Having spoken to a number of players and management staff about what it means to play/work for Concord Rangers, I felt it was time to get to the heartbeat of any football club and speak to the fans about what Concord Rangers means to them.
I spoke with the following, and we discussed a variety of subjects, some spoke more than others. Also Steve King's arse does not come out well in this chat...
Andy Smith (AS), Alan Jessop-Peacock (AJP), Gary Bracci (GB), Mark Tate (MT) and Lewis Pack (LP).
What does supporting Concord Rangers mean to you?
(AS) - I was invited over to do some media work a few years ago and this soon turned into something much bigger, I've had the privilege of training with these guys, going on nights out, and turning the bus into a nightclub with Miki as the DJ on the way home from away games! I'm having such a laugh being involved even if it's just taking a few match pictures, filming a few games and helping do some website work. It's a great club with great people involved and with that said it manes a hell of a lot be involved, it's something other clubs cannot offer.
(AJP) - It's all about being a part of the club, not just a number in the stands like I feel when I go to see West Ham, but actually being a part of Concord Rangers as a whole. You feel like you're part of something bigger, and can actually contribute to the success of the club. I started watching Concord nearly 6 seasons ago on a whim, now they're the main focus of my weekend!
(GB) - Supporting Concord means a hell of a lot me. I started supporting the team after becoming disillusioned with the way Southend United were handling their financial affairs, the new stadium that has been going on for about 10 years, and the way the majority of the team was made up of loanees rather than contracted players, this coincided with the ridiculous stranglehold Sky have over the Premier League which effectively has ruined the national team, it's probably safe to say I was losing my passion for the game as a whole. That was until I started watching Concord, I'm not the first person to say it and certainly won't be the last in that when you go to Thames Road just a handful of times you can see what the club means to everyone there and just by giving continued support you become part of the club and not just a body through the turnstile. Players, management, coaches, chairman and committee members recognise the support and all go out of their way to keep the welcoming feeling that surrounds the club.
(MT) - Quite simply for me, it's two words. Pride and passion.
(LP) - It means an awful lot! The club is like another family whenever you go to watch a game. Since I've been able to go to most games a couple of years ago I have been so welcomed by everyone at the club from the fans, the committee, management and players which makes it a joy to go to every week.
What has been the highlight of supporting Concord Rangers so far?
(AS) - Being sat pitch-side taking pictures at the Ryman Play off final vs Lowestoft, no-one can describe the pandemonium at the full time whistle and sitting there with a camera pointing at the dug-out ready for the celebrations to start was amazing. 3000 odd fans were there that day, and the noise at full-time was incredible.
(AJP) - The promotion season, well more specifically the Ryman Premier Play-off Final vs Lowestoft. Our second game of the season was a trip to Lowestoft on a Tuesday night that we lost 4-1, I remember the coach journey home being long and really downbeat, but little did we know we'd be back in the last game of the season to win promotion! The day of the final was incredible, finally beating them after a run of losses home & away over the previous season. The atmosphere was awesome and celebrating on the pitch at full time with the lads was an experience I'll never forget.
(GB) - For me I've only been supporting the club for 4 seasons, and only been a regular for 3 of those, but without a doubt the highlight has to be winning promotion from the Ryman Premier League against a team who on aggregate had pretty much annihilated us (Lowestoft). I know the committee will probably have bigger highlights from the earlier years but in my time here that play-off final was beyond measurement when you look at the size of Concord, one of the favourites to be relegated and had the smallest budget in the league. That season and day in particular will forever be spoken about, when you look at it's ridiculous what has been achieved so far.
(MT) - Getting to the 1st round of the FA Cup, without a doubt.
(LP) - Obviously promotion from the Ryman Premier into the Conference South was a massive achievement for the club but I wasn't able to be there on the day, so for a game I've been to it has to be the away game at Mansfield this year in the FA Cup. It was such a special night for everyone associated with the club and to take a league club to a replay have chances to win the game was superb. People started realising who Concord were finally!!
What was the match of last season for you?
(AS) - Everyone was slating our pitch, and to be fair it was in a bad way after a load of games and some bad weather, but the way we destroyed Farnborough at home 7-0, some of the football was top class, with some brilliant goals scored.
(AJP) - The first round proper of the FA Cup away at Mansfield. The original game was postponed due to the waterlogged pitch whilst I was in New York, so I was able to actually get to the re-arranged fixture and see the lads in the most high profile game in the clubs history. The support we had on that Tuesday night wasn't the biggest, but we were the loudest by far, the players all put in one hell of a shift and earning the draw was an impressive result. The replay may have had 1500 people at Thames Road, but that Tuesday nigh trip to Mansfield was something special.
