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Amaroq

Sharpening a Rusty Blade

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Thank you gentlemen! Your support for the duration has been inspiring! I'm sorry I couldn't bring home at least one trophy for your patience with my lengthy tale.

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Wednesday, 1st June, 2005.

My meeting with the board today was quite unsatisfactory. Though they remain pleased with my performance as manager, they also announced the transfer budget for next year, and unfortunately there will be no money available for transfers at all.

Actually, it was even more insulting that that: my transfer budget was presisely £160.

They recommended that I "use this opportunity to give some of the club's youth squad first-team experience," and further noted that only 50% of any trasfers out would be available to supplement that.

The club are now £140,000 in debt, and lost £475,000 over the course of last season. Sophie McGill made her pointed reminder that we're still over budget, and gave me some nasty innuendo which implied that a more fiscally responsible manager might have had a transfer budget at his disposal.

Personally, I suspect its the crushing weight of our £2M debt, and the £20,000 per month debt service that's really causing us problems.

I'm sure she will be happy to know I've arranged to ship Alex Benjamin to Stalybridge Celtic for £1,000, again a move mostly aimed at reducing the wage budget, though partly an act taken in disgust at his poor showings when needed down the stretch.

The training review with my coaches was mostly pro forma. The only player to really improve this month was Joe Foote, as most of the other players were already enjoying their summer holiday.

Speaking of vacations - it was time for Stacy and I to pack for our long-delayed honeymoon!

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Saturday, 4th June, 2005.

Hawaii.

Forgive me if I don't write too much .. my mai tai is calling.

Honestly, its a honeymoon. On Maui. I think its best left a bit private ..

.. but I will give you one piece of advice: the couples massage, on the beach, at sunset, should be on every honeymoon itinerary - and if you've already had yours and missed it, work it into your next holiday.

We had arranged over two full weeks of vacation, scheduling my return such that I would be back in the office when the financial year ended, well before the free transfers came available in July.

I would, of course, be available via e-mail or mobile if anything important came up, but for the most part I was looking forward to a week of the Hawaii sun, plus seeing many of our closest friends and favorite family in California after.

Meanwhile, with the club season over, the World Cup Qualifiers resumed. I could only gather very brief reports from the 'other news' section of the rather sparse Hawaiian paper's sports pages, but in Group 6 the British clubs were idle. Poland snuck ahead of Northern Ireland for 5th place by beating last-placed Azerbaijan 2-1.

In Group 4, France appeared completely uncatchable. However, Ireland pounded Israel 4-0 at Lansdowne Road, which moved them ahead of Switzerland for second place when the Swiss drew 1-1 against the lowly Faroe Islands.

In Group 5, Italy continued their "unbeaten, untied, and unscored upon" run with a 2-0 defeat of Norway. Scotland beat last-placed Moldova 2-0, which kept them solidly in second, two points clear of Slovenia and with a game in hand.

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Wednesday, 8th June, 2005.

Did you know you could snorkel with sea turtles?

They're so accustomed to humans, you're halfway in danger of getting run over!

The water here gives new meaning to the words "crystal clear". There was this one spot - no I won't give you a name, its still somewhat undiscovered! - where we had at least 150-foot visiblity, sunbeams lancing deep into the depths, and as far as the eye could see the silver sparkle of multi-coloured tropical fish!

It was breathtaking, literally like swimming in an aquarium.

With the opening of the June transfer window yesterday, it was time for York to bid farewell to reserve goalkeeper Chris Porter, who had transferred to Moor Green, and right wing Alex Benjamin, whose awful performances in the wake of Kevin Donovan's injury had left him superfluous to our needs. Benjamin went to Stalybridge Celtic for £1,000. Both had been fringe players last season, inherited from my predecessor's mess, and I was glad to free up the wage budget their removal would entail.

Alex Benjamin, AMR, 23: January 2005-June 2005: 1 season, 13 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 6.62

Chris Porter, GK, 25: July 2003-June 2005: 2 seasons, 9 games, 1 clean sheet, 6.75

World Cup Qualifying had a very light schedule today, but Ireland defeated the Faroe Island 2-0, and Scotland defeated Belarus 2-1 as those teams continued their march to second-place finishes in their groups:

Group 6        Pts   W  D  L   GD  GP
1 Wales         15   5  0  1  +13   6
2 England       14   4  2  0  +10   6
3 Austria       10   3  1  2  - 1   6
4 Poland         9   3  0  4  - 2   7
5 N.Ireland      6   2  0  4  - 6   6
6 Azerbaijan     1   0  1  6  -14   7

Group 4        Pts   W  D  L   GD  GP
1 France        16   5  1  0  +16   6
2 Ireland       15   5  0  2  + 9   7
3 Switzerland   10   3  1  2  + 1   6

Group 5        Pts   W  D  L   GD  GP
1 Italy         18   6  0  0  +12   6
2 Scotland      12   4  0  2  + 3   6
3 Slovenia       7   2  1  3  - 3   6

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Sunday, 12th June, 2005.

