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Tikka Mezzala

The Fort at the End of the Hill (Cair Cheann Tulaich)

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Hello, FM Stories community!

All is done with exams and other pressing matters, so I can now return to the most pressing matter of all: Football Manager. I have the urge to write and what better way to do so than to convert my number one procrastination tool, Football Manager, into the partial subject matter of my writing. 

My only story to date is L'Entranger, the tale of French-Algerian writer Albert Camus' alternative life as a manager in North Africa. I have said before that I intend to return to that story, and I maintain that thought; though the time-frame isn't quite clear. I have completed the season in the game that the story is based upon, so all that is needed is some imaginative writing to flesh out the results and incidents that occurred over the course of the Algerian Ligue 2 season. 

This story, The Fort at the End of the Hill, is going to take me back to more familiar surroundings in my home town of Kirkintilloch. In Kirkie (short for Kirkintilloch) we have a few Sunday League teams, but Rob Roy are the club that represent the town at Junior level. I actually remember digging a hole underneath the metal fence at Adamslie Park, Rob Roy's home ground, sneaking in and playing on the pitch with a couple of mates. Eventually we were chased off by a member of staff, and we scurried away back under the fence like frightened rabbits. 

I hope anyone who stumbles upon this story will find it worth the mental effort. There are some fantastic contributions on the sub-forum and I hope to add to the quality already present. 

 

Best Regards, 

 

Pechorin. 

 

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"Below lies one whose name was traced in sand-

He died not knowing what it was to live:

Died while the first sweet consciousness of manhood

And maiden thought electrified his soul:

Faint beatings in the calyx of the rose.

Bewildered reader, pass without a sigh

In a proud sorrow!"

(the self-penned epitaph of David Gray; Scottish poet born in Kirkintilloch, January 29th 1838). 

 

 

Edited by Tikka Mezzala

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The night was in full swing: music blared over the top of drunken conversations; frustrated middle aged men and women forgot their troubles and took to the dance floor; bar staff darted from beer taps to spirit bottles; disco lights flashed, creating a sense of unreality; the queue for the female toilets steadily increased. The motion of the night only stilled itself when the President of Kirkintilloch Rob Roy Junior Football Association took hold of the microphone and spoke to the evening’s attendees:

Hello, everybody, and thanks for coming to the Kirkintilloch Rob Roy end of season awards. I know most of you, but for those who don’t know me, my name’s Neil Anderson, I’m the President of the football club. I’d like to say a few words before I hand over to the host for the evening who will begin the awards ceremony.

First of all, let me thank everyone that has been involved with the club over the last year or so for the dedication they’ve shown. It has been a tough year, but all things considered, we’ve managed to come through the season in decent shape. Our off the field problems have been well documented in the local press and I have to stress the unbelievable work everyone has done in managing the situation. Times are tight for our town at the moment and we’ve seen the impact of that hit us hard. We rely on our sponsors for funding the club and the economic downturn has obviously impacted that side of things. Obviously now is not the time to go into what this means for the future, but I’d like to really emphasise how much myself and the rest of the club’s committee appreciate your support and we hope that things will get better so that we can try and give back to the community in the form of a quality local football club.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the coaching team and the players for keeping the team in the Premiership. We held a meeting at the beginning of the season where we discussed our aims and how the downsizing was likely to affect us. We all agreed that maintaining our place in the top-level of the Western Junior leagues was our central concern and we’ve managed to do that with some to spare.

Finally, I’d like to say thank you to the supporters who have come along to Adamslie Park week after week, and to those that have managed to follow us throughout the country. Supporting your local junior team may not have the rewards of supporting a Celtic or a Rangers, but we hope that you’ve enjoyed the season with us, and we’d love to see you back for the next campaign.

Thanks again and enjoy the rest of the evening.”

The ceremonial applause that followed the President’s speech was notably muted. The enthusiasm present during the drinking and dancing had drained from the room. The relationship between Neil Anderson and the coaching staff was cold and distant. The club supporters laid the blame for the recent off-field troubles squarely at the President’s door. Even the club committee had fractured, with some members sympathising with Neil and others plotting his departure. So, when the President stood before the attendees at the club’s award night celebrations, he faced more gritted teeth than smiles.

