Concord Rangers

When players return to action following an extended break, it typically comes after some time away from the cut and thrust of the game altogether. For AFC Wimbledon favourite and recent Folkestone Invicta addition Sammy Moore, he is back amongst it in the engine room having spent the last three years leading mostly from the dugout.

The former Leatherhead, Concord Rangers and Hemel Hempstead Town manager only turned 33 last month, so the one-time Leyton Orient man could quite conceivably have a good while yet out on the park. Having spent the most recent two of his three seasons as a gaffer in the National League South, though, the whole-hearted midfield man has every intention of continuing to carve his path as one of non-league’s most promising young managers. For now at least, the chance to turn out for his local club offers no shortage of plus points, for club and player alike.

 

Firstly Sammy, when it came to joining Folkestone recently, having had chances to go back into playing before that, what made this the right one?

I spoke to a lot of managers over the summer, they contacted me saying if I wanted to go and play then there’d be an opportunity there. I wanted to see if there was a (managerial) job that became available. I spoke to a couple of clubs, obviously it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t the right one. I was quite shocked (leaving Hemel Hempstead Town) happened. We had things in place for the new season, and to then get the phone call that we weren’t wanted, it came as a massive shock to the management team. (Invicta manager) Neil (Cugley) said ‘we want you to come and play, and if the right job becomes available and that’s what you really wanna do, then you can go and jump at it with both hands.’ My desire to manage is still there, I’m waiting for an opportunity, but I’m also playing at a fantastic club, and trying to help my hometown club, more importantly, get into the Conference South. It’s a great fit and I’m still involved in the game, I’m still seeing players, still watching who we come up against and who’s good at that level, so wherever I go in as a manager, I’m right in the thick of things.

How have you been feeling physically, still like you did in your 20s, or a little bit more ‘seasoned’ than that?!

Yeah, it’s obviously been a long time; three years not playing, then to go and put your boots back on, the gaffer understands that it’s gonna take a bit of time for me to get up to speed. I played at Bishop’s Stortford away on the Tuesday and I didn’t feel too bad, but when you haven’t played for such a long time, your muscles do ache a lot longer. Especially after last weekend I feel a lot fresher; if we had a game tonight, I would have been a lot fresher. To put my boots back on, though, the same buzz was there as when I made my debut in the Championship (for Ipswich Town against Sunderland, September 2006). The main thing was I wanted to be close to home, I wanted to enjoy my football, and playing under one of the longest-serving managers is certainly a good fit for me, and also good for my (coaching) business as well.

As you touch upon, you are currently coaching, but reflecting on the managerial roles you’ve had so far, which one taught you the most?

I think Hemel did. Looking at Leatherhead and Concord jobs, we won most of the games, we had a very good side, but when we went to Hemel, we had that adversity. We had back-to-back losses, not just two but three or four, and it was how to deal with what was going wrong. Different characters we had in the dressing room at Hemel than we did at Concord. I’ve learned so much but I think it’s given me a massive advantage really to have experienced it at such a young age. To get into the play-offs with Concord, and go to Hemel and be six points off the play-offs with a game in hand, I think it’s an achievement to be proud of, but also a massive learning curve. I think when we took over at Hemel, they finished 16th the year before, the club was very flat, and we brought a buzz to it and we finished top half, so I’m proud of that. I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to finish off the job that we started. I felt that the squad we had there was ready to push on this season, players were willing to take pay cuts with the current climate, but we move on. It also gives me an opportunity to go and get my coaching badges. I’ve been lucky enough over the years to play for some fantastic managers and get some great contacts, and I’ve been going in to watch pro clubs train and listening to different ideas. The hunger’s there and I feel that I’m a better manager than I was last season.

Leaving Hemel (in May), was it an initial feeling then of wanting to dive straight back in somewhere, almost that competitive footballing nature of wanting to respond immediately to a setback? Or did you feel like it was time to step back and take stock first?

I’ve been in football since I was six and it’s in my blood. When you feel that you’ve got an opportunity at a fantastic club like Hemel, and when I then got the call, it was such disappointment. Fair enough if we were third from bottom, but we weren’t able to finish the campaign, we were close to those play-offs, but things happen in football. I’ve had rejection as a player but I think tasting it in management hurt me; it made me a stronger person. It was a bad time to go out of a job, the football world wasn’t the same, because every club didn’t know what was going on. I’m excited for the future because I know I’ll get an opportunity somewhere, and with that experience I’ve had, I feel it will stand me in good stead.

It’s hard to think this wouldn’t be AFC Wimbledon, but when you think back to the time as a player where you’ve felt at your happiest all-round, which spell specifically comes to mind?

