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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Now you see ' you don't.

So, goodbye and good luck Gavin and Kieran. The last thing we heard was that Gavin Tomlin had agreed a new deal with the club and that Kieran Murtagh was to return for pre-season training in an effort to prove that he was worth a new deal with the club. Ah, the best laid plans... Tomlin has now signed a 3-year deal with L1 new boys Dagenham & Redbridge and Murtagh is now not coming back at all.

Tomlin probably can't believe his luck. He can return to his native south-east and has the security of a 3-year deal. Three years! For an L1 player that's unheard of these days. Doubtless we offered him a year at best, so one can hardly blame him for taking the better offer. And as much as I personally liked Gav as a player and kept bigging him up both on here and on the various club forums, one wonders whether he would have been first choice next season, what with Andy Williams and the promised Luke Freeman (more on him in a minute) competing with him for a place in the starting XI. Doubtless he would have been a useful squad player however, so from that point of view I'm a little miffed that he's off. As for Murtagh, I thought he was fortunate to be offered any sort of contract at all. There's no doubt he has potential, but how long do you wait for that potential to be realised? At his age (21) he has to be pushing for a place in the first team but in his 2 years at Huish Park he's never really done that. Murtagh has all the physical attributes to succeed, one wonders whether the drive is there. Good luck to him, and to Tomlin anyway.

Pre-season training begins tomorrow (Thursday). In the light of Tomlin and Murtagh's departures let's hope that Andy Williams and Luke Ayling have (a) signed their contracts and (b) turned up. Or vice-versa. Ten days ago the club was getting everyone excited about the imminent arrival of Arsenal wonderkid striker Luke Freeman, but there's been no news of him, or indeed anyone else signing since. Unless you count today's silly season story of course. Lee Trundle is coming, apparently. Yeah, right. I have seen Lee in ASDA as it happens, as well as Tesco, Morrisons and Lidl; how one man can eat so many doughnuts is a mystery, but perhaps I'm being unfair - he may have been having a doughnut party.

In all seriousness we have 11 players on contract at the moment. They are: Luke Ayling and Andy Williams (assuming they've signed their agreed deals), Craig Alcock, Nathan Smith, Nathan Jones, Stefan Stam, Sam Williams, Andy Welsh, Dean Bowditch, Danny Hutchins and Ben Roberts. JP Kalala may or may not be back. Of the rest, Hutchins is on the transfer list; Jones and Roberts are really coaches and won't play much if at all. Skivo has already said that he's expecting 22 players to turn up for training tomorrow, it will be fascinating to see who the trialists are. Not that I'll know anything until after the weekend: I'm off down to Cornwall for another wedding, my daughter's this time. Happy days!

I'm not one to intrude upon private grief under normal circumstances but seeing as England were my adopted country for the purposes of having someone to support in this World Cup then I might as well add my twopenceworth to the debate as to where they went wrong. And didn't they go wrong? England's whole campaign has become a textbook case in how not to approach a major international tournament; their initial selections were wrong, their tactics were wrong, the team's put out on the pitch were wrong and the substitutions were wrong. Under such circumstances one would normally be blaming the manager, but that would be being wise after the event. I don't recall too many people disagreeing with Fabio Capello's selections or tactics before the tournament, though to be fair there were some concerns over the wisdom of taking injury-prone players such as Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King, and those concerns were eventually borne out.