To understand how the situation had become so tense at Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, it will be useful to familiarise yourself with Neil Anderson’s three year tenure to date. Anderson had been voted onto the club committee during the 2012/13 season. He became President in the summer of 2015 having previously held the position of club treasurer. During his stint in charge of club finances, Neil managed to reduce the running costs while maintaining a slight yearly increase in the recruitment budget. Rob Roy were able to offer the fourth best transfer and wage budgets in the West Premiership, outgunning all of their local rivals. His impressive performance as treasurer inevitably led to the Presidency, and with a healthy budget his first move was to appoint a manager that, in Neil’s words, “would put Kirkintilloch on the map”. True to his word, Neil persuaded the director of Celtic’s Community Academy, Mark Reid, to sign up to his local revolution. Reid, a former Celtic reserve captain, had asked to be given free-reign to shape the club from first-team to the u-19s. Several of Celtic’s community coaches followed Reid to Kirkintilloch and the West of Scotland Junior Football scene braced itself for a period of red-and-black dominance.

Unfortunately, the Mark Reid era did not bring the kind of results that Neil had foreseen when he enthusiastically put the bricks in place for it to happen. The coaching philosophy endorsed by Reid and his team of coaches was roundly rejected by the players. Several of the dressing room leaders had complained to Neil and the committee that Reid was “too demanding” and “refused to embrace the reality of junior football”. The “reality” they alluded to was that many of the Rob Roy players were heavy drinkers and they lived fairly normal lives away from their time with the club. They tried to keep themselves in reasonable shape, but Mark Reid had been demanding Olympian levels of fitness and nutrition. In the end Kirkintilloch Rob Roy and Mark Reid simply did not fit together. The season ended with the club in 8th place with a goal difference of minus twelve.

The Mark Reid experiment was an important lesson for Neil. Having qualified coaches with experience at a top level institution was no guarantee of success in junior football. It was also a very costly way to run the club, as Neil’s replacement in the treasury role pointed out to him. So ahead of the 2016/17 season the club appointed Stewart Maxwell, a former Rob Roy player and someone who knew the Western junior leagues well. Maxwell was an up and coming coach, having started his SFA coaching badges the previous year. Despite only ever playing at junior level, he was a very methodical and intelligent manager. Arguably, however, his most important attribute was his willingness to accept the limitations of his team. Instead of banning them from the pubs, he would join them for a drink after games. All he asked of the players was that they treated training and match days as professionals, allowing them to live the rest of their lives however they saw fit. Maxwell brought with him a number of old-fashioned coaches from his training courses and they managed to take the club to within three points of winning the first West Premiership title in its history. Glenafton Athletic had denied them on the final day of the season, but Neil had been delighted by the progress the team had made under Maxwell’s watch.

The feel-good factor was to be short-lived, however, as the economic situation in the town of Kirkintilloch started to worsen. The money the club received from sponsorship dropped sharply and the treasurer could find no way of reducing costs without eating into the budget given to Stewart to help the team push for the title the following season. After several emergency committee meetings and last-ditch attempts to keep sponsors on board, the club began to downsize. Some of Maxwell’s coaching staff were let go and all of his key players were pressured into accepting contracts elsewhere. The manager was frozen out of discussions surrounding the downsizing and threatened to leave, fearing a season that would damage his now fledgling reputation. Neil managed to convince Stewart Maxwell to stay, promising an improvement to the financial situation over the next twelve months, citing his previous spell as treasurer as evidence that he knew how to get the club back onto sound financial footing.

Twelve months later, with the financial situation more dire than at any time over the last twenty-five years of the club’s history, Stewart Maxwell was ready to walk. The relationship between Neil and him was at breaking point, and the team’s performance during the 2017/18 season only added to the anger swelling in the heart of the club. A 6th placed finish by all accounts was a remarkable achievement for a team comprised mainly of u-19 players, but it was the last straw for Maxwell who felt his reputation had been damaged by a dramatic regression in league performance over the course of twelve months. The players, who adored their manager, shared in the hostility towards the President and his allies. Kenny Farmer, the General Secretary, had been holding secret talks with Maxwell throughout the course of the season, promising to oust the President and replace him with someone willing to put forward the funds to help the team challenge for the title. But Neil Anderson was still clinging on to the Presidency. With further cuts planned for the 2018/19 season, leaks were made to the Kirkintilloch Herald in an attempt to turn the club support against Anderson. The Herald had reported that Neil’s failed experiment with Mark Reid was responsible for the present financial mess, describing Reid’s tenure as a “personal vanity project” on the part of the President. While the Herald’s story exaggerated things, there was some truth at the heart of it: had the club kept the running costs lower over the twelve month period when Mark Reid was at the helm, there would have been enough money in the coffers to keep hold of key players the following summer. The article angered Neil and his allies, not only because it castigated him, but it signalled the first time the local newspaper had weighed in on internal club politics. The relationship between Rob Roy and the Kirkintilloch Herald had always been that of an old man and his lapdog. The paper sponsored the club and in return it had open access to Adamslie Park and its inhabitants. Criticism of the club was hard to find in the archives; it was only in the last twelve months that the tone had changed somewhat, and Neil had made an educated guess as to who was behind the negative press he had been receiving.

