The start of the 2022-2023 Northern League season is fast approaching. I spoke with manager Tony Fawcett as he reflects on his first pre-season with the club. WRITES ADAM TONES.
Fawcett has been delighted with his player’s commitment, attitude, and willingness to improve during the club’s pre-season schedule.
Over the past five weeks, Tony and his management team have been able to learn a lot about their squad both in action and on the training field.
The team have faced several different challenges playing a range of teams that offer different styles of football.
The manager has been thrilled with how his team have adapted. He said: “Going up to Clyde was a really good experience and we acquitted ourselves quite well.
“We have had some friendlies we would expect ourselves to win if I’m honest. I’m really pleased with the last two friendlies as they give us good tests.
“The minutes in the legs for the lads were good, it’s been a gruelling pre-season they have played a lot of high-intensity football.
“There have been ups and downs but it’s what I wanted, I’m a little frustrated with the calibre of opposition we’ve played against.”
Fawcett’s frustration was due to cancelled fixtures against Consett and Hebburn Town. The manager was looking forward to the tough challenges his team would have faced against the Premier Division clubs.
He added: “When you play the better teams, they find your weaknesses which you can address. We’ve probably not had enough of that.
However, in the last two or three games, the teams we’ve faced have caused us issues, so the learning has still been there.
Whickham started their pre-season with a trip to Scottish outfit Clyde before returning to the North-East for away trips to Wallington, Newcastle Blue Star, Winlaton, Jarrow and Prudhoe YC.
As the weeks ticked over and the training sessions and matches came thick and fast Fawcett has been thrilled with his squad’s dedication.
He said: “The attitude and application the lads have put in has been great, the effort and commitment cannot be faulted.
“Lots have given up time and changed their work patterns, shifts, or even brought their kids with them to make sure they can train.
“They have given up their own time to be part of this pre-season which is important, and they’ve all bought in.
“Even when injured they’ve still come along to training it’s massive. They have still come along to listen to what’s being taught.”
The importance of pre-season is not just about results but also about getting your squad fit, ready and focused for the new season.
It also gives a manager the time to trial ideas and understand a player’s strengths but also weaknesses.
Fawcett said: “We have been able to learn stuff about some of our players, we definitely think we have a strong squad which has shown against Winlaton and Blue Star when we’ve had everyone available.”
The management team of Tony, Simon (Moody), Wayne (Buchanan) and Chris (Bannon) feel the best way of building a player’s fitness is through high-intensity drills and not just continuous running sessions.
Tony said: “We don’t do fitness as such; we don’t take them running we just ask them to have a high tempo in training.
“We ask them to put the work in when we are training and with that high tempo, they’ll do their running as part of that but also enjoy it.”
“I think we are fit, and I think we are as fit as we’ve been as a squad since we’ve come in. I think we can be fitter but once we start playing Saturday, and Tuesday that will also help.”
Fawcett, who is a school teacher, is passionate about the club’s youth set-up. The manager decided prior to pre-season that he wanted both teams to train alongside each other.
He added: “Another pleasing thing is how we have linked up with the U23s this year.
“We have trained with them, and we’ve had some of their players train with us as well as some of the coaching staff in and around us.
“The link has been that little bit better this year, the players (U23s) now know who we are and what we are about and vice-versa we’ve been able to look at them.
“Throughout the season we will be training at the same venue at the same time on the same nights so it’ll be good to have that link and get to know players in more depth.”
Fawcett has no concerns about a player’s experience, and should he feel a player is ready and capable of stepping up to the First Team the opportunity will be there.
He said: “Absolutely, we want to see more of them, and we need them amongst the First Team because they play at the same time as us on a Saturday so we can’t go and watch.
“Having them at training it’s important but we need to make sure they understand the standards that are expected, and we need to understand these lads are developing.
“To help them develop we need to have that pathway and offer them the opportunities to play and be part of the First Team squad.”
As with any football club, a few new faces arrived throughout the off-season, and it’s been no different at the First Mortgage Glebe over the last couple of months.
The manager has been pleased with his new signings and how they have fitted into the group.
He added: “Everyone we have signed this year are good people, we knew this before we even approached them and that’s been reaffirmed when we’ve spoken to them.
“We’ve done our homework when speaking to other clubs and their previous club and they’ve all said the same things.
“I’m really confident that they’ve got the right values to be around our squad and the right ethics that will improve what we already have here.”
The manager is pleased with the squad he has at his disposal going into the start of the season.
Tony added: “I think the squad is strong, the depth is good and it’s competitive. We have players who can do different things in different positions.
“There is cover all over, we are really happy with our squad, and we’ve definitely strengthened it from last season.”
As the excitement builds for the new season to start, the team are ready to hit the ground running with the aim of improving on last season’s highest-ever Northern League position.