The First Faltering Steps

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samsami
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The First Faltering Steps

Post by samsami »

The story of Samsami Sungo's career: Part 2
Player-manager at GIllingham FC



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A mixed bag

And so on 1st of August 1993, at the tender age of 24, I found myself at the Priestfield Stadium, as player-manager of Gillingham FC - coincidentally, in the year of the club's centenary!

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Priestfield has been the home of Gillingham Football Club since the club's formation in 1893 and if you wonder how I ended up there, please read the final chapter of my Memoirs.

Now this was before the extensive redevelopment during the late 1990s, which brought Priestfield Stadium's capacity down from nearly 20,000 to a current figure of 11,582.

But even with a stadium of that size and the modest celebrations of the club's centenary, Gillingham FC did not prosper. In the previous season they had finished second from bottom and had only barely escaped relegation by defeating Halifax Town in the penultimate fixture of the season. And it did not take long before I found out that the club had absolutely no cash for transfer fees.


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I was pleased to find out, though, that there was a lot of respect for Dutch football in general and for Feyenoord in particular at Gillingham. My new colleagues were fully aware that Feyenoord had just won the Dutch League and some of them even knew that Feyenoord had won the Dutch Cup two years in a row. They also knew about Jansen and Van Hanegem. And to my pleasant surprise some of that respect seemed to rub off on me, even though I had only played with the Feyenoord Reserves and may only have coached their youth teams.

And so one might say that my first impressions were somewhat of a mixed bag.

That first week I also found out that two of the older first squad players had just decided to retire at the end of the season.


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Now Clark was a defensive midfielder, but Neil Smillie was an attacking right midfielder and so it was rather obvious why the club were pleased to have me as their player-manager.


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Smillie was actually one of their best paid players, but in 1993 their real star players were considered to be two twenty-year-olds, Gary Breen - who would eventually make more than 500 appearances in the Football League and the Premier League - and Nicky Forster, who would make over 600 appearances!


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And then there was me, of course. And it looked like I would not have to worry too much. I would probably fit in well with this team. Perhaps with the Feyenoord Reserves we even played a somewhat higher level...

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Last edited by samsami on Thu Jul 29, 2021 9:05 am, edited 9 times in total.
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The First Faltering Steps

Post by Redknapp69 »

Good ground size to start with!

Breen should be your rock - was a decent player back in the day

Don't recall Forster too much

The only other name I really recognise there is Fortune-West (journeyman striker IIRC)

You look like a stick on for the first team :lol:
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The First Faltering Steps

Post by samsami »

Redknapp69 wrote: Sat Jan 02, 2021 9:04 amYou look like a stick on for the first team :lol:
To be exact:

In value: 2nd place (60K) after Nicky Forster (80K)
Wages: Breen at 8,000 per month, then seven of us at 3,400 per month
CM Scout Intrinsic: 7th place only
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Post by samsami »

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Some background history

In 1893, when the club was first established, it's official name was New Brompton FC. It wasn't until 1912 that the Directors passed a resolution to change the club's name to Gillingham FC.

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In more recent years, after relegation back to the Fourth Division in 1970–71, the Gills were promoted back to the Third Division in the 1973–74 season. After this the club seemed to find its level in Division Three, regularly mounting a challenge for promotion which ultimately fell short each time, never more so than in 1986–87 when they reached the play-offs only to lose in the final to Swindon Town. During this period the club produced future stars Steve Bruce and Tony Cascarino, who was famously bought from non-league Crockenhill in exchange for a set of tracksuits.

In 1987, the Gills hit the headlines when, on consecutive Saturdays, they beat Southend United 8–1 and Chesterfield 10–0, the latter a club record for a Football League match. Just a few months later, however, manager Keith Peacock was controversially sacked and within 18 months the club had fallen into Division Four. The ensuing spell in the lower division brought little success, and in the 1992–93 Division Three campaign the Gills narrowly avoided relegation to the Football Conference.

In this centenary season of 1993-94 the club incorporated the old black and white of the early days into their blue shirts. They also introduced a brand new crest that incorporated both old and new colours.


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So this was the setting in the centenary year, with a new crest and a new player-manager - and with a mix of fresh optimism as well as a decent amount of understandable scepticism.

In fact, not unlike the situation we had experienced at Feyenoord just a couple of years earlier...

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Post by Redknapp69 »

Ugh - not a fan of that crest!

Good background there - wasn't aware Cascarino (spouts some rubbish these days in papers) and Bruce started there!
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Post by samsami »

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A twofold task

Over the next few weeks I began to realise that I was facing a very daunting twofold task.

First and foremost, I would have to mold the existing players into a team, much like Wim Jansen had done at Feyenoord after picking up the pieces when Bengtsson had been sacked.

Fortunately, the Board seemed willing to be patient. They did not demand instant success.