Sitting at the back of the function hall, nursing a whiskey-half, was the assistant sports editor at the Kirkintilloch Herald. John McCulloch had previously covered Cumbernauld United’s progress for the paper but had recently been promoted. He was a short ugly man, with an air of unfounded arrogance that could only be the result of a membership at the local Masonic hall. Neil figured that John McCulloch’s ties to the Masons was the key to understanding how the press had become involved in taking sides in the club’s internal strife. The general secretary, Kenny Farmer, also Neil’s most outspoken critic, was also part of the local Chapter, and the dots started to connect in the President’s mind. So, as Neil Anderson left the awards ceremony early that evening, he was concocting a plan to deal with his enemies and regain absolute control of Kirkintilloch Rob Roy.

Edited by Tikka Mezzala

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Great start, took my eyes off a game just to read this, and then back again.

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The holiday period between the end of the 2017/18 season and the beginning of the 2018/19 campaign was the busiest spell of Neil Anderson's tenure as Rob Roy President. Before he could sound out a replacement for the now departed Stewart Maxwell, Neil had to consolidate his position at the head of the junior club. A conversation with his trusted ally, the club treasurer Gerry Allen, led Neil to understand who he could trust within the club committee. Out of the seven committee members, only three could be counted on to vote with him on any measure that he put forward in the coming weeks. He was certain that Kenny Farmer had at least two allies in his camp, meaning the single committee member whose loyalties weren't clear was key in his quest to rid the club of his enemies.

Ryan Edgefoot, the community officer at the club, had shown little interest in the political dispute running through the heart of the club committee. Edgefoot was a passionate advocate of local grassroots football and his focus was solely on preparing things for the August Canal Festival in the town. Every year, Rob Roy would participate in the festival and attempt to attract new supporters to the club. Ryan had managed to get in contact with the living members of the 1962 Junior Cup winning team and they agreed to come along to the festival as club ambassadors. It was an important time for Rob Roy, and Edgefoot understood the significance of the image that the institution presented to the Kirkintilloch public. A united committee was part of that image and this was the line that Anderson and his allies pushed in an attempt to sway the community officer in their direction. The President asked Edgefoot to vote in favour of replacing Kenny Farmer and his allies with three more agreeable committee members from the local community. Edgefoot agreed to comply with Neil Anderson's wishes on one condition: that he would have a say in who the club's new manager was and that the appointment would be made from within the local community. Ordinarily, the President would have been furious with such an attempt to influence a major decision like this, but agreeing to Edgefoot's demands allowed him a ready-made excuse to the rest of the committee when the club announced a 'cheap option' manager in the coming weeks. 

With four out of seven committee members onside, Neil Anderson pushed ahead with the purge. Kenny Farmer and his two confidants had been removed from the Rob Roy club committee and they were replaced with three individuals from the supporters' association. The President had personally sounded out the new committee members and he understood them to be, in effect, yes men. This gave Anderson total control over the club's affairs. 

With Kenny Farmer ejected from his post, it was inevitable that he would go running to his friend in the Kirkie Herald, John McCulloch. But the former general secretary was to find that his nemesis was one step ahead of him. Having consolidated his power in the committee room, Neil Anderson made a phone call to the Herald threatening them with a total blackout if McCulloch was to continue in his post. The chief sports editor at the paper was keen to retain access to Adamslie Park and so agreed to move McCulloch to a new role at the paper: chief rugby correspondent. McCulloch was replaced by a young reporter fresh out of the University of the West of Scotland; someone whom Neil was assured would "be easy to handle." In return for the favour, Rob Roy would allow the paper to have round the clock access to the manager and players over the course of the season, including an in-depth exclusive interview with the head coach when he was appointed. So when Kenny Farmer attempted to smear the Rob Roy President in the press the day after he was voted out of the club, he was to find that not only did Anderson control the club committee, but he now controlled the local press as well. 

