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[FM13] Alice in FM-land


deltablue
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3 hours ago, 13th Man said:

Three straight promotions is no small thing even if, yes, momentum is as big a thing as any in the lower leagues!

Yep, after each promotion I'm wondering if we can go up again :D

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39 minutes ago, 13th Man said:

You going to keep going with this save? Or is FM22 calling to you after years of keeping it old school?

Good question. I don't think this save will be truly complete until I've won the Premier League, or something like that. I will take a hiatus to do an FM22 career, and as I discussed in an earlier post, maybe once I leave Cadbury Heath it'll be a good opportunity to park this career to the side. I've also set up an 'acclimatisation' save with Levski Sofia which I might turn to at this point, we'll see.

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Summer 2022

I've decided that this will likely be the last season in South Gloucestershire, unless we get promoted again or at least reach the playoffs or something. Mind you we're second favourites for the league so that might happen. We're entering a different world now, one more familiar with the lower levels of the vanilla game. We're now fully professional (perhaps a couple of levels early), can now realistically scout players from the trialists matches, the board agreed to look for a parent club (though couldn't find one), and it also became clear that signing contracted players for nothing was no longer a realistic option (though maybe still possible in some cases). There's also the fact that the wage bill is finally catching up to the budget (considerably increased by each promotion) and having raised the bar I was willing to pay to just over £200pw last season, it's now tough to find anyone worthwhile who will come for much less than that. If the Cadbury Heath train starts to run out of steam we won't have anything left in the tank to keep going.

There were certainly still signings made, though not to improve the team that much. The majority were to fill in gaps I deliberately left in the squad by releasing players who I felt were no longer good enough, at least improving the overall quality of the squad. I started with the players who could be directly approached to sign for free (or at least the usual 5k compensation fee) with a full-back on each side (Cooper being the more likely to feature regularly) and a good new central defender, along with a forward to replace the outgoing Wallace (who was still good but insisted on leaving due to insufficient game time.

I had to delve into free agents to fill the remaining gap, starting with an Argentine keeper (adding to Whelan being our first Irish player) adding a bit of exoticness to the squad, even if he was half-English. Top Gear fans might recognise the name of his birth town of Bariloche. I was struggling to find a backup for Edwards on a low enough wage so I thought I might as well sign an equal. Our two keepers have different strengths and weaknesses but are on a similar level overall so we'll see how things develop depending on how they perform. Finding a right winger to ease the pressure of Giles was tricky so I ended up going for a leftie (who is also more of an attacking midfielder playmaker) in Fenwick for the sake of finding someone good enough (and he can technically play in central midfield) even if I will have to switch things up when I swap between them. Finally Gill was the one 'bonus' signing I was able to make on top of those to fill the gaps, fittingly being a defender and a midfielder when I was looking for one or the other.

We should still have a good season and the playoffs are perfectly possible heading into the new season. It'll be interesting to see how things go even if we'll otherwise be relying on the same first choice team for the most part. It will still help to have better options for what should still be a busy year but I wonder if this is as strong as we can get and as far as I can take this team.

Signings

Cooper

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Fenwick
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Gill

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Gowens

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Moss

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Whelan

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Weller

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  • 4 weeks later...

Sept 2022

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This update was technically from over 2 weeks ago, but FM has taken a back seat recently. So far it looks like after 3 promotions in a row we're finally starting to slow down a bit, though we do tend to hit our stride later on. Our only league defeat of the season up until this point was at Aylesbury, who have made an incredible start, though winning is proving a lot tougher than avoiding defeat. I've pretty much decided that I'll leave at the end of the season, and if we do end up in mid-table that'll help make it a much easier decision. It's still too early to tell how the season will play out and we might still end up nervously looking down for a bit.

If I haven't gotten back into the FM swing by then I might stick with this save for a bit. I don't want to start a new save and barely get anywhere with it for a while. At least this career has some seasons behind it. We'll see what happens when I get to that point.

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  • 2 weeks later...

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I'm hoping to get back into FM bit by bit even though my sessions don't match up with in-game months. There isn't really much to report anyway as we find ourselves in the unusual situation of a mid-table muddle. I must admit that I'm very much just seeing it through until the end of the season unless something interesting happens at either end. We were disappointing for a lot of October with a League Cup win being the only one in our first 4 matches. We seemed to pick up with good wins against Locks Heath and Ash United which seemed to put the playoff places in our sights but I can tell you that November has been disappointing so far and we're not looking down and seeing if we might end up in a relegation scrap.

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  • 1 month later...

Dec 2022

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I finally picked this up again after a month where I knew I wouldn't either have the time or energy, finishing November and even getting through a hectic December. I picked up with the heavy defeat at Barnstaple which was the low point of a winless November in the league. Things picked up in December with three more wins to keep our heads above water even if back-to-back defeats stunted our potential recovery. We're finally onto just a single match a week (pretty much) which is when things get better so I hope it'll be the same here. We are also still in the Southern League Cup though I doubt we'll get much further.

I considered leaving at this point, especially since I was planning to leave at the end of the season anyway and this seemed like a good opportunity for a fresh start. However I'm not usually one for leaving mid-season and I thought I might as well finish off here by (hopefully) delivering survival to cap off the whole three promotions in a row things. It helps that form has slightly improved and the fixture list will be less of a nightmare which helps provide enough motivation to see the season through.

