Saturday 07th May 2005

Sullivan is looking to the future

FOOTBALL fans can always be forgiven if they cough up an involuntary yawn when their beloved clubs start to mention words like new dawn and sleeping giants - after all haven't they heard it all before and acquired the t-shirt, writes Jez Durrant.

Clubs themselves are always keen to look to the future and paint a picture that has more than a hint of rose tint.  But then supporters throughout the land don't help themselves as they are essentially a gullible bunch - with memories that make goldfish seem elephantine.  No matter how many times their team disappoint or fail there is always the optimistic lure of next season where everything will be different.

At Tonbridge Angels a disappointing and difficult season has seen the club relegated from the Ryman Premier League but with the dust still settling, the club is already planning for their next campaign.

The message from the Angels with its new chairman - former player - Nick Sullivan is one optimism and such is the enthusiasm already stemming from the ashes of relegation it is hard not to be beguiled.

Finances were a major reason why Tonbridge were relegated this season.  Former chairman Paul Dainty and finance director Robin Apps had worked hard to get the club back on a steady financial footing and this prudence meant the club's playing budget was dwarfed by all of their opponents some of whom were full-time.

Player-boss Tony Dolby was forced to wheel and deal in the transfer market and a lack of depth and quality was ultimately to prove the club's undoing.

Sullivan and Dolby met last week to plan for the season ahead and the new chairman was pleased with the way the meeting had gone.

He told the Kent and Sussex Courier Newspaper: "Tony came to my house and we spent about three hours talking.  He will be talking to the players at the club this week and he has a wish list of players he wants to go and get.

"He will have more money available and a budget to work with and how he spends it will be up to him."

Dolby added: "Our chat went well.  We have similar ideas on how the football club should be run.  It was just an initial meeting and we will sit down again in the next few weeks to discuss things in more detail.

"I have been talking to the players and trying to give them an insight into what we are trying to achieve and get some feedback on the season.

"I should very soon have an indication of their thoughts.

"I would like to be able to keep the majority of the squad.  They have performed well at certain times and I want some continuity.  I will be looking to bring in a couple of players as well but it is early days yet.

"A lot of players don't want to talk football as soon as the season is finished - just the managers do - and I am sensitive to that."

Sullivan officially took office last Sunday and said his immediate priority was to make the club more self-efficient, adding: "The club is in the best financial state it has been for a long time and we have to build on that.  From next week I will have two people working every day on the commercial side through advertising and driving on the lottery for example.

"We will be spending some money on the bars and making the ground look better as it is a little tired in places.  This will not all happen over night but the long term aim is to make the club more self sufficient.

"Tony is in charge of the football side and I won't interfere in that.  My job is to create the funds."

A former goalkeeper with Arsenal, Sutton United, Bromley and the Angels, Sullivan has helped out on the sidelines this season although he is not sure if that will continue.

He added: "Tony and I have talked about it.  I would still like to coach the goalkeepers.  Tony has no problems with it but it is whether I am comfortable and the players are comfortable with it.

"I don't want to do anything that will detract from the playing side.  Can I turn up in the tracksuit for 1.30pm and then get into the shirt and tie for 5pm?  I don't know yet.  In an ideal scenario I would do it because this role meant I have to give up my youth coaching but it is a case of trial and error and we will see."

Sullivan's footballing contacts will certainly come in useful for the club.  An Arsenal veterans side will play at Longmead at the end of the summer and it is possible a side from the club will play a friendly during the season.

Planning is currently underway for the pre-season and Sullivan is hopeful of getting a fixture with a league side.

Dolby said: I have speaking to a few clubs and would like to get a league club.

"Things are in motion.  I like to have a few weeks with no games and then get into after that as it gives a chance to look at players and get match fitness right."

Tonbridge ended their current campaign on a positive note with a 3-2 home win over Hampton & Richmond Borough and 44-year-old Sullivan predicted the future was bright.

He said: "The future is very rosy you have to look at the three young boys who played on Saturday.

"There is huge potential and we want to turn that into reality.  The future is bright for the club is we can get it right behind the scenes.  I have been over-whelmed by the support so far.  I have a lot of enthusiasm and I may make mistakes but they will be honest mistakes.  I really want to drive this club forward."

The fact that the club is still in existence after a financial turmoil is a success story in itself and despite relegation, the right noises are coming from the Longmead Stadium.  Time will tell is Sullivan's reign is successful but on the evidence so far supporters can look forward to the season with some added belief that maybe it will turn out allright in the end.

Meanwhile, a charity football match in aid of the Pickering Cancer Drop-In Centre and Tonbridge Angels Football Club will take place at the Avavan Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge on Sunday (2pm).

Tony Dolby's Angels will play the Pickering Cancer Drop In Centre Devils Ladies side.