With absolute power attained in the footballing circles of Kirkintilloch, Neil Anderson sat down with his yes men to agree on a new manager for the coming season. Ryan Edgefoot played his role perfectly, recommending a young coach from local Sunday League side Rosebank Thistle. Edgefoot listed off the advantages of appointing the Rosebank coach, including a potential link up between the clubs that could see Rob Roy snap up any talented players from Thistle, as well as sharing the Merkland football pitches for training purposes, halving the costs between the two teams. Neil sprinkled some scepticism into the discussion, but it was all for show. His mind was made up: the club would appoint Edgefoot's recommendation, saving around £90 per week in wages. The President also mooted the possibility of replacing the Rob Roy youth teams with Rosebank acting as a feeder club for younger players. This would significantly reduce the running costs at the club and Rosebank would benefit from a small annual fee. The decision was made unanimously. Kirkintilloch Rob Roy would appoint Rosebank Thistle's Emile Thompson as the club's new manager. Thistle also agreed to become an affiliate of Rob Roy for a set annual-fee of £500. Everything was going according to plan for Neil Anderson. 

 

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"This is a huge opportunity for me, personally, and I'm very excited to be involved in Kirkintilloch's premier football club."

Those were the words of Rob Roy's new manager, Emile Thompson, as he sat down to speak with the Kirkintilloch Herald about his plans for the new campaign. Emile was a softly spoken and understated figure, lacking the self-confidence of Mark Reid and the larger than life persona of Stewart Maxwell. But what he lacked in charisma he made up for in clarity of thought and forthrightness. His time with Rosebank Thistle had taught him the fundamentals of coaching and working with limited resources. His day job in social care had introduced him to all types of people, and so he arrived at Rob Roy ready to face up to whatever the job could throw at him. 

Emile had caught the attention of Ryan Edgefoot while his Thistle team performed in a local fundraising tournament. The two men met on the sidelines and discussed all things grassroots football. Edgefoot had been impressed by the Rosebank manager's scope of vision for his team and was keen to learn from him. Over the course of the previous season, Ryan and Emile regularly met up at coffee shops to discuss strategies and ways in which a club could make the most of the Sunday League talent pool. Without a club scout, Thompson had relied upon his own team's matches and pouring over various newspapers from other towns in order to get up to speed on his opponents and their best players. He also utilised a website dedicated to recording results from the Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch leagues. In assessing the players within his scope, Emile generally looked for four attributes: technique, intelligence, pace and strength. Any player that showed aptitude in these areas, he was keen to get on board and develop. Several Rosebank players had gone on to trials at various clubs in the SPFL structure, with three players winning contracts at Queens Park. Even though Rob Roy considered Emile as "the cheap option", it was clear from his track record that Ryan Edgefoot had unearthed a talented coach who could help improve the club on and off the pitch. 

Just as Edgefoot had praised the new Rob Roy manager to the hilt, the Kirkintilloch Herald lathered praise on the new boss. Unlike the club's community officer, however, the Herald's views on Thompson were very much held with an eye on their relationship with the President of Rob Roy. Anderson had made it crystal clear to the paper that any negative press would be harshly punished. This resulted in a lack of scrutiny of Emile, and honest questions about his lack of experience at junior level went unasked. His youthfulness was held up as a positive, even though there was a likelihood that it would create problems in getting the players to respect his authority. At twenty-five years of age, Thompson was the youngest coach in Rob Roy's history. An honest journalist would flag this up as a serious gamble, but the new assistant sports editor at the Herald marvelled at the club's willingness to invest in young coaches as well as players. 

The article was plastered onto the back pages of the Kirkie Herald's weekend edition. Neil Anderson and Emile stood holding a red and black scarf between them, the headline above them reading: "New Rabs Prodigy "Very Excited" to Work at Adamslie". The whole thing was orchestrated perfectly by Neil Anderson. There was no fan backlash at the inexperienced appointment, the media toed the line, and the new club committee embraced every decision by the President with passive acceptance. 