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Dec 2023

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January was a pretty good month. It was disappointing to miss out on a place in the Quarter-finals of the Southern League cup after going ahead against Ash but our only league defeat came at the end after 3 wins and a draw in the other games, a run that puts us in a safer position.

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Phew, got some space between you and the drop with a pretty good January.  I guess you won't be able to do yet another promotion this season.  Not even with my powers.  Midtable though...

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On 11/01/2022 at 17:27, 13th Man said:

Phew, got some space between you and the drop with a pretty good January.  I guess you won't be able to do yet another promotion this season.  Not even with my powers.  Midtable though...

Nope we couldn't have, however we were closer than you'd expect. When we won our first league match in 7 in December I saw we were 8 points from the playoffs with a game in hand! The leagues really have tight midtables.

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May 2023

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It was a nice smooth ride to the finish, and I must admit that it made a nice change not to have to deal with the stress of a promotion battle. We only lost 3 league matches since the start of January but it wasn't quite enough to put ourselves in a serious playoff hunt. We weren't quite consistent enough though and the damage had already been done in the autumn. If we had even a few more points than the match with Hinckley would have been a lot more important, especially as only a stoppage time goal denied what might have been a key win that would have kept it tight heading into the final day. It was otherwise a quiet and unspectacular season and for once I'm not awarding 'Key Player'.

I leave Cadbury Heath in a good position. It was strangely easy to leave despite all the good times as I knew going into this season that my time was coming. If we weren't 1.5m in the red and maxed out on the wage budget then maybe it would have been worth chasing promotion another year (we could well have made the playoffs at least with a better autumn) but I feel like our momentum has run out. It's time to move out of the South-West into either the Northern or Isthmian leagues.

Almost from the start, Fylde (who had just failed ot get promotion) was available but rejected me. I sneakily applied for Droylsden (as they were getting relegated from the Conference North so technically I'd be staying at the same level) and they actually offered me the job but I rejected it (partly but not only because I decided I wouldn't use that loophole in the rules). Finally Torquay in League 2 offered me the job just like that but aside from the fact that it was too big a step up it didn't appeal that much to me anyway. That at least suggests that despite Fylde I should still be able to get a decent Level 7 club though we'll see as I progress further.

Squad Stats

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10 hours ago, 13th Man said:

Solid season, and now, onto a new challenge!

Yep, though not yet. I got to early July in-game yesterday and by this point it'll probably be October when a bunch of jobs open up again so it might be a few days.

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Well, well... what have we here?

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I certainly wouldn't have anticipated Grimsby (or a similar club) potentially being the third of this career. If it was any other club it would be a 'no' as it's over wage budget (having spare wage budget was one of the key things in my mind). However maybe it's worth it this time as I'll be able to release a lot of players at the end of the season and hopefully maintain a higher wage budget than I did in Gloucestershire given the average attendance is holding up. They started in the Conference National though have spend a lot more time in the Conference North before being relegated last year, and the're how just a few points and places above the drop zone. The wage budget situation will be an issue for this season and means there's no room for any signings but it's potentially worth a go for a few seasons or so to see if I can restore their fortunes a bit.

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First Impressions

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This was the situation I inherited. I haven't played much yet but so far the signs are not good. The squad isn't too bad, even if we're inevitably a bit light in certain areas and there are a few players out loan who I wish I had available. We're particularly short on quality up front, especially as our standout forward (pictured below) will be out for the first few weeks (includng allowing a bit of time to get fit again). The big issue is of course the wage bill. The highest earner is on a whopping £950pw, almost double of what might end up as an informal upper limit of £500pw, and he's really not very good either.  I reckon I could have a good clearout and rebuild in the summer, though as things stand it looks like we have a big survival fight on our hands.

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Here is that forward I mentioned. He hasn't exactly set the world alight so far this season and he's still really young but he's still much better than the rest of our forward options. I imagine a lot will depend on how successfully I can get him firing once he returns.

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On 16/01/2022 at 18:26, 13th Man said:

Ooo, sounds fun! A historically Football League side that’s fallen on hard times…Will give a nice challenge but bring a good reputation and potential.

I agree, though I doubt things will be easy in the short-term. This is a team that was really in a rut once I took over with just 2 points from their previous 6 games and things didn't improve at first. There weren't even any coaches which wouldn't have helped! I can't do anything transfer-wise until the summer due to the wage bill being way over budget and then the squad will need a major overhaul. However at least I can slash the wage bill to a fraction if what it is with the amount of unwanted and overpaid players we have and that should give me all the budgetary room I need to bring in replacements. However if I can survive the short term then we should be in a much better position to move up a division or two after that.

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Dec 2023

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It was nice to get a handful of games under my belt. As you can see things did not start well. Having left a team that were defensively tight but didn't score much, the first match in the cup against Nantwich (which happens to be my mother's birthplace) when we lost after the letting the lead slip twice with awful defending. We didn't look much better against Ashton or Lincoln despite the fact that I had started to make tactical changes (well, team instructions and player roles at least) that seemed to make a difference. Bedlington Terriers were in an even worse position than we were but all we could do was go behind then score an equaliser that saved us from dropping into the relegation zone.

