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The Bosses’ Lounge (Vol. 19) – Anthony Gale (Staines Town)

Photo: Staines Town FC

His time as Walton Casuals manager was characterised by progression, though Anthony Gale opted to end his four-year tenure in May with the club left safely at its all-time highest level. He begins 2019/20 in the Staines Town dugout, a division lower and without a playing budget, but it is ardour not trepidation that he carries along with him, as a new season moves into sight.

With the last-day pressure on, it was a 2-1 win at Merthyr Town in late-April that was ultimately enough to keep Walton Casuals at Step 3. The Stags stayed up by two points in last season’s Evo-Stik League Southern Premier Division South, finishing 17th in their first year as a seventh tier club.

Anthony Gale had led the Surrey club there, with a play-off final victory on penalties at Corinthian-Casuals in May 2018 a golden scene to live long in the memory from his four years in charge. Stepping down in May, he has since taken the reins at a Staines Town side embarking upon this upcoming campaign as a newly-relegated Step 4 club, having finished bottom with 12 points last season, some 39 points behind Anthony’s Walton team.

A surprising choice to some perhaps, but despite his tender managerial years at 35, he is a vastly experienced coach and one aspect he has learned well is to trust his intuition. As will be uncovered in the Q&A that forms the second part of this feature, there is a lot to learn about him and what he has faced, with immense fortitude proving an essential.

Son of former Fulham, West Ham United and Blackburn Rovers defender Tony Gale, who remains Walton Casuals chairman, the former Maidenhead United player has had a life absorbed in football. Although he admits he considered adopting a slightly different vantage point for a while after leaving Walton, his latest role was one he could not pass up.

“It was a thought of mine when I left Walton initially to have a year out to actually self-reflect, to go and learn, watch other coaches,” he explained. “After speaking to a couple of clubs over the summer and numerous clubs being interested, when the Staines proposition came up, and it wasn’t just about the short-term but a project, it reminded me so much of where Walton started, where you have the opportunity to come in and grow something.”

“Already in this short space of time, we’ve brought in an Under-18s, I’ve appointed a manager, there’s plans of a potential college programme running next year, and we’ve already got 13 signed players, I believe. The idea is always looking to improve myself, better the players around me, better the club, better my management, it’s all about everyone bettering themselves.

“Coming from the academy game myself, working at Millwall and Chelsea for the time that I did, I worked with some fantastic people, which encourages you to self-reflect. I think self-reflection is so important, not only highlighting things you’d done well at Walton but also areas which could have been developed and could have been better.”

Improvement is most certainly the order of the day at Staines. The Swans had to endure – and rarely has that word been more apt – a 2018/19 season that yielded just four wins from their 42 league games.

Touching on significant off-field issues, chairman Joe Dixon said in a statement to supporters at the end of last season that they had had to decide to protect the long-term future of the club, rather than budget to try and stay up in 2018/19. Nevertheless, Anthony has seen a chance to reinvigorate a club with a long-standing reputation, with FA Cup second round appearances in 2007/08 and 2009/2010, and one that was a Conference South outfit for several seasons before relegation in 2015.

Announced as their new number one on 9th June, he has signed for two years, and he has been greatly enthused by his opening weeks at the helm.

“First of all, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to take over a club with such great history behind it, and reshape it in the respect of how it’s perceived at the moment. I’ve heard a lot of negative comments, but I can’t say anything but positive, to be quite honest, coming into this environment.

“The fans have been fantastic, the head of the supporters’ club, David Norris, has been excellent in welcoming me, and the chairman Joe Dixon has informed me about the club and everything currently going on. I feel very confident working for someone like Joe, a man of principle and truth, which I’ve enjoyed.

“From a playing perspective, we have gone with an extremely young group. It suits myself and (assistant) Justin Skinner in the respect of we come from academy football, being developers, love working with players, as well as teams.

“That’s something I very much believe in; not just working with the team but working with the player. In these early days, I’ve been extremely enthused by the energy the players have shown, their capacity to learn and put things into practice.

“Two draws and a win, so we’ve almost matched what Staines had the whole of last season! But it’s not about that for me, it’s about trying to build something and restructuring something that was great, and something that will be great again, as long as people are patient and they buy into what we’re trying to do.”

Photo: Staines Town

It was as recently as 2013/14 that Staines finished 8th in the Conference South, above now-established National League clubs Boreham Wood and Maidenhead United, with Eastleigh, Sutton United, Bromley, Ebbsfleet United and Dover Athletic above them in the same division. Of course, Anthony picks them up in a very different situation in the BetVictor Isthmian Division One South Central, but the club remains at the heart of it.