With all the pieces in place it was time to prepare for the new season. Emile Thompson's first move was to advocate for a change in the club structure. He wanted a director of football to help oversee recruitment. Anderson was willing to accept the manager's suggestion and Ryan Edgefoot was given the role at Thompson's request. Employing the methods he had learned from his conversations with Emile, Edgefoot set about pouring over newspapers and junior football websites and fans forums. The club had also set up a trialist match, giving the manager a chance to see potential targets play against the current crop of players, all of whom would be playing for a new contract. It was going to be a time of massive upheaval, and Emile intended to stretch the club budget as far as he could. It was unclear how successful the squad building exercise would be, and everyone at the club was aware that the looming threat of relegation was ever present. If Thompson's and Edgefoot's methodology failed to improve the quality of players coming into the club, there would be further regression and that spelled trouble. A ball had not even been kicked, but the most crucial part of the season was underway. The next few weeks would decide the fate of Rob Roy and their new manager.  

 

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The new management team at Rob Roy oversaw major changes to the playing staff. Having followed Emile's method of scouring the local media and internet forums, offering trials to those whose reputation earned them a mention, and signing the players that fitted into the technique, intelligence, pace and strength template, the squad began to take shape ahead of preseason. No fewer than twenty one players were shipped out of the club in an attempt to free up funds for the rebuild. Twenty two players arrived to replace the departed, each handpicked by the new recruitment dream team of Emile and Ryan Edgefoot. 

Two players in particular excited the manager and director of football: David McStay, an attacking midfielder signed from Bishopbriggs-based Rossvale in the Western Championship; and Bryan Prunty, a former Celtic reserve striker, from SJFA West League One. Prunty was thirty-five years old, ten years Emile's senior, but his experience would be greatly beneficial to an otherwise young squad. 

With the junior contracts settled for each new signing, Rob Roy began their preseason preparations. Working out of the Merkland football facilities, Emile and his twenty-nine year old assistant, Ross Strachan, put the players through their paces. The previous manager, Stewart Maxwell, had accepted the physical limitations of the squad he inherited. Emile replaced the heavy drinkers and party goers with players that wanted to break into the semi-professional and professional leagues above the juniors. When Neil Anderson appeared during one of the training sessions to see how things were progressing, he couldn't believe the difference in intensity and professionalism. It was at this moment the President started to realise he had stumbled upon the type of coach he had been looking for when he hired Mark Reid three seasons ago. 

The team trained three nights a week: Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they would end their session with a half an hour practice game against Emile's old side Rosebank Thistle, who occupied the other half of the training facility those nights. Emile and his assistant were great believers in working always with a football at the players' feet, and so many of their exercises were aimed at improving the technical ability of the squad and making them comfortable in possession. With three decent centre backs to choose from, the team set up with a 3-4-1-2 formation, allowing David McStay to occupy his favoured number ten position. Bryan Prunty was asked to link up with a younger, quicker striker in a front pairing. The training games seemed to vindicate the tactical decision, as Rob Roy brushed aside Rosebank, regularly hitting eight and nine goals in half an hour. All was looking bright on the training ground and all that was left to do was transfer this progress into the preseason friendlies.

Rob Roy had arranged three home friendly games ahead of the West Sectional League Cup Group Stages: Broughty United; Dundee City; Annan Athletic Reserves. Emile was confident that the players he and Ryan Edgefoot has brought in had significantly improved the squad, so he was eager to see the team in action against better opposition. 

The grass at Adamslie Park had been cut and the pitch was in pristine condition. Thirty five tickets had been sold for the Broughty United game. The new strips were laid out in the dressing room and there were pictures of famous former players on the wall, including Stevie Chalmers, Joe McBride, Chic Charnley and Andy Ritchie. 

Everything was ready to go ahead of the first game of preseason. 

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Note***

For those who may be from Kirkintilloch or nearby, I am aware that Rob Roy moved out of Adamslie Park a few years ago and are sharing a ground in Cumbernauld. But for the purposes of this story, I'd like to stay in the century old ground for what will hopefully be a historic season. 

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With preseason football about to begin, there was a sense of optimism among the players and coaching staff at Rob Roy. Everyone could see that the club had managed to recruit well during the summer break and the players were keen to test themselves against their preseason opponents. 