Little did I know how things would turn. Leek Town were high flying but we at least the potential star forward I mentioned above fit for the first time since I took over. As it happened it was his TM partner was the hat-trick hero with Hawkes at least getting one just before he was being subbed off to rest him. It was the club's first league win in 10 and we didn't have to wait long to get more. Bury are clearly so dominant this season that that game was a 'free hit' where we gave a decent account of ourselves in a narrow 1-0 defeat. We then won 3 of our remaining 4 games of the month (and could be considered disappointed not to have won the other) to end December in a much better position than we started. Despite missing one more game to flu, Hawkes managed 3 goals after only getting 2 in 14 matches beforehand this season.

It's fair to say that my opinion of this team has changed considerably. A lot of players will still be released at the end of the season but I no longer think they're a bunch of useless and overpaid morons. It might even be a shame to have to let a couple of them go due to their high wages. The gap to the drop zone isn't that massive but there is definitely a sense of having turned a corner. This is despite facing all but one of the top 6 (the exception were the last opponents before I took over) recently and with the squad depth issues being compounded by usually having at least a few injuries at a time. Despite this I think we're definitely managing fine for now.

As it happens after the win against Crown a message popped up saying it was a record low attendance. This was despite the fact that it was over 1,000, greater than the overall capacity at Cadbury Heath (where we the ground wasn't even quite getting half-full). Attendances seem to have picked up already with our form. That really illustrates how despite the fact that I knew I was taking a short-term gamble, this really is quite a step up in club size and I hope I can make the most of it once I have a squad with the required standard and depth to get at least one promotion.

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On 20/01/2022 at 17:21, 13th Man said:

Well done starting to turn the ship around.  Headed in the right direction even if the challenge has only begun.

Oh we're storming in the right direction as you're about to see.

 

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Feb 2024

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We started the new year on a reletively disappointing note as we threw away an early 1-0 lead at home to Otley Town to go behind 2-1 before rescuing a draw. It may not seem like much but I was wondering if we could get a good enough run to make a playoff push in the way I couldn't quite manage with Cadbury Heath last year. As it happened we managed to get on a good run winning the next 6. The 5-0 win over second-placed Norton Bridge was the obvious highlight. However it did at least highlight how we had a lot of game still to come against other teams competing for the playoff places so it won't be the smoothest ride to the finish. However despite Bury running away with it at the top we're getting close enough to all the teams in the playoffs that they can't all finish the season strongly and if we keep it up we should be able to finish above a couple of them perhaps. The way we're going I think we'd stand a good chance even if conceeding an equaliser at home to Stockport Sports of all teams was another two disappointing point dropped.

Still given the situation when I took over and the poor start, being even close to the playoffs later in the season was one the better potential outcomes. As things stand a narrow defeat at Bury is the only defeat we've suffered since the start of December, since when we've won 10 out of 14 matches. As mentioned above, the run-in has some tricky games but if we can get into the playoff places who knows? The other major news is that having played on a little the youth intake came in and we did have a defender who could turn out to be good.

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Apr 2024

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I genuinely thought we were wobbling going into March. After the draw against Stockport Sports we went behind at Ellesmere Rangers before coming back to win. The same thing happened again (though after we took a 1-0 lead) at Fylde before we snatched another win. We were then held to a 0-0 against Redcar but a late winner against Crown was enough to take us into the top 5 for the first time this season. A narrow 1-0 against Ashbrooke Belford House extended our lead slightly ahead of what I thought might be a tricky final month. As it happened Lincoln were dropping down the table a bit so beating them away wasn't quite as tough as I thought it would be and a win against Ashton Athletic secured our place in the playoffs with a couple of matches left.

There were signs of a wobble at last. We made much heavier weather than we should have of beating relegation-bound Bedlington Terriers with a second goal to wrap it up only coming in stoppage time. The final match was at Leek in what was essentially a playoff for second and a decider for who we'd face in the playoffs, and it was a terrible off day that ended our incredible run of 20 matches undefeated. As we entered the playoffs I hoped that was just a well-timed off-day and a wake-up call. Otherwise this was not a good time to run out of steam.

I can talk about other things without spoiling what happened in the playoffs. After Leek it was time to decide whose contracts would be renewed. We had a lot of overpaid rubbish that I was going to get rid of, and as we were 2.5kpw over our wage budget strict restrictions I couldn't offer new contracts to a few players I was otherwise going to keep but we also had a few good low-earners. In the end I'm keeping a core of 14 players to go into next season and the wage bill has been slashed to around 3kpw, a quarter of it was before, and under a third of a 9.5kpw budget for the new season. While I shouldn't be looking to get close to that it does allow a lot of room for a necessary rebuild and maybe I don't need to get quite as many players as I thought. It will still be a big summer of new signings though.

Star Player: It could only be one. Hawkes looked like a serious wonderkid for this level but when I arrived he was injured having just scored 2 goals in 14 league games. Under me he got 23 goals in as many games and a handful of assists as well.I guess it's not surprising given his talent but you never know with player so young. Hawkes24.thumb.jpg.45531b3914a1b8aafc36706897b51325.jpg

Squad Stats

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Playoffs

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At this level playoff semi-finals are just a single leg at a neutral venue, not two-legs as I was expecting. Still that suited me. We were actually in a lot of trouble for a while against Stonycroft but the defence thankfully held firm. Thankfully Hawkes snatched a goal in the break to somewhat 'FM' them with his 25 goal of the season (setting a new league record), however he went off injured a few minutes afterwards. He may have put us into the final but without him I doubted we could win it.