As alluded to, he has brought in Justin Skinner as assistant, with midfielder Mahrez Bettache - just 25 years old – joining them as player-coach and captain. The Swans beat an AFC Wimbledon side 4-0 on Saturday, and among the new signings is Kladji Kani from Peckham FC, who bagged 35 goals last season.

There is also the likes of goalkeeper Denzel Gerrar, who has been named vice-captain, and players Anthony has worked with previously at Fulham and Millwall, such as defenders Aaron Ibe and Rhys Paul. An additional link to Staines is that he used to lead the academy and reserve teams at Chelsea Ladies, whose first team play their games at the Swans’ Wheatsheaf Park.

During that spell he also worked with senior players including current and former England internationals Ellen White, Casey Stoney and Eni Aluko, amongst others. Having coached players from a plethora of age groups, he has developed significant versatility and understanding of people.

Such attributes will all be relevant in this job, and with stability the key word mentioned by the club, he explains his remit as he sees it.

“I think everyone is aware of the situations that are going on behind the scenes and that’s down to the chairman. The chairman’s been entirely honest with me about the situation and it’s been a good relationship that’s been built on trust; that’s something that’s so important I have with my chairman.

“After working with my dad for four years, I had to step into a football club where I trusted someone, and I’ve certainly got that with Joe, but the players are still the football club. Everyone wants to win games of football, but we want to be a winning club, we want to build the club, we want to build the brand.

“When I came in, as I said, there’s no academy, no 18s; already we’ve put an 18s in place, we’re looking to do the academy starting from next year. It’s a very youthful squad and we want to play a positive brand of football, attract the fans back, and for me, if you don’t want to win things then you shouldn’t be in football.

“I’m an extremely hungry manager, and budget or no budget, as I said to the chairman, I will make it work. When I say I’ll make it work, we’ll all make it work together; the fans, the management, the players, the board.”

Anthony Gale alongside new Staines Town signing, centre-forward Kladji Kani. Photo: Staines Town

Playing a sizeable amount of his 400+ games for Walton Casuals, he also led them to Southern Combination Cup success last season. Players to have spent time under his tutelage include Gambian international Ebou Adams, who went on to Norwich City and is now with Forest Green Rovers, and teenage midfielder Reece Robins, who joined Port Vale. Maidenhead United’s Josh Kelly was Walton Casuals’ top scorer in their recent promotion season, while youngster Ronald Sobowale trialled with Barnsley last season. Gradi Milenge has also recently been given a similar opportunity at Bolton Wanderers.

As tough as it was to move on from the club himself, it felt like it had reached its natural conclusion for Anthony.

“I had a fantastic four years with Walton Casuals, not just as a manager but as a player. Couldn’t have asked for a better tutelage under my dad.

“He’s my best friend away from the game and someone I have the utmost respect for, and consistently challenged me within my role, which I think is healthy. He very much taught me the infrastructure of a football club and how they should be run from top to bottom.

“He allowed me to implement different ideas, from grassroots up to seniors. It was an extremely hard decision, but I felt like it had got to that point where after four years in management, getting a promotion, think there was six Manager of the Month trophies, a cup, and actually maintaining our Step 3 status last year, and building the academy, a brand-new academy last season with Kelly Whelan, I was leaving the club in a fantastic position.

“I think so many people stay within roles now and sometimes outstay their welcome. I was very proud of what I built, who I worked with, who I worked under, and also the manager I’ve become in that time.

"I thought it was time to try something new.”

Marrying total dedication to the game with savouring life’s other pleasures is an eternally tricky task for coaches and managers. When he can fend off thoughts of systems, tactics and set-piece routines, what else does Anthony enjoy giving his time to?

“I think anyone who knows me knows that I love the game. I love to go and watch games, watch them on TV.

"I’m a very keen golfer, love my golf, and I love spending time with friends and family, so it’s about finding that balance. It’s something that I learn year upon year, because I’m an extremely young manager still, being 35 years of age, and you learn not only about the game but about life.

"That’s something I continually try and do.”

 

Each manager in The Bosses’ Lounge also takes on a unique Q&A…

When did you want to start coaching/managing?

