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Old 01-19-2020, 06:42 PM   #1
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
Leading the Scholars: Loughborough Uni (FM 16)

Hello again, everyone.

In the last post of my St. Andrews FC story, I described a "problem" I encountered that made my game experience less enjoyable. I apparently had a bad balance in my game world that kept lower-level teams, like the ones in St. Andrews' league, from actively signing enough players to fill out their squads. As a result, I was playing against teams full of "grey guys."

At the same time, AI teams weren't seeming to find my players, either. Honestly, it made the game seem a bit too easy, because I could send a full squad up against teams that didn't have more than three or four full-fledged footballers.

I spent some time trying to create a more enjoyable setup, and I think I managed to come up with something.

I'll be returning to the lower leagues of England again, but this time I'll be playing Football Manager 16. There's an outstanding edited database available for that edition called England, Enhanced, Expanded. It allows me to manage a team all the way down to Step 5 of the National League System, which is the ninth level in the English football pyramid. That's where I decided I wanted to start.

I decided to try my luck with Loughborough University FC this time.


Loughborough is located in Leicestershire. The Scholars play at Holywell Park, on the university campus; the training facilities are Impressive, which was one thing that drew me to the club.

Because we're a university side, we are all amateur, and I'm limited to signing players who are age 21 or younger. I think that will provide me with a fun challenge. I don't know if I can keep them in the team once they're past their early twenties.

I still need to fill a few spots in my squad, so I'll be back after I've completed my preseason. Hopefully I'll be able to enjoy this ride for a while.


Last edited by Greyfriars Bobby : 01-19-2020 at 06:44 PM.
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Old 01-20-2020, 12:38 PM   #2
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
8 August 2015

The Scholars play in the Midland League Premier Division, and our league programme begins today. What better time to take a look at the squad?

The star ratings come from my assistant manager, former Wigan defender Kevin Sharp. He's a fairly good judge of talent.

Goalkeepers


O'Keefe is the club captain. I wish he were more determined, but otherwise he's a fine 'keeper. He's also our penalty taker, so he might get to score a few goals, too. Waldram is an outstanding second choice. He's very good with the ball at his feet.


Defenders

I ask quite a bit of our fullbacks, expecting them to join in the attack when the opportunity to do so arises. Legg is a solid option at right back. There's been quite a battle for the left back spot; Brown, Davies, and Gilbey all offer different strengths. Davies outplayed the others in the preseason, so he might get the first opportunity to start.

Former Rochdale man Horan is the best of the center backs, and probably the best outfield player in the team. Hempshall is big and strong, while Koczalski is tenacious and quick. Switon can also do a job here, as can the very versatile Killner.


Central Midfielders


I'll sort these lads according to their roles.

Leonard brings a touch of class to his destroyer role. Switon can play here, too.

Two days ago, Merthyr Town swooped in and signed Max Herbert, who had been bossing the midfield for us. I can't blame Max for wanting to make some money playing football, but his departure leaves a big hole in the middle of our formation. I'm considering Switon and Poxon as his replacement, but I'm also looking for a new man here.

I saw Hamilton-Forbes at Trial Day, and offered him a contract. The former Watford youth trainee has looked good as a midfield playmaker.

The other players on this list are better suited to play other places, but you can see how they can provide cover here, too. Horan, in fact, would probably be our best DM, and a darn good CM, too.


Wide Midfielders


I like our wide men to be able to operate well in more advanced positions (to suit my 4-1-2-2-1) and slightly deeper (when we play 4-4-2).

Rodgers plays on the left, where he can cut in on his strong right foot. Johnston, our youngest player at age 16, provides lots of pace on the right.

The versatile Davies and Brown can play anywhere on the left side of our formation, so they are options on the wing when they're not at fullback. Or, I can use Berwick, who is an absolute wizard on set pieces. Most of our strikers can also play the right wing, so I have several backups--which is good, because these players run a lot and get tired.


Center Forwards


There are two obvious "big man/little man" pairings here, which will come in handy when I play 4-4-2.

Conway is our newest player; head scout/Director of Football Michael Skubala spotted the Scot, we brought him in on trial, he banged in a goal, and we signed him. He's the most natural goalscorer in the group. Otim, a Nottingham Forest trainee, is a similar player, with a bit more of an eye for a pass.

