August 2023: Ready for the season?

I’ve been away for work during since my last update so didn’t get to as many games as I’d hoped to be ready for the season. Then, when I finally had a free weekend, I poured over the pre-season fixtures only to find nobody was playing anything. Except one. 

Back where I started

Luckily there was action to be had at Margate. My old club (the one after Whitstable Town). And where I still know about as many people now as I did when I was their opposition scout. By which I mean nobody. 

Margate FC

But that doesn’t stop the automatic happy feeling I have there. It’s about a half-hour drive, I can park easily. Sure, the way in is a mix (there always seems to be laughter behind me as I step through the turnstile), but once inside, Hartsdown Park is a nice little ground. 

Hartsdown Park, home of Margate FC.

It’s also where I got properly excited about working in football. Margate was the first club to pay me anything. And they were a league higher than where I started in football. At the time felt like stepping up to the Premier League. When I watched them beat Worthing 4-0 I nearly cried. 

Since then I kicked off the season by packing my snorkel and wetsuit for a trip to Dover, who faced Torquay United in torrential rain for the season opener. 

But before that one last word on Margate who have once again played a blinder with a new kit design. For the last three seasons they have been superb, with the graffiti design and The Libertines sponsor.

Thankfully The Libertines are sticking around, and why not when the new shirts are so good. Check them out over on the Margate FC website.

As alluded to, the words “Dover” and “Rain” are usually followed by the words “Match Postponed” and “what” and “at 2.45pm!?”. 

But despite getting soaked on the walk from the car park to the gate, the game went ahead. The pitch looked excellent actually. Although if there’s a game where the pitch should hold up against the elements it’s probably Match Day 1. 

Rare image of The Crabble, home of Dover Athletic, not completely under water.

I was expecting Dover to come out in a 4-3-3 and play the free-flowing, patient football I saw flashes off last season. But they set up in a more cautious 4-2-3-1 and made multiple mistakes in the first 20 minutes. 

I know a few locals at Dover (again, more than Margate), who seem to have a tight hold on any optimism. There were stoic told-you-sos as the Torquay goals went in, but the second half was a better display, and somehow they pulled it back to 2-2. 

Were they better? Or were Torquay worse? Or did the gales and downpours make things more unpredictable than they might be? Not sure. But I do reckon Torquay will cause teams problems this season. 

What I’m learning

I’ll go over formal learning, and a couple of courses I’ve taken, in a second. First, the stuff I’ve learned without paying a joining fee. 

The start of the season is seriously busy. I already knew this, but have learned it all over again. 

Tonbridge Angles has 39 games in August. Or at least it feels like 39. Actually, it’s six. But it feels full on. Any week with two games is pretty tough, and those seem to be packed into the first months of the season (again, It has always been like this, I’d just forgotten how intense it can get). 

Anyway that’s that. What about the stuff I’ve paid to learn? 

Two courses stand out

One by APFC and the other StatsBomb. 

APFC does some excellent courses, mostly aimed at coaches. But scouting is a lot about what coaches are doing and thinking, in my view at least. This course focused on the back line, and after devouring each short video I found myself writing up the recent Weston Super Mare video analysis with a new perspective. 

Suddenly I was including all sorts of new telestrations in the video analysis, demonstrating all sorts of player movement. Then I caught myself and sent a message to the club along the lines of “give it a look, I may have delusions of grandeur.”

Anyway, if you’re interested in finding out more go to the APFC website here. That’s not a paid link. I just like the people there and the courses are always excellent. 

We’ll see how effective that course was as the season progresses. The same goes for the Statsbomb course on performance analysis. 

I say Statsbomb. It is a stats bomb course. But readers of Carl Carpenter’s work will recognise a lot of it (I did). But it’s an excellent course. I learned a lot, even though some of the content was familiar to me. My notes are printed and pinned above my desk. 

Pictures of course notes pinned to my notice board.

For about £60 this is a bargain. It will work even if you’re just a football fan who wants to be more clued up as an armchair analyst. I still read courses like this and find myself thinking, “crap, I’ve been doing this for three years and keep forgetting that.” 

Tip of the week?

More of a question than a tip. 

Here’s one from the StatsBomb course I mentioned (there’s a link to that here, again, not a paid one), and something to look for when a team is facing a defensive block. 

It’s a simple thing to ask yourself as you watch a team in possession: How is the team in possession trying to manipulate the opposition block?

An image showing how a team sets up to defend.

Sometimes when I’m watching a game I find it easy to forget things like this, or focus on the same question but from the other way around. How are the defensive team manipulating the possession team? Which I think is the wrong way to do it. 

For a long time, I have been in a battle with the chatter in my head, which is busy telling me “Right, center back has the ball, he’s passed it to the full-back, and he’s passed it back to the center back! Interesting! And… oh, he’s hit it long.”

In the past I’ve sometimes written all that down in my short hand code, only to realise at the end of the game that all the squiggles are worthless. 

Also, a habit I sometimes get stuck in is watching only the team I’m there to see. Which means you can miss something like this. 

For instance, if you’re watching the team without the ball, you can get overly focused on what shape they’re in, and who’s stepping out. But by looking at things from the possession side, you can get more information on how a team copes. Are they making errors, or covering the space well? 

When you add the modifier “why?” You take a mental step back and get a better and broader picture. Sometimes. I’m a long way from perfect. 

More by accident than design

Still struggling with the idea of updating my existing report templates. Like a new Bayern Munich alternative kit. There should be something different. But as yet, it still looks the same. 

So if you have any (simple) ideas on design principles to incorporate I’d love to hear them. Especially if they work on keeping the attention of a room full of 20-something footballers.