Over the last two decades my club Waltham Forest, has struggled like many of similar sized clubs in non-league football, to keep going writes Charlie Ward
The glory days of non-league football support, in the 50’s/60’s/70’s and some of the 80’s are long distant memories – whilst some clubs have thrived in the non-league environment, many. especially those located in the East London and adjoining Essex areas, have found that too many clubs and not enough support to go around, has severely stretched the resources of clubs, leading to many teetering on the brink and some going under altogether.
My own club has been severely tested financially and it is great testament to those hard working few, on the committee and other volunteers, that the club is still able to continue and it is a minor miracle that we have only suffered one demotion from Isthmian League to Essex Senior League.
In the last two decades, I have seen some good managers with reasonable players, undone by reasonable budgets being withdrawn
I have also seen far more, not very good managers, struggling with not very good players, fighting for their lives at the wrong end of League tables.
In that time, the club has made various attempts to draught in young players, on basic expenses to play in the first team and latterly, in the reserves – the results, literally, have been less than impressive.
The main reason for that is that the players recruited simply have not been, in the main, good enough to compete in senior non-league football.
But, with the appointment of Qayum Shakoor as first team manager, supported by coach Anton Smith, has set a new standard.
Qayum came to the club as assistant manager half way through last season and he brought with him many excellent young players, some on joint registration with Leatherhead FC and they immediately improved performances and results.
He has experience of coaching in England, but, also abroad and Anton also has vast coaching experience and is also part of the Reading FC youth set up and he will be running the Waltham Forest academy set up.
The difference in the players they are recruiting to those in the past is the ambition and appetite the players have to get into, or for some, to get back into, professional full time football.
They are with us, not for the money (fat chance of that), but, to take advantage of our links to clubs like Crawley Town, who are using us as a feeder club and also to Aberdeen and Fleetwood Town, who have already taken a look at some of the players that we will have with us this season.
Also, two of our players were on a week’s trial at Birmingham and Reading have also had one of players training with them for a day.
Qayum also has links to other clubs throughout Europe and all of this will make us a very attractive prospect, when young talented players are looking at a non-league club to start on a hopefully, upward path into the full time game.
The players in our current squad are determined to get a professional contract and some of them have already been abroad to experience football in Europe and are quite prepared to give everything they have to become a full time professional.
Qayum and Anton also have links to many other coaches in the London and surrounding area, who are eager to promote players looking for full time professional career.
Our club is unlikely to land a financial benefactor who is rich enough to pay for the club to be successful, by signing established experienced players in the non-league game, so we rely on young talent to get us success.
Up until now, we have struggled for the right management with the right contacts to bring in the quality talent we require – we think with have now got the formula right.
It is a gamble, as so many new, inexperienced players in the same team, could lead to inconsistency, but, it could be a gamble worth taking if we get it right.
Article: Charlie Ward