Whitehall and Tweddell are the target men, both able to hold up the ball and play in their partners or finish a move themselves. All four of the strikers are fairly quick, too.

None of these players has made the number nine shirt his own. We're basically still holding an open audition for the role of front man in our band.


General Thoughts
I'm fairly happy with the team right now. I'm looking for an all-action central midfielder, the kind of player I lost when Max Herbert left the team.

I also learned that when a player turns 22, he's ineligible to play for us any longer. That's how the game ensures the Scholars retain their status as a university side. This also means I'll lose the services of Hamilton-Forbes, Davies, Gilbey, and Brown over the course of the season. SHF appears to have only a month left in his Loughborough Uni career. Managing this turnover will add another dimension to the experience; that's for sure.

We're tipped to finish in the middle of the table, and I think that's a fair assessment of where we stand. If I can uncover a few gems to replace the lads who age out of the team, perhaps we can challenge for the championship.
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Old 01-20-2020, 12:52 PM   #3
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
8 August 2015

I'll take a moment to introduce you to my backroom staff.

You've met Kevin Sharp already. He's my Assistant Manager. He manages the team during friendly matches, and I have him set up our training routines (although I always tweak them, sometimes more than others). He played for a variety of Football League clubs, primarily Wigan, as a left back.

Michael Skubala does double duty, as our Director of Football and Chief Scout. At least, that's what he does today. I'm concerned that Michael might not be with us too much longer. Kettering Town, who play two levels above us, have offered him a job, and they can pay him.

I smiled when I saw that David Bentley was looking for a job as a coach. Bentley played for Arsenal, Blackburn, and Tottenham in the Premier League, and won seven caps for England. He hung up his boots at age 29, and here he is, volunteering to coach for us.

Chris Bruce-Smith is our Head of Youth Development. At age 46, he's the oldest member of our back room staff.

Head physio Charlotte Avent is the newest member of the team. She's good at physio things, especially for our level.
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Old 01-24-2020, 03:01 PM   #4
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
17 December 2015


2015/16 Midland Football League Premier Division: First Half Results

Two days after our first match of the season, Michael Skubala left for a paid position with Kettering Town. We were without any scouting services for three weeks or so, until we hired Frank Sharps and Martin Pike.

Despite this slight handicap, we began our season in fine form, and I earned the league's Manager of the Month award for August. We could have gone top of the league with a result at Stourport Swifts on 8 September, but we instead absorbed our first loss in league play. We haven't been so close to the lead since.

That dour performance caused me to put the 4-4-2 on the shelf. We've been using the 4-1-2-2-1 (or 4-3-3) since then, with a few tweaks designed to take advantage of the particular strengths of my team as it stands at the time.

Injuries have taken their toll on our season, as several key players have been sidelined at one time or another. Wide man Sheridan Rodgers tore a calf muscle in mid-September. Three weeks later, goalkeeper and captain Connor O'Keefe hurt his wrist in a FA Vase tie against Boleshall. Derrick Otim finished the match in goal, and O'Keefe was absent for nearly two months.

The worst blow fell on 24 October, when striker George Conway tore the cruciate ligaments in his knee. He won't be back on the pitch until next fall. By that time he will be approaching his 22nd birthday, so he might never play for us again. George had been leading the line with flair, firing in seven goals before he went down.

Not surprisingly, we struggled to find consistency and quality. A streak of five league games without a victory was finally broken with a 2-0 victory over Dunkirk. Conway's replacement, Derrick Otim, took full advantage of his chance. The Ugandan forward leads the team with 11 goals in all competitions.

Otim's timely goal scoring form was a key factor in our October resurgence, which led to a run of nine games without a loss in all competitions. The highlight was a 2-1 victory over runaway league leader Hereford, the first loss the Bulls had suffered in league play.

Another reason for our improved play might be found in our increasing knowledge of our tactic. An amateur side like us can only train once a week, so it takes a while for the players to learn what to do. In late September, I began asking the team to play a more vibrant, forceful style of football--setting a slightly higher defensive line and closing down more when we're out of possession; seeking to control the game and playing out of the back when we have the ball. Our passing accuracy and average possession are both second in the league, and while I don't appreciate possession for possession's sake, we are playing some attractive football. Teams are starting to play deeper against us, and I'm working on ways to unlock these more closely packed teams.