Away from the training pitch, however, the club committee were engaged in crisis talks. The Kirkintilloch Rob Roy Social Club had been closed a year earlier having run up £30,000 worth of debt, and the long term financial viability of the club depended upon a successful deal to sell the stadium grounds to a housing development firm. Neil and the club treasurer had kept the issue off the agenda whilst Kenny Farmer was still on the committee, but now he had full control of its members, the President proposed the sale of the stadium to the committee, with a ground-sharing arrangement to be made with a nearby club. The motion passed and Neil moved ahead with the negotiations with Dawn Homes, who were keen to build apartment blocks at the Adamslie site. An agreement was reached and Adamslie Park was sold for £1.8m. The team would play the 2018/19 season in the old ground before moving to Cumbernauld's Guy's Meadow until a new stadium could be built. It would be the first time in over one-hundred years that Rob Roy would play its home games outside of Kirkintilloch. 

Neil Anderson could of course rely on the Kirkintilloch Herald to downplay the significance of the club's plans to move to Cumbernauld for a couple of seasons. The club's unbroken relationship with Kirkintilloch was never mentioned and an interview with the President spun the whole story into something positive:

"As our supporters well know, Rob Roy is a club with strong democratic traditions. Every decision we make follows the principle of one man one vote, and each person on our committee has the club's interests at heart. 

Rob Roy has been a part of Kirkintilloch's history since 1878 and we've witnessed many changes to the town and to the club during our lifetime. Adamslie Park has been a huge part of our football club and we let go of it with a heavy heart, but we are not letting go of our history and traditions at the same time. Kirkintilloch is changing constantly and so must we if we wish to prosper. That is why the club is exploring a new opportunity to move into the heart of Kirkintilloch's Southbank area. I promise that the new facilities will be the envy of other clubs in the junior footballing world.

We have been lucky to be involved in some fantastic matches at Adamslie Park, including our 1963 meeting with Chelsea, and to have witnessed players like Stevie Chalmers, the man who scored the winning goal in the 1967 European Cup final, grace the turf here. I hope that as we move into our new ground in the coming years, we will enjoy more special occasions and thrive at our new home. 

In the mean time, it's important that the club finds a temporary solution while we await our new stadium's completion. We have managed to secure an agreement with Cumbernauld United to share Guy's Meadow for the next two seasons. In doing so, I hope that we can extend our club's influence into the area of Cumbernauld and grow our fanbase. But of course, the most important thing for the club is that we continue to be supported by our local community here in Kirkintilloch; the eternal home of Rob Roy Junior Football Club." 

The Herald article neglected to mention the financial necessity of selling Adamslie Park. It was a masterstroke in propaganda. 

 

As word of Rob Roy's new stadium plans filtered throughout the town, Emile Thompson was preparing his players to play their first game of their preseason schedule. Broughty United, an amateur club, arrived at Adamslie Park with a bunch of trialists and only three substitutes. Despite their patchwork squad, they managed to organise themselves well and the game proved to be a good test of Rob Roy's offensive guile. With five defenders sitting in a flat line and four midfielders shuttling laterally in front of them, the Rob Roy players were struggling to find space in the final third. Recognising the pointlessness of playing with three central defenders when only one Broughty player hovered around the half way line, Emile switched to an ultra-attacking 2-4-4 shape. His two central defenders ushered the sole Broughty striker, while the four midfield players looked to play angled balls over the opponent's back line to one of the four on-rushing strikers. Broughty held out until midway through the second half, when Portuguese-Angolan striker Neto got onto the end of an early cross. Neto had been brought in as the pacier partner in a front pairing with veteran striker Bryan Prunty. His goal was hopefully a sign of things to come, as he displayed good intuition and quick reactions to get on the end of the cross. Liam Taylor, a winger-come-striker got the second ten minutes from time after cutting in from the left hand-side and curling the ball past the helpless Broughty United keeper. The game had proven to be a war of attrition and Emile was happy to see his players remain patient in the knowledge that one or two key chances would arrive. 

Full Time: Kirkintilloch Rob Roy 2-0 Broughty United (Neto, Liam Taylor). 