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Ashton Athletic beat Leek in their semi-final which  thought was good for us but it wasn't to be. The defence was woeful from the start as we conceeded an early goal, then sighed with relief as they had a second disallowed. They got another anyway just before half-time. We weren't completely toothless without Hawkes and got a goal back but as we were taking more risks to try and get back into it they scored a third. We improved afterwards but couldn't get another, let alone an equaliser.

It would have been amazing to get a 4th promotion in 5 seasons and cap off a great turnaround for the season, but 3rd and being playoff finalists was still a great finish in the end. I feel like the first part of the job is done but I'm not sure if the next part will be any easier. I should be able to build a much stronger squad in the summer but I wonder if all the changes will hold us back a bit. It's vital that we get promoted before too long and I'm thinking that we should aim to return to the playoffs at least, all going well.

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Summer 2024

This summer was always going to see major changes. Being considerably over the wage budget (with a lot of rubbish among our higher earners) meant that we needed to let a lot of players go and get a bunch of new ones in their place. The rebuilding job was always going to be slightly hindered by having to wait until all the outgoing players had left to ease the wage budget burden, and then since I couldn't offer most of the staff enough to keep them either, to recruit new ones including scouts. At least the new scouts would come with lists of recommended players. That meant having to miss the boat on the 'expiring contracts' players but thankfully there was enough quality among the players out of contract.

I actually made my first move before the new scouts came in with Whitworth, a defender offered through an agent, then saw a few on the scout shortlists (unfortunately you seem to get the same players from multiple scouts if you hire them around the same time) but the rest was a matter of picking a position or two to look through at a time. Unfortunately there were a lot of players who wanted wages of 1k-1.2kpw minimum and even if I could have gotten that down enough to fall within the boards limits, I was operating on a far stricter limit of 500pw, not least to avoid filling up the wage budget before the squad was big enough. All were signed before the first match of the season aside from the keeper, and that's partly because I wasn't sure we needed one but decided to check anyway at the end in case there was one better than the good young keeper I was otherwise going to play.

12 players ended up being perhaps at least a couple more than I needed but it does give us a squad that's just so much better than the one I inherited, especially in terms of depth. There were a few regulars from last season who I kept around because they seemed decent enough and on low wages but they're pretty much obsolete now. We also ended up with a decent 2kpw spare in the budget, so it's certainly a lot better value for money. The only question mark is the lack of squad cohesion potentially holding us back in the short-term, even though I felt we needed to get promoted pretty quickly. The first game wasn't promising as we started poorly and only managed to draw 0-0 at home to Crown. Hawkes of all players was one of the biggest disappointments so he needs to start firing again soon. Still, it's just one match out of 42 and at least it was a point.

Case

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Colthart

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Francis

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Hancock

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Lawless

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Maddison

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McArthur

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Nicholas

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Rowlands

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Sutcliffe

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Watkins

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Whitworth

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Transfers

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16 hours ago, 13th Man said:

Funny to see so much ins and out with a total of £0 spent or brought in.  Life in the lower leagues, just funny to see in game.

Yep, we're still at that level, though probably not much longer. This was just from having to confine myself to players whose contracts had expired as well, as being over the wage budget before the start of July meant that I couldn't go for player on expiring contracts like I usually would. I also had a thought that the reason we didn't win the playoff final was because you didn't predict we'd go up :D

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On 26/01/2022 at 01:10, deltablue said:

I also had a thought that the reason we didn't win the playoff final was because you didn't predict we'd go up

My fault entirely, all I can say is I'm sorry.

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On 27/01/2022 at 17:51, 13th Man said:

My fault entirely, all I can say is I'm sorry.

Well on the plus side you can still claim to have an excellent promotion prediction record :D

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Sep 2024

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Our start to the season has been underwhelming even if we're the only undefeated team in the league already. Only two teams including table-topping Rydon & Crawcrook Albion (oh I'm going to miss names like that when I get further up the leagues) have conceded fewer league goals but I'm still not happy with the defence. The trouble isn't how many goals we've conceded but the fact that until the Whickham game they were all equalisers which made them feel especially frustrating. We weren't otherwise giving up many chances either adding to the annoyance that we were letting the opposition make the most of what they were getting.

I already played the Crown game before finishing with transfers and we struggled to find our feet in a 0-0 draw. Then the curse of the equalisers first struck against Calverton Miner's Welfare and I thought lightning would strike a second time against West Everton Xaviers (another incredible name) before it was Hawkes who struck a second time instead. We followed that up with admitedly expected wins against Otley Town and Whickham before having to scramble to rescue a point after going 2-0 down at Norton United. Special mention has to go to the own goal which gave them the lead which was a perfectly placed header that just happened to be at the wrong end.

September wasn't a great month in the cups. Again we conceded an important equaliser in the FA Cup against United Services Portsmouth and ended up going out in a replay, then were comfortably beaten by Lancaster City. Given how all the teams we faced were in the level below we rescued some dignity against Eccleshall in the FA Trophy but only after we gave up a 2-0 lead to end up needing a replay. Given how packed the first half of the season is I guess not having quite as many cup games to deal with isn't a bad thing but it's not exactly convincing stuff.