Here's my managerial avatar, rocking the 'stache for Movember. It's easy to smile when your side is playing well.


So far, it's worked well. It's carried us to sixth place, which I think is a fair piece of work for a team predicted to finish in the middle of the table. We also have at least one game in hand against each of the teams ahead of us on points.




Goodbye
The following players have left the club since the season began:
DR Liam Darville
MC Stephan Hamilton-Forbes
MC Charlie Musselwhite
DL Theo Brown
D/ML Oliver Davies
DL Tom Gilbey

All these lads, except Musselwhite, were released because they turned 22 years old.

Darville never saw the pitch for us; he was already 24 when the season began. Hamilton-Forbes started our first five matches and played well for us in the middle of the park. Brown gave me some problems with his attitude, so I wasn't too sorry when his birthday rolled around.

Davies was a valuable asset while we had him, appearing in nine matches, four as a starter, all along the left side of our formation. Gilbey was the biggest loss. He won the left back job and became an everpresent starter. Tom played to a solid 6.91 rating and helped solidify our back line.

Most of these players have signed with other clubs, usually on a non-contract deal that pays them when they play. Brown moved up a level to sign for Winchester City. Davies did the same thing, advancing to Step 4 with Potters Bar Town. The day after I released him, Gilbey signed with Highgate United, which means we'll have to play against him.

Darville and Hamilton-Forbes are still amateurs, playing for Corinthians and Ashford(Middlesex) respectively. Musselwhite, the only lad I released for any reason other than his age, is still looking for a new club.


Hello
I brought in a number of new players, either to replace guys who aged out of our club, to cover for players who were seriously injured, or to provide depth.

MC Luke Wright
MC Ben Grant
AMR/ST Jimmy Warnett
DR/C Kellen Daly
GK Melvin Minter
MC/DM Connor Purdue
D/ML Sidney Adams
DL Dale Minor

Wright and Grant are now two-thirds of my starting midfield. Wright, a former Port Vale man, is a more attacking player, while Grant, released by Oldham Athletic, is a box-to-box runner. Purdue gives us additional depth and some old-fashioned bite in the midfield.

Warnett is a versatile forward who is also a regular starter. So is Minor, whom I brought in to replace Gilbey.

Adams took Davies' roster spot, while Daly gives us much-needed cover along the back line. I signed Minter, a clever sweeper keeper, to back up Harry Waldram when Connor O'Keefe got hurt, but Melvin ended up earning his fair share of the work between the posts in the captain's absence.

I convinced chairman John Steele to allow me to bring in another coach. I signed Ross Preston, a fitness specialist who was previously at Rochdale. I'm proud to say that we have the best coaching staff in the division.

Last edited by Greyfriars Bobby : 01-25-2020 at 08:39 PM.
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Old 01-26-2020, 09:07 PM   #5
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
6 March 2016

Loughborough University Youth Intake


I wondered how the youth intake would work at a club like Loughborough Uni. I was pleased to see how realistically the game handled it. The newcomers are all 18 years old, as first year university students would be.

Our facilities are very good for our level, so I was hoping we'd get some talented new players. How did we do?



Four players stick out from the crowd immediately.

George is ready to step right into the first eleven, an all-action midfielder who is comfortable in a variety of roles. He is creative and technically skilled, determined and defensively savvy.

Tall, strong, and powerful, Howard dazzled my staff with his potential. They rate him as a future League One center back. He is good with either foot, fairly comfortable on the ball (a skill I want my center halves to possess). His low determination is his Achilles heel.

Tom Berwick has been playing so well that Cunningham's path to the first team will be rougher than those George and Howard face...but Berwick will turn 22 early next season and, therefore, can't be part of my long-term plans. Cunningham would offer more pace, but I'm not impressed with his mental makeup.

Clarkson has promise; I can envision him as a solid backup to Dale Minor, offering more pace but less skill. His Professional personality is also a real plus.

I'm not sure what I will do with the rest. Several of the others have some potential, but they're a long way from being ready for my first team.

