Thursday 01st September 2005

Francis aims for right formula

JOE FRANCIS is using his skills as a lecturer in sports science to keep success and a lively team atmosphere at Cray Wanderers this season, writes Stephen McCartney.

The 36-year-old, assistant manager to Ian Jenkins, works at Orpington College, where he commutes from his Ashford home.

The father-of-two admits having togetherness at the club will be beneficial, as they will operate on one of the smallest budgets in the Isthmian League Division One this season.  Their financial resources are limited as they   groundshare league rivals Bromley’s Clive Christian Stadium in Hayes Lane.

This togetherness, however, shown by the players has helped the club fill up its trophy cabinet in the past 24 months, with a whole host of trophies, including clinching the Go Travel Kent League title twice.

Francis said: “It’s difficult to say how well we’ll do this season before a ball is kicked but what we have to capitalise on, is the unknown factor.

“No-body knows who we are and newly promoted clubs aren’t usually expected to do well and set it alight. 

“But we are looking to get off to a good start, then who knows?”

He revealed: “It’s a strong league – there are big teams with big budgets, and we are by no means one of the biggest.

“We have probably got one of the smallest budgets in the league, but we’ve attracted some good players because we have been successful and we play good football.”

Cray Wanderers’ are the second oldest football club in the world, having been founded way back in 1860, but they want their football doing the talking, and not their past.

Francis, did, reveal some of the new faces that have been enticed to the amber and black quarters at Hayes Lane – not by money – but by the lively atmosphere and the attractive football played.

He revealed: “We have signed Michael Power from Thamesmead Town and he was wanted by a whole host of clubs.”

The prolific striker, who scored for the Bayliss Avenue club from the penalty spot in their 1-1 draw with Bromley last Saturday.  He then played for Conference outfit Gravesend & Northfleet at Ashford Town two days later, but Fleet boss Andy Ford decided against signing the player.

Francis added: “Maybe it was a bit too early for him to play in the Conference.”

Power, however, could face his old club on Saturday when the two clubs meet in the Kent League Challenge Shield at Bayliss Avenue.

But that depends on confirmation from Thamesmead to see if he can play against the team-mates he played with only seven days ago.

 Francis said: “Thamesmead manager Paul Blade is a good mate of mine and Jenko (Ian Jenkins) and it is pleasing for him that Power is going to a club where he can progress as a player.”

Power has been joined by seven new faces as Cray embark on their first ever Isthmian League campaign.

Franklyn Dixon, an experienced journeyman, a former professional, will score goals for Cray this season.

Leigh Bremner, who impressed in the Kent League last season for Herne Bay and James Millar has signed from Dover Athletic.

Nineteen-year-old protégée, Jamie Carter, who was with Dulwich Hamlet at the beginning of last season,  was previously at Gravesend & Northfleet.

Experienced Isthmian League Division One campaigner, Danny Bower, who won the division whilst at Croydon, joins from Whyteleafe and Tony Russell, who is a highly-rated central defender, and started the pre-season programme at Bromley, has also been snapped up.

Francis said: “The additions that we’ve made have complemented the experience we have in the squad, such as David Gray and Ian Rawlings.”

He added: “And our young gems -  Ross Lover and Sam Wood – who all in all are looking quite good.”

All of these players will probably play in the curtain raiser at Thamesmead on Saturday, in a game Francis, in charge as Jenkins is on holiday until the eve of the season, is taking very seriously.

“It’s our first game to put out our strongest side – it’s a proper match.

”We’ve had three pre-season friendlies, and we have been looking at the squad, and tomorrow is a proper fixture that warrants us to start to look at our 15-16 players that will play in the league.”

One player who might not be turning out for Cray this season could be Jamie Wood.

After playing for Gravesend at Ashford on Monday, he is currently on trial at Isthmian Premier side Folkestone Invicta – the club where former Cray player Drew Watkins plays for.

Francis, will be on a spying mission on Burgess Hill Town – Cray’s opponents on the opening day of the season on Saturday 14th August.

Francis revealed: “I will have more of an idea on them after seeing them next Wednesday when they play at home to Hassocks.

“A little spying mission – it has got to be done.

“I am confident we will be ready – we have strength in depth with good young players.”

Looking back on his career, Francis, was, and still is,  one of the characters in Kent non-league football.

In a look back on his playing career, Francis admitted: “I thought my career was blighted by injury.

”I had to pack up at 31 and missed 2-3 years because of it.

“I broke my ankle just after I left Charlton Athletic, and had 2 hernia operations, and a busted knee and a torn thigh muscle that ended my career, after I just left the Conference at Kingstonian. I went back to Bromley and only played a handful of games.

“The best team I’d played for was Kingstonian – when we won the Ryman League title, with the likes of Geoff Pitcher, David Leworthy and Colin Luckett (now at Bromley) under manager Geoff Chapple. 

“A good side – probably the best side that’s won the Ryman League, I think.” admitted Francis.

Francis said: “My career was successful, and I am still regarded by the people I bump into, as a players’ player.

“if you ask any player about me, they would say: “Joe Francis – what a player!”

Francis, named four managers, he thinks, are some of the best managers in non-league football.

Terry Brown, the current Aldershot Town boss, who he played under whilst at Hayes, George Borg, when he played for Enfield, Chapple but there is deep affection for former Bromley boss George Wakeling, and the efforts the experienced manager put in to keep the Hayes Lane club, in the Isthmian League Premier Division on a shoe-string budget.

Francis admitted: “George Wakeling is a people’s person.

“I had two great years with George at Bromley and I loved every minute of it.

“I was allowed to express myself and I identified with the fans at Bromley.

“We did very well in the league finishing sixth on a shoe-string budget and that was what George was good at – getting players to play for peanuts.”

However, Francis still craves to be a player and added: “There is no substitute for playing – I miss it a lot.”

Looking ahead, Francis said: “I have been a qualified coach since I was 20.

“I have just updated my UEFA B Badge and over the last ten years I’ve run soccer schools and have been involved with coaching throughout my playing career.

“Coaching is just part of me, it’s who I am really.

“I enjoy the interactions I have the players – I think they do too.

“Training at the level we are going into is absolutely vital – it has to be purposeful and we have to work on team formations, strategies of play and everyone has to have a role in the team.

I think we, as the English, are playing catch up to a certain extent, but we are adopting an approach in order to train players properly.  If you can make training and playing challenging and inventive then players are attracted to that.”

What was noticed about Cray’s players last season, was they boosted the bar takings at Hayes Lane last season after games.

There is a reason behind this, and Francis who knows how the body works during exercise and how the mind works through competition, and everything else in between, and looks at the science in sport, emphasised:  “We are not in this for the money.

“The social aspect, I mean general team bonding, is very vital for a side to be successful.

“You have to sit down and interact as personalities.  Let’s not forget it’s semi professional football and players have other jobs.

“It’s a chance to interact with a group of men and it’s vitally important to reflect on the game, get to know the personalities in the team. 

“However, it’s not a drinking club, we are a close team.” he insisted.

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