Capello has to take some measure of responsibility for the fiasco that was England's campaign, but to my mind the real fault lies with the players. They simply didn't perform. One can look at all of the players used by Capello in the tournament and with the possible exception of Ashley Cole it's easy to pick holes in every single one of them. The shortcomings of the obvious talents - the Wayne Rooney's, the Lampard's, the Terry's, the Gerrard's, have been detailed exhaustively elsewhere; but it wasn't just the established stars that didn't perform. Aaron Lennon didn't beat one man on his outside as he does week-in and week-out for Tottenham. Glen Johnson is supposed to be one of the best attacking full backs in the world, on this tournament's evidence he can neither attack nor defend. Gareth Barry's passing was uniformly awful. The less said about Shaun Wright-Phillips and Emile Heskey the better. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that the players are the real culprits. They weren't capable and don't have the footballing nous to get anywhere near the really top teams. Flat-track bullies the lot of them, looking pretty good in the overblown Premiership where they are made to look better than they are by the presence of the foreign stars amongst them, but take away that prop and they are exposed as overpaid and under-talented hacks, not worthy of the magnificent support the fans gave them.

And I can't finish (sorry!) without mention that other fiasco of this world cup - Lampard's goal that wasn't. I've said it before and I'll say it again, in this day and age it is incomprehensible that it is apparently beyond the wit of man (and FIFA) to have some kind of system in operation to tell irrefutably whether the ball has crossed the goal line or not. I see the ludicrous Sepp Blatter has at last bowed to the inevitable and hopefully by the next major tournament some sort of technology will be in place, but it's too late now for Lampard and England. The argument that the game wouldn't be the same at the lowest levels where the technology could not be afforded cuts no ice with me. Cricket, rugby union, rugby league, motor-racing; all major sports in fact rely on technology at the highest level with no adverse impact whatsoever at the grass roots; the argument that football would somehow be different is specious nonsense. Let's hope that there are no more controversies to come in this tournament, it would be inexcusable and absurd if the final, say, was decided by a similar no-goal as Lampard's effort.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Three out of five ain't bad

Terry Skiverton's little game of brinkmanship with the five out of contract players paid off this week with the news that Dean Bowditch, Nathan Smith and Gavin Tomlin have all agreed new deals with the club; with only Kieran Murtagh and JP Kalala's future as yet uncertain. Murtagh is evidently going to return for pre-season training anyway, and Kalala is still at home in France, having been given extra time by Skivo to deal with a family problem.

I'm pleased to see Smith and Bowditch sign on in particular. There were strong rumours going around the interweb linking Smith with Ipswich and Bowditch with Colchester respectively. We'll never know if there was ever any substance to those rumours, but there's no doubt that both players were among our better performers last season, particularly of the contracted players. Bowditch was our top scorer despite missing over 3 months of the season with a dislocated shoulder; and Smith, once he gained a regular starting position, got better and better the more games he played. He's the epitome of a modern full-back - dangerous going forwards, strong defensively and has bags of pace. I'd go as far to say that with Smith on the left and Craig Alcock on the right, the Glovers will have as good a pair of starting full-backs as any other side in League One next season, and better than most. And not to leave him out, I'm happy to welcome Gavin Tomlin back for another season as well. I know Tomlin's a bit like marmite for a lot of fans, but I've always liked what he brings to the team. He's inconsistent, true. But he works hard, is better in the air than he's given credit for and does have a little bit of flair and creativity that can upset opposition defences. It's still fairly early days as far as squad-building is concerned, and there are still a lot of gaps to be filled, particularly in goal, defence and midfield. Nevertheless the retention of the above three players plus the addition of Andy Williams and Luke Ayling is encouraging.

The fixtures are out, and we've been drawn against Crystal Palace at home in the first round of the League Cup. It all kicks off again in 7 weeks time and the first friendly is in less than a month. What happened to summer?!