(GB) - Now there's a tricky one, the 4-2 win against Wealdstone was big for me as we have developed somewhat of a rivalry against them and they are always a tough team to beat. The FA Cup win against St Albans to send us into the 1st round proper for the first time in the clubs history was huge, again in the FA Cup the 1-1 draw with Mansfield was massive as it brought a lot of attention to the club from around the country and in truth Mansfield were lucky to get away with a draw, my point is proven when their own supporters were saying how much they enjoyed watching us play and gave the team a standing ovation at the final whistle - spine tingling moment that was. For me though the highlight was retaining the Essex Senior Cup in a performance that blew Billericay away. I was nervous leading up to the game something that I rarely feel with Concord, and the club had just missed out on a play-off spot after losses you started to wonder if the players were in the right frame of mind to play such a final, it seems they were more up for it than expected!
(MT) - That's a tough question, as there have been so many. Personally for me I'd go for us beating Bromley at their place 2-1, especially when the week before we had lost 4-1 to them at home.
(LP) - You can take your pick out of so many last season! The Mansfield game, the Essex Cup win, and the 6-2 win away at Barnet in the FA Trophy. That was a fantastic night! Not many people would have ever called that result when the draw was made. But for me the away win at Havant on a cold Tuesday night in January and the home win against Ebbsfleet were great games for the club. There are certain people and clubs which don't think Concord should be competing in this league, but those two wins showed no matter the size of the opposition, Concord can compete and get results!
What player sums up the Concord Rangers spirit (past or present)?
(AS) - That's a tough one, I'm going to say Lewis Taaffe, his work-rate is exceptional. He's had a couple of knocks but keeps running his socks off, and that's what everyone likes in a player, someone who works so hard for the team.
(AJP) - I have a feeling most will say Nicky Cowley here, but I'm going to throw a curveball and say Steve King. The ginger meathead is loyal to a fault, and will continue to put in 100% week after week. The fact that he's a fireman and regularly misses/loses sleep etc to ensure he gets to games, highlights his dedication to the cause. He's solid at the back, adds an important goal or two with that meat-head at set pieces, he's a constant at the club, always coming back harder after missing a game through injury etc.
(GB) - I think there are many players who warrant a lot of credit to how Concord have progressed and it is them who have set the tone for how the club operates, but for me there are two players that come to my mind in particular:
Stokesy - the guy bleeds Concord colours and leads by example, calm head and will never give anything but 100% in training or a match.
Nicky Cowley - ferocious on the pitch in which the passion he had for the club rubbed off onto other players around him. I remember him screaming at Leon Gordon for not getting back into position quick enough after the ball had gone out for the oppositions free kick, that was Nicky all over, he expected full on commitment from the first whistle to the last.
(MT) - Two for me, past and present. Nicky Cowley with his never say die attitude, he just gave it his all. Presently it's Alex Woodyard, he's got a great match-awareness and also runs his socks off.
(LP) - I think this is very hard to be able to give to one player, as every player comes to the club and buys into the spirit of the team, and that spirit is throughout the club!
What is your favourite Concord Rangers goal?
(AS) - Taylor Miles vs Chelmsford City no doubt about it.
(AJP) - Ben Greenhalgh's free kick in the Ryman League Cup Final vs Dulwich Hamlet. I remember being behind the goal, and I think it was Jack Jnr who said "this is going in". He wasn't wrong either, Ben hit it so cleanly, the free kick was an absolute peach, sailed into the net and sent us all into raptures behind the goal!
(GB) - My favourite goal? I've got a list of em!!
Ben Greenhalgh's free kick against Dulwich was a beaut.
Cawley's chip against Weston Super Mare was delightful.
Stokesy's goal against Maidenhead was class.
Taylor Miles' volley versus Chelmsford...stunning!
(MT) - It's got be Leon Gordon's winning goal in the play off final against Lowestoft, what a day that was.
(LP) - In terms of quality it has to be Taylor Miles goal against Chelmsford last season, work commitments meant I couldn't watch it live, but after seeing numerous videos, I couldn't stop watching it. It was a moment of pure quality.
What player are you hoping has a big season next season?
(AS) - Tony Stokes. He's not had the best of luck with injuries in the last couple of seasons, but now he's got himself in great shape and is fitter than he's been in 3 years. I really hope he has a good season and bangs a few more goals in. He has always scored important goals for us and I really hope that continues, well if he isn't injured with a sore toe nail!