I guess it's not been too bad given how my teams have tended to struggle more in autumn (because of how front-loaded the schedule is) and hit their stride once the fixture list clears up a bit. In that context and the fact that we have so many new players we could be doing a lot worse and at this at least being there or thereabouts in relation to the playoff places isn't a bad place to be at this early stage. The top two are both newly promoted teams and while back-to-back promotions are more common down here it should be interesting to see how the top of the table develops. Otherwise we're clearly a team performing beneath ourselves a little, not just in terms of the quality of the squad but also comparing results to what I'm seeing of our performances otherwise.

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Oct 2024

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This hasn't been the best of months. It started off with the first (and so far only) debut of our new keeper. I wanted to put him in after signing him but when I started my previous session I didn't realise that I had already swapped keepers so I was unintentionally swapping them back. It was a disaster as both Ryton & Crawcrook Albion's first two goals were the result of him fumbling the ball at the feet of a grateful opposition player. It was a bad day all round but I singled him out for particular blame. Otherwise our promising young keeper McKenna (last year's backup) has been doing a good job (with a couple of less-stellar days), just as I was originally planning before I thought I might try get in a new No. 1.

We bounced back with a proper hammering of Hyde before returning to being poor against Hinckley, at least early on but the damage was already done. Beating Ashbrooke Belford House actually took us into the playoff places for the first time, though having played more matches than the teams below us. We also had a tough pair of away games coming up with Hednesford going as poorly as I feared. We did better at Nantwich Town, giving a decent account of ourselves and becoming only the second team to take points off them this season. Our FA Trophy run then came to a disappointing end (just as I almost hoped it would with 8 league matches next month) before we only snatched a point at the end against Fylde in a match we really wouldn't have deserved to lose.

Despite a wobbly month, things aren't going too bad. We have a hectic month left before the schedule eases off and we can hopefully pick up form just my teams have usually done in recent years, which should mean making the playoffs without too much difficulty. This stage of the season was always likely to be about weathering the storm the best we could and at least staying close to the top 5. As it happens having played a few matches into November things still went very well indeed with two wins (ncluding another 6-0) and a hard-fought draw against fellow challengers Lincoln. Hopefully that form continues even if we'll have to rely on Nantwich dropping off to have any chance of competing for top spot, however good we end up being later on.

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I'm taking a break from the forum this week on order to have enough of rest for my health to recently recover (so the next update will likely be a bit bigger than usual) but there is something I wanted to post about. I finally had my first bid for a player for actual money! Unsurprisingly it was for our wonderkid Hawkes and it wasn't just for a few thousand pounds but £170k from Shamrock Rovers! That's a lot of money at this level but I thought it would be better to keep him and I was able to offer him a 3-year contract (as opposed to every contract up to this point otherwise being one year) to ensure we will for a while, and probably be able to sell him for a lot more eventually.

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I only wish I'd found this earlier - it's right up my street. I've been using lower league add-ons for well over a decade, usually DanBHTFC's which go down to Level 20-22. I hardly ever make it to the English League before the next version of FM + the latest lower league add-on is available! Furthermore, where you started, at Exeter Uni brought back memories. I lived 18 years in Plymouth, got my Master's at Exeter - although I studied at Marjon in Plymouth, whose team is 2 or 3 tiers below Exeter Uni - I sometimes start with them. And Dafuge mentioned he went to St. Luke's - I was guest lecturer there and probably overlapped with him. Small world!

I recently stumbled across another off-beat database - Retro  CM01/02 squads. So I'm currently starting high up in the Vanarama League in 2001 and posting career updates on that save, but I'm intrigued to keep following your progress, so I'll bookmark this for when you're up and running again.

 

Keep Up The Good Work!!

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On 09/02/2022 at 10:38, phnompenhandy said:

I only wish I'd found this earlier - it's right up my street. I've been using lower league add-ons for well over a decade, usually DanBHTFC's which go down to Level 20-22. I hardly ever make it to the English League before the next version of FM + the latest lower league add-on is available! Furthermore, where you started, at Exeter Uni brought back memories. I lived 18 years in Plymouth, got my Master's at Exeter - although I studied at Marjon in Plymouth, whose team is 2 or 3 tiers below Exeter Uni - I sometimes start with them. And Dafuge mentioned he went to St. Luke's - I was guest lecturer there and probably overlapped with him. Small world!

I recently stumbled across another off-beat database - Retro  CM01/02 squads. So I'm currently starting high up in the Vanarama League in 2001 and posting career updates on that save, but I'm intrigued to keep following your progress, so I'll bookmark this for when you're up and running again.

 

Keep Up The Good Work!!

Cheers Andy. Sorry I didn't see this earlier. I didn't know Dafuge was a 'Lukie'. Since it was a different campus in the city they were essentially 'the other lot' :D

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Dec 2024

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OK, so given how I was feeling I didn't get up to too much after all. Despite my concerns about all the November games it was a mostly strong month, starting off with hitting 10 goals against Leek and Redcar. Lincoln was one of those 'relieved to snatch a 0-0' games before two more wins took us up to 2nd. Technically we were just a few points off Nantwich but they had something like 4 games in hand. After that we stumbled a little but when I picked it up today we managed three more wins and clean sheets and I added a 4th with the first January match to help us back up to 2nd. It's a shame Nantwich are being so dominant (like Bury last season) and heading for a potential second promotion in a row so it looks like we'll have to settle for the playoffs again this year.

