For the final time this season we caught up with manager Darren Salmon and posed the questions we all wanted answers to:
GB: Today is our last game in our first Isthmian season, how have you found the experience of managing at Step 4?
DS: Personally, it has been quite eye opening, if I am honest I didn’t anticipate the step between 5 and 4 to be such a void, despite numerous managers telling me to the contrary that it is very different I was surprised at the start of the season just how big the gap is between 5 and 4, in so many areas, players technically, players physically, fitness wise, the administation as well, so many variations between 5 and 4 you probably couldn’t quantify all of that in a brief interview. I feel I have a more broadened experience because of this year, and it can only prepare us well, and me personally for whatever lies ahead, which is a good thing in what has been a challenging season. Every day’s a school day!
GB: What do you think you have learnt both on and off the pitch that you can take into next season?
DS: I probably answered some of that in the previous question. I have always considered myself quite a good football administrator, having come up with SCR doing a lot of the jobs myself initially. I have realised how important the people are around you, the support you get the higher you creep up the pyramid. (GB: That’s in terms of the administative side of things, and not the spectators). You are really relying on good people to support you and that has been no more clear than this year. No man is an island but I certainly couldn’t have done this year without some really good people off the pitch, in the background, who are unsung heroes of the club. Obviously the volunteers on matchdays, the support of the team and management team has been vital and probably kept my head up at times, especially around Christmas it was a dark place to be. Managing the team with players leaving and results not going as we wanted. They are probably the takeaways of the season.
GB: We both got told pre-season that we wouldn’t end the season with the same squad as we started it, and both dismissed it. As it turns out it was true, when did you realise that that would be the case?
DS: You are right, you were there on at least one occasion when I was told that the team and squad that we finished the season with wouldn’t resemble the one we started off with. I genuinely didn’t believe that that would be the case, I have no problems with players bettering themselves, and the ones that have gone to better themselves I wish them all the best. Disappointly some players have left for other reasons. I guess the proof of the pudding was we needed to bring in fresh blood anyway, we needed to strengthen and move away from the group that has got us up, the players that left, left a dent for us (GB: looking at the stats, we lost 950+ first team appearances with the departure of eight players, and that club experience is tough to get over) but other than that it was essential we strengthened in key areas.
GB: On the pitch it has been tough, what are your high and low points?
DS: Looking back at the season we take the obvious lows in some of the biggest defeats and goals conceded in a very long time, when you have been used to being at the top end of the table, it has been extremely challenging mentally to keep the drive, willpower and focus, and we have all felt it.
The highs were definitely the BBC televised game against Jersey, red button televised, and Cray obviously, we were definitely underdogs in that fixture, but to go to an experienced side with Danny (Kedwell – former manager) at the helm, and with numerous former Sutton Utd players playing and doing so well there was a season high, and a great March that saw us pick up the necessary points to have another crack at it next year. It has been a rollercoaster to use a cliche – high highs and low lows.
GB: You changed your back room staff midway through the season, how much of a positive impact did that have?
DS: Not all the backroom changed mid-season, Lockie (former coach Ryan Lock) was with us at the start; Chris’s ill health was a massive blow and had a huge effect on us in regards to the way we were and the transition of players and getting the game plan into new players. Chris’s health was becoming problematic for training around Christmas as he wasn’t able to be as pro-active amongst the group as he would have liked and we wanted him to be. Things were looking pretty bleak, but then out of the blue, Connor French introduced me to Lee (Flavin – assistant manager) and bought Liam (Joyce – Coach) up from the U23’s, and sometimes you just need that bit of rejuvenation. Sometimes you need positive conversations and thought processess which were not obvious, even unusually, from myself. I am so grateful for everyone who has gone before, their efforts for the club have been magnificent, but the guys have come in and helped us keep our Step 4 place for next season which is a tremendous achievement.
GB: You have given some youngsters their chance this season, how pleased have you been with their progress?
DS: It is disappointing that we have not been able to bring more in, if we had been safe going into March/April, I would have brought in more. The ones that have come in this season haven’t let us down (GB: teenagers Perri Iandolo, Tobe Uzor, Jephte Tanga and others) we have some good young players in the club and I expect to see them kicking on next season and looking to cement regular places. That’s an exciting prospect, but slightly frustrating that we haven’t been able to explore it a bit more.
GB: Finally, we move to Whyteleafe next season, anything you want to say to the fans about that?
DS: After six years at Sutton Utd we move to Whyteleafe in the summer. We are hugely appreciative of the opportunity to stay just a few miles away, it’s only 5/6 miles away from Sutton, so we are not moving out of our spiritual home. I am obviously disappointed for the people that have embraced us being at Sutton, and hopefully if they have the capacity and ability to come we would love to see them at Whyteleafe, their support has been incredibly valuable to us. We need to embrace the change and create a relationship with Kelly (Waters – AFC Whyteleafe Chairman and Manager) and their supporters and community. We try to enhance every community we go into, we are not going in just to survive, we want to work with them and integrate some of their support. Hopefully people who have enjoyed Step 4 football will, in the short term whilst AFC Whyteleafe climb the pyramid, enjoy coming to watch us. We will have some exciting initiatives to talk about and implement in the next month or so which will hopefully make it even more appealing. I am disappointed to be leaving Sutton, as there are some really good people at the club. We have been there for six years, and although this season has been frustrating, we had five very good years there, so it will be strange. But full steam ahead on the Whyteleafe move and exciting times to come.