There are now 40 players on my squad list, and I don't have a reserve squad or a B team. How will these youngsters develop if they never play? I have more players than I know what to do with. I might have to cut nearly half of them, and quite a few of the new lads.

In a way, youth intake day almost seems like a campus tryout, when first year students who want a spot on the team turn up so we can put them through their paces. If I get four solid players out of it, I suppose it's been a success.

Last edited by Greyfriars Bobby : 01-27-2020 at 11:16 AM.
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Old 01-28-2020, 06:16 PM   #6
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
30 April 2016

2015/16 Midland League Premier Division: Second Half


The fixtures came fast and furious during the festive season, and we never seemed to find our footing. We lost badly at home to Highgate United, who were in the midst of a run of sixteen games without defeat that didn't end until mid-February.

We seemed to snap out of our funk with a dramatic victory against Stourport Swifts, grabbing all three points with a goal late in stoppage time. But a draw with bottom-of-the-table Brocton and an ugly loss away to Quorn had me scratching my head again.

My solution came to me in the form of some player recommendations from my back room staff and, their ranks fortified by some new arrivals I'll describe later, the Scholars reeled off a string of seven matches in the league without a loss. A big win at Coleshill Town on 6 February put us fourth, and a week later we moved into third when we took three points from Sporting Khalsa. Then, on the 16th, Highgate finally tasted defeat and, when we scored three late goals to send off Heanor Town, we moved back into second place. The lads' fine form earned me the league's Manager of the Month prize for February.

The biggest crowd of the season, 424 strong, came to Holywell Park to watch us face Hereford Town in a battle between the league's top two teams. The Bulls, who pay their players a total of £6300 per week, were clearly the class of the league. They earned their 2-1 victory, which put them 18 points clear with four rounds to play and clinched their Midlands Premier championship.

We held off Sporting Khalsa the rest of the way and secured our second place finish. Our 64 goals were fourth most in the league, and only one team--the champions--conceded fewer than the 36 we allowed.



Goodbye
DC Jack Koczalski
D/M Luke Killner
AMR Ryan Johnston

With our regular center halves proving to be both durable and resolute, Koczalski couldn't force his way onto the team sheet. He wanted to leave, so I let him. He finished the season with Welwyn Garden City, and he didn't play much there, either.

Killner can play almost anywhere, but he's not a standout anywhere, either. The arrival of better players made him expendable. Luke played in six games for us, and he's still looking for another club.

I wouldn't have minded keeping Johnston, a handy young winger, but he asked to be let go so he could play more regularly. He scored twice in 10 appearances for us, and he's now starring at St Helen's Town.


Hello
ST Will Abbotts
MC Jack Willbye
MC Amadu Waritay
DC/M(RL) Aidan Blanchard
ST Andrew Bridges

Welshman Abbotts came in on New Years' Eve, and immediately gave us another potent goal-scoring option. His arrival allowed me to shift Derrick Otim to the right wing.

I'm often guilty of collecting central midfielders. My back room staff told me about Willbye and Waritay, and next thing I knew, they were in Loughborough colors.

Willbye, released by Ipswich Town, is a polished, creative player who will still do his part when we don't have the ball.

Former Reading man Waritay is less polished and much quicker than Willbye, but it's his work rate and willingness to play for the badge that makes him stand out. The arrival of these players allowed me to set up my midfield in a variety of ways; they, along with Luke Wright and Ben Grant, offer a wide range of skills and tactical options.

Imagine Willbye's qualities in a footballer who can play either wing or at center back, and you've got Blanchard. Formerly with Gillingham, he saw action at five different positions after his arrival in early February.

Hartlepool United gave up on pacy hit man Bridges, but his combination of speed and a mature understanding of the game made him a very good fit for our club. The good form of Will Abbotts kept Andrew from establishing himself in the first XI, but I still think we have ourselves a player here.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:29 PM   #7
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
30 April 2016

Loughborough University FC
The Cups, 2015/16


The FA Cup
Our run in the FA Cup was a very short one, as we lost to a spirited Crawley Down side in the Preliminary Round. This match fell in between two tough league fixtures, so I fielded a rotated squad and paid the price for my decision.