When I was 16, I got a serious knee injury; I lost the core of my patella in quite a serious tackle. I was out of the game for two years and then went and started playing for Alan Devonshire at Maidenhead. I was there for a period of time but hadn’t really recovered from my injury, so never really reached the heights of what I did when I was younger, and then got skin cancer. I’d just signed for Walton Casuals actually when I got it, and Walton were fantastic with me, they got behind me, supported me. Obviously, when you get cancer, you have so much time to reflect, and I think after getting such a serious knee injury and then getting skin cancer, it very much pointed in the direction of going down the coaching route. I was already working at Fulham, working in the community, doing various development centres. I just think after I got ill, it really made me crank up my aspirations in coaching. I went and worked for Chelsea for five years, where I was the Ladies academy manager, worked with 8-11s boys, and then had a year in America. I came back and worked for Millwall for nearly six years, where Scott Fitzgerald, the academy manager, was outstanding. I told him I wanted to learn the game in its entirety, so I did the 8-11s, 12-14s, 15-16s, and also assisted him with the 18s, and did some work with the 21s. By doing that, I felt that if I got my opportunity in the game, no one could ever say I got it by default.

Which training sessions do you enjoy leading the most?

I love the individual-specific work at the end of sessions. We’ll sit down on a Monday, talk about the weekend that’s gone and put together a programme of work for the week, but the sessions that I very much enjoy are taking the players off in units or individually and getting to work in real detail within the specific areas of that position. They’re the very enjoyable ones for me.

Will you ever take part in training (in terms of actually being in the sessions as an active part, like an extra player)?

I prefer to observe. I adopt different coaching positions during sessions; I might walk into the centre of it, I might go in the corner, just as different viewpoints within the session. I love observing, pulling individuals out and talking to them. I think coaches have got a habit of stop-starting practices, but when it’s an individual-specific point, if you’re not observing that from the outside, I don’t think you can get into that detail.

Favourite ground (other than your own) that you’ve visited or would like to visit

When we got promoted from the Bostik South play-offs last year, two grounds we played at: Cray Wanderers, who play at Bromley, and Corinthian-Casuals’ ground. To win the semi-final and the final at two clubs, I mean Cray I thought were one of the best teams in the league that year, so two memorable grounds. Also Merthyr away, last game of last season, where we maintained our status at Step 3; to go and win at Merthyr. They’re the ones that really spring to mind.

Favourite player to watch (past or present)

I was very fortunate when I was younger. I had probably the best education you can imagine, because I was at football every week, used to watch Dad play, but I also had the opportunity when it was the summer holidays. I think my mum welcomed it, she put me in the car with Dad, ‘go on, off you go’! So I’d go off to Chadwell Heath and I’d go and watch the sessions, watch Billy Bonds, Harry Redknapp. I’ve seen some really good coaches over the years and also met some unbelievable people and players. I had the opportunity at Blackburn when it was (Chris) Sutton and (Alan) Shearer; moments I’ll never forget, speaking to them. I was very close actually with Chris Sutton’s brother John, who went on to get a very good career within the game, so spent a lot of time with Chris that year. Growing up, you name it within that West Ham framework, everyone was very close; wives, kids, players. I’m trying to think through the years of the players I enjoyed watching. Obviously my dad being the main one. There was Julian Dicks, Ludo Miklosko, Tony Cottee, Frank McAvennie, Alan Dickens, Kenny Brown, Ray Stewart; I could keep going through it. What was nice about the players was the time they had for me as a young man. My actual favourite player that I’ve enjoyed watching, because when I played I was a wide player, left-footed wide player, but I used to love watching David Beckham. He didn’t possess great pace but his game intelligence and his ability to find a pass, from the final third, middle third, different surfaces of his foot, it was second to none. I’ve actually still got a signed shirt of his, at 35! He was one of my heroes growing up, that’s for sure.

And how would you sell the club to David Beckham, if you were trying to sign him for Staines (in his prime)?!

How old would he be?! Would this be latter stages or the early stages? (Let’s say immediately after retirement, he’s indicated he might reverse his decision, to play a year at Staines…) I would say to Becks, ‘come and enjoy your football,’ but I’d want him to work closely with me because I’d want to also learn off him. The different players that he’s played with, managers in his career, I’d want him to be reflective on my delivery as a manager as well, in the respect of where I can improve myself. Him coming in would be a development tool for me.

Pre-season tour anywhere in the world

We used to holiday as a family in La Manga, and it’s a place where Glenn Hoddle took his (England) boys before the World Cup. I loved that era under Glenn Hoddle; it gave us real hope when he was manager. I’d love to go abroad somewhere like La Manga. Fantastic playing surface, pitches are watered, where the players could maximise their time there.

