Bath City Internet Radio’s Mark Stillman spoke to Jerry Gill in depth today regarding the arrangement of tomorrow’s friendly at Dorking Wanderers, current team news and about the increased presence of former loan players excelling elsewhere.
MS: A few people have expressed concern over us playing a friendly during this break. What’s your reaction to that?
JG: The league emailed this morning encouraging us to go out and play friendlies.
If we are told that we have a game next Saturday it’s really important that we have the players topped up, otherwise we’ll have a whole heap of injuries, as we’ve had already. It’s my job to ensure that our players are match fit. We’ve trained Saturday, Tuesday and yesterday.
I think we need to remember that the league is on hold because of a finance rather than safety aspect. It’s safe for us to go and play football, the league wasn’t suspended on Covid protocols. The National League played games on Tuesday and will be playing again tomorrow, there’s no difference between them playing and us.
Our protocols have been brilliant whether we’re on a coach or at training. We temperature test and present the players with health questionnaires every time they turn up. I totally agree that as a league there should be regular testing of the players, I know a lot of clubs say the same. If that can somehow be brought in it would mean a lot.
I’m really grateful of Marc White for welcoming us down at Dorking. We’ll get to play on a good surface against a very good team that play a very similar style to Ebbsfleet. It’s always good games against Dorking, probably the toughest we’ll get in the league.
All I want to do is look after my Football Club and my job is to look after the players and make sure they’re ready to play football. We’re all really excited about the game.
Could we have saved money by playing more locally?
We can’t play at Twerton because Bristol City Women are using it on Saturday which had already been pre-arranged.
Dorking are contributing towards our travelling expenses so cost-wise there’s little difference in playing locally. They’ve been fantastic, we asked Marc whether they could make it work financially for us and he came up with the plan straight away. He approached me about the game first, we thought about having it at our training base (SGS) but there are no showers so it wasn’t feasible. We’ll have both their dressing rooms, they’ll be well away from us, and they’re providing food after. We can’t ask for much more from them.
I rang around a few local clubs like Gloucester and Chippenham and some in the midlands like Kidderminster, but they weren’t willing to play games for different reasons.
Donovan Wilson and Tom Mehew are suspended for the Ebbsfleet game so is it a chance to give them a good run-out?
Donovan will get some minutes but we will probably go with something close to what we want to line-up with against Ebbsfleet. He looks really sharp.
Tom’s actually got a slight adductor problem anyway, he saw a doctor this morning at Bristol Rovers. They’re going to call me today.
Could you experiment further in this game?
I’ve secured a loan on one player who will be with us early next week, he won’t feature tomorrow. We might use a trialist or two and I’m sure both teams will make a lot of substitutions. This game gives us a chance to look at one or two things and build on what we did against Havant.
Freddie Grant knocked his knee last night at training so we’re unsure if he’ll be fit. We’re hoping Grant Horton will be back. Tommy Conway and Josh Owers played for Bristol City under 23s on Tuesday, they didn’t train with us last night because they’re in recovery so we’re waiting to see if they can come with us Saturday. We won’t risk anyone who isn’t 100% fit.
The reason we’re playing a game like this is because it feels more real than a training ground XI v XI, which doesn’t have the same intensity. This will be officiated properly. We’ll go through all the same protocols on our travels as we do in our league campaign.
If I went into a game with Ebbsfleet next week without training or preparing we could lose heavily – at the moment playing stop-start isn’t good for the welfare of the players. We’ll be getting on with our jobs safely and prepare as if we’re starting next week.
Are you worried about the season not restarting?
It feels like a lot has gone on in the last 48 hours. There has been more government talk with Sport England, I think we’ll have a clearer idea on Monday. The league might decide to extend this cooling off period, we don’t know.
I’m in constant conversation with the Board about it. I need to know so I can feed back to the players. The Board have always been brilliant with me, we have utmost respect for each other as a working group.
My job is to make sure that the football side is run professionally and not turning up playing games like a Mickey Mouse outfit. We’ll never do that – we’ll be professional throughout.
I believe it wasn’t possible to play any local teams from the leagues below this weekend?
I feel so sorry for clubs in the divisions below and I’ve spoken to a few managers there. Some have asked us for friendlies in the summer which feels a bit odd! We couldn’t play them this weekend – that was the first thing that crossed my mind but it’s not allowed as they’re not deemed elite.
None of their managers can see a way that they’ll be able to complete the season. At least they’re going to be given grants and rightly so – none of these clubs deserve to go out of existence. Some of these clubs are already thinking about recruitment for next season, we will as well even though there’s a lot of time left in this one. We can see if there are any players in the leagues below that can support and help us.
The current crop must be in high spirits after the Havant win?
The levels have gone up, the confidence is building. It’s amazing what a win does. We wanted to keep the momentum going at Braintree.
The challenge for me and the staff was to keep the boys stimulated during this two-week period. That can be difficult when there are no games. We’ve been creative with the training sessions. It’s helping us build up for next week against a full-time side. If we went up against them without training or playing games we’ll be behind the 8-ball.
We can’t always guarantee results but we can guarantee that we’ve prepared properly.
I saw you praised Robbie Cundy online this week having move up another level to join Gillingham on loan from Bristol City. How good has this link-up been with the Robins since you took over?
We have a really good relationship with our loan clubs and we’re looking to expand it. I’m in talks with Birmingham City about a link-up. Clubs will approach us if we’re doing well by these players.
I’ve taken in some great young professionals over the last three years. So many have gone back and got into their first teams like Opi and Owura Edwards and Antione Semenyo or moved on loan elsewhere for now like Robbie to improve further.
I spoke to Robbie yesterday. What a success story he was – we’re really proud that we were part of his development. He’s probably the quickest developer I’ve seen in terms of form and physical stature. Him and Jack Batten was one of the best centre-back partnerships I’ve seen for us, we kept so many clean sheets. Brian Tinnion and Bristol City are doing the right thing with him, moving him up through the leagues.
We’ve made some good money on players who have gone into the Football League, like Miles Welch-Hayes, and we’re really proud they’ve done on to have good careers. It’s proven to be a good business model for us.
Tommy Conway’s only 18 and he’s done brilliantly for us. Players like him are really humble and hard-working, the boys we’ve had from Bristol City have been good characters. Josh Owers has got his dad’s trait of getting around the pitch and being competitive and is physically developing.
We’ve had a lot of loans who have ended up making 40-50 appearances. Do you think there’s an unfair label of loans being short-term fixes?
I’d rather have a loan for a season than a month. It means they train with us twice a week and bed in with the group. The loans here aren’t just as a number, I don’t just sign them without watching them play, that would be ridiculous. It’s been tougher this year with Covid because you’re not allowed in other training grounds, but I would have seen a lot of these players over the past few seasons.
For example, last week at SGS Bristol City under 18s were playing on a pitch next to us. Brian Tinnion walked over and pointed out a few players who I then keep my eye on. This happened a couple of years ago with Antoine Semenyo, no-one had taken a punt on him but we did and he was exceptional. He’s now a regular for their first team.
The core of the team has to be correct and sometimes we haven’t got the recruitment right, I’m not ashamed to say that. Sometimes a player just isn’t the right fit. I’m really big on character and personality. We’ve got a great group right now to help us push back up the table.