Preliminary Round: Crawley Down 1-0 Loughborough University


The Midland Football League Cup
Again, I chose to give some backups a chance against local rival Leicester Nirvana. We treated the crowd to a cracking match, which we lost in extra time.

Second Round: Leicester Nirvana 3-2 Loughborough University


The Leicestershire & Rutland Challenge Cup
Ironically, we drew St Andrews--the small club I was managing in my ill-fated FM 15 dynasty--in the First Round, and we dispatched them fairly easily. Next came Quorn, with whom we dueled on equal terms for 120 minutes before beating them on penalties.

That earned us a date with cup holders Barwell, who finished second in a league two levels higher than ours. They took care of us with ease, and went on to successfully defend their title.

First Round: Loughborough University 3-1 St Andrews
Second Round: Quorn 1-1 Loughborough University (Loughborough win 4-3 on penalties)
Semi Final: Barwell 3-0 Loughborough University



The FA Vase
Unlike the other cup competitions, I went all in to win the FA Vase. We entered the competition in the Second Qualifying Round and defeated Bolehall Swifts when Danny Whitehall netted in extra time. Then we saw off Long Eaton United in the First Round, and more heroics from Whitehall--this time, a penalty in extra time--enabled us to get past Winsford United.

Next was league rival Coleshill, and a goal from Jimmy Warnett put us through to the Fourth Round. Warnett struck again against Hadleigh United in our 2-0 victory.

Will Abbott's goal on the hour mark gave us a victory away to Retford United. Our next foe was Durham City. The Citizens were runaway winners of the First Division of the Northern League, finishing 18 points clear. We drew with them, 1-1, forcing a replay at Holywell Park. We fell behind in the opening minutes, only to come back with three goals and win 4-2 on aggregate.

Now came the Semi Final. We drew the worst possible matchup: the wrecking crew from FC Romania, who had scored 97 goals and conceded only 6 in league play by the time we faced them in early March.

We played them to a 1-1 draw away, and we held them for 70 minutes at Holywell Park before Elliott Legg's hearty challenge in the box gave the Wolves a penalty. They converted it, and that was that.

FC Romania went on to win the Vase, part of a magical quadruple-winning season.

Second Preliminary Round: Loughborough Uni 2-1 Bolehall Swifts
First Round: Loughborough Uni 2-0 Long Eaton Utd
Second Round: Loughborough Uni 1-0 Winsford Utd
Third Round: Coleshill 0-1 Loughborough Uni
Fourth Round: Loughborough Uni 2-0 Hadleigh Utd
Fifth Round: Retford Town 0-1 Loughborough Uni
Sixth Round: Durham City 1-1 Loughborough Uni
Sixth Round Replay: Loughborough Uni 3-1 Durham City
Semi Final, First Leg: FC Romania 1-1 Loughborough Uni
Semi Final, Second Leg: Loughborough Uni 0-1 FC Romania (FC Romania win, 2-1, in aggregate)

Last edited by Greyfriars Bobby : 01-29-2020 at 08:05 PM.
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Old 01-29-2020, 07:58 PM   #8
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
Loughborough University FC

Season Summary, 2015/16

The Best Eleven




I don't think I used Luke Wright as a DM for more than 20 minutes all season. He's not rated to play there at all. This team does represent our eleven most important players fairly well, though.


Goalkeepers
I don't think there was a better 'keeper in the league than Connor O'Keefe. He didn't let in easy goals, and his ability to play with the ball at his feet allowed us to play the kind of football I like. Connor also converted the only penalty he took during the season. Harry Waldram and Melvin Minter took over for some cup ties, and I counted on them when O'Keefe hurt his wrist back in the fall. Minter, in particular, probably deserved more playing time, but it was hard for me to put our club's captain and leader on the bench when he was available.


Defenders
There was never a dull moment with right back Elliott Legg. His ability and willingness to join the attack gave our offense extra bite, and his 12 assists testify to his effectiveness. However, at the same time, he picked up 11 yellow cards, almost twice as many as any other player in the league. Tom Gilbey and, then, Dale Minor were steady and reliable on the left flank.

Jack Horan and Kyle Hempshall formed a resolute center back pairing. Horan's composure worked well with Hempshall's power, and I never had doubts about the stability of our defense with them on duty. The situation got even better with the arrival of Alex Howard in March.