I could feel my body finally begin to uncoil. I hadn't realized how stressed I was until my body found a place to relax. This managing thing is a lot more work than it looks like on the telly.

Nine days in Hawaii were over all too soon - I wish we could have stayed forever!

On my salary alone, however, even nine days had been a stretch.

Besides, we wanted to take the opportunity of the offseason for our first lengthy return to the States since I had undertaken my managerial career.

We spent our first days "on the mainland" in her old hometown, a small inland desert town east of Los Angeles, near Riverside, where we visited her mom, her best friend Kat, and my best friend from childhood, Greg.

Greg was the one who got me into sports-management games in the first place, way back when: we used to play them with index cards, and wound up learning to program computers so that we could write our own.

Who knew it would turn into a career for me?

On Friday, York completed the sale of left wing Andrew Green to Radcliffe Borough for £2,000. The 18-year-old had done little in 8 senior appearances for the club, but had scored 7 goals and 3 assists in 32 appearances with our Reserve and U-18 sides. However, it had always been my coaches' opinion that he lacked the determination to improve, and his training form had done nothing to disabuse me of that notion. I got great amusement when I saw that his contract with Radcliffe included a £2 bonus per assist. What's that worth, a cappucino?

Andrew Green, AML, 18: July 2003-June 2005: 2 seasons, 8 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 6.88

I was left with a fairly tough decision when Scunthorpe United, of League Two, made an offer for left back Dave Merris. The 24-year old had been our starter the past two seasons, starting 33 matches, but my coaches all rated him merely "a useful member of the squad", and I had been letting his contract expire. But with a higher-division club interested, and lacking sufficient transfer budget to secure a replacement, I was tempted to make him an offer.

After a night of tossing and turning, I decided to let him go, and by Sunday he had agreed terms with Scunthorpe for next season.

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Wednesday, 15th June, 2005.

Things move really quickly after that - it turned into a whirlwind tour, with a quick visit to San Diego to see my parents, plus a day with our son Matt. Well Stacy's by birth, my step-son, but he's a wonderful kid. He had a promising football career going, well up the American youth programme, but has switched over to playing lacrosse in high school.

Brutal, that sport, not one for me!

Stacy and I next returned to the Bay Area, which is the California term for 'the area around San Francisco Bay', for a few days. We have numerous friends, I having lived there for the previous fourteen years, and her for the past six. We saw numerous old friends, stopped by my old office, and visited a few favorite restaurants.

I'm vegetarian, and let me tell you, if there's a gourmet Vegan restaurant in England which can rival Millennium in San Francisco, I've yet to learn of it - and if you know where it is, please please let me know!

Though I'd missed baseball badly, I couldn't make time to see a San Francisco Giants game, but apparently they're on a terrible losing streak, winning something like 2 of the last 18 games? Barry Bonds hasn't played a game all season, their closer is out for the year as well, and even ace pitcher Jason Schmidt has been struggling. Its been a grim year for a once-proud franchise.

I did, however, gather my friends Tim and Rob - the two big 'soccer' fans of my Bay Area circle of friends - and we got down to watch a San Jose Earthquakes match as well. The local side were sorely missing Landon Donovan after his return to Germany, but were still fairly mid-table in their division. Stacy accused me of still being 'on the job', but it was an entertaining match, a 2-1 victory for the home side.

Decrepit old Spartan Stadium, which had seemed so small and sparse when I'd been a 'soccer' fan in the States, lamenting the difference in scale between the popularity of the Beautiful Game and the sports Americans favor, had changed in size to my eyes. Comparing it to the Giant Axe and Bootham Crescent, it was a veritable palace, with a crowd of over 10,000 that evening and still well shy of capacity.

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Sunday, 19th June, 2005.

My wife and I always join our friends Stan and Tawnia in travelling to the United States Grand Prix, and wow, that got a little bit strange this year!

