From Dugout to Debrief - In the Boss’s Words.

From Dugout to Debrief - In the Boss’s Words.

By Aatish Sharma
11 May
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A full round-up of the 2021-2022 season!


After 55 competitive games our season is done. Putting this together has taken a few days as I wanted to make sure it’s right and not missed anything significant…

Mixed emotions, gutted it’s come to an end as anyone within the club will tell you we’ve had the time of our lives. But fuck me (sorry for swearing it will happen abit as you read on) it’s been tough, mentally and emotionally I’m drained - I’m going to try and put it into words as best I can for those interested…

Our league season started last July going to Reading City on the opening day with 12 players and getting beat - then we were knocked out the FA Cup at the first hurdle away at Deal Town, 4 red cards in our first 4 games wasn’t the ideal start and we were up against it straight away - Getting beat again 6-3 away at NGU the start of the ‘Southall get battered’ song (all in good humour) sang every time our paths crossed, Until the return fixture.. Fair play to Gary, Paul and those boys for a great season.

We then had Ascot at home which personally for me was difficult to juggle as my now wife was in hospital about to give birth to our daughter - literally due to all the suspensions I’m sat on the labour ward Friday morning signing players while she’s sat smashing the gas and air - Frankie Taylor and Romey Eccles-Meoded both came straight in and we won the game 5-0 - Wozza and Louthy took the game as I had to be at the hospital - but I managed to get across to see the game before rushing back- both young players did well and both with bright futures who have been unbelievable for us this year.

Sunday 15th August - 9.03pm - my daughter Nala, was born - what a mad experience that was - what a weekend.

From there we started to pick up - It helped keeping 11 bodies on the pitch and having more players available until we had an 11.30am Kick off on a bank holiday anyone that knows our dressing room will know that’s not good news - Panteleimon won the game and to be fair they were flying at the time - but made the mistake of getting carried away and banging on the walls celebrating like things are decided in August.

Beginning of September was big for us - Getting Louis Stead and Lewis Putman in when management changed at Oxhey Jets. Both good players - and even better people - We’ve had some fun in the car journeys together this year as they both live near me - but we’ll save those stories for another time.

Their manager left on a Tuesday night after a game - I’m sat at home in bed and My phone goes - ‘Gaffer sign us up’ No money talks or demands - despite what people think about us being a money club - both signed - Madness or Genius you decide.

From then on we lost to Hayes and Yeading 2-1 in a Middx Cup game then went unbeaten for 13 games - Highlights being the start of our FA Vase run - winning 5-1 at home to CB Hounslow and another home win 3-0 against a much fancied Erith and Belvedere. Then the ‘Southall can only win on penalties’ shouts started after wins against Chatham, Guildford, Berks County, Clevedon and Stansfeld all on pens. Being completely honest the format suited us - with extra time in those games particularly Chatham as momentum had shifted in their favour after we let a 2 goal lead slip to draw 2-2 in normal time, it could have been a different story, but as I said it suited us as a group firstly because we’ve got some good technical players who are comfortable in that situation and we’ve also got the ‘GOAT’ Berkeley Laurencin - I’ve known him the best part of 20 years now and don’t think he’s ever said more than 5 words to me but he has been unreal for us - I did score a penalty past him once in a shoot out when he was playing for Hendon, sent him the wrong way - but as the lads will tell you I don’t talk about it much - everyone at the club loves him, Such a humble individual, he comes in does his job and goes home zero fuss.

During the 13 games we had important league wins away at Edgware 1-0 -where they missed 2 penalties, we got 2 red cards - Frankie Taylor and I can’t remember the other one… and Holyport 2-1 where a last minute penalty from Lenny saved us and a flat football got launched out the ground which pissed off a few of the locals who attempted to get on the pitch - we weren’t at our best in either game but got out of both with 3 points. And started to pull away and put pressure on Hanworth Villa who were unbeaten. But the Vase was becoming more and more of an adventure and it was the birth of Putman and the horse head - How it come about I don’t know you’d have to ask him - but we beat Chatham on penalties everyone’s celebrating on the pitch and then there’s Putts galloping across the pitch in this horse mask - again what a day - what a weekend.

Then we went to Ascot conceded a poor goal last minute drew 2-2 - the boys were pissed off afterwards it felt like a loss - but I remember thinking after at least it will stop the ‘debrief’ for a week because it was escalating to almost the whole team out every Saturday night necking pints of Guiness - doing American pie on the karaoke - and most of us waking up in the doghouse the next day - occasionally we’d all meet up again on the Sunday - Still waiting on my nachos.