There were also three new signings, very unusual for the middle of the season (especially after so much summer strenghening) but we had the wage budget to spare and they were being offered as good free agents for ths level. Or at least we did before the board reduced it a little after the last signing. Good thing I resisted the temptation to move for another one. Bowditch was the first and was just a good central defender. Watson seemed like a keeper we didn't need but I had already run out of patience with summer signing Sutcliffe and I didn't want to be relying on the admitedly solid but weaker on paper McKenna. Finally McGinlay proved to be a much better option than Miller, like McKenna a player who has done really well but isn't the best and not that well suited to his position anyway, being a lot more creative a midfielder when we need someone a lot more physical and defensive. The three made their debuts in consecutive games. First Bowditch, then Watson (both the first matches after their respective signings) with McGinlay having to wait a match.

That takes us to 15 signings this season (including at least a couple who are already redundant) and maybe that's holding us back a little as this squad seems incredibly strong for this level, and would probably do well in the Conference North at least as well. I doubt I'd want to or be able to make many moves next summer so I'm looking forward to what I hope will be big performance boost next season, whichever league we're in.

Bowditch

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Watson

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McGinlay

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Mar 2025

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In recent years I've become used to performances improving once the schedule eases off, but not this time. The cracks were already emerging when we beat Hyde, even though it was a 5th win and clean sheet in a row at the point. The defence then fell apart at Whickham and a late equaliser (not undeserved admittedly) cost us a win against Ashbrooke Belford House. We somehow came back from 2-0 down (with 9 men) to draw at Fylde (and had a last minute winner chalked off) but by this point we were severely stumbling. A win against Redcar provided some relief at the end of what should have been a comfortable run fo games beforee we played some teams in and around the playoffs. Aside from losing against Nantwich they were all draws which were reasonable results in isolation but not what we wanted. It doesn't help that the injuries have been racking up but I would't say that any of them have affected us that badly.

Early on in the year the defence was an issue but now the problem is attack. I actually dropped Hawkes of all players against Leek before bringing him on to score twice (the second being his 50th league goal for the club at just 17) but that failed to revitalise him as I hoped despite trying to work the attacking roles a little to try and resolve the issue. Draws against Tyersal and Skelmersdale helps at least keep our position steady but means that we still face a fight to secure a playoff place. Our final games aren't easy, as we go to Lincoln, face Wakefield at home (the easy one), then we go to Stonycroft and finish at home to Ellesmere Rangers. We should hold on but I'm not taking that for granted.

The wage budget issue continues. For the first time most of our players are on contracts lasting longer than year, and in this case that's a very bad thing. I didn't realise until I was renewing contracts so the couple of players being released (with hindsight I'd have run down one more) means that we should still be over next season, and offering a few contracts to youth players didn't help either. It's not the biggest issue, and I could probably offer a couple of players out to make up the rest in the summer, but it's not a great situation to be in. It just highlights how we need to go up next season at the latest or it'll end up being a failure. I thought I'd show one good youth prospect anyway.

Browne

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Apr 2025

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I'm going to do what I did last season do an end of season update before the playoffs. The remainder of the regular season didn't start well. Like our earlier game against the same opponent we were lucky to escape with a point, 1-1 this time. That was followed by a disappointing 0-0 at home to Wakefield, a case of 'if we can't even beat these guys what hope do we have'? However things picked up at Stonycroft of all teams. I decided to engage in a bit of man management and encourage Hawkes at half-time and he came back to life after a poor run with 2 goals to give us a surprising 3-0 win to seal a playoff place and an almost certain 4th place, the club's lowest ever finish.  Ellesmere Rangers may well have been just a 1-0 win but having hung on to so many results in the past few months it was nice to have a more comfortable performance.

I hope this'll be the opposite last year where we were amazing for most of the second half of the season before faltering near the end, including in the playoffs. We still did enough even during our poor run to make the playoffs without it being too stressful in the end so maybe it's a case of hitting form again at just the right time.

Star Player: A couple of players did better ratings wide but despite a poor spell until the end of the season it has to go to the 'Cleethorpes Cantona'. His goals per game record was hit badly by his poor run but he was still the joint-top scorer in the league with 13 assists to boot. In fact all three of the main forwards got double figures for goals and assists so we were hardly a one-man team up front.

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Squad Stats

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Playoffs

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The semi-final against Ryton & Crawcrook Albion was a great game that just lacked better finishing from both sides. It was an engaging and close contest eventually won almost at the death from Francis, brought on as a 3rd forward in anticipation for penalties.

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I was worried about the final, especially as I needed to replace quite a few players who were too exhaused from the semi-final just a few days before. This was despite our strong win over the same opponents near the end of the regular season and having beaten them (just) in last year's semi-final. However this year's final went as well as last year's was disappointing. We took an early lead when Hawkes received the ball from Watkins and knocked it back to Tate, the other young talent in the team. The Cleethorpes Cantona then made it 2-0 straight from a free-kick. Francis cemented his place as the hero of the playoffs before half-time then knocked in the ball at close range from a Watkins cross to finish off an incredible win! Conference North here we come!

