Neil Smith: Cray Wanderers retain former Bromley boss on a two-year full-time deal

Monday 09th May 2022

CRAY WANDERERS have retained the services of former Bromley boss Neil Smith, signing a two-year contract to become the clubs first full-time manager. 

The 50-year-old was appointed manager on 22 March - almost a year after his controversial departure from National League side Bromley - and picked up four points in his six games in charge as Cray Wanderers finished in eighteenth-place in the Isthmian League Premier Division table, avoiding relegation by just one point.

Merstham (33 points from 42 league games) and East Thurrock United (35 points) were both relegated, while Leatherhead (36) and Cray Wanderers (36) survived the drop.

“Cray Wanderers are delighted to announce that the club can confirm Neil Smith as first-team manager for the 2022-23 season. This is a first for the club to have a full-time manager at the helm,” said a club statement.

“Neil’s remit is to rebuild the squad and prepare the club for the start of the season as well as recruiting and building for our Academy, which will be starting in September, the first Academy for a few years and will be the first operating on a site that Cray Wanderers owns.

“We are delighted to have someone as experienced as Neil as manager who achieved great things at Bromley FC and will hope to replicate that success with Cray Wanderers.”

The club secured their league status with an impressive 4-1 home win over East Thurrock United in their penultimate game of the campaign, which saw three management teams in charge of the Hayes Lane based outfit during the course of a season of struggle in the league.

Smith said: “I said to the guys when I came here, I don’t just want to be a manager, I want to try to build the club from the bottom up.

“This was something I wanted to do while I was at Bromley and we succeeded and this is exactly what I want to do now at Cray.

“I want to build the club in the community, I want the supporters to be proud of coming along and seeing the players’ give their all every week and hopefully with that building process we have some fun and enjoying winning games.”

Smith will retain Tim O’Shea as his assistant manager next season and squad rebuilding begins in ernest.

“I will have Tim O’Shea as assistant manager, who I was at Tottenham with when he was a pro and met again when we were at Gillingham together.  We then both went into coaching at Grays Athletic, Croydon Athletic and Lewes so we know each other well. We are two A Licenced coaches and keen to keep learning as well.

“I’m speaking to a few players at the moment.  I know it is tough as some are still playing matches, going on holiday or saying ‘I’ll ring when I get back.’

“You put a lot of effort into it at the moment but they are obviously talking to other people.

“The one thing I did at Bromley when I was there was to get as many of the players’ you want that are already at the club sorted because you don’t want to be negotiating against your own players with someone else.

“We will speak to as many players as we can and get the right people, not just the right player to the club.”

Smith is keen to start producing home-grown players for Cray Wanderers, something that he did at Bromley, in his roles as Academy manager, assistant manager under Mark Goldberg before being given the managers job on a full-time basis.

“I also want there to be a pathway from the youth team and hopefully our new Academy to the first-team,” added Smith.

“Cray Wanderers need to produce their own players.  It is something I have done before and supporters appreciate home grown players like Sam Wood.”

Smith wants to have a much more settled squad to compete in the Isthmian League Premier Division next season.

He said: “The Isthmian League is hard, it is relentless, often you finish one game and you are straight into another one.  We will be as ready as we can but I don’t want it to be another season like last season.  We had a huge turnover of players.

“I like to have a settled squad with a team spirit and you cannot get a team spirit if you have 60 plus players in a season.

“I understand in this league you may lose players for certain reasons but want to keep that number down to a minimum if we can.”

Smith, meanwhile, said he wants to be the man that is at the helm when the clubs new stadium at Flamingo Park is opened.

“I’ve spoken to David Francis, Jason Miller, Gary Hillman, Michael Paye and the future is the thing I’ve signed for,” added Smith.

“I’ve signed for the future of the club because the potential and the project is so exciting.  Growing a club, moving into a new stadium and home, it really excites me.  Hopefully creating a new fan base and supporters coming through the doors, playing attacking football.  Starting from scratch, we have a base to start from.

“I want it to grow and when I leave, whenever that may be, Cray Wanderers will be in a better position than when I arrived.”

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