London Lions manager Tony Gold has challenged his troops to match last season’s runners-up finish in the Herts Senior County League Premier Division ahead of tomorrow’s opening fixture at home to Sandridge Rovers.
The Rowley Lane club achieved its best-ever finish but missed out on promotion through a technicality.
A top-two finish in the division puts clubs into a position to go up. But there are strict league regulations about grounds that include floodlights and a 100-seater stadium.
Gold explained that the priority at the club last season was opening the £1 million 3G pitch.
The club have been working on getting a groundshare in place ahead of the season to ensure that should they again clinch a top-two finish, they would be promoted.
Gold said: “No-one at the club knew the rules before last season. We assumed that a top two finish would take us up.”
Last season, Lions led the division until January 4. They hit a bad patch and slipped down to third but went into their last match against Evergreen believing that victory would take them up.
Gold said: “Three months before the season finished, the club was informed of the rule so it was the end of our promotion dream as the expense of the new 3G pitch took priority. Everyone was disappointed and rightly so as we put a lot of time and effort in as a group.
“Now I have to keep the players motivated to keep the intensity going as last season was all for nothing which was very frustrating. I can understand why the club has decided to go down the particular path it has. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward.
“But now the pitch is in place, the club is moving in the right direction. This season, the priority is to get the groundshare. We are 99 per cent there. We need to be there from August 15.
“My biggest challenge is to get the same level of commitment out of the players again. We achieved what we set out to achieve last time out and I was massively proud of helping London Lions achieve its highest ever finish. A lot of credit must go to the players who showed a tremendous attitude and desire to succeed. They showed great willingness to push on and learn. They listened and took the advice on board.
“We have retained everyone from last year with the exception of Eddie Manson and Guy Helman. We have strengthened in other areas and are looking relatively strong.
“This year will be harder. As Alex Ferguson will tell you, the hardest challenge is to do it again, to have the motivation and determination to go out and do it again. It will test a lot of characters to find that bit extra, but there’s no reason why they can’t.
“The most important thing is to get a good start and how we respond to a couple of bad results and setbacks. Every team had their blip last season. Ours came in March. We had three players out. It was like Manchester United missing Van Der Saar, Ferdinand and Rooney. We lost three games out of four although they were all by one-goal margins. I would not call it a blip. I would say that we lost a bit of quality, and you can’t replace quality.
“This season we’ve got a lot more strength in depth and a lot of competition for places. A lot of guys have big reputations so it will be interesting to see how they respond and fight for their place. We only want players at this club who want to improve.”
Gold has brought in some new faces to freshen up the squad.
Defender Alex Taylor who Gold describes as a “real talent with a lot of raw ability” has joined Maccabiah star Daniel Stanton. Israeli Ori Kobi “has nice feet and is an intelligent footballer”. Danny Berg, Aron Barnes and ex-Charlton star Paul Linger will also add to a talented pool of players.
Pre-season has been “difficult” with lots of players away at the Maccabiah, including manager Gold who helped the Masters Over 35 football team to bronze.
Gold expects to see some of the club’s talented youngsters pushing for a place in his squad. The availability of Ben Ellis and Josh Newman depends on university commitments.
Oli Craig has been labelled “one for the future” while it is hoped that James Stanley fulfils his “great raw potential”. Gold also predicted “big things” from Jason Goldstein, once he overcomes injury, and Myles Anderson.
Another new face is that of coach Darren Yarlett. Gold said: “He has been outstanding while I’ve been away,” said Gold.
He was not surprised to see defender Guy Morris earn rave reviews at the Maccabiah Games in Israel this summer.
“Guy reads the game brilliantly. He has great positional sense and is an all-round leader. When he’s buzzing we buzz as a team.”
The manager was disappointed not to see striker Dominic Cheniart make the cut. “He’s a temperamental character but, talent-wise, he’s an unbelievable footballer. I believe he should’ve gone and hope he’ll play a bit part for us again this season.”
Forward Adam Stolerman has been the team’s top scorer for the past two years. Gold said: “He has a natural eye for goal.” Speaking of his partnership with Lee Cash, he added: “We need 60 goals between them for the title.
“We have to play to our strengths and ultimately, the players will dictate that. It will be similar to last season but maybe more adventurous going forward.”
Last season the team scored 98 goals in 30 games. Gold said: “With our attacking options and midfield, a repeat is definitely achievable. The division will be a lot stronger with more teams vying for promotion. It will be a lot more competitive.”
With a place in the South Midlands League Division One up for grabs for the top two, Gold predicts: “The Met Police will be very strong again. I also believe that Baldock Town, Park Street Village, Codicote, Cuffley and Chipperfield are not easy places to go.
“We will need to be a little bit cuter, and will look to mix it up a bit and maybe be a bit stronger and use particular personnel away.”
A former MSFL Player of the Year, Gold has a football CV to rival the best in the Jewish game. He has won the Peter Morrison Trophy, JC Cyril Anekstein Cup and JC MSFL titles on numerous occasions, as a player and a manager.
He is also the only manager ever to lead the JC MSFL Rep team to success in the London Inter-League Cup. And he has steered the Herts County Rep team to success in the Herts Rep County Cup and the GB Under 18 team to bronze at Maccabiah level.
What does he put his success down to? “I’ve been very lucky,” he said. “I’ve worked with some great people and players. You don’t stop learning as a manager. You can never crack it as football is so unpredictable. You can dominate a game for 89 minutes but end up losing. You learn about people all the time.”
“I’m my biggest critic. I’m always asking myself questions and challenging myself.”