After Ascot we lost Putts for a few weeks damaged his knee quite badly playing Sunday football (as you do) we went to Guildford in the pissing rain on a difficult pitch at the best of times - Drew 0-0 in normal time and found a way to win… Penalties.

Same again on the Tuesday - made changes to the side let the kids loose and won against Berks County - with Koju 16, Romey 17, Mayo (not his real name, again don’t ask) 19, aswell as the more experienced boys. We kept chipping away.

14th December was our last game before Christmas and we didn’t play competitively again until 15th January - Straight into a Vase game against Cleavedon at home, who were ticking over nicely in terms of games and winning. With Putts out and Ant O’Connor back at Harrow left us being light up top - around about the same time we got Lenny Farhall in from Uxbridge and Jack Woods in from Harpenden - two more big characters to add to a quiet dressing room - and both good lads who’ve done well this year and been a big part of making the group what it is - with Woodsy being responsible for a side hustle within the group of making money from their manky feet - don’t ask. And Lenny being the only player to wear a stat vest that was never actually turned on or charged up - not that he actually knew - until now. We’d often have a chat about him not working hard enough - Lenny being Lenny would disagree - we’ve got the vests but never got round to actually setting them up and giving them out - so after one game we gave him one told him it was all set up and that we’d be monitoring him - all the lads were in on it, he didn’t have a clue- and I shit you not he never looked back - he was all over the place like a dog chasing a stick in the park - only problem I had was remembering what lies I’d told him on his distances covered.

Halfway point in the season - don’t quote me on this but I think we were something like 7 points ahead of 3rd place NGU in the league. Quietly progressing in the other cup competitions - and still in the vase I think 4th round up to the Clevedon game. Then a month off - it was difficult - without our own facility- No ground/training ground - it was Strava apps for the boys that could be bothered and the odd goals session here and there where the lazy ones would get found out - the board to board runs with the big goals clock not moving had a few of the boys on the ropes - but as we said at the time these are things no one sees behind the scenes we were quietly making the best of the situation we found ourselves in and enjoying it.

We got through the Clevedon game again on Penalties after a 1-1 draw at home - Barks doing what he does saved another 2 I think.
22nd January was our next league game - away to Wokingham - difficult place to go, we got away with a 2-1 win Lenny who I almost killed in the warm up before the game for something trivial and then Woodsy scoring the winner.

7 weeks with no league game due to fixture schedule and Vase run didn’t help us and the games in hand were piling up - Hanworth, NGU, Egham, Abbey and Ascot were all playing and putting points on the board. Now we’ve dropped down to 6th place with games in hand. My main concern was not letting it all pass us by - doing ok in everything and ending up with nothing.

Hanworth to be fair to them played a blinder - dug in start of season when everything was getting back to normal due to covid picked up draws - where we were losing and getting people sent off - prioritised league and Vase were unlucky to go out on Pens early in Vase so it was full steam ahead - by the time we came back on 22nd January I remember looking at the league table and we’re 25 points (maybe even more) off them - with somthing daft like 6 games in hand. For me then I knew we weren’t going to win it even before they came to us, at home at the end of January they did a job on us - We ran into a group on job on a roll in a rhythm while we’re scraping through games trying to build momentum again - Bang, Bang, Bang - 3-0 down at HT - Game over - championship decided - More than deserved they’ve got a good manager in Simon and some good players.

Another 2 week break before 5th round Vase game - So I thought I’d make the most of it and go and get married - 2.2.22 married my wife - had a couple of days off then we’re at Home to Stansfeld - momentum really started to build around the vase - last 16 Talksport doing the draw live on radio people start talking about Wembley etc - but being honest we weren’t playing particularly well and we weren’t match fit - some of the lads hadn’t played any football for 2 months - we have no reserve or youth sides to go and get game time - It was literally 23 boys at goals and on a strava app.

We lost Wozza in early feb - who’s been massive for us and particularly me since day one - he took up a coaching opportunity in America - another point where I did think the wheels could come off here - Lee O’Leary came in to help out on a game to game basis which turned out to be 2 games before Kingstonian came in for him - so we were light in terms of non playing staff - but again the boys stepped up - the senior lads helping out - doing warm ups etc - Louthy especially has been a massive help to me - so there’s been no rush to fill any gaps - these boys run the dressing room themselves majority have been here long enough now to know the standards and expectations and it’s a difficult place to be if anyones not pulling their weight or cutting corners.