When we first started going, we didn't know anybody in Indianapolis, and if you've never been, there's a big difference between Indiana and California. To the first eye, I would say that Indiana natives are a bit closer to the European stereotype of 'Americans', but when you're there for a little while, you realize that they are much more genuine and honest and hospitable than Californians are. It's a slower-moving city, that's all, but it has a real home charm to it.

Now, our friends Andy and Karen have moved there, which was great - we stay with them, and they are fine hosts, witty, entertaining, with an excellent judge of both wines and dining, so a great time had by all through Friday practice and a fine Saturday qualifying session. Honestly, when we first started going we spent a lot of time 'at the track', but now we've got it all worked out - we're there for the highlights of the weekend, but have plenty of time for other things.

We have some of the best seats in the house, we know which prime parking lots have deals with the city so that their parking pass acts like a VIP pass on race day, and we've gotten to the point where we have favorite restaurants and this year was the first we didn't need a map. The weather was perfect, too, warmer than California but not at all humid.

Sunday, however, was another story. Previous years, we'd found that there wasn't much the local paper's Sports section could tell a bunch of informed F-1 fans about 'that foreigner's race', so this year we didn't buy a Sunday paper, and knew nothing about the 'tire debacle' before it unfolded in front of us.

Its been detailed plenty in other venues, but suffice it to say, it was quite a shock to see fourteen cars pull off the circuit at the end of the formation lap, and for only six cars to race, especially after paying full price for turn-one seats!

Now, I'll confess, I am a Ferrari fan, and a Schumacher fan, so it was a little gratifying to see him win his first of the year, but honestly, what measure of satisfaction can anybody take in beating Jordan and Minardi this year? Well, at least it's made the points championship a bit closer.

But I do want to apologize on behalf of America for the drunk idiots who began throwing their beer on the track, in blatant disregard for the safety of the drivers. You may not have been able to tell from the TV coverage, but do you remember when Michael and Rubens went into Turn 1 side-by-side, and Rubens skidded off into the grass? Some idiot had thrown a full 24-ounce Fosters onto the track, and it had deposited its entire payload of beer right on the spot Rubinho was trying to occupy; he might have made that pass if it weren't for the abruptly slick surface.

I suppose in every country there are some true idiots, and they always show their colours.

I apologize.

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Tuesday, 21st June, 2005.

It is a long flight back, Indianapolis to Chicago, then a direct flight to Heathrow, and another connector to York, but we were home at last, and it was just in time for the start of the new season.

Reading the York morning paper today while rubbing my sleep-gummed eyes, I saw that Andy Bishop had been voted York's Player of the Year by supporters, narrowly earning that over Tappa Whitmore.

This afternoon, however, it was the big 'Season expectations' meeting with the board.

First to speak was C.F.O. Sophie McGill, who pointed out that though £100,000 in Television rights for the forthcoming season had helped dramatically, pushing us much closer to 'in the black', we were still in debt, with loan payments due, and over our wage budget. We would have to do better, she implored, warning that the club's financial situation could be called precarious at best.

That was followed by the review with Chairman Steve Beck and all of the other directors, where Steve informed me that the board remained pleased with my efforts over the previous season. They expect the side to secure a similarly 'respectable league position' within the Conference next year, though of course there are no transfer funds to help towards that aim.

Viv Busby found me after the meeting, and said he had a player he wanted to introduce me to: 17-year-old goalkeeper Gareth Gray, who had been promoted from the club's youth academy to the Under 18s squad.

GK Gareth Gray, 17, English, schoolboy:

Viv thinks the kid has some potential. He's physically very talented, and seems to have a quite decent grasp of the mental game for one as young as he is, though his technique is fairly execrable. Fortunately, technique is trainable.

Trusting Viv's assessment, I offered the youngster a three-year deal, which he accepted quickly, asking only a night to think it over.

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Sunday, 26th June, 2005.

Saturday, we got a flood of friendly proposals from higher-division sides. The most interesting was an offer from Dutch first-division club Feyenoord, which I accepted on the grounds that it ought to help our precarious financial state, but I did hold true to reject the other matches.

There was little other action, however - I was primarily waiting for July 1st, when all of the expiring contracts would let go.

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Friday, 1st July, 2005.

I was up early today, as it was the day contracts across England would expire. The contracts of Chris Clarke, Billy Manuel, and Trevor Snowden were officially done. At 6:00am, I filed the paperwork to terminate their association with York City, a move which would free up £58,000 p/a from my wage budget.