Yeah, I think AFC Wimbledon, looking back on it. I left Dover and joined them in the Conference, we got promoted that year and it was just a family club, everything about it. Every interview I go through for a manager’s job, I talk about AFC Wimbledon and building that all-round club. The fans, the board, the chairman, everyone was in the bar after, everyone was singing off the same hymn sheet. I loved going into training, I loved going into matches, my family felt exactly the same about the club and we were just welcomed with open arms. Being at a club five years is a long time, so the memories I’ve had, playing against Liverpool in the FA Cup, getting promoted, they’re special times that don’t come around that much in a football career. It was a special place, I’m delighted they’ve gone back home now, because those fans, what they did behind the scenes was truly incredible. They couldn’t do enough for you.

Obviously getting promoted that day (against Luton in the 2011 Conference play-off final), but are there any times away from the pitch with Wimbledon that really captured the sense of togetherness for you? An away trip back with the lads after a great win, or celebrating together at any other time, whatever it may be.

I think getting promoted and then all staying up on the Saturday, all celebrating promotion with the families and the ones who’d been through the blood, sweat and tears. Then getting back on the coach and driving back to Kingsmeadow and seeing all the fans outside, singing your name, singing ‘AFC Wimbledon’, that was truly incredible. You turn around to everyone on the bus and just go ‘wow’, you take your hat off to them. We weren’t the most gifted team but what we had was a bit of heart, a bit of desire to go that extra yard for your teammates.

Would Kaid Mohamed ever freestyle for the lads?

He did, to be fair. He used to love his dancing as well. We had some big characters in that team: Danny Kedwell, Jon Main, Luke Moore, all non-league legends. It was just a great group of guys that got together. Credit to Terry Brown and Stuart Cash for putting that team together, because it wasn’t just the players, it was off the field that made it special. It’s nice when you look back and you know you’ve played for a club that has such special history. Now I’m telling my kids the stories, so that’s what you do it for.

That’s the happiest, but has there been a most difficult time you’ve had as a player?

Probably when my mum passed away. I was playing at Dagenham, I was on the bench that day, but didn’t get told until after the game that she’s been airlifted to hospital. It was tough times, my head was all over the place, and you do rash things that you sort of regret. You look back on it and I think it’s made me stronger as a person. I was only young then and it’s how you deal with things. Things happen in life where you do get over them, but you never forget it. That’s probably the most testing time, trying to get back playing, ‘am I doing the right thing?’ It’s difficult when such an inspiration that’s been there for a long time is no longer there, and you’re trying to go to games and training and get your head right. Also being out of the team, it’s tough. The highs and lows of a footballer are unbelievable, and I always say now ‘never too high, never too low.’ The same with management; I used to kick every ball, go home and you can never really switch off. It’s quite nice now that I’ve had a bit of free time, but I’m ready now to get my teeth back into it, and hopefully it’s around the corner.

Any teammates in particular that you’ve felt that extra sense of understanding with on the pitch?

Yeah, I think there’s a couple of players. At AFC Wimbledon, the likes of Billy Knott, who came on loan from Sunderland, George Moncur, Harry Pell, Danny Kedwell, Luke Moore, Jon Main. You could go through a lot of players in that AFC Wimbledon time because we just gelled so quickly. Looking at my time at Leyton Orient, Dean Cox; you knew that when he had the ball he’d find you, he had real quality.

Reflecting on last season coming to a halt, the lockdown that followed, what did that look like for you? Away from football, what were you getting involved in?

Yeah, it was tough. We were still in a job then. As soon as the season finished, we played Dulwich and then we met the chairman four days later, he told us we had a job and to start planning, so we did a lot of Zoom calls, we did a retained list and we started speaking to potential targets. Probably five weeks later I got a phone call to say we haven’t got a job now, so that was a shock, but then I set my own business up, and when the restrictions changed and you could go and have six outside, I did my own one-to-one coaching. That’s been very successful since I started lockdown, so I’ve been doing a lot of group sessions, a lot of team training down in Kent. I was keeping myself busy, going on runs, doing HIIT workouts with the wife. We used to have a ritual: get up, have breakfast, do Mark Wright’s workout, have dinner, then go on long walks. It was quite nice actually, because when you’re used to football being so full-on, you had that nice family time where you can really appreciate everyone.

What else do you enjoy away from the game, in terms of other interests?

I like most sports, to be honest. I like tennis, I like to go and watch cricket when Kent play, like going on long walks. I’ve took more of an interest, now I’ve got more time on my hands, in watching my daughter play; she’s just started football. I’m quite a sporty person and I’m quite lucky that my wife is as well.

Speaking of non-football activity, have you ever had to sing when you’ve joined a new team, and if so, which song(s)?

I’ve sung at every club, whether it’s been as a manager or as a player. I used to sing ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ (The Foundations). Sing my heart out – I can’t sing but I love a good go at it!

Finally, as you stop and think about it now, what do you want from these next few years with football?

Yeah, obviously my desire is to be a manager. I wanna finish off my coaching badges, it’s now given me a time to do that, but also to get a club that’s got a bit of ambition and there’s a project there. At the minute, I’m trying to help push Folkestone up the league while I’m playing. I’m keeping fit, I’m seeing good players play every week and I’m in the know. Just trying to do the best for Folkestone as well.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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