Been watching: The World Cup (what else?). After a pretty quiet first few days the tournament began to wake up when favourites Spain lost to Switzerland and it's been getting better ever since. What has been been disappointing is the standard of commentary and punditry, from both BBC and ITV. Almost without exception the viewer has been treated with contempt by both our national broadcasters who seem to have spared no expense in the creation of space age sets with wonderful views of the South African skyline and then filled them with talking heads with virtually nothing of interest to say and a complete lack of tactical insight into the games we've been watching. The likes of Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Gary Lineker, Gareth Southgate and Andy Townsend deal exclusively in platitudes and cliches, are boring to look at and listen to and oh so smug in their condescension, both to the viewer and the occasional different studio guest. Even Adrian Chiles, very watchable as host of Match of the Day 2, is being dragged down to Lineker-lite by the demands of constant live exposure on ITV. The games themselves are being spoilt by the constant drone of the sound-a-like commentary teams, only Jonathan Pearce in my view adding anything to the viewing experience with his trademark enthusiasm. There is a chink of light at the end of the tunnel with the arrival in South Africa of several current managers who actually know what they're talking about to augment the various sofa's - step forward Roy Hodgson, Harry Redknapp and Gordon Strachan. Hopefully we'll hear rather more from those three over the next couple of weeks and rather less from the ex-players who currently monopolise the airwaves.

Friday, 11 June 2010

That was the season that was.

It seems a fairly long time since I last blogged and indeed it is a fairly long time - just over a month to be somewhat less than precise. In that time the Glovers played (and lost) their last game of the 2009-10 season and finished in 15th position in the League One table, exactly as I forecast at the beginning of the season, and to hell with false modesty!

It's worth having a quick look back at the season as a whole. Overall we must say it was a success. The main target for the management team of Terry Skiverton and Nathan Jones was survival, and that was achieved relatively comfortably in the end by the standards of recent years. The football on display at Huish Park was generally entertaining with more goals than we got used to during the Russell Slade era, albeit being scored at both ends of the pitch. Crowds were up slightly, averaging 4,664, up by 5.2% against last season's football league low of 4,432. The main disappointment was the lack of any sort of cup run, with the Glovers being knocked out in the opening round of each cup competition entered.

As far as the squad itself was concerned we were fortunate enough to watch some of the finest young talent ever seen in Yeovil Town colours. Steven Caulker I'm convinced is a Premiership star of the future and it wouldn't be the greatest of shocks to see him in the senior England side in years to come. Alex McCarthy has surely a long and fine career in the game ahead of him, sadly for us at a rather higher level than we are likely to be playing at. Ryan Mason needs to bulk up, but otherwise showed enough in the first half of the season to suggest that he too could eventually be an important addition to Tottenham's first team squad. And Shaun MacDonald in my opinion is every bit as good as the likes of Chris Cohen (currently being linked to Premiership side Boltonin a £5 million deal - we did have a sell-on clause attached to his transfer, didn't we?) and a player I would love to see back here next season if by some miracle parent club Swansea decided against offering him a new contract. And of course the icing on the loanee cake came with the return of Super Gavin Williams who almost single-handedly (it seemed at times) dragged us kicking and screaming over the finishing line to safety.

As for our contracted players, I thought Craig Alcock was the stand-out performer. As the season went on he grew into his role as captain and became in my opinion our most consistent and reliable player. Terrell Forbes and JP Kalala also enjoyed fine seasons, such a pity that Forbes has now finally left the club. Nathan Smith got better and better the more he played and Dean Bowditch showed that he can find the back of the net regularly at this level providing he can stay fit. I was generally impressed with Sam Williams but he needs to up his scoring rate if he wants to play regularly at this level. Andy Welsh and Gavin Tomlin both performed well in the main but tended to fade in and out of games. The major disappointments to me were the obvious ones - Scott Murray never lived up to his billing and Danny Hutchins wasted all the potential he had shown at the tail end of the previous season. A real shame.

There were no surprises in Skivo's release list. I felt sorry for Aidan Downes, but his injury record and lack of football was always going to count against him. Scott Murray and Andre McCollin leaving were no-brainers, and Richard Martin never came close to breaking into the first team. Six players out-of-contract were offered new deals and have until June 15th to respond. Of those six, Terrell Forbes has rejected Yeovil's offer and joined up with Russell Slade at his new club, Leyton Orient. Good luck to Terrell, he plainly wanted to leave last summer but found no takers and stayed on in Somerset to have a fine season. He'll be hard to replace, but not impossible. The remaining five offered contracts are Dean Bowditch, Nathan Smith, JP Kalala, Gavin Tomlin and Kieran Murtagh. The rumour-mill suggests that Bowditch and Smith in particular may well be looking elsewhere, which again would be a shame. But at this level no-one is irreplaceable and there have never been so many decent players looking for contracts as there are this summer. A contract offer - any contract offer - might be worth its weight in gold to any player looking to play professional football next season.