The transfers of left backs Dave Merris and Shaun Smith to Scunthorpe United and Northwich Victoria, respectively, added another £38,000 to that total, though it left us quite a gap on the left side of defense.

The decisions still made sense to me: Snowden, Clarke, and Smith had all been fringe players under my management. Defensive midfielder Billy Manuel had been a strong starter, a definite leader on the field, but his skills were in decline. Dave Merris had been starting, and though his absence left us without a strong left back on the roster, my coaches all assured me it would be relatively easy to find a player of similar capability.

Dave Merris, DL, 24: July 2003-June 2005: 2 seasons, 78 games, 1 goal, 6.71

Billy Manuel, DMC, 36: July 2004-June 2005: 1 season, 37 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, 6.73

Chris Clarke, DC, 24: July 2004-June 2005: 1 season, 14 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 6.50

Shaun Smith, DL, 34: June 2004-June 2005: 1 season, 7 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 6.43

Trevor Snowden, FLC, 31: November 2004-June 2005: 1 season, 5 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 6.40

All told, that was £96,000 per-annum, and for a brief time I was under my assigned wage budget!

That would not last for long, because I'd had my eye on a number of players whose contracts expired yesterday, and just after six, I was on the phone calling their agents. I hadn't wanted to risk 'tapping up' charges by starting negotiations early, but if they were still available, I was on the hunt. I'll save you a list of names, but if they'd all accepted my offers, I'd have had about seven new starters, including an entire back four, and two new wingers.

Also, though he had signed for the team much earlier, and wouldn't report until July 13th with the other players, today was the official 'first day' of a new goalkeeper, Mark Zawadski, whom we had signed from Basingstoke on a very cheap one-year contract.

GK Mark Zawadski, 25, English: He's very physically adept, and stronger than most of my keepers in other respects. I'd signed him as a backup, thinking of the 25-year-old as a replacement for Chris Porter, but he might well challenge David Stockdale for the starter's role this season.

There wasn't much to discuss with my coaches, and in fact most of them were off on vacation. However, I did a quick training review with Viv, who had seen a few of the players during the offseason, intending to find out how much they were regressing while on vacation. I'd expected the news to be primarily negative, since we weren't training, but to my surprise it was fairly neutral, and Gary Pearson had even made a non-trivial improvement, primarily in the physical area.

It rubbed a bit of salt in the wounds when Viv indicated that departing fullback Dave Merris was in the best shape of his career to date, but for the most part our players seemed to be consolidating the gains they had made over the course of the season, and recharging for next year.

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Thursday, 7th July, 2005.

The biggest news of the week came when I allowed Welsh player/coach Lee Nogan to leave for Torquay United on a free transfer. His 4 goals and 1 assist last season hadn't justified his team-high £40,000 p/a salary, and I didn't have much respect for his coaching skills.

For our long-time number 9, it was an emotional departure: he had joined the side in 2001, and had scored 36 goals in 192 matches as a Minsterman. The fans all think of him as a cornerstone of the club, but I have to think of it as a business. Even if allowing him to leave makes me a despised man in York town, I think it was the right decision for the club.

Lee Nogan, FC, 36: Jaunary 2001-July 2005: 5 seasons, 192 games, 36 goals

I followed up that deal by selling Bryan Stewart to Irish side Shelbourne for £40,000. The deal would drop a much-needed £16,000 into my transfer kitty to allow me to bring in some other players while simultaneously slashing another £22,000 p/a off my wage bill, all in all a tremendous week financially for us.

The 19-year-old left wing had been described as 'A player with the world at his feet' by an ebullient Viv Busby when I took over the side, and finished the season with 3 goals and 5 assists with the senior side, but the money was just too good to pass up.

For Stewart, it was a massive step up: Shelbourne were playing in a Champions League qualifying round in just six days!

Bryan Stewart, AML, 19: June 2002-July 2005: 3 seasons, 40 games, 3 goals, 5 assists, 6.63

Most of the players I had offered contracts to rejected my offers, which was unsurprising, since I had to offer a bit less than the market would bear to keep the club under budget. We did, however, gain one signing from the first round, Irish left wing John McGrath.

