We just need to sit down with the owners and see what their vision is and whether it marries up with mine. I think we’re at a crossroads, says Cray Wanderers boss Tony Russell
CRAY WANDERERS manager Tony Russell has dropped a bombshell after being given the champions-elect tag yesterday.
The Wands extended their lead at the top of the Bostik South East Division table to an impressive 16 points after comfortably winning the top-of-the-table clash against Horsham 2-0 at Hayes Lane yesterday.
Russell, 40, has now won two Isthmian League titles in his short managerial career, having guided Crayford-based VCD Athletic to the North Division title five years ago and will walk off with the title later this month.
The club have eight games of their season remaining and have lost only once in the league in 28 league games and that was a 4-2 defeat at Horsham in Lancing on 15 December 2018.
Russell suffered play-off heartbreak last May, losing 5-2 at home to Walton Casuals, despite finishing in third-place in the table and scoring the most goals (112) in the division.
“This season has been a massive achievement because the disappointment that we had last year, it was the lowest I’ve ever been,” reflected Russell.
“We finished the season flat as a pancake. The two below us (Corinthian-Casuals and Walton Casuals) went up, the two above us (Carshalton Athletic and Lewes) went up.
“I had a meeting with the owners and it went rubbish! I contemplated leaving. I didn’t like what I heard. I met with 16 players (at Hayes Lane) and only three of them committed. My captain who was on contract wanted out, wanted his contract ripped up.
“I sat in Joe Vines’ kitchen and it was ‘what’s the point?’
“I had a bad meeting with the owners and the players and the belief was gone - so to sit here at this point I take great pride in that.
“I know it’s an old saying, it’s not how you get knocked down, it’s how quickly you get up.
“I’m proud of the way Vinsey and Nathan (White) rallied around me. We worked so hard in the summer, I can’t even tell you, trying to convince the boys to stay.
“People like Bradley Pritchard and Tom Phipps, we’ve got them on ridiculous deals in terms of their ability. We just wore them down, meeting after meeting, we had about four meetings.
“If it’s not working and somebody’s pointing fingers at you and telling you maybe you’re not as good as you thought or whatever, it’s easy to go let’s do it how everybody else does it. Let’s get a big man, small man, but we’ve held our nerve and we’ve done alright.”
Russell dropped his bombshell when he was asked about his plans for the Bostik Premier Division next season.
“I think the main thing that I’ll do is the process, anything for next year I need to sit down with the owners, I need to really find out what they want to do with it,” said Russell.
“Is it something I want to do with them long-term or is it the end of the road and we try something different? I don’t know.
“There needs to be some sort of commitment from them. That’s what I will say at the moment, there’s never been that.
“I was speaking to someone the other day, I don’t know how true it is, but no one has won the North and South in the history of the Isthmian League. There’s a lot of really good managers out there who have never won one let alone two, so if I’m potentially going to win two, am I under cutting myself here?
“We just need to sit down with the owners and see what their vision is and whether it marries up with mine. I think we’re at a crossroads.
“I think they got me in here because they thought I was the man that will get them promoted to turn around from a relegation team to a team that can get promoted.
“I came here because I thought they were people who can deliver a ground that will allow me to grow in that.
“They’ve done their end of the bargain, I’m trying to do my end of my bargain and if I do that I’ll sit down, it’s a nice even keel to say ok that’s that project done, now what?”
When asked whether he will walk out on a club that he has guided back to the Isthmian Premier Division after a five-year absence, Russell replied: “Yes! Cray Wanderers deserve someone who is committed to this football club, who wants to manage this football club and go forward 100%. I’d love to be that person but it has to work for all parties otherwise I won’t do Cray Wanderers dis-service and not do it, simple as that.
“I don’t really get to sit down with the owners much, I don’t really see them, there’s four of them so it’s hard so it would be nice to sit down with all four of them and listen to them.
“I get on well with all of them personally, we get on alright. It’s just whether if our football planets line up.
“Do they want to offer me a contract? They’ve never done that since I’ve been here. I’ve never signed a bit of paper so I’m not officially anything to do with this football club and it will be nice to have some sort of connection.
“What’s their plan for next year? If we are lucky enough to go up? Do they want to go up again or are we just happy with the Bostik Premier?
“I’ve got no idea! We’ve never had that conversation!
“The boys have been so busy with the ground, we just need to sit down and see whether we all make a promise to each other. They can get the ground and I can get promoted. We get on really well on a personal level, we just need to have a serious conversation. I want to that football seriously, if I get promotion this year it will be three promotions and a cup.
“I’ve just turned 40 years old, so I’m relatively young to it as well, so I don’t know. I just want to sit down and you’re the right person – if not I won’t do it!”
The Wands lead the way with 74 points from 34 games and the four-play-off places are occupied by Horsham (55 points from 29 games); Ashford United (54 points from 28 games); Hastings United (53 points from 29 games) and Haywards Heath Town (52 points from 28 games).
Russell takes his side to Hastings next Saturday and host Haywards Heath Town on Saturday 23 March, before travelling to bottom-three side Whitstable Town seven days later, and basement side Greenwich Borough come to Hayes Lane eight days later.
The league title should be wrapped up by that point.
Looking ahead to their trip to Hastings, Russell said: “It will be a cracking game. That will be a serious good game.
“Chris Agutter was assistant manager once when we played them down here and we really moved them about and he liked it and he said ‘we’re going to do something very similar in the way we play.’
“They will pass the ball and have pace out wide and so do we.
“We played them on a Sunday and it was a very good game of football and they had the first half and we had the second half and we won 2-1 in the end and it will be very similar, toing and throwing and I’m looking forward to it.
“I like Chris, I think Hastings are a fantastic club and there will probably be a decent crowd of 500-600 there. They’re the games you want to be involved in but I’m looking forward to doing battle with Chris but I wouldn’t swap my boys with anyone.”
Story Update - Monday 11 March 2019:
Tony Russell said in a statement on Monday evening, that due to his “emotions running high after the game as it was a big win, so maybe didn’t get my point across as I would have liked.
“I do love it at Cray and I’m looking forward to sitting down with the owners soon to build for the future and I see myself as very much part of that.”
Visit Cray Wanderers’ website: www.cray-wanderers.com
Hastings United v Cray Wanderers
Bostik South East Division
Saturday 16 March 2019
Kick Off 3:00pm
at The Pilot Field, Elphinstone Road, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 2AX