So, it’s been a while. I must apologise for leaving you dangling, like a superhero’s love interest over a ravine, just two games before the end of the season and not returning until now. So, wha’ g’wan?
As it happened I didn’t miss a great deal in those final two games in terms of the Hawks displaying their peacock feathers as they had throughout March. That was a fantastic time to be alive with us winning five, drawing one and making sure Lee Bradbury had a nice Manager of the Month Trophy for the decorative shelf in his downstairs loo. Football management has come a long way since Herbert Bamlett used to accidentally kick the coal scuttle on each visit to the outhouse, certainly.
April saw slimmer pickings and once the light on an unlikely late push for the play-offs dimmed, it appeared all the air went out of our apparently inflatable squad. As such eventual play-off winners Salisbury City warmed up for their eventual promotion triumph by smashing us 5-1. Harrumph, we never had a defeat like this under Stuart Ritchie. Proper manager ‘im. BRADBURY OUT! Ahem.
After that an end of season kick-about with Boreham Wood finished, as these things often do, as a becalmed score draw. The close season has felt quite quiet as well with our squad largely kept together, a situation we could not have foreseen when sitting 19th in late February. However what losses we’ve had from our collective have been significant.
At the end of season do, the fans voted Chris Arthur their player of the year. He has gone. At the end of season do, the manager voted Ollie Palmer his player of the year. He has also gone. I think what we’ve learned is, don’t have end-of-season awards. It only encourages the winners to believe they’re quite good, and this just won’t do.
Sadly, we could see this coming, rumour that league clubs also thought Ollie and Chris to be quite good were constantly doing the rounds, with Ollie having come close to joining Colchester in the January transfer window, and Chris having left us once already for a brief spell at Northampton Town. Ollie runs out with Mansfield now, while Chris will be bombing down the left flank at AFC Wimbledon.
They were our two best players since Wes Fogden, and Wes made 31 appearances in a side promoted to the Championship last year, so who knows what Ollie and Chris can achieve? Our loss is League Two’s gain. We of course wish them well, one can’t get too upset at semi-pro’s getting the chance to lose their semi.
Other departures were goalkeeper Clark Masters (who took his burnt orange hair and comic book name to Tonbridge Angels), goalkeeper Dan Thomas and goalkeeper Matt Pegler. Fire sale on custodians, EVERYTHING MUST GO! GO! GO! That’s the problem with having a striker as a manager, he only really likes looking at keepers if they’re face deep in six-yard-box mud, with a ball he’s recently kicked nestled in the net behind them.
Bradbury’s allergy to gloved creatures meant we had to wait until the pre-season fixtures had started to sign up a new man for between the sticks. Our Lee, being of sound mind, realised we couldn’t just use rush keepers for games against Wycombe and Portsmouth, although we might have got away with it against Bognor as we had to lend them our Academy keeper for the night. The man we’ve signed, Scott Bevan, stands 6’ 7” in his socks, but has had injury problems over the years, including the removal of a kidney, but has played a decent amount of league football since then so should be more than enough to meet our needs.
Also seeing the exit door was Eddie Hutchinson who then spoke out in the local press about feeling hard done by and undervalued. The next week we had a new signing: Eddie Hutchinson. Not since Thelma and Louise changed their plans and drove away for a nice picnic has a u-turn been so swiftly executed.
Also added to our squad have been Pedro Monteiro, Daniel Blanchett, Alex Przespolewsi and Nic Ciardini who we hope to laud enthusiastic about as the season goes on. Furthermore after impressing on loan from Bournemouth last season, Dan Strugnell has now signed on permanently with our crew, while Jesse Kewley-Graham returns for a second spell on loan from Wycombe. We liked them a lot, we hope to like them a lot again.
Ollie Palmer’s departure so close to the start of the season was a particular blow as it didn’t give us long to source a replacement, with only Scott Jones and Sahr Kabba left in the striking ranks. However for our final friendly against Charlton Athletic Stiffs, we unveiled our new man and, in good news for our terrace songwriters, we won’t even need a new chant. Out goes Ollie, in comes Oli: Dennis Oli, formerly of Gillingham and Wycombe.
It’s difficult to forecast how this season will go, with Lee Bradbury adopting a strategy of moulding what he’s got to what he needs rather than chasing external types. Better the Steve Ramsay you know, as Kylie once said. Indeed, with clubs like Ebbsfleet and Eastleigh gathering serious squads with serious cash, we can probably keep our expectations below winning the title. Being in contention for the play offs into the final month would do for me after a few seasons of flirtation with demotion.
I’ve never seen us relegated and don’t wish to (not without a promotion first anyway), but I’m realistic about what this season might bring. We finished 10th last year with Palmer and Arthur. If we get there or thereabouts without them, then it’d be harsh to be critical of that. However, what is different this close season is that we feel we have a manager who can produce a whole greater than its parts and given how much more pleasurable watching our club became after Lee Bradbury turned up then, well, in Bradders we continue to trust. Come on you Hawks.
We begin at Ebbsfleet on Saturday.