I went to watch Stansfeld so I knew what we were in for when they came to us - aggressive, hard working, confident - I didn’t anticipate the 3 coach loads of supporters who made it hostile to say the least - again drew the game 0-0 was an awful game and the boys did the business on penalties - Woodsy scoring the winner and it was just complete Chaos - one of the best things I’ve ever seen on a football pitch - Just bodies running all over the place (See the main picture) - Lenny thought it would be a good idea to introduce himself to the 200 pissed off away fans who responded by throwing pints of beer and hurling all sorts of abuse at us all - the boys were loving it - Woodsy’s got his shirt off over his head supporters are on the pitch. Again What a weekend that none of us involved will forget - then the whole group out together.

Then it was back to the league home to NGU who were now 8 points ahead of us sitting in second - we knew we had to win the game otherwise the gap grows to 11 points - even with games in hand we’d be scrambling. We won it 3-0 and that was a chance for us to go on a roll - we had games cancelled away to Wembley and Egham that added to the fixture pile up - Wembley must only flood at 9am then be ok for 11am because I physically went there as I was off and it hadn’t rained - there was nothing wrong with the pitch - But it failed inspection apparently. Hence the rubber rings and lilo photo in their dressing room after we eventually got to play there winning 2-0 - just Incase it was to flood again we were prepared.

From the end of February our schedule was ridiculous - but we were just getting going again - We lost Henners to a knee injury which was a blow and putts got suspended for Vase Quarter final - Ant O’Connor signed on a permanent from Harrow Boro and was back scoring - we missed him - another one in the dressing room I can’t speak highly enough of - lively on and off the pitch, honest and has a weird obsession with dogs. Defensively we improved and it was just taking it a game at a time.

We get drawn Away to Hamworthy United in the Vase Quarter Final down in Bournemouth - we had them watched and thought we’d do well especially as they play on Astro which would suit us - even though they’re top of their league and not been beaten at home in 2 years - we did everything as best we could in terms of preparation went down on the Friday night all had dinner together so we were ready for the game. Lenny won the fifa tournament embarrassing Darreon in the process.

We started the game well and were in control - hit the post - missed 2 more good chances - then 15 mins to go we throw on Lewis Driver - who messaged hopey a few days before on Instagram - ‘I’m a really good sub’ or something like that - again with putts and Henners missing - someone of Drives experience and character - another good lad who made an impact in the short time he was with us before being called back for Chertsey’s play off campaign, he’d won the league and vase with Chertsey 2 years ago, was a no brainer - 85 mins - Bang! 1-0 driver - 94 mins Bang - scruffy goal equaliser - Fuck!

Penalties again but this time was different - the boys were well drilled in pens knew their routine knew their order - but we had 3 bankers missing - Alex Nolan got clattered in the game and broke his leg - obviously no Henners or Putman who’d all taken in previous rounds.

We’re at 2-2 they miss - Lenny needs to score to put us ahead then I think it’s Macca and Hopey to wrap it up - Lenny steps up sends the keeper the wrong way but hits the post - exact same pen as the one he scored in previous round against Guildford. Macca and hopey do the business and we’re into sudden death - 6-6 all square then it’s Frankie Taylor’s turn again I’ve seen him take pens I trust him - bang - keeper saves - All over - The dream had died.

I lost in the vase Quarter final with the club as a player - but on that day we were done by the better team - fitter,stronger, more professional , organised - I remember thinking they’re a proper outfit that’s the level we need to be at. But this was different - Big opportunity missed - the Hamworthy lads knew it, we saw them out later that night and they couldn’t believe they’d got through - but if after 85 mins you score - you’d like to think you’d see the game out. But as I said to the boys at the time - all these teams we’ve beat on pens now you know how it feels. As I tweeted at the time - that one hurt all of us - mad as it’s ‘only a game’ of football but I felt as if someone had died that night, we stayed over again and on the Sunday my mrs booked a roast and we went for a walk along the coast but I’ll be the first to admit I was shit company - but that’s cup football, the best teams don’t always progress - its about key moments and we didn’t do enough on the day - Obviously with promotion we won’t get a crack at it again - but what a journey.

The good thing about having games all the time was we didn’t have a chance to dwell on any set backs or celebrate the wins - it was literally pack the kit see you there - Next…. On the subject of kit we got Cal the kit our Kitman in after I’d seen he’d put something out on Twitter - he’d been having a tough time and was looking for an opportunity, It was a gamble getting him involved with this lot, it was either going to help him or send him over the edge and fair play to him coming into the dressing room, he got involved straight away put a sincere message in the players chat introducing himself, he’s always on the nights out and first one to every game - the boys took to him straight away and welcomed him with open arms - another important piece to the jigsaw - who can shuffle aswell as he showed after the Spelthorne win.

