swing in your favour.
A slight shame that you haven't been able to close the gap even slightly by one point or something from Game 27, but it's to be expected with such a favourite as Notts County. As Seb says, the game in February is huge and pretty much make or break if either team wins.

So Tranmere have kind of come out of nowhere. This is the table as we are about to take on Notts County who have fallen apart whilst we are just about sticking in there.

Now Tranmere are the main concern, who we play in April in Match Day 44.
I must say the name of this club is sensational. Good luck!

Dorking Wanderers FC: February 2023

It has been some month, a month that has had a bit of everything but probablt the most important thing, is that what was originally perceived as a two horse race has now suddenly become a four horse race as both Notts County and Us have faltered allowing new league leaders Tranmere to come in whilst Chesterfield have also performed well.

The Month started in the worst possible way as once again we lost the first game of the month as we lost 2-0 to Kings Lynn. A Kings Lynn side that were 22nd in the table but had just appointed a new manager. We had reverted back to our 4-4-2 due to injuries and we were god awful in the match. At this point I thought we had blown any chance of automatic promotion. Chesterfield then came to visit us and we reverted to our 3rd tactic a 4-3-3 DM and we won 5-1. We absolutely smashed them with Shamir Mullings bagging 4 goals as we dominated and beat them up. So you can imagine my surprise when it comes to the end of the month and they are just 2 points behind us!

We then scraped a 1-0 win over Bromley thanks to a late Slavi Spasov goal from a near post corner of all things as we are still scoring from set-pieces meaning our dominance over the last 19 or so months has not been because of an exploit in the match engine but actually because we are good at them. Next up was Wrexham, a strong side but who had been struggling and again we just didn't look right but we did manage to scrape a 1-1 draw to at least pick up a point.

That left us, to my last post where we played Notts County. We reverted back to our 3 at the back formation and in the first half we didnt have a single shot whilst Notts had a couple of chances. It was a tight nervy affair and at half time i decided to switch to a 4-4-2 to try and get us into the game. It worked as we really grew into the 2nd half and we troubled their goal a number of times but we just didnt get the luck to score a goal. A 0-0 draw is how it ended and that is why the table looks the way it does.

Analysis and Thoughts

I just don't know how this season is going to go. Notts are faltering but do have that game in hand whilst Tranmere are on a huge run of wins and have come from no-where to lead the table. I just don't know where we are going to finish. I can't settle on a tactic as we are that inconsistent but somehow we are doing enough to keep pace.

We need to break the run of losing the first game of the month as we have Aldershot who are loitering in 5th first up in March and we can't make this a five horse race. We need to finish in the top 3 at worst so we avoid a round of play-offs if we can't finish this off.

It's crazy nervous around here but it is also some of the most fun i have had in awhile on FM. Where we are in my next update... I have no idea
Last to blink gets the trophy

You are reading "Wandering to the top".

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