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There was another lesson I had learned from my years at Feyenoord. Jansen had rebuilt the demoralised squad around central defenders John de Wolf and Henk Fräser, who were the key players for the next five years. And this had worked. In the same way I began to believe that Gillingham's central defenders, Richard Green and Gary Breen, should be the key players and the Gillingham squad should be built around them. After all, when you build a rock-solid defence, you are bound to win more games!

And, fortunately, we seemed to have two decent strikers in Foster and Fortune-West. So a classic 4-4-2 formation seemed like a good idea.


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The second task was rather obvious. We had no cash and absolutely no transfer money. So to strengthen the first team we would have to develop the young, talented players - if there were any at Priestfield!

And to my pleasant surprise there seemed to be at least some emerging youth talent. Jame Pinnock (MC) immediately attracted my attention. Roland Edge (MRC) and Andrew Sambrook (MC) also showed some promise. These lads were barely 15 years old, but they could not be ignored!

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And so the season was about to start. We had drawn a renown First Division club in the League Cup first round, to be played at Priestfield, so that was a fantastic game to look forward to.


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But first there would be the friendly against Wigan Athletic and then the season would be starting in earnest!


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Last edited by samsami on Mon Jan 04, 2021 1:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Redknapp69 »

Can't believe you are not in the first team!

Pinnock would be straight into the team and as CM playmaker for me - look at that passing and off the ball att's!

Pig of a cup draw - if it was away you could have earned some ££££££ as they must have a 30k+ stadium

Wib wobbing?

What team instructions?
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Post by samsami »

Redknapp69 wrote: Mon Jan 04, 2021 1:10 pm Can't believe you are not in the first team!

Pinnock would be straight into the team and as CM playmaker for me - look at that passing and off the ball att's!

Pig of a cup draw - if it was away you could have earned some ££££££ as they must have a 30k+ stadium

Wib wobbing?

What team instructions?
I wanted to watch the players to see how they perform. Not play myself. You need to get to know your players first.
As for Pinnock, he is our greatest talent, but he is only 15-years-old.
And no, wib-wobbing was not invented yet in 1993 :)
Starting with the default 4-4-2 system and team instructions. Will tweak these later, but no wib-wob.
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Post by Redknapp69 »

If he's good enough, he's old enough - get Pinnock in there!
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Post by samsami »

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A telling friendly

Although it was only the first game of the season and a friendly game at that, this was still a telling game for us. We kept a clean sheet and the only goal of the match was scored by our captain, a central defender!

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Perhaps the most telling fact in the game, though, was the sloppy performance of our midfield. And because our strikers did not get any support from midfield they had precious few chances, if any.

So we won the game, but we clearly lacked creative midfielders who know how to pass the ball well and feed the forwards.

Now it's hardly a coincidence that this struck me as being so much of a problem since that was exactly my role with the Feyenoord Reserves. It's therefore also no coincidence that youth players James Pinnock (MC), Roland Edge (MRC) and Andrew Sambrook (MC) had already attracted my attention. It would be very interesting to see them play with the Reserves. Perhaps they could be the answer?


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Post by Redknapp69 »

A win is a win!

Take the positives!

Cant believe you didnt come on!

Pinnock in!
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Post by samsami »

Redknapp69 wrote: Tue Jan 05, 2021 3:20 pm A win is a win!

Take the positives!

Cant believe you didnt come on!

Pinnock in!
It was only a friendly game and a good opportunity to observe the players from the bench. As player-manager observing the players in real matches is essential.

Pinnock will get his chance soon enough if he performs well with the Reserves.
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Post by ebfatz »

The Gills are my old local club before I moved a few years back. Lived less than 2 miles from the ground. So I'll be watching this one closely.


In fact, the Sunday League side I used to manage shared our home pitch with their training ground at Beechings Cross.

And for story purposes you've beaten Tony Pulis and Peter Taylor to the job as well so you must be on to a winner!
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Post by samsami »

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A mediocre start

By the time the season officially started I had bought myself this football coaching log book which I have been using for years. So from now on I will be drawing from my manager notes, writing about the events as they happened - so in the present tense, rather than in the past tense.

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These notes, by the way, were written for my dad, who supported me more than ever in my English adventure, but I very soon realised how important it is to keep a record and I have made this a lifetime habit since. So anyway, here goes.

Would you believe Smillie got injured in the first game of the season? He's the 35-year-old right winger who is retiring at the end of this season and one of the reasons they wanted me as player-manager. So I already immediately had to replace him! Both teams seemed more keen not to lose than to win and so in the end we were content with the 0-0 draw. Still very worried about our midfield, though! Green did well again. He's a good captain, too. And Barrett is doing better between the sticks than I had expected he would. I played well enough myself, but would rather not have played, to be honest.