We've signed two new players so far, both on permanent deals. Highly-rated Luke Ayling spent the final month of the season on loan at Huish Park from Arsenal and it was something of a surprise to many observers when the North London outfit released him on a free at the end of the season. The 18-year-old has spent most of his career as a central defender but Skivo has so far played him as a defensive midfielder, so it will be interesting to see in which position he ends up plying his trade. Andy Williams is a 23-year-old striker/winger who chose the Glovers over a renewed offer from former club Bristol Rovers. I'm really pleased with this signing. I've been following his career with some interest ever since I noticed this kid called Williams scoring goals for Hereford a few years ago. It didn't surprise me that the Gas were willing to pay £100k for him, what did surprise me was that he didn't really kick on at the Mem. Whenever I've seen him play he's impressed me with his trickery and directness and if he can regain his Hereford form then he could be a cracking signing. Here's hoping, anyway.

Off the pitch and the board have sprung something of a surprise with the news that they are intending to form a new company - Yeovil Town Holdings Limited - and will invite shareholders in the main company - Yeovil Football And Athletic Club Limited - to exchange their shares in YF&ACL for an equal number of shares in the new holding company. Why would shareholders want to do this? I have no idea. Let's ask chairman John Fry: "Our aim is to create a Yeovil Town holding company which will enable the directors to focus specifically on the development of our football and Huish Park assets and facilitate the enhancement of our brand. The recent and current economic climate has made it considerably more challenging to secure the necessary interest in any potential club developments, and the professional advice received has indicated that it will be significantly easier to attract the appropriate investment if our property assets are separated from the football club." Fryspeak at it's best.

There's been much discussion on the Achieve by Unity Forum as to what all this actually means in practice. The obvious worry for supporters is the mooted separation of the club's 'property assets' - in other words the stadium and grounds - from the club's control. Some people have speculated that this could mean that the board are planning to sell the 'property assets' to outside investors to raise money for whatever purpose - perhaps to invest in the team (highly unlikely IMO), perhaps to build a new stadium elsewhere free of the strangling covenants that hinder any kind of improvement to facilities at Huish Park, perhaps for other reasons not yet clear. It's also been suggested that it would be somehow advantageous to the club for tax reasons. What we can say for sure is that the example of other clubs going down the same route in the past has not been encouraging. What have the likes of Stockport County, Crystal Palace, AFC Bournemouth, Luton Town, Rotherham United and (last and definitely least) Weymouth all got in common? The answer is that all have gone down the road of selling their stadiums to outside investors, and all, eventually, have ended up in administration. Now in practice the board can do what it likes. 90% of shares in YF&ACL are held by two men - club chairman John Fry and owner Norman Hayward. We know and trust that they have the best interests of YTFC at heart. It will be fascinating to see how they intend to proceed over the next few months and if they are intending to sell the stadium to outside investors (and we don't yet know for certain that this is their intention) how they plan to keep YTFC from following the bad examples of the clubs mentioned above. All will presumably become clear in time. Good luck to them, and us.

Many thanks to everyone who sent their good wishes after I revealed I was getting married in my last blog. In the event the day couldn't have gone better. The weather was kind, my bride was beautiful and even I managed to scrub up reasonably well. We had a fantastic honeymoon on the English riviera (never let it be said that I don't know how to treat Mrs Taff Glover) and are now happily ensconced in marital bliss. In other words I'm doing as I'm told, well, most of the time. Seriously, we're both very grateful for all your kind words. Cheers!