Non-League Football

Trawling – a fact of life in non-league football

contractsGary Roberts is a good football manager. He’s spent a decade at Cambridge City and he is an operator in the true sense of the word. He’s also a wise-cracking, larger-than-life character in many ways. But he’s upset one of his old haunts, Hitchin Town, because he has repeatedly returned to the club to sign their best players. Naturally, the club’s supporters have become quite irritated by this, but Roberts has been doing exactly what virtually every football managers does – goes where he knows, goes local and goes where it is easy to pick-up new talent.

It’s a compliment to Hitchin that Roberts sees the club as a breeding ground for good players – and at present, they have a group that could really blossom – and as long as he does it legally, nobody can really complain. After all, isn’t this what every manager does?

Take the situation at Slough Town. They have a vibrant young side that, if it stays together, will surely do well in the years ahead. But virtually the entire team was lured to Slough from Godalming Town by Slough’s current management team. The duo moved from the Surrey club to Slough in the close season. And this sort of behaviour goes on right across non-league football. In fact, Hitchin did exactly the same a few years ago when they raided neighbours Arlesey Town and picked up more than half a team – most of whom didn’t work out.

The same story is repeated everywhere – having written the pen pictures of players from many clubs for more than a decade, I can vouch that an awful lot of them had similar CVs – I recall one club having at least a dozen players who had followed the same route because the manager brought them along for the ride. Presumably, the clubs they left behind were less than happy, but isn’t this why the manager(s) in question are attractive to would-be employers – the ability to get players?

When clubs look for a new manager, two of the key questions are, “where will you get your players from?” and “who do you know?”. Furthermore, it’s an enquiry that many fans ask of their new manager – “where’s he going to get his players from?”. The managers that are sought after by clubs are those that know their way around non-league football – the kind of manager that watches games every night of the week and can give you a view on every player within easy reach. That’s why Gary Roberts keeps going back to Hitchin, for example, and why former Hitchin managers like Colin Payne can be seen roaming the grounds of the home counties, watching players and fishing-out opportunities.

There’s also the possibility that Monday night football has a downside. It attracts managers by the score – managers that are on the look-out for new players.

What goes on in football, invariably goes on in business. People like to work with those they know and trust. Football managers will always want to bring their best players along when they move clubs. Poaching? It goes on, it’s part of life in non-league football – get used to it!

And it’s not always about money. Roberts has been remarkably consistent in his career with Cambridge City and there’s always a chance they can contend for the play-offs or enjoy a good FA Cup run. That is every bit as attractive as a few quid extra in the pay packet.

For the record, I have no agenda with “Robbo”, but I have always considered him a good manager who knows the game inside-out. Life with him as a manager would be a roller-coaster, but sure as hell, it would be fun!

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