AML John McGrath, 23, Irish, 5 U-21 caps: Once considered a top prospect for the Irish national side, McGrath had languished on the sidelines during Doncaster's promotion season last year, making only 9 appearances with a very low average rating of 5.67 as the side earned promotion from League One to the Championship. However, top scout Dave Colley still regards him as a player with potential, and he certainly should perform better on the left than any of my incumbents: he's reasonably quick, with good acceleration and crossing. He is fairly weak in the air, however, and honestly isn't much of a shooter.

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Author's note: I was stunned to learn, after arranging that transfer, that York City had added John McGrath for real over the same summer - sometimes the game is spooky-close to reality!

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Thursday, 14th July, 2005.

The players reported for the first day of training today, and there's nothing like the first day of summer training to start building excitement for the upcoming season: the smell of the grass, the sound of a boot striking a ball, followed shortly by the whipping sound of a net billowing out.

I started the players on my intense pre-season fitness regime. They certainly needed it, as they were all thoroughly out of shape - its amazing how much the players can let themselves go during the off-season.

If there was fat on their bodies, however, there was none on the squad, for we had gone under the knife over the offseason. We were down to just 23 players, and about £80,000 per-annum under the wage budget, though I hoped to bring that back up with a few more key signings over the remainder of the offseason.

We had precisely a month to work up to match standard, and I had 7 friendly matches scheduled between now and our first Conference National tie, plus six more friendlies between the Reserve and Youth sides.

A number of young players had joined the side for trial periods; they would get some of the playing time during the numerous pre-season matches. We were also joined by schoolboy goalkeeper Kevin Butler, who signed a professional contract with us for the season.

GK Kevin Butler, 16, English: Determined and hard-working, this kid has a lot of natural ability, with fine jumping and acceleration. He has a lot of rough edges, and needs to work especially on his communication, his punching, and his positioning, but for a youth keeper he is fairly impressive.

In his debut match with Shelbourne, Bryan Stewart started in the Champions League first qualifying phase against Armenian side Pyunik. From York to Continental football in only six days! However, it was a nightmare start for the youngster, as Pyunik scored twice in the first eleven minutes, and he was subbed off after seventeen without even making a touch. Thanks to a second-half red card, the Irish side crawled back to make the final 1-2, but losing the home leg makes the second leg infinitely more difficult.

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Friday, 15th July, 2005.

We made a big addition today, 19-year-old centre back Liam Fontaine.

DC Liam Fontaine, 19, English: This brave centre back is already a master of the art of positioning, and has everything I would look for in a back: tackling, marking, fitness, heading ability. He makes good decisions, and works well with his team mates, and honestly I expect him to be the sort of solid presence at the center of the back line which we were so sorely missing last season. If he had a bit more pace, stamina, or concentration, he'd be too good for the likes of a Conference National side.

Fontaine had been a part of the Fulham youth organization since 2002, but they had let his contract expire, and I outbid several other teams for his services after realizing that he would slot directly into my starting lineup. My scouts unanimously agree that he has the potential to improve well beyond the Conference level.

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Saturday, 16th July, 2005. Friendly, vs Sheffield United.

Our first friendly of the season was at home against Championship side Sheffield United - a club that had heartbreakingly missed promotion to the Premiership on penalties just seven weeks earlier. I didn't really expect to offer them a competitive match, but was looking forward to the gate receipts the larger side should draw to Bootham Crescent.

My starting XI certainly indicated how much this side had changed since last year. There were some familiar faces, such as David Stockdale in goal. Scottish left back Paul Parkin was our new first choice at that position. Liam Fontaine donned the #3 jersey and started in the centre of defense next to trialist Paul McShane, who - oddly - wore the captain's armband. Graeme Law resumed his familiar place at right back, while Gary Pearson played the central defensive midfielder role. 19-year-old Adam Arthur looked like the best bet at right wing, and new signing John McGrath made his debut on the left. Joe Foote partnered with crowd pleaser Tappa Whitmore in the attacking midfield, and it was last year's leading scorer Andy Bishop at the point.

Fully 9,332 - just shy of capacity - stood crammed into the terraces for a glimpse of the better side, and our new signings got the chance to show their mettle right from the start. Fontaine made a precise last-line-of-defense tackle in the box merely 36 seconds into the match, and McGrath sprang Andy Bishop on a breakaway in the fourth minute of the match. Unluckily, it came to nothing. Tappa Whitmore forced a few saves, but most of the first half was dominated by the Sheffield United regulars.