From Hamworthy it was obviously important we didn’t have a ‘hangover’ we knew the sides around us were banking on it - It was in our hands as we still had to play most of them so it was on us to get back in the mix - The response from the boys to that set back was relentless - most weeks we were playing Saturday - Tuesday - Wednesday - Saturday which when you look at it now is madness - but we didn’t have a choice as Ashford our landlords got preference so we played when we were told.

The boys had been sat twiddling their thumbs and enjoying themselves over Christmas - they all came to my wedding when we had 2 weeks off before Stansfeld - so they were fresh and itching to get back playing football - I won’t use ‘fringe’ players because those boys became main players especially the deeper we went into the cup competitions and with the injuries we picked up - was like 2 different teams on a Tuesday and Wednesday - but they kept producing - kept winning games, the competition became irrelevant we knew what we had to do - we went to Abbey who were really finding their feet and beat them 3-0 - which we knew would be important as we had Champions in waiting Hanworth Villa 3 days later and couldn’t afford to drop 6 points - Hanworth game had draw written all over it - take a point, prolong their Championship celebrations and move on - the ref on the night had other plans. Gave them a penalty 85th min - which they missed but then sin binned Pearcey for whatever reason left us down to 10 - 94th min - Bang - Goal - Champions - I wasn’t arsed about them boys winning the league we knew we were too far off anyway - it was a point dropped for us that we needed that pissed me off the most.

Next night we went to NGU in the league cup - made changes - kids were brilliant again won 4-1 - lost pearcey for 5 weeks with an ankle injury - great couple of nights for him.

Then we went our last 9 league games without losing - winning 8 and only conceding 1 goal away at Egham where we drew 1-1 - We knew it would be difficult there - both games this season have been lively, but the message was clear - Don’t lose - they need to win - we don’t - we’ve got the games to play we’re on a roll - kids are flying aswell - we back ourselves. After Egham we went to Burnham and got passed off the pitch for the first 20 mins - they were unreal. But we gave the Gremlin a sniff and he did what he does. Went in 2 up at HT then Henners hit one of the best goals you’ll see - game finished 5-0.

Abbey next at home - NGU and Ascot had dropped points and were up against it - Egham dropped points again at Virginia Water - which gave us some breathing space - Abbey came to us - clear message again same as Egham game - They have to win the game - We don’t - just don’t lose - they’ll have to commit and we’ll catch them. 85th minute 0-0 - they’re throwing bodies up to try get the win - we’re under pressure - 90th min we get Lenny in - Bang - Goal - 1 -0 - supporters on the pitch - carnage. Job done.

After the Abbey win it was just about focusing on who’s in front of us - keep doing what we’re doing and we should get second place - but we also had to keep track of the PPG indicator on who goes up automatically and who misses the cut going into a play off - I knew we were borderline going into the last 3 games so we had to keep going.

After the Tadley game which we won 5-0 we knew second place was ours but it was weird as no one knew what to do in terms of celebration etc as the FA hadn’t made things clear and then there was issues with teams coming down from above - any way we beat Holyport 1-0 on the final day of the season all the PPG stuff had been added and it was official - We’ve done it - WE ARE GOING UP.

That night everyone had a great night - was club presentation - the GOAT cleaned up majority of the awards. Ant got top scorer, Jack Roper who has been different class got committee player - and my mate James McCluskey picked up player of the year - then dropped it 5 mins later and it smashed to pieces- another one in the dressing room who is different class on and off the pitch - quiet, laid back - (he plays in Astro turf trainers laid back) and just goes about his business - introduced vaping to the lads - and puffs perfect hoops.

The evening finished with Putts putting on his own firework display with Steadys wash bag being blown to bits and Cal the kit almost on the receiving end of a stray rocket. (Yes he actually did bring his own fireworks).

While the boys were celebrating I was on dad duties which is what it is - I couldn’t ‘switch off’ as I’m now looking towards these cup games we’re still in - we’d gone game by game as I’ve said playing lads that need games and using them to give the kids a run out - but we’re now in a semi final and a quarter final - after beating Hampton & Richmond (Koju this time making the saves on penalties obviously).

By now we’re on empty - injuries had mounted up - Hopey had to slot in last 6 games at Right Back - with Nolan still out and Darreon decided to book a 3 week holiday. He was part of the makeshift back 4 that wasn’t conceding and the whole group attitude was if we lose - it’s season done.

No one in that dressing room wanted it to end - we went to Bedfont & Feltham with a patched up team won 1-0 Woodsy scored then broke 3 ribs - unluckeee.

Went to Cobham and won 4-0 - Nathan scoring a hattrick - another lad who’s been massively important in us doing what we have this season - lives in east London - never misses a training session or complains and all the boys love him.

