Up the Left Wing

by Jay Baker

I’m pleased to say my days as AFC Unity manager are over – as the role will instead be replaced by that of Head Coach, given the exciting changes just around the corner as part of the proposed “2020 Vision” that is about to be unveiled, where I will be facilitating the changes based on the remaining foundation to build on, and a team that wants me to carry out this role of Head Coach.

I never liked being a “manager” anyway…besides, I haven’t felt like I’ve done any such thing in recent games. Allow me to explain.

AFC Unity director and former Hope Over Fear award-winner Sophie Smith recently hit the nail on the head with her summary of the season: ‘Worst on the pitch, best off the pitch.’ We’ve had the most harmonious team we’ve ever had week in, week out, but the results suggest an “expeditionem horribilis”: I made no less than ten signings this past season, which of course is an absolutely ridiculous scenario for a football club that prides itself on collectivism and bonding, and out of all the twenty-two league games, no two matches had the same team or formation — not ever. We’ve been blessed with the loveliest group of people you could ever wish for, but cursed with unfavourable work patterns, pregnancies, and injuries. So it’s been different every single week. It felt like almost every game was our very first; an entirely fresh learning experience, rather than a set pattern to follow from training, which saw hard work undone come matchday.

That’s an impossible situation. You can’t manage a squad when the team picks itself every week, and the formation is out of necessity rather than desire, and you barely even have a midfield; the engine of the whole team that is now my priority. “Management” becomes an oxymoron, when instead I’ve ended up being a motivational coach, getting to this finish line. I have some truly amazing players too, but to borrow an old joke, ‘I’ve been playing all the right notes…just not necessarily in the right order!’ That’s exactly how it’s been. Our better prepared weeks, with more depth to the squad, were when we beat Mexborough Athletic 4-2, lost to Mexborough Athletic 4-3, beat Worsbrough Athletic 3-2, drew with Wickersley Youth 2-2, and lost games to Dearne & District and Millmoor Juniors 0-1 and 0-2, respectively. Not a coincidence. But not everyone knows that.

Everyone around the league has their ideas or assumptions about why our results were so chaotic and extreme at times this season, and that’s fine. Many people don’t ask you for context, and those that do sometimes assume your explanations are simply excuses, like I said here before. What’s important is that this context is known and understood by this remarkable group of women who have stuck together, through all of this, and are this coming week about to celebrate their positivity, tenacity, and strength, and then look to the exciting, unprecedented changes here at AFC Unity with a “2020 Vision” that is going to blow away everything everyone thought they knew about AFC Unity.