Admitedly getting promoted within 2-3 years at the most was the minimum expected, but it still feels good especially as the half-way point in the journey from Level 11 to the Premier League. It's also nice to reach a playable league and have a better schedule rather than have so many games packed into the first half of the season. I have no worries about how we'll do next year especially as wage budget pressures mean that transfer activity will be at a minimum (one or two free agent signings at the most) and we'll have a nicely gelled team that can push on. Perhaps we can challenge for another promotion but we'll see.

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Summer 2025

This summer was as quiet as the last one was busy, with just one player being released (though another retired having been set for release anyway) and one coming in. In the absense of much else it's interesting to note that one new arrival as a scout was my former University of Exeter forward Daniel Keen, who was also a scout for me at Cadbury Heath. The shortlist that he and the other new scout provided was disappointingly slim. I was going to remain sensible on wages as well as to abandon the practice of using bonuses to minimise the basic wage but having identified Kingsley as a standout player and a big upgrade at left-back I thought he was worth pushing the boundaries for this time. I had to take into account Hawkes having a 'match highest earner' clause but we still came in under the budget even with the automatic pay rise he got. Hopefully after this season I can let quite a few more players go to ease the wage budget pressure as 11kpw still seems like a lot at this level.

Kingsley

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Oh, one thing I forgot to mention was that I only realised at the end of the season that my Ass Man (who has now left as he wanted slightly more than I could offer him) was Paul Hurst! I'd say that was more his level than Ipswich was ;)

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Congrats on getting Grimsby up!  You even did it without me seeing into the future.  You see, I knew you could do it on your own, I was trying to set you free...or something.

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On 18/02/2022 at 21:36, 13th Man said:

Congrats on getting Grimsby up!  You even did it without me seeing into the future.  You see, I knew you could do it on your own, I was trying to set you free...or something.

I was just thinking thinking about how unusual it was to go up with you predicting it :D Unfortunately it may take some time to get into the new season. My house is without power after a massive storm last Friday and while I can regularly recharge my laptop I am trying to get it to last as long as possible which means no FM or other games. 

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30 minutes ago, deltablue said:

I was just thinking thinking about how unusual it was to go up with you predicting it :D Unfortunately it may take some time to get into the new season. My house is without power after a massive storm last Friday and while I can regularly recharge my laptop I am trying to get it to last as long as possible which means no FM or other games. 

That storm was no joke! Good luck getting back into it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sept 2025

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It's probably unusual to get to enthusiastic about the opening game of a Conference North, though it was nice to reach the playable leagues. We started off against relegated Barrow so getting a comfortable win seemed like a more positive sign then it turned out given how the rest of the month turned out for both teams. They struggled while it turned out to be our only league win in the first five, leaving us just a couple of points and places above the bottom three. We did at least beat struggling Bath in the Conference League Cup Thankfully expectations have been relatively low so all we needed was to survive to satisfy the board. As long as we avoided the struggle it would almost be nice not to have the pressure of a promotion push for a change.

Form suddenly picked up in September, with three wins taking us up into the playoffs as part of a 100% record in the league. As no one seems to be running away with the league so far it's interestnng to think that we might be up for challenging for top spot if we keep this up. The only blip is against Wellington in the FA Cup, as I eased off at 2-0 up to save energy only for that to backfire as they forced a replay. At least we comfortably beat them in the end. It's nice that being in a 'playable' league the schedule is more realistic so you don't have all these midweek league games along with the cup games in the first few months or so of the season.

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2 hours ago, 13th Man said:

Very good start, real tight at the top. 

That's natural so early in the season. It's too early to really judge who the promotion contenders are likely to be but I feel confident that we're going to be among them.

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Oct 2025

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We started the month with three cup games against the same team. We edged past Brimsombe & Thrupp in the Conference League Cup but 210 goal-less minutes in the FA Cup meant that we relied on a couple of Mckenna saves in the shootout to finally get through. That gave us a match against Conference National side Gateshead which we won to get to the First Round (proper) for the first time in this career. Sadly while we had a winnable game against Hanwell of the Conference South, we were gettng particularly tired at that point. Having had 2 goals (admittedly correctly) disallowed before we equalised, they scored another to dump us out after a poor performance in certain quarters. Interestingly enough their winner was scored by Alex Iwobi. It's fun to see familiar youth players in older versions not make it in the same way as we already know they did in real life.

Our cup commitments weren't doing much for our fixture schedule and fitness levels but we beat Chorley (who looked like potential promotion rivals at the time), snatched a draw at Jarrow (the game that was moved for the FA Cup replay), then a couple of wins later we were actually top of the league (albeit just on goal difference) with 2 games in hand! Preston were probably the biggest team we had faced in the league so far and under the circumstances I wasn't too disappointed with a draw. It helped that while we were losing to Hanwell in the cup we went back to having 2 games in hand and a goal difference lead, which is not a bad situation to be in. I'm definitely aiming for top spot and automatic promotion at this stage, especially given how much our league form has been holding up during a hectic time. In fact the Hanwell defeat was our first in all competitions since August.

It's interesting to note that 3 more teams have joined Pilkington in getting points deductions. Maybe that would help if one of the teams otherwise closer to us gets hit with one as well. Imagine how embarassing it must be for Dunston & Broughton Rangers to be bottom of the league despite 4 other teams having deductions.