The Broughty United victory had given the new management team food for thought. Playing with a back three would be ideal if the traditional 4-4-2 formation was popular among their opponents, but the ultra-defensive tactics they had faced in their first preseason game called for a plan-B. During Thursday practice matches, Rob Roy would now play with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the intention of the in possession shape becoming 2-4-4. The wing backs were instructed to sit higher and the wide midfielders were to cut inside to get closer to the centre forward. David McStay in the number ten role was to look for space in the final third and move where he saw fit. It was a freedom that he enjoyed and thrived in. The problem that the 4-2-3-1 formation gave Emile was that he had to choose between one of his two first choice strikers for the sole centre forward role. In the first practice game with the new shape, Neto was put into the left inside-forward role, with Bryan Prunty staying central. It worked okay, but it was clear that at present the team were much more comfortable in the 3-4-1-2 shape that they had become familiar with over the course of preseason so far. 

In the next preseason game against Dundee City, Emile stuck with the tried and tested 3-4-1-2. Two first half goals from Bryan Prunty, one from the penalty spot, gave them another solid victory. The game had taken on a similar feel to the Broughty United match, with Rob Roy having to be patient and wait for openings. The early goals had settled the players down and the only complaint that the new manager had to make was that they didn't score more. With a raft of changes made at half time, it was understandable that the second half performance felt a little bit disjointed. But it was two wins in two games and the enthusiasm was starting to grow ahead of the opening game of the season. 

Full Time: Kirkintilloch Rob Roy 2-0 Dundee City (Bryan Prunty x2). 

 

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Posted (edited)

The third and final game of preseason saw Annan Athletic's reserve side visit Adamslie Park. It was an opportunity to head into the competitive season in perfect form. Emile Thompson decided to field the eleven players he planned to start in the first competitive game against the Vale of Leven in the West Sectional League Cup. A 3-4-1-2 with Bryan Prunty and Neto at the head of it. The two strikers had yet to really form much of a partnership, but it was early days. David McStay had shown glimpses of his creativity in the first two games, and he started behind the strikers in the enganche role. The three central defenders, Joshua Gracie, David Moffat and Stephen Bronsky had yet to concede. Jamie Clarke, a Liverpool born ball-winning midfielder who joined Rob Roy having been released from Turriff United, partnered Blair Maclennan, a box-to-box midfielder, in the central pairing. Robbie Davidson took his place on the right hand side of the midfield four, and Liam Taylor sat parallel to him on the left. These were the players that Emile worried about the most. They undoubtedly possessed good attacking instincts, but both lacked the work rate to get back and help the defence down the flanks. This was a risk on Emile's part, but one he was willing to take if they could outscore their opponents. 

In what was described as a "flat performance", Rob Roy succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Annan Athletic Reserves. A goal just before half time was enough to see off the Rabs who looked uninspiring in possession. Annan had set up in a 3-2-2-2-1 formation, with wing backs pushing beyond two inside forwards ahead of them. The three central defenders managed to stifle Rob Roy's front pairing and David McStay was tightly marked to the point where he barely received the ball to his feet. It was a tactical masterclass from the Annan Reserves coach, and Emile thanked him profusely for the educational experience. 

Full Time: Kirkintilloch Rob Roy 0-1 Annan Athletic Reserves.

Speaking to his players after the game, Emile made it clear that Annan's approach would be typical of the teams visiting Adamslie in the league campaign. It was important that they learned to overcome the dynamic shape that Annan had employed. "In the defensive phase the formation can become a 5-4-1, one of the most difficult shapes to breakdown if everyone does their job well. When they have the ball, you can see that it becomes a 3-4-3, with the wingers moving inside and the wing backs getting into the midfield strata. Obviously this is hard to deal with when we play three at the back ourselves, so we're going to need to see more from our wide players in the defensive phase." Emile had come to learn that the Annan formation was popular in the junior leagues through Ryan Edgefoot who had been scouring forums throughout the summer. In truth, he admired the dynamism of the shape, but didn't feel comfortable enough with it to implement it himself. 

Neil Anderson had managed to secure a £10k sponsorship deal with Dawn Homes, the buyers of the Adamslie Park site. It was a welcome relief from the draining of sponsorship money that had taken place over the last couple of seasons. The money was put into the bonuses pot, and £600 was set aside for Emile to attend a coaching course to attain his National C License. 

With things improving off the field for the first time in twenty-four months, Rob Roy had every reason to go into their opening game of the season away at Vale of Leven in good spirits. 

