Wingate & Finchley manager Michael Stone has challenged Jewish players to step up to the plate to ensure that there is significant representation on the pitch.
The club has come under renewed criticism this season with just one player, Craig Ellis, a regular on the teamsheet for the Ryman League Division One North side. But Stone responded by saying that Jewish boys will be considered if they are good enough — and committed enough.
He said: “We don’t have as many Jewish players as we’d like. I watch MSFL matches regularly and keep my ear close to the ground so that we know who the top performers are. I invite them to challenge themselves as I know the talent is there. A lot of it is about commitment as they need to show a lot of dedication to play at this level. The people performing regularly in the Maccabi League must ask themselves if they want it enough.
“It still remains a priority and it’s very important to the club that we attract more players from the community.”
Stone has been impressed with the Jewish players in the first team squad. He said: “Craig Ellis has been a fantastic servant to the club. Michael Sacks has had a great start to his Wingate career and Jake Furman has been a real surprise package.”
Just over a year into the job, Stone has steered the team to eighth in the table, and they have games in hand on the teams in the playoff places due to their excellent run in the FA Trophy.
The Blues were the only team from the Ryman League to make the first round which Stone describes as “a real achievement”. He said: “The run, together with winning two matches in the FA Cup, created quite a bit of publicity and confidence. It has given us financial rewards and belief.”
Having coached South Korea and the youth teams at Spurs and Nottingham Forest, Stone is proud of his progress in his first managerial role. He said: “There have been plenty of changes at the club over the past year which have helped me become a better manager. They have made me understand the league better and understand the kind of player we need to attract.
“The club ethos has also changed. We now have a winning mentality to match our reputation as a warm, friendly, family club. We are now a bit harder to play against and a bit more ambitious. That balance was missing last season. We’ve certainly made progress and I hope that there is plenty more around the corner. It’s a very different football club to the one of two years ago.
“The Chairman, Aron Sharpe, has brought in more volunteers who have brought a sense of professionalism. We are a proper club with a development plan. We no longer need to rely on donations and people putting their hands in their pockets. I’ve also been given a bit more financial backing on the personnel front because of our cup runs.”
Stone, who will help Jonathan Kestenbaum in the open team at next summer’s Maccabiah, said: “Perhaps with my involvement at the Games you never know, I might ask a Sam Sloma or Paul Hakim to consider returning to Wingate.”