This was a significant day and a successful one at that. The management team of Tony McCool, Kevin Gallen and Gareth Jackson all reported a satisfactory start on this the first game for the new team under their tutelage. I use that word advisedly as the emphasis is on individual player development and advancement, rather than mere payment for services rendered.
As is now well known, the supporters and officials of the club wrested control from a preposterous notion of voluntary relegation to the nether regions of the Spartan League, and the club is now run by the fans and for the fans and is administered by a committee voted in and approved by the members. As someone connected with the club since 1988, I would like to say that I am the happiest I have ever been with the current administration and I can report on a thorough and professional approach from all involved – and all being willing volunteers as well, fronted by a chairman of genuine leadership qualities, Dr Alex Alexandrou.
The pre-season programme was largely organised by ex- manager Tony Fontenelle, who wanted me to make it clear that his best wishes went to the club he genuinely loved and left with great reluctance.
Marlow, of the Southern League, Central division, were hosts for today’s game and, like Dunstable, they used the occasion to try out several players. The problem for me of reporting such matches is I have yet to recognise all the players of our team and so this report will not be as specific as you may be accustomed to.
So, for now, please be content with as general synopsis rather than a blow by blow account. Those who have persevered with my reports will recall that Marlow has a niche in my heart as my father was once a groundsman, many years ago, and he lived in the gracious Buckinghamshire town for some years.
Not so memorable is the melancholy fact that I have never seen Dunstable win at the Alfred Davis Memorial Ground and today that statistic was kept intact, even if goal-line technology might have granted us the lead with one of those goal efforts that hits both post and crossbar before being cleared, possibly from behind the goal line.
If this had been a league match, the Regiment might still be hopping mad that the ‘goal’ did not stand and they would have, under the new chairman’s strictures on behaviour said, ‘I poilitely disagree with your decision , sir.’ Their inner thoughts would have been that the referee was looking elsewhere and that the linesman was as blind as a bat and a local resident as well, inflicting bias without let or hindrance.
But, pre-season is a time of genuflecting and largesse, where we all feel good about ourselves for being jolly good sporting chaps. We were more concerned about the performance of the new Dunstable team, which is happily not primarily motivated by the brown envelope. Only two of last season’s squad remained – new skipper John Sonuga, (who has grown amicably into the responsibility) and Gedeon Okito, who has been something of an ambassador of the club.
When I arrived with Alex and son Louis, players from both teams were assembled on the pitch in a casual mode. Marlow officials were quick to greet us, and along with the local support, The Regiment were beginning to appear, wearing their replica shirts or sporting some optimistic summer wear that suggested we may yet have a few more sunny days before the inevitable grim weather that characterises the English football season.
Tony McCool and his able assistants were obviously dispensing jewels of advice, emphasised by the waving of arms and other expansive gestures. This, after all, was the first ever game with their chosen squad. For Marlow, this was just another friendly, their fifth so far, but for Dunstablians this was a diving in the deep end without testing the water properly.
I imagine that the first minute of the game gave credence to the ‘fairy –tale aspect – the team with no player budget scores in the first minute. And that is what happened. Marlow essayed a first foray and then, on clearance a nicely weighted pass provided one of those opportunities where we all expect an off-side flag ( and we all shout Never!), but the flag remained down and the announcer’s nightmare of Oluwanimilo Ajigbolamu calmly opened the scoring. The loudest cheer came from the visiting ‘bench’. And why not? What I noticed was the celebration of the players, which is unusual in pre-season games where the accepted practice is a mere acknowledgement.
This goal, although not as good as their second was a reward for direct, unhesitant play, but what was quickly evident was that both teams had fragile defensive propensities, underlined by the fact that three goals were conceded within ten minutes. The second half was leaner and meaner and more like a league match, but since this was a pre-season we tacitly conceded that this was jolly good fun.
Dunstable’s cheeky lead lasted for just a further two minutes as the hosts exposed severe lack of defending by equalising with a swift combinational move. They then exposed greater fragilities by seizing the lead after five minutes.
This was just a little bit crazy and not expected. A first minute lead had is wondering if McCool had unleashed a potent force and four minutes later we were speculating if he had signed any defenders, and if he had, could they stand up and be counted. Then the game settled down, with the hosts threat of dominance subsiding as the half continued. Both sides essayed the long ball tactic here and there and both defences began to find their feet a little better, so to speak.
