Lions manager cautious about chances
Having lifted the Herts Senior County League Premier Division title, London Lions go into known territory when they travel to Bedford for their first ever match in the Spartan South Midlands League Division One tomorrow.
Unlike last season, preparations have not been hampered by the Maccabiah Games although manager Tony Gold remains cautious about their chances.
Having relocated to Broxbourne Borough V&E FC, it is clear that the Lions will have to up the ante. They lost only two games last season on their way to pipping Wormley Rovers at the post.
But as Gold explains, preparations for the big kick-off have been far from smooth. "Our pre-season hasn't gone as well as I would have liked simply because of player inconsistency at training due to weddings, stags and work commitments," he said.
But this has not been the only obstacle to date. "We have also been restricted by a lack of space and facilities available at Rowley Lane where they take the pitches down between early July until mid-August. And with the faculty hosting a number of other sporting activities, we can only use what is available which so far has been a small area on the clubs cricket outfield."
The Lions experienced mixed fortunes in their first three pre-season friendlies. Ben Lauffer, Alex Sesto and Jason Goldstein netted in the 3-2 win over Hadley. This was followed by a 2-2 draw against the same opponents two days later, with an own goal and Goldstein accounting for the Lions' tally. Ben Ellis and Joey Glynne were on the mark in the 3-2 defeat against Broxbourne where Gold looked at trialists including Johnny Haik and Paul Babai.
Steve Grenfell, the assistant-manager, and coach Darren Yarlett have been helped the manager put the finishing touches to Lions' preparations. Gold said: "We don't read too much into results. We focus intensely on where players are at with their individual fitness levels. At this moment in time, as a collective group we have a long way to go with only a short period left in order to improve the situation."
The team have lost three key players from the title-winning team. Danny Cole has moved to New York, Lee Cash is getting married and also has work commitments and Dean Nyman has moved to Enfield Town for an undisclosed fee."
Gold laid down a challenge to players looking to make the step up. "The door is open to any Jewish footballer who wants to test themselves at a strong, competitive and challenging level but they have to be mentally prepared for the dedication and commitment that is needed to succeed and that is something the majority of Jewish boys struggle with."
He has already drafted in reinforcements in David Soutar, Craig Ellis, Sesto and Goldstein and said: "We are currently looking at and assessing a handful of other players over the remaining weeks to see if have what it takes."
Asked about his target for the end of the season, Gold is realistic. "Our only aim this season is to try to consolidate a mid-table position and obviously avoid relegation.
"The way it stands I believe the team is going to have a very inconsistent season. If we manage to put the same 11 players out for four games on a bounce I will be amazed."
But he is confident about one thing. "Without doubt we have the quality to challenge the best in this league but the players themselves will need to find a greater consistency in order to contemplate that idea. I would also like to see one of the Under 18's from last year break into the first team.
"The squad is looking forward to new challenges and the most exciting aspect is visiting new grounds and playing new sides after so long in the Herts County league. It would be rather surprising if any of the players couldn't get themselves up for it especially after last years accomplishments."
The manager has great confidence that the majority of players who played last season will be able to compete at this level. But he believes that they will need more than just pure football ability. "Without doubt they have the quality and ability. However, quality and football ability together will not be enough. The other ingredients needed are a mix of mental toughness and physical fitness.
"As a collective group, if the lads are not fit both physically and mentally they will find this league exceptionally challenging. I know most of the managers and sides we are playing against very well. The opposition we face on the whole will be fitter, stronger and quicker and we need to be able to match all of those attributes and then be better prepared on the day in order to have any realistic chance of winning games.
"For the team to do well this year it will take the whole squad to play consistently well together over the course of the season. I'm looking at my strikers to score goals, my midfielders to provide the opportunities and my defence and keeper to keep clean sheets giving the team the platform it needs to go on and win matches. When you look through the side we actually have a lot of experience running through it. If we can gel that experience with some of the more youthful players then we should have a good balance for everyone to do well."
One of the most celebrated figures in Jewish football, Gold is relishing taking the Lions into a new era. He said: "Obviously I am very proud but it was a strong collective effort involving some great people. Steve Grenfell, Darren Yarlett, Danny Jacobs and Jon Green, the team behind the scenes that run the administration side and the players themselves.
"The players deserve a lot of credit for putting our plans into action and carrying them out and hopefully having got a taste of what it feels like to win a major league they will want more of that feeling in the future."