It was well against the run of play when Joe Foote got the ball to Whitmore on the 30th minute. The Jamaican dribbled around a defender and into the box, to the right of the near post. With the keeper focused on him, Andy Bishop snuck to the far post unmarked, and the creative midfielder put a ball across the goalmouth right to him. Somehow our top scorer failed to lay a foot on it for the simple tap-in, and the ball rolled agonizingly clear of the far post!

Six minutes later, we were ruing that mistake, as Steve Kabba darted past Fontaine and into the box, to drive it home past David Stockdale from fairly close range. That gave Sheffield United a 0-1 halftime lead, and it was wholesale changes for my side: not a single starter would take the pitch to start the second half.

Though the fans needed the match-day programme to figure out who was who, the side played fairly well through the second half, limiting the Blades' tiring starters and less talented substitutes to far fewer shots than we'd conceded in the first half. In fact, we steadily took control of the game, and by the 80th minute, Sheffield were camped in front of their goal defending.

With eight minutes to play, striker Robbie Haw drew a tripping call a bit beyond the arc, and it was Darren Dunning's chance to stake a claim to a first-team spot. The left wing took the free kick from 25 yards out, curled it artistically over the wall .. and into the back of the net at the near post! A spectacular strike to equalize at 1-1, and the crowd were vocal in their approval!

It was our turn to camp in front of goal, and though our Championship opponents threw men forward desperately, ten minutes of solid defending - and a few nice saves by new goalkeeper Mark Zawadski! - saw us run out with a surprising 1-1 draw!

York 1, Sheffield United 1

Dunning 82; Kabba 37

MoM: Zawadski

The lads were cheered off the pitch to a standing ovation - though I suppose that's not saying much, as only a third of them had had seats to begin with. Still, a draw was better than anybody had hoped we could manage, and the lads fully deserved the applause.

I headed out to the centre circle to shake Neil Warnock's hand, a definite treat, and was surprised by the booming voice of the older gentleman who came with him.

"Well done, lad, well done!" he offered, his voice cutting over the crowd noise as we shook. I certainly hadn't been expecting a handshake from Sheffield United Chairman Derek Dooley when I scheduled the match, but he's apparently very active in the club!

"Thank you, sir."

"I'll be keeping my eye on you," he promised. "Good luck this year."

Second-half goalkeeper Mark Zawadski was named Man of the Match in a game which had few true heroes, though I was very fond of Dunning's free kick. Honestly, only trialist defender Paul McShane had seemed to struggle against a side several divisions above our own.

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Excellent as always Amaroq, looking forward to seeing how the season goes, especially seeing you have made a few changes

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Tuesday, 19th July, 2005.

On the training pitch, the process of whipping my players into shape continued. To my surprise, they were responding quite well to the regimented training session, or at least the veterans were. There were a few malcontents who were upset with either my off-season moves or the rigorous nature of their training, but for the most part the core of the side were in a very good mood.

I was frantically working the phones, trying to bring in talent for the upcoming year, and still trying to sell a few remaining pieces of unwanted baggage, but I was having no luck. Though I made an offer to Paul McShane, he wound up signing for League Two side Walsall, unable to resist the lure of a higher-reputation side, despite their getting relegated from League One last season and desperately needing help to turn things around.

Meanwhile, we had over half a dozen other out-of-contract players in on trial periods, which made the camp feel much more crowded than our true roster size.

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Wednesday, 20th July, 2005. Friendly, vs Colwyn Bay.

Mid-week it was time to renew our rivalries with Welsh side Colwyn Bay, who had contributed to that very entertaining pair of F.A. Trophy matches last year, a hard-fought 1-1 draw at their stadium, and then our wild 6-2 win at Bootham Crescent.

I took the opportunity of the match to give a run-out to a few of the trialists, so my line-up was quite atypical. Mark Zawadski got the chance in goal, and wore the captain's armband. Parkin, Fontaine and Law were joined by trialist Mark Wright in the back line, and Gary Pearson was again the defensive midfielder. Two more trialists, Graham Allen and Adam Corbett, would take the right and left wings respectively. Tappa Whitmore, Joe Foote, and Andy Bishop would form our attacking threesome, as they had on the weekend, and I had four more trialists on the bench as substitutes.

After the full crowd of the weekend match, a paltry 150 showed up for this one. It was as though they were psychic, as it turned out to be a very boring match, with only nine shots between two teams which had combined for eight goals in their last meeting!