(AJP) - Stokesy. After injury affected him in our first Conference South season, and last year's lack of first team action behind Taaffe and Cawley, it's about time we see the club captain start the season well and notch up the goals we know he can contribute to the side. Tony's a senior member of this side now, and will want to lead from the front, we know he can do it, and I hope this season is a big one for him.
(GB) - Tony Stokes simple as that, he was a frustrated figure last season spending a lot of time on the bench. Danny Cowley didn't seem to consider Stokesy to be capable of being a starter but as a manager you have to make bold decisions and at the end of the day regardless whether it pleases some and upsets others, Danny is a bloody good manager who helped make last season Concord's best ever. But now there's a new manager and new coach which gives players a fresh start of claiming a place in the team, Stokesy is a proven goalscorer who plays for his team-mates, and his performance in the Essex Senior Cup was typical of him, he grumbled a bit last year, so if he's going to be a starter he needs to put to bed last year's personal disappointments.
(MT) - It would be great to see our new keeper Conor Gough have a great season between the sticks.
(LP) - Stop asking questions, I can't nail down to one player! I can think of a few players who will be looking to have a big season for different reasons. Stokesy will be looking for an injury free season, and hoping to get some goals. I'll be interested in seeing Ben Greenhalgh back, I think he could be a key player with a point to prove to Maidstone. I think Kingy can have a big season for us also, losing Matt Fry and Jack Lampe are massive losses, but I have can see Kingy having a great season and leading us through some key moments.
Saying all that, what are realistic ambitions for Concord Rangers this season?
(AS) - I hope we can get to where we finished last season and fight for a top 8 finish. I've been over training a few times watching and the players that have come in all look great additions, and I'm sure Adam and Jody will get the best out of everyone and get that winning mentality out of everyone involved in the club.
(AJP) - I think the Essex Senior Cup is within our reach again, it's a cup that we have shown we can win, and providing we focus on it as we have in previous seasons I don't see why we can't make it 3 in a row. As for the league, I think we first look to stay up, then when that looks safe, we aim for the top half of the table. Play-offs would be great, but I won't get ahead of myself there!
(GB) - This will bore most football fans at Concord and of opposition clubs, but as always the main priority for this club os to secure their place at this level again, it can take 3,4 or even 5 years to establish yourself in a league that we on paper shouldn't be in. How on earth do you improve on last season, with the club as small as it is! Personally I would love to see us go one round further in the FA Cup, but the dream would be the 3rd round! A realistic but extremely difficult challenge would be to win the FA Trophy at Wembley, I don't think that is a goal too far but as I say it would take some going to get there. Realistically a top half finish is achievable and ultimately above all that is the main target.
(MT) - Sadly I don't think we will finish near where we did last season, but to be in the top 12 in the league would be great.
(LP) - I think it will be hard to achieve the league position that we did last season just due to the size and money of some of the clubs coming into the league, there are some massive clubs! I think a top half finish, reaching the 1st round of the FA Cup, a nice run in the FA Trophy and hopefully another good run in the Essex Cup will be a good season!!
Right last question let's have some fun! If you were stuck on a desert island with a Concord player, who would you NOT want it to be and why?
(AS) - Probably Steve Cawley, because he will not shut up about missing one of his goals on video, and I'm sure if I was alone with him he'd bang on about it even more and probably make us re-create it on the beach. He says it was a good goal but I'm not so sure, he's the King of the tap in and his goal away at Whitehawk didn't even touch the net.
(AJP) - To be fair I wouldn't want to be stuck on a desert island with any of the lads, I wouldn't want to be stuck on a desert island at all! But if I have to pick one to avoid, I'd say James White. The big-man is good at a wind-up, decent with the banter and abuse, and if it's just me and him on an island I'd get the hassle non-stop! I can handle a bit, you don't last 5 minutes at this club if you can't, but being the main focus of it all for however long we're stuck there? No thanks!
(GB) - It's not a player I dread to be stuck on an island with, it's a member of the backroom staff - Gary Ewers. Seriously I'd be forever looking over my shoulder wondering what prank he's going to pull off next. He has the ability to kill you with one line in a slanging match and to sum him up in one word - nuisance!
(MT) - Here we go feet first...sorry Steve King it's you, due to that farty bum on the coach on away games, the smell is bad. I couldn't handle that on a desert island, no way.
(LP) - It probably would be Kingy. After being near him on the team coach all year to games, the smells that come from his direction are far from nice to be around! He also sleeps a lot, so you would end up being on a desert island on your own most of the time!