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Jan 2026

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Oh, It was going so well. We actually went into January with an 8 point lead. I knew we were facing a relatively tricky month of fixtures (including a trip to Gainsborough which keeps getting moved or postponed) but I didn't expect it would be this bad. To make things worse, Dudley Sports have gotten their act together to turn into a serious rival, knocking us off top spot, albeit having played a game more. Even the one good league result was a mess as we went 2-0 behind (as part of the same defensive shambles that was costing us in the other matches), 3-2 ahead and had to grab a winner once they equalised. The Banbury defeat was the most frustrating, especially as it was their first league win in 10! At least we ended the month on a more positive note with an easy win over Sevenoaks in the Conference League Cup to send us into the quarter-finals.

Before that we were surprisingly comfortable, though with a few close calls. Both Sunderland Ryhope CA were examples of having to come back from 2-0 to rescue a point and keep our undefeated run (which I think stretched to 19 games) intact, just after matches where we had the lead but needed to settle for a draw in the end. However those were brief wobbles that didn't really cost us, unlike in January. Otherwise were proved to be remarkably consistent despite a busy schedule with some more cup games, including the entirety of our adventures in the FA Trophy. In fact the cups have added to what was a fantastic season until January. Aside from having been top of the league for a while, we went at least 2 rounds further than expected in all three cups. I know cup expectations don't really mean anything but that still feels like a positive thing and added up to a very happy board.

It would be crushing to miss out on promotion given how well we were doing for a while, though if we managed it via the playoffs at least it would be a decent consolation prize. We still have a few ouf the toughest fixtures left, including going to both Nantwich Town and Dudley Sport, the latter in the penultimate match of the season. I can only hope that the tables have turned once more in our favour by then.

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May 2026

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Well that was a season and a half, almost literally with the cup games! Top spot switched hands a little in February, given we still had a game in hand. We easily beat Holker Old Boys to retake top spot while Dudley Sport lost, however the reverse happened when we lost to Preston. Wins over Bury and Boston just kept us ahead but it was all downhill from there. The much-delayed Gainsborough Trinity match was a free hit but losing to Chorley (you can't be serious) was not and we waved goodbye to first place. Part of the problem was that just like last season, Hawkes had suddenly hit a long drought in the second of the half of the season. In fairness it wasn't entirely his fault as we weren't really creating the chances in a lot of games, though we had still made just a few chances count many times before this season alone.

After the defeat at Walsall we seemingly had a more managable run of games but despite beating Pilkington (with Hawkes finally getting back on the scoresheet in the league), we fell to Sunderland Ryhope CA to a sole chance that we handed to them on a plate. Despite our clear inconsistency it was frustrating knowing that it was still close enough that results like Thankfully we bounced back against Dunton and Broughton Rangers despite having to play just 2 days later. After defeat to Nantwich Town it seemed not just that top spot was getting beyond our reach but we were now in a close fight to secure the playoffs, not helped by defeat to Telford United as well. We at least secured the playoff places by snatching a point in a crazy game at Dudley Sport, having to come back first from 2-0 down, then grab a second equaliser after they retook the lead. We finished off the regular league season with an unconvincing win over Ashton Athletic, leaving me a lot more disappointed then you'd expect for someone who finished in the playoff places after promotion.

The Conference League Cup provided a lot more joy. Hawkes' only goals during his long league drought came in a 5-1 hammering of Sevenoaks (featured at the end of the last update) before we faced another Kent team, Maidstone, in the quarter-finals. We went 2-1 down after taking the lead and it took a while to go more attacking because I was wondering if it was worth chasing the tie. As it turned out it was as there was enough time to equalise and end up winning on penalties. The semi-final against Bury was surprisingly easy given our league form and it even allowed Hawkes to to break his overall drought before he managed it in the league in the following match.

Key Player: Who else? He actually got the highest average rating this time. Imagine how many goals he'd get if he could actually perform throughout an entire season. Not only did he get a new personal best of 40 goals in all competitons regardless, he also set a new club record for assists in a season. Not bad at all.

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Squad Stats (Excluding a few players whose contracts were expiring who I released early to make room for early transfer activity).

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Conference League Cup Final 2026

 I decided to give this game a post of its own, even if it meant editing the fixture list in the above post to avoid spoilers. It actually came between Nantwich and Telford to the point that after going 3-0 down early on in the former to just not bother and save energy for the final, and Hawkes had to miss the latter due to needing a rest. The odds were against us as we faced a Wycombe team who had just been relegated from the Football League and were close challengers to go back up. They had some clearly superior (if aging) players, including Bebe! Making matters worse, the young playmaker Tate (who was only in the team as I thought the other guy was narrowly not fit enough) got send off in the middle of the first half! Idiot.

Despite all of that we held on well and even had come chances of our own (I had mostly fixed the chance creation issue by this point) to be very much their equal, defying the difficult circumstances. In Extra Time the ball was played forward to Hawkes on the break, over almost every over player on the pitch, and he had plenty of freedom to advance and slot it perfectly pask the keeper into the net. It was a goal which was passionately celebrated, I assure you. We still had to hold on for 25 mins but somehow we did to claim a completely unexpected win. I think it's the first time I've won a cup as a 'lower division' team as well. As for Wycombe, well it wasn't their year. They missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference and lost in the playoffs.

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