Semi Final Middx Cup we went to Uxbridge - with the intention of using it as a bench mark for next season - they narrowly missed out on the play offs and had been in the mix all season - so was good to go and see how far off them we are.

HT we’re 3-0 up and in the dressing room the boys are sat there just laughing - second half we started slow and it was the first time the boys looked leggy to be fair to Uxbridge they come out flying and by 60 mins it was 3-2 - we’d gone then 3-3 and out we go on penalties.

Being completely honest getting beat at Uxbridge done us a favour - I knew we were on our last legs and a cup final on a Tuesday night against Hanwell who had just been promoted would have been a step to far - to then have to go to Badshot Lea the following night in a league cup semi final.

We went to Badshot Lea with 13 available players - Ropes broke down in the warm up, Macca could hardly walk, both were named as subs - the only sub we could use was Slab (Joe Clifton) - who had just come back from Manchester after watching Brentford and nursing a hangover - but we went and after 20 seconds Hopeys hit a screamer then Henners did the same 20 mins later - and we won the game 2-0. Into a final. But going back to Slab - what a guy - not played as much as he would have liked - but has been the life and soul of the dressing room - from swimming in puddles at training- getting naked at every opportunity the Christmas tree outfit for Winter Wonderland and coming in and doing a solid job when required, also dressing room DJ and social media manager on occasions - he guzzles pints of Guinness in nearly 3 seconds and we wouldn’t have done what we did without his contribution. Anyway onto a final…

Another day out for the supporters one of which was wearing a horse head after the badshot win and another opportunity to enjoy what we’ve done this season.

Walton and Hersham in the final - as I’ve said I knew we were gone - the boys had given everything for 54 games coming into a final on a lovely pitch at Windsor against a team who’ve had 12 days rest to prepare after their promotion, they like to have possession and pass it well. We had a go but lost the game 2-1 fair result on the day - Their lads hit a free kick and scored a penalty.

What a season - full of ups and downs - with a proper group of people. Personally I’m pleased that we’ve been able to deliver a promotion to the Chairman on the 150th Anniversary of the club - he works so hard for this football club and we as staff and players know how much it means to the board and supporters - Ultimately it’s their football club - we’re glad and proud of what we’ve achieved this season - giving everyone multiple days out and memories that we’ll all keep with us.

Overall in the last 8 weeks of the season we played 23 games.

Not one person moaned once about fixtures or games - not one player went down with cramp or any fatigue related injuries. Especially Captain underpants Hopey who played in 50 of the 55 games, he’d play 90 mins Tuesday and again on the Wednesday at times, for someone who moans about everything else he didn’t moan once - and #LS4 who barely missed a minute since coming in - both army fit, great frames- As a group they’ve honestly blown me away with how many times they’ve been asked questions and kept producing. I couldn’t be prouder of all of those boys.

Special thank you to Bobby, Aatish, Stephen and the board you’ve all been brilliant and backed me unconditionally from Day one. Also to Gary and Dave for all your hard work.

The staff Cal the kit as mentioned came in and became a big part of the dressing room - Thanks to Ommo our GK Coach for all his work with Barks and Koju - not a coincidence they’ve both been brilliant this year - even though you did try drive off from training mid session once after we had a disagreement and the boys got into you - he only stopped because he stormed off in such a huff he left his boot open - Shot you - Give yourself a tick.

Briggsy and Don - both been with me from the start - between them never miss a game - always supplying the whispers - or a ‘bib’ gag - thank you for putting up with the immaturity of some of the group - particularly after hours when the debrief is in full swing - you’ve both been brilliant. I looked at a photo from our first promotion the other day from step 6 - 6 of the group still standing - Myself, Briggsy, Don - Little legs (Jack Bennett) who we welcomed back for the run in 3 years after rupturing his Achilles - Captain Underpants and Ommo - I appreciate all the work you boys do.

To the players…
I’ve been in some good dressing rooms and shit ones with people I couldn’t stand. You boys are special ❤️
Its been fucking hard but I told you all it would be worth it - thank you for your effort, commitment, understanding and loyalty. You’re all mad but I wouldn’t change it - this goes beyond football - WE DID IT.

What a season - We’ve had the time of our lives.

55 Competitive Games
Promotion
FA Vase Quarter Final
Middx Cup Semi Final
League Cup Final

Oh and as I mentioned I had time to get married and become a dad.

To my wife Laura..

You know what it is.. I love you both.

Finally to everyone who’s been on this mad journey this year - Thank you, enjoy the break before we do it all again.

See you all soon

Max

❤️

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