Dunstable found the net again after twenty-three minutes, with what I thought was a well-worked move. We must remember that this team have not played together before and have only trained. A smart forward ball, a couple of accurate passes and a sublime finish by Samuel Odusoga levelled matters – and with the flow of play.
There was, afterwards the usual pre-season practice of taking on waters and sending on the odd substitute, but we had the notion that these new chaps for Dunstable might well be just the ticket. Of course it is hard to judge on this preliminary outing, but, happily the lure of lucre is not definitive. I had the thought that, hey this is an amateur team, using the word in its proper sense, not in its modern derogatory interpretation. A group of players has been assembled where the desire to play at a senior level is more important than financial remuneration.
At half-time, the Regiment made for the bar as Rebellion was on draught. They had a new flag which perplexed me. It bore the legend ‘The future is uncertain and the end is always near.’ For some reason it brought to mind the definite events of my striding out manfully for a dog walk early this morning and having to return hastily for an urgent number two.
Half-time gave me more time to survey the pleasant Marlow stadium. They still have aspirations to move elsewhere but I do like their current home, which could be made more attractive with a few major changes. But the club is rich in history and it is one of my ambitions to see a Dunstable Town team actually win here. I still think often of my sponsored cycle ride here from Dunstable to raise funds for an ultra sound machine, which still seems to me to be a description of a techno – beat combo.
So, four goals in the first half, and only one in the mean, lean second half, which was a lot more like a competitive league match. It went to Marlow, and it was a well-worked move finished off with a decent header, but it was against the run of play. Indeed about a minute before, Dunstable thought they had scored when the ball pinged off the post and the bar and was cleared from the line. Was it a goal…did Dunstable deserve a penalty from another incident. Well, maybe, maybe not. For me, the outstanding performance of the second half came from defender Scott Betts, for strength skill and vision.
They did deserve at least a draw, as their play was positive and some of the ‘pointers’ overheard from training sessions had been heeded. This team, like all, is a work in progress. There were successive corners from late Dunstable pressure, good saves from both keepers (more from the home chappie) but all in all we saw an entertaining match that would, I speculate, be of benefit to both managerial teams. The referee and his assistants did a good and honest job and did not receive the revised lyric of ‘Who’s the rascal in the black?’
After the game, armed with my voice recorder I sought opinions from the Dunstable managerial team, unperturbed by Kevin Gallen’s initial comment of ‘Sod off.’ I imagine Kevin was a little mollified by the number of supporters who recognised him and shook his hand in appreciation of his contribution in the past to the professional game.
Tony McCool reminded me that "this is the first time the team has played together and it was, realistically two teams" ( there were the usual huge numbers of substitutions).
"The pleasing thing is that we had loads of chances. The back three tightened things up in the second half" (We had moved from a back four in the first half). "We have to tidy some things up at the back, but it was pleasing. We are learning what we want to do. We conceded a couple of soft goals, but it is what it is. I am pleased at this start."
Kevin Gallen echoed this. "It was a good game – second half was better, we looked good going forward. First half we were a bit open – but we expected this with the lads thrown together for the first time. We are all learning about each other. There were some good performances out there and I look forward to the next one."
Captain John Sonuga, when I suggested we were defensively a bit fragile in the first half said – "Yes, we were a bit. We started from scratch. I think overall it was good and we have come a long way. This was the first time and maybe in the first half not everyone understood their roles, but the second half was a great improvement, and I feel we have players good enough to do some damage in the league this season."
New coach Gareth Jackson bamboozled me with tactics – and remember I know more about tic-tacs than tactics. "We played well in parts, and the managerial team has learnt much from a management perspective in terms of personnel and systems. We have a lot to learn in terms of the organisation of the final group."
I asked about the tightening of the defence in the second half and was told it was not a conscious decision per se but the change from a back four to a back three and pushing up the wing backs was the preferred option. This made us a lot more solid. But it was overall a learning process for us.
All three of the managerial team agreed with my praise of Scott Betts as an influential defender. I did try to get the line-up of the teams in both halves but it did not reproduce very well.
So, I will just name the squad, which may be useful for supporters who do not know which players have been signed.
Tofariti Adeoti, Brandy Makuendi, Krelvin Igweani, Ben Carter, Aaron Hudson, Bart Koprowski, Ryan Young, Ayobemi Salami, Daniel Trif, Michael Adeyemi, Anthony Leslie, Gary Malone, Jadell Brown, Claudio Silva, Gedeon Okito, John Sonuga, Scott Betts, Oluwanamilo Ajigbolamu, Samuel Odusoga, David Carty.