Most challenging/frustrating part of your job

I’ve got a hunger and drive that’s been installed into me from a very young age and it would frustrate me in the respect of if I don’t see that in someone else. I’ll try and understand that within the individual. For me, it’s life, the game. Of course you’ve got to smile and enjoy it, but I think you enjoy it when you’re maximising yourself. It’s frustrating when you don’t see players fulfilling their potential, when you know how good they can truly be.

Funniest player/coach you’ve worked with, or just one of the funniest

I’ve got to say Carl Taylor; I think he’s hilarious. I worked with him at Maidenhead, he was Alan Devonshire’s assistant, and he’s now the Banstead manager. He’s just one of the funniest guys, off the cuff, just loves football, lives and breathes it. He’s just got an energy about him where players like playing for him and being around him.

Most embarrassing moment as a manager/coach/player

It was Cray Wanderers at home, the score was 4-2 after 21 minutes of the game, and I was up and down from the dugout, and I bent down and the back of my trousers ripped! The physios had a right laugh at my expense and everyone on the bench, this gigantic rip. I tried to style it out and didn’t very well. Had to obviously carry on, on the touchline, without another pair of trousers, unfortunately, and then had to go into the bar afterwards!

Your routine on a match day

For me, it’s about setting the tone and setting the standard. I’m at the club on a home game by midday. My set plays are all done; I draw my set plays out the night before. I’ll have my scouting report; I’ve either gone and scouted the game myself or sent a pair of trusted eyes. I’ll look at the different areas of the pitch, it’s the first thing I do when I get there, and then from quarter past 12 onwards, I’ll go and make sure the changing room’s right and the diagrams are up on the wall. I’m clear and concise in my own head with what I’m going to deliver to the players. From 1 until half 1, I’ll speak to players individually or in units, as and when they arrive. I start talking at 10 to 2, players will be out at 10 past 2 to start their warm-up, and it’s just about the individual management in between. If something isn’t done correctly – the kitman might need help putting the kit out – there’s no pride within what I do, so I like to help wherever I can.

One singer/band or song you would sneak on to the team playlist, assuming that you don’t run it already...

To be honest, the music that normally plays in the changing room, I don’t have a clue who sings it; I’m 35 going on 45! I’ve got to be educated by my players. Taurean Roberts was my educator last year at Walton Casuals; he used to try and help me out with the songs, and Harry Mills. This year, I’m going to have to find someone to help me at Staines Town, because I’m sure I won’t have a clue what’s playing.

Advice you remember getting that’s stuck with you

Chris Sutton once said to me ‘Kid, you can be what you wanna be, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’ I’m fortunate that my dad’s given me a lot of advice through my career and I’ve heard different things from different people. I think the rights that you hear and the wrongs that you hear, you get to put together your own philosophy, but that has always stuck in my head, what Chris Sutton said to me. I think that when I manage; I don’t have to be like everyone else, I have to do what’s right and what I believe in.

If you could have some time with any manager, past or present

Love to talk to Sir Bobby Robson. I’ve heard about his ability to man-manage and the way that he managed some players at the top of their game; I’d love to sit down and have a conversation with him. Without stating the obvious, Pep Guardiola. I just think he’s exceptional with the way that he works, not just with the team but the way he works with the individuals, which I’m massive on myself. I’d just love to have even three minutes with him, to be honest. I was fortunate enough to work with Paul Clement when I was at Chelsea and he always speaks very highly of Carlo Ancelotti. I’d love to speak to Carlo Ancelotti; again, someone that’s done it in different countries and someone with his own mind.

Any misconceptions about you as a manager/personality, myths you’d like to dispel, or something you wish people could understand a bit more?

To be honest, I think in my earlier days, people sometimes looked at the fact I wore trousers and a shirt on the sideline as slightly different. I think as the years have gone by, people have started to respect the fact that I like to try and look quite smart on game day. That’s not to undermine anyone else or disrespect any other manager, it’s just what I believe in. I have seen more managers wearing trousers and shirts now, so whatever works for you. I think as well in the earlier days, just how much energy I have on the side for my players, people can sometimes misconstrue that and take that wrongly, but that’s just me trying to get the best out of my players, which is what I care about.

And finally, what’s the best thing about having this life around football? When you wake up and football’s your focus for the day, do you still get that same buzz as you always did?

I just love the game. I love the game, and breathe the game, and I think you can see that with all the best managers, coaches, players; you can see they enjoy it. I think that’s one thing I’ve always said to myself – I’ve got to enjoy what I do. Whether you’re down the bottom, up the top, mid-table, competing for cups, enjoy what you do, believe in what you do and smile and just enjoy football, because it’s the best game on the planet.

Interview/article by @chris_brookes

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