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We played our second game at home against Northampton, who ended in 20th place last season, so just one place above us! It's the one game we should comfortably win and we had a decent crowd of 7.351. But just like last week the game ended in a goalless draw...

The difference was that we outplayed our opponents this time and we even created a good number of scoring chances, while they created absolutely nothing. Green was superb again! The others played well enough, too. We just seem to lack the creativity to do damage. Very disappointing! And it's Derby next...


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Post by Redknapp69 »

Unbeaten start!

Battered them in 2nd game and keeper had a blinder - would have been a win on another day

Nice debut from you :)
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Post by samsami »

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So close to a League Cup shock!

Derby County may have underestimated us and the early red card may have lulled them into a false sense of security. But be that as it may, we came so very, very close to eliminating them that we could only feel thoroughly gutted before we finally started feeling proud!

This was an unforgettable experience for a young manager, as will become clear from my manager notes, below.


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We had been looking forward so much to playing our renowned First Division opponents, but within fifteen minutes our captain was sent off after a two-footed tackle and when they scored their first goal it seemed the game was already over. But then Gary Micklewhite netted the unexpected equaliser and so at half-time the scoreline was 1-1 !

We fought like tigers, we really did, and for the final twenty minutes I brought on Darren Freeman and I replaced Neil Smith myself (!) but all that happened was they found the net again. But once again a miracle happened. Once again we equalised. And I provided the assist! I passed the ball into the area and Darren hit a vicious shot and he found the net! Now that got the adrenaline going! The crowd of 15,000 went wild!

The game went to extra-time and then we had the penalty shoot-outs; I took the first penalty and I scored! But in the end we missed the sixth and seventh penalty and so Derby won the shootout. What a blow! I felt so gutted!


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We have two more games remaining this month - but what a start to the season already! And we have proven that we can actually score goals! Unfortunately our captain has been banned for three matches, so we have a defensive problem when we play Shrewsbury and Mansfield next. Shrewsbury ended in 8th place last season and Mansfield were relegated from Division Two. So we will be facing two tough challenges...


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Post by Redknapp69 »

Great effort fair play!

Pens could have gone either way but should give boys some confidence!
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Post by Kingsley »

Still unbeaten over 90 minutes !

Gary Breen and Nicky Forster I remember. Forster was superb in an early Reading save that I played and I think Richard Carpenter was also in that team, if it is the same guy.
Looks like quite a mixed bag of players that you've got yourself there.
Not sure yet if the problem is creating chances or scoring them, or both, but the defence looks to be solid. Lets see how you do without your captain for 3 games

This will be quite a test of your managerial skills.
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Post by samsami »

Kingsley wrote: Fri Jan 08, 2021 7:00 am Still unbeaten over 90 minutes !

Gary Breen and Nicky Forster I remember. Forster was superb in an early Reading save that I played and I think Richard Carpenter was also in that team, if it is the same guy.
Looks like quite a mixed bag of players that you've got yourself there.
Not sure yet if the problem is creating chances or scoring them, or both, but the defence looks to be solid. Lets see how you do without your captain for 3 games

This will be quite a test of your managerial skills.
Yes, our defence is the key, but without Green...
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Post by samsami »

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Our undefeated run continues

The month on August ended just as it began. A very odd month it was! Glad I still have my manager notes or it would all have been forgotten, I am sure. That is to say, with the exception of the League Cup match against Derby, of course. That's a game I will always remember.

So what do my manager notes have to say about these two games?

It's getting almost predicable, but it was another goalless draw today, this time at Shrewsbury in front of a crowd of less than 6,000. We were the better team. I am biased, of course, but the stats bear me out. We had a handful of scoring opportunities, they had only one. At least our defence is rock solid. Richard Green, our captain, was playing, because his suspension will not start until early September. So that certainly helped!


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Well, our home game against Mansfield (relegated from the Second Division last season) also ended in a draw, but there were actually goals scored this time! After exactly 326 League game minutes without a single goal Mansfield scored and we were 1-0 down. Five minutes later Leo Fortune-West (what is it with these double names in England?) equalised, but then Barrett had to go off injured and Steve Banks, who replaced him, was a real bundle of nerves. But thanks to our captain we survived the remaining minutes and so we drew our fourth League match as well.


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We have five games scheduled in September. Now what with Green's ban and Barrett's injury this could pose a real problem!


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Post by Redknapp69 »

Time for the reserve GK to step up and be counted!

Still unbeaten!

But the goals is a worry

You are having some tough luck as well - better team in most of those games and the wins will come.............
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Post by samsami »

Redknapp69 wrote: Fri Jan 08, 2021 9:47 am Time for the reserve GK to step up and be counted!

Still unbeaten!

