Wingate & Finchley manager Michael Stone reflected on the campaign as “a tricky season” after the blues finished fifth from bottom in the Division One North following a 1-0 defeat against champions Dartford on Saturday. The 29-year-old, who took over from Adam Lee last September, was delighted with his team’s performance in front of more than 2,500 spectators.
“The boys didn’t shrink,” said Stone. “They more than held their own and came away from the game with plenty of credit.”
The Abrahams Stadium club finished the season in 18th place on 35 points after winning eight games. In his first job in football management, Stone admits “it has been very much a learning curve and a very challenging test with a young squad and the change in management during the season. Most managers will tell you that they need a full summer under their belts to prepare properly and that the first couple of years are the toughest.
“I believe it could take up to three years for the team to compete at the top of the table as we don’t want to stretch ourselves financially.
“One of the features of having a young squad is that confidence can dip very quickly with a run of bad results and back-to-back defeats. I plan to bring in some experienced players from a higher level to help the youngsters flourish next season.”
Stone has been pleased with the progress of the Jewish contingent in the first team and reserves. “Craig Ellis has had a mixed season as it’s been stop-start due to niggling injuries and suspensions. When he’s played he’s done well. I was delighted that we re-signed Dean Nyman who, along with Craig is keen to get a good pre-season under his belt.”
James Gershfield joined the club after impressing in Rome last summer. Stone said: “I’m delighted with his ability to listen and learn. He’s really progressed. Danny Berg has stayed in the squad and performed well when called upon while Daniel Stanton, Ben Lauffer, Andy Glynne, Jamie Shaw and Dan Cole are good additions to the club.
“We have started to gather a crop of Jewish players who want to make a go of it at this level. Maintaining a Jewish identity remains an intergral part of this club and will continue to do so while I’m in charge.” Stone, who coached Team England at last summer’s European Maccabi Games in Rome and until his appointment was Lee’s assistant, reiterated his goals when he took charge. “My main objectives were to help the club retain its status in the Ryman League Division One North and then build to see if we can get to the next level.”
With a June wedding his immediate priority, Stone was surprised by the different qualities needed when turning from coach to manager. “I used to just be responsible for training sessions at set times. Now I have learnt the need to separate myself more from the playing squad and how to manage a staff and a budget, along with reporting to the board. I’ve built a very good coaching set-up including a goalkeeping coach and sports analyst.
“The hardest thing is that you wear the results on your shoulders and are constantly thinking of ways of doing things better and where you want to take things. I’m enjoying it and believe I’ll be better for it next term.”
Looking ahead to season 2008/09, Stone said: “We want to push for a mid-table finish and hope for a better run in the cups.”
The club have lined up their first pre-season fixture at home to Barnet first team on July 29. Wingate this week announced that, as part of their resurgence as one of the country’s top development continues, they have introduced a scholarship entitled FLEX (Football Learning Experience) from September 2008.
This will see Wingate take on 35 scholars who will train full time whilst continuing their formal education with the Club’s academic partner, Barnet College. The scholars will represent the club in the Conference Youth Football League and also participate in the FA Youth Cup and Ryman League Youth Cup. Understanding the importance of a flourishing youth system, Hadley Wood and Wingate youth club will be further developed next season with the Under 14 and Under 16 teams becoming part of the semi-pro club.
The teams will be entered into the Eastern Alliance Football League to compete with Centres of Excellence of professional and Conference level clubs including Dagenham and Redbridge and Stevenage Borough.