Vines on season ahead
Vines on season ahead

Ahead of the Isthmian League Premier Division starting again on Saturday, KSN caught up with Cray Wanderers coach Joe Vines about their expectations for the up coming campaign and how pre-season has gone.

With the opening league game against Kingstonian coming up on Saturday how do you feel the team is set for 2020/21?

We are excited! It has been a long time coming and there were dark moments in April and May where the possibility of competitive football seemed like something that might never happen again.

Myself, Tony and Nathan were out on the grass coaching the youth section as soon as the government outlined that small groups could be coached so we sharpened our tools at the very first opportunity.

We feel that this group is the best we have had. We hope that we can get off to a good start against a really impressive Kingstonian side, who have added some real quality, particularly in the front areas and they have a manager that wants to play a similar style to ourselves so it will be a bit of a ding-dong.

When everything came to a halt in March you guys were well set in second place and on a great run of form that had seen The Wands go unbeaten in 2020, after a six month break, how do you go about keeping that momentum going into a new season?

I think the simple answer is you can’t. The momentum of last year was put on hold by the outbreak and there is nothing we can do to piggy-back on that now.

We have had to start afresh, reset the expectations, remind the players of their responsibilities, get them fit to play matches rather than 5k runs, get them accustomed to one another and also manage the high potential of muscle injuries that were so prevalent in the return to professional football.

What we have done is prepare, prepare, prepare. We have worked really hard on making sure we are back to the kind of form, performance wise, we were pre-lockdown and the last 4 games have all been at the right level without doubt.

From what I have seen in pre-season Tony, Nathan and yourself have kept nearly all of last seasons squad and just added a couple of young talents to the options, it must be great to have such stability in the team and know what you are working with?

We have added a couple of new faces. We have Freddie Parker back from his loan spells who has been a revelation in preseason so far, we’ve signed Jason Banton who has played professionally and is still only 27 and we have brought in Kyron Richards who we identified from the trials we held in the summer who is a real unknown but impressive youngster.

We were happy with the squad from last year, we had a lot of clubs sniffing around our players and we could have easily lost 3 or 4 but they all decided to stay.

We can’t compete with the bigger clubs budget wise but the players trust us and they want to play the possession football that they enjoy so we are fortunate to have that continuity from last year.

There is a fine line between having the same team and going stale so we have to have competition within the squad and I think we have that.

We all do out little bit to promote the club, but from my point of view the football you guys play deserves a much bigger audience.

Given that the levels above are not starting until October and are still not sure whether they can begin the season with any fans watching, do you think it will encourage more people to come down The Lane to see Cray?

I think that it is hard for the average football fan to pick up a newspaper and browse the fixtures and choose to watch little old Cray Wanderers.

Our noisy neighbours Bromley have taken great leaps forward since my playing days there and the step up in levels has seen huge crowds start to arrive at Hayes Lane.

We would love to see more of that “home” support at our games as they have now had a chance to see us in the preseason friendly where we gave a really good account of ourselves and our style.

I know we aren’t the most illustrious opposition for clubs like Bromley these days as we’ve tried to get a friendly with them the past few years and they’ve not been open to it but to finally crowbar one in on the announcement of being able to get 600 people through the gate this year we have had a bit of a platform to show off.

For those at home who don’t know much about us from an aesthetic perspective, we are a side that pass the ball from the back, love to dominate possession and we create lots of chances so whether you are missing your Premier League football at Crystal Palace or you want to see a side that try to play the beautiful game we hope to cater to all.

With the strong youth section and the plans for the new home at Flamingo Park, there must be a real buzz about the place at the moment?

The plans for the stadium seem to be really close to fruition now. The owners are confident that a shovel will be in the ground soon.

I must admit, for someone that watched Cray as a kid at Oxford Road and has been involved with them on and off for over 20 years it is unbelievable to think that we could have our own home and a hub that the community can really be proud of.

The youth section that Tony created has the potential to be competing with some of the bigger sides locally in the next few years. I think there is still work to do before we bridge the gap between youth section and first team but we are not a million miles away. The future is bright, the future is amber and black!