Football: No summer holiday for new United boss
Although the football in France may be dominating our TV screens this month it’s holiday time for those footballers not participating. Opportunity for rest and recuperation, rehab for torn hamstrings and dodgy knees, more time with the family. Time for pitches to re-grass. Time for stands to be repainted.
But in the back offices and boardrooms of ambitious clubs the off-season is when when the next one needs to be planned. And when there’s a change of manager it’s like the change of head chef at a restaurant. The new man has his own ideas of the menus he wants to serve up; they’ll require some new ingredients, which need to be shopped for.
Last season’s management team at Hastings United, Garry Wilson and Danny Bloor, resigned in April after the team failed to make the Ryman South play-offs. It doesn’t seem they were pushed out; they had simply run out of energy. Re-enter Darren Hare, a player for what was then Hastings Town in the 1990s. He went on to fulfil short player-manager roles at Canterbury City and Folkestone Invicta after leaving Hastings. But, over most of the two decades since, he has pursued a career within football coaching and youth development at Gillingham and Crystal Palace, with some experience as assistant manager (to Andy Hessenthaler) at Dover Athletic and a couple of brief stints as caretaker manager at Gillingham. He is accustomed to being part of a team, a middle-sized fish in a comparatively big pond. Now, at the age of 49, the Hastings board have chosen him to return and take command of the playing side of the Pilot Field club.
It’s a high stakes selection on both sides. The board are putting their trust in a man who has been in the game for all his working life and, in Darren’s own words, “learnt a lot from good football people”. He reckons that his league club experience has exposed him to the latest developments in sports science, in fitness improvement and assessment, in tactical thinking. Only time will tell whether this pedigree helps him select the right players at this level and keep them fit, motivated and organised into a winning team. Succeed and he should have plenty of years ahead of him to expand a management career. Fail, even in the short term (and there are few shorter term judgments than those meted out to losing football managers), and he may never get a similar chance.
He starts out at any rate with the enthusiastic support of the board, most of whose members have been associated with the club long enough to recall him as a player. He has been given a budget. And at the moment he is out shopping.
At Hastings, like most clubs of similar rank, the existing players have been either on short-term contracts or none at all, meaning that they can be hired, fired or offer themselves to another club with minimal notice. That has already happened here this summer: two stalwart players, Sean Ray (last survivor of the team which reached the third round of the FA Cup three and a half years ago) and Sam Adams (scorer of 110 goals in 441 appearances over 11 years) have left to join rival clubs. Two other key players of last season, keeper Josh Pelling and goal-getter Billy Medlock, are still in recovery from serious injuries. But Darren doesn’t seem too fazed. While he hopes that the majority of last season’s squad will stay under his management, he feels he has a pretty compendious knowledge of local talent to identify and attract alternative signings when needed or desired.
I will report further next issue on the players remaining and on new arrivals. In the meantime club training starts again next Thursday 30 June with comprehensive fitness tests scheduled for 2 July. First fixture, a friendly at Pilot Field against Championship side Brighton, will be on Wednesday 13 July. Still time to relax and watch other footballers sweating in the Euros? Not long at all.