Central Midfielders
The acquisition of Luke Wright and Ben Grant, who arrived on the same late August day, was a huge key to our successful season. They brought quality and presence to our midfield, and they were the second- and third-best players in the league according to average rating. It's a credit to Jack Willbye and Amadu Waritay that we didn't miss a beat when either (or both) of them were on the pitch, and by the end of the season I was rotating four men through my CM pairing. Make that five; Wes George, another March arrival, was every bit as effective, if not even more so.

Rob Switon and Danny Leonard split time at the DM position, and both were solid. Jack Poxon didn't see much of the pitch during the second half of the season.


Wide Midfielders
At the beginning of the season, I underestimated Tom Berwick. I thought he might have value as a set piece specialist, but he proved he's a much more valuable player than that. His 11 goals and 11 assists were both second best in the team. A varied cast of characters manned the right flank, with Jimmy Warnett the best of the lot. Injuries kept Sheridan Rodgers from making a bigger impact, and attitude problems were Ryan Johnston's undoing. Danny Whitehall's ability to play on the wings offered him opportunities to earn playing time. So did his ability to work magic in stoppage time, especially in cup ties.


Forwards
George Conway began the season as our front man, and he was among the league's top scorers when he wrecked his knee. That offered an opportunity for Derrick Otim, and he grabbed it with both hands. Derrick's 18 goals in all competitions led the team. Hoewever, he found himself playing on the right more often after Will Abbotts arrived in March. Will proved to be an adept scorer, basically getting a goal every other game, and Otim kept finding the net at his new position, too. If the goals Conway, Otim,and Abbotts scored while leading our line were added together and credited to one striker, they'd win the league's Golden Boot by a comfortable margin.



Honors
Supporters' Player of the Season: Luke Wright (34%); Elliott Legg (28%), Ben Grant (23%)
Goal of the Season: Jack Willbye's 22-yard laser against Durham City on 24 February
Signing of the Season: Aidan Blanchard (I'd have picked Willbye, but that's just me)
Young Player of the Season: Luke Wright (they're all young players)

Midland Football League Premier Division Pat Fellows Memorial Player of the Year: Derrick Otim
Get in, Derrick!

Last edited by Greyfriars Bobby : 01-30-2020 at 10:41 AM.
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Old 01-30-2020, 10:44 PM   #9
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
Offseason Thoughts

I was very happy with how my first season at Loughborough University went. Expected to finish mid-table, we finished the season in second. Even more encouraging was our especially strong second half; we accumulated 43 points after the midpoint of the season, only three fewer than runaway winner Hereford United.

But as soon as the transfer window opened in early June, I discovered what will be the most frustrating thing about managing a club like the Scholars. My inbox was almost immediately filled with messages about contract offers my players were receiving from clubs that could, and would, pay them to play.

I also learned that professional and semi-pro clubs released their unwanted youth players at about the same time. I'd planned to check the list out, if only to learn about players I might want to bring in to replace the ones who would turn 22 during the upcoming season. Now, my investigation took on a new sense of urgency.

Over the next six weeks, eight Loughborough Uni players signed contracts with other clubs. I was flattered by the fact that all of them signed for teams in league football, four levels above NLS Step Five, where we'll play again in 2016/17. Still, it was infuriating to watch a large part of the core of my team leave the club.

Among them were the four best players from the group of newcomers who arrived in March. Were I managing a semiprofessional club, I'd at least be able to sell these players, and realize some profit from them. At an amateur team, they simply leave.

In mid-July, I was invited to interview for jobs at Daventry Town and Leatherhead. Both are semipro clubs who play one level higher than Loughborough, and both offered me the job.

I seriously considered taking one or the other, and if the members of my backroom staff had been willing to move with me, I might very well have bid Loughborough Uni goodbye. I like the staff I've put together, though, and I managed to bring some new players I'm excited about. So, I've decided to stick with the Scholars for at least one more year.
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Old 01-31-2020, 10:11 PM   #10
Greyfriars Bobby
High School Varsity
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
6 August 2016

It's time for the start of the new season, my second as manager of Loughborough University FC. The expectations are much different this time around, at least as far as the media are concerned. They've made us 1-2 favorites to win the Midland Football League Premier Division this season.