But the goals is a worry

You are having some tough luck as well - better team in most of those games and the wins will come.............
Banks the bundle of nerves. He shall have to step up, indeed.
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Post by samsami »

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The Dutch invasion

So this was my very first month as player-manager at Gillingham FC - and the Board were still extremely positive and very hopeful. Not a bad start at all. But, as my manager notes reminded me, there is much more to share than those five drawn games.

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"I feel awfully proud that we are still unbeaten and technically did not even lose to Derby County. At least, that's how I look at it. And then there is our Reverse Team. Whereas in the First Team we lack creative midfielders with good passing skills, the Reserves have Pinnock and Edge and they are doing well!"


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"To be totally honest, James Pinnock is my favourite player, but Roland Edge is also playing fantastically. But they're still so very young! However, if they continue to deliver I should definitely give them game time with the first team."


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So August 1993 was a fascinating month. But what I had not realised (because I was focussing entirely on football) is that Medway, the area of which Gillingham is part, has a very strong naval/maritime background. Chatham Naval Dockyard is the location that HMS Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, was built. And of course, we - the Dutch - invaded in June of 1667!

Under command of Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, the Dutch bombarded and captured the town of Sheerness, sailed up the Thames estuary to Gravesend, then sailed into the River Medway to Chatham and Gillingham, where they engaged fortifications with cannon fire and burned or captured three capital ships and ten more ships of the line, and captured and towed away the flagship of the English fleet, HMS Royal Charles. Horace George Franks has called it the "most serious defeat England has ever had in its home waters."


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Be that as it may, my new mates were quick to remind me of this historic event and to tell me that a Dutch invasion of good football players would be the only way to compensate for the damage done in the 17th century!

And when I say 'mates' it is good to look back at that first month and consult my manager notes again...

"It still seems odd to be a player-manager at my age. But some of the youngsters, like James Pinnock, Roland Edge and Andrew Sambrook are really looking up to me. They actually call me 'sir'. And let's face it, they are ten years younger than me and I come from Rotterdam and played with the Feyenoord Reserves.
But there's the older players as well. Smillie and Clark, for instance, are ten years older than me! And they still call me 'gaffer'. Oh, well, it's a different culture here. But the best part is that we share one thing. We like to tease each other!"


And so it's safe to say that there was nothing wrong with the month of August. And as the saying goes, a good beginning is half the battle won!

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Post by Redknapp69 »

Good to see the ressies doing well

Nice history lesson!

I like the "diary" entries :ok:
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Post by samsami »

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A less eventful month

September, without any Cup football, was a less eventful month than August, but we did play five league games and it wasn't a bad run of games, either.

First of all we played a fairly strong Preston North End side. Unfortunately, Dunne picked up an injury and Carpenter was sent off and we lost the game with ten men. Young Steve Banks, who replaced the injured Scott Barrett, was certainly not to blame. In fact, out young goalkeeper played quite well this time.


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Our second game, away against a strong Walsall side, ended in stalemate. Our fourth stalemate of the season! We had to play without Barratt, Dunne and Green. But this time young Steve Banks (20) did even better as goalkeeper was even named Man of the Match!


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Oddly enough I managed to pick up an unfortunate injury that week. It's seemed a bad month for us what with all of the injuries and Carpenter's ban.


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Nevertheless, we finally won our first game of the season when we totally unexpectedly defeated Crewe Alexandra! We still had to play without Barratt, Green and Dunne again, but we kept our fifth clean sheet of the season and Gary Micklewhite (32) scored the deciding goal.


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Our next game at Colchester ended in stalemate again. Again we played without Green and Dunne and also without the suspended Richard Carpenter, but Barrett (30) was back as goalkeeper again.


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We had now played eight League games and no less than five of them had ended in stalemate. In those eight games we had scored just two goals and we had conceded just two goals as well!

However, our final game in September was the most interesting game of the month. In fact, we scored and conceded exactly as many goals in our ninth game and we had done in the previous eight games combined! And Scunthorpe United were actually leading the table at the end of September!


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So in September had to play several games without Barratt (GK), Green (DC), Dunn (DR) and Carpenter (MC) but we only lost one of those five games and so we had every reason to feel relieved. But we had to be realistic, too. Things did not look too wonderful yet as I realised very well, judging from my manager notes of that month...

"What a month. And I can't believe I picked up an injury again. In training! And then there's Steve Banks. Steve was a bundle of nerves when he made his first appearance in August, when Barratt had to go off injured, but this month he really grabbed his chance and he showed his potential. So this means that for goalkeeper I shall now have to choose between a talented 20-year-old and an experienced 30-year-old.

I am also really glad that Nicky Forster finally managed to score his first goal of the season. We have some talented, young players and currently Forster (20) has the highest average rating of our entire first team squad!

But, to be frank, we have only won one single game so far and that's a bit worrying..."


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