Edited by Tikka Mezzala

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The West Sectional League Cup had placed Rob Roy in Group G, alongside Vale of Leven (West League 2), Blantyre Victoria (West Championship) and Irvine Victoria (West Championship). As the highest ranked team, Rob Roy were expected to secure the sole qualification spot. Ahead of the game Emile had outlined his hopes for the season to the Kirkintilloch Herald: 

"It has been a summer of change and a transition period is expected. I can't ask the players to reach the levels we are going to strive for straight away, so there will be a degree of patience required. We're seeing progress in the training sessions and our preseason games have been positive, by and large. I think the beauty of junior football is that a good strategy can go much further, because we aren't talking about huge financial gaps between teams. If you are shrewd and proactive in recruitment, you can put together a team that can compete for things. It's too early to tell at the moment, but myself and Ryan, our director of football, really believe that we've done a good job in that side of things this summer. So hopefully we will see Rob Roy challenging for silverware."

Financial insecurity was the norm in the Scottish junior leagues. Only a handful of teams were regularly breaking even, or making small profits. One such team was the current West Premiership champions, Auchinleck Talbot. Their impressive 2017/18 campaign was to prove fateful, however, as their key players were sought by teams from the Geosonic Lowlands League - one of the feeder leagues into the SPFL2. Over the course of the summer, Auchinleck Talbot were dismantled and rebuilt. As with much of the transfer activity in junior football, it was a guessing game as to whether they had gone forwards, backwards, or maintained the levels of the previous season. But it made for an interesting situation in the league. 

The team travelled to Milburn Park in Alexandria to face their first opponents, Vale of Leven. As the lowest ranked team in the group, Vale of Leven were not expected to offer much resistance to Rob Roy, but cup football doesn't tend to follow the laws of footballing determinism. Emile had selected the same eleven that fell to defeat against the Annan Reserves, and the performance once again seemed flat and uninspiring. The Vale of Leven players stuck to their task in a flat 4-5-1 formation, restricting the Rob Roy players to playing the ball around in harmless areas. Ross Strachan and Emile were frustrated on the touchline, urging their players to take more risks and force the issue. But the calls fell on deaf ears. Without ever troubling their opponents, Vale of Leven held out for a credible goalless draw. 

Full Time - West of Scotland Regional League Cup: Vale of Leven 0-0 Kirkintilloch Rob Roy. 

Emile and his assistant were concerned that they were witnessing the beginning of a pattern. In their last two games they had dominated possession but failed to trouble their opponent's goal. In an attempt to solve the problem, Emile had asked the players to play in the 4-2-3-1 shape the following week in training. He wanted the ball to be moved forward quicker and with wing backs added to the side, they could create overlaps in the wide area. The signs were positive in the practice games. Neto was put into an inside-forward role on the left, and Bryan Prunty kept his place at the head of the attack. Ahead of the opening league game of the season Ryan Edgefoot had managed to secure a loan deal for Forfar Athletic centre back, John Kelly. This was to be the final piece of transfer business over the summer. 

The first game of the West Premiership season was away at Pollock. Since the beginning of the junior league structure in its current form, Pollock had won the West Premiership four times, more than any other team. But their last success was in the 2007/8 season. One hundred and sixteen Rabs supporters made their way to Newlandsfield for the opening game. The 4-2-3-1 shape helped Rob Roy dominate possession, and with Pollock employing three at the back, the inside forwards helped to create a three v three situation in the attacking third. The Rabs looked threatening every time they went forward, but only managed the one goal just before half time. Bryan Prunty got off the mark for the club after a well worked team move set him through on goal, assisted by David McStay. The game was to end 1-0. Emile had been delighted with the sense of urgency in the offensive play. With the inside-forwards there seemed to be more options closer to the goal for a pass and this brought out the best in McStay, the team's creative outlet. In the post match discussion with his assistant, Emile had indicated that they ought to adopt the 4-2-3-1 in the coming games to see if it brought the same levels of performance. It was a risk, as the players were more familiar with the 3-4-1-2 shape that had been prepared throughout preseason. But the signs couldn't be ignored: the team looked much more threatening in the 4-2-3-1 formation. 

Full Time - West Premiership: Pollock 0-1 Rob Roy (Bryan Prunty).  

 

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