It's time to meet this year's team. My assistant manager, Kevin Sharp, once again provides the star ratings.


Goalkeepers


The losses of Connor O’Keefe and Harry Waldram, who are both now plying their trade in the National League North (North Ferriby United and Bradford Park Avenue) caused me to reconfigure my goalkeeping corps.

Marsden appears to be able to do everything O’Keefe did for us last year, except take penalties. O’Loughlin is a more traditional goalkeeper. Both were released from professional clubs this spring; Marsden from Ipswich, O’Loughlin from Everton.

Minter, who played well when I called on him last year, and promising Fellowes are also available.


Defenders


Legg and Minor return to the first team at right and left back, respectively. They are both dangerous going forward and responsible in their own end. Taylor, whom Leeds deemed surplus to requirements, could be an even more dangerous attacking fullback when I’m not employing him on the right wing. Minor will turn 22 in November, but by then either Muscatt or Myers might have taken his place anyway. They arrive with impressive credentials-- Muscatt was in Tottenham’s academy, while Myers was an Everton youth player.

Neither Jack Horan nor Alex Howard returned to the club this season. Horan signed with Bath City (National League South), while Howard left for Corby Town (National League North). That leaves Hempshall and new arrival Wells as the starting center backs. Hempshall provides muscle and a surprisingly deft touch on the ball, while Wells, a Stoke trainee, offers more pace and a tireless work rate. Coyne, whom Rochdale let go, is a good alternative, and Blanchard can play here, too.


Central Midfielders


Defensive midfielders Switon and Leonard rejected numerous offers to return to Holywell Park. However, if my goal is getting my three most talented central midfielders on the pitch at the same time, Bianga, formerly of Rochdale, will feature here. Christie has developed well since his arrival last March.

Willbye, Waritay, and Wright will all see plenty of time at the other two CM positions. All three can handle the box-to-box role, and all are sufficiently creative for the conductor’s job. Blanchard and Poxon are the other options; Poxon will age out in October.

Wes George, who would certainly have been one of the starters here, joined the exodus out of the team when he signed for St Albans City (National League South).


Wide Midfielders


I will miss Berwick, who turns 22 on 1 September and will have to turn in his captain’s armband. Until then, we’ll enjoy his masterful skill over a dead ball and his penchant for scoring timely goals. Yes, that is the Harvey Barnes who is currently in the first team at Leicester City. In this world, the Foxes cut him loose and I was more than happy to discover he was willing to sign up with us.

Warnett and Otim are both too good to remain on the bench, so I plan to take advantage of both men’s versatility. Unfortunately, we lose Warnett to age in November. Then there’s Taylor, who might be our best player overall, who can play anywhere along the right side of our formation. Rodgers, a decent footballer who has terrible luck with injuries, might be the odd man out.


Center Forwards



The number nine shirt will probably go to Abbotts most of the time, based on his outstanding performance last spring. However, I’d have no problem turning it over to Otim or Bridges. Then there’s Conway, who has just returned to action following knee surgery. All four forwards found the net on a regular basis when they had the opportunity.

Whitehall and Tweddell will find it hard to get much playing time. Whitehall can also do a job on the wing, too.

The Back Room Staff
I was able to bring back every member of last year's staff, and I added a new physio: Claire Houston, who worked with Peterborough's U18 team last year.

I'm fortunate to have the best staff in the league working with me.


Final Thoughts
I was so frustrated with the loss of players like Jack Horan and Connor O'Keefe over the summer. I enjoyed managing them, and I looked forward very much to taking a shot at the league championship with them this season. Then, the departure of lads like Wes George, who barely pulled on a Loughborough kit before they were off to greener pastures, almost caused me to call it quits.

I'm glad I didn't. The challenge of reassembling a team was enjoyable, and as a real-life Leicester City supporter, signing Harvey Barnes was even more fun.

The board expect only a mid-table finish from us, but they do want me to lift the Midland Football League Cup and the Leicestershire & Rutland County Challenge Cup this year. And they want us to return to the Semi Final of the FA Vase again.

Let's see if we have what it takes, shall we?
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