Colwyn Bay had the best chance of the match in the first half when Owain Roberts launched a long ball over the head of Liam Fontaine. David Nottage ran it down as it entered our box, but he put his shot narrowly wide.

On our side, it was Graham Allen who had looked most dangerous, the eighteen-year-old trialist doing well on the right wing, although I worry that he doesn't seem to have the stamina to last a full ninety minutes.

It was scoreless at halftime when I began making my substitutions, and the widespread changes ensured that it remained scoreless through the second half as well. With little but youth and trialist players left on the pitch, it was a big deal if we strung three passes together in succession, let alone if they moved the ball forward.

Colwyn Bay, too, seemed content just to run out time - gone was the wild attacking atmosphere of their last trip to Bootham Crescent; instead we faced a side just happy to enjoy the good weather and visit some English pubs.

The only real drama seemed to be the game of 'Would Rob Styles send somebody off?', as that infamous disciplinarian was the day's referee.

He didn't, and the game ended a scoreless draw.

York 0, Colwyn Bay 0

----; ----;

MoM: Mountain (Colwyn Bay GK)

The side seemed very nonchalant about the result, which concerned me more than the nil-nil scoreline. If we had players who weren't going to give full effort, even before a paltry crowd in a meaningless game, I didn't want them on the roster. Sadly, I don't think I could fire all 23 of them and still have a squad of eleven to start the regular season!

Most worriesome, however, was the poor play of Liam Fontaine, who earned a meagre '5' rating for his efforts, and had appeared outclassed by the few Welsh attacks. Not a good sign from a player I was hoping would be the pillar of my defense!

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Friday, 22nd July, 2005.

Today, I completed the signing of one of my former players from Lancaster, Ryan Ashington, for £1,000.

The strained groin he'd picked up just before I left Lancaster had really ruined the latter half of his season; he'd wound up failing to get back into the starting lineup, and finished the year with just the 3 games and 1 goal he'd had when I left.

AMC Ryan Ashington, 22, English: Hard working, determined, and an excellent shot from long range, Ashington posesses the creativity and flair to partner well with the flamboyant Tappa Whitmore. He will instantly step into our starting lineup despite making only 3 appearances for lower-division Lancaster last year. He's also talented with free kicks and penalties, but tends to neglect his defensive duties.

The youngster made it known that he is very keen to rise to the challenge of playing for such an illustrious club. He described the move from Lancaster as the 'best moment of his life', and told journalists that he hoped he could get off to a good start at Bootham Crescent and make himself a firm favourite with the club's fans.

We also added on a free transfer former Brigg Town player Craig Shaw.

DRC Craig Shaw, 22, English: Great concentration and bravery define the game of this determined defender. He lacks the jumping and heading to contribute in the center, but he's a decent player whom my coaches had all recommended signing during his trial period. Not likely to contribute this season, save as a backup player, and needs to improve his game to really appear down the line.

I've accepted offers for goalkeeper Arran Reid and central defender/coach Steve Davis, both of whom are being paid more than I expect to use them this season, though it will be sad to see them go.

Meanwhile, a 15-year-old striker I had found and was negotiating with tells me he's received an offer from Lazio! I commended scout Dave Colley, who had discovered the kid, for getting there before the Biancocelesti, but it seems unlikely he'll turn the Italian giants down.

Lastly, we had our first setback of the year. Right back Nathan Kamara injured himself, suffering a sprained wrist when he fell heavily during training. That was unfortunate for the youngster, as it meant he was unlikely to be ready when the season started.

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Saturday, 23rd July, 2005. Friendly, at Lancaster.

I returned to my old stomping grounds at The Giant Axe this afternoon, a friendly match-up which I had been greatly looking forward to. My old side had struggled mightily after I left last season, as they tried to fit the squad I'd left behind to a 4-4-2 formation. In fact, they had been so unspectacular that a mere 80 fans showed up to see us, despite the clear draw of booing their former manager. The match would be the first stop in our 'hell week', as we would play 4 matches in 8 days, a bruising schedule designed to push my player's stamina and match fitness.

For the starting lineup, I selected 17-year-old Gareth Gray in goal, his first chance of the pre-season. Paul Parkin remains the only left back on the roster, while three 16-year-olds completed the back line: Darren Hollingsworth plus trialists Jamie Cooper and Jamie Gardiner. Gary Pearson would provide some veteran stability at defensive midfield ahead of them, with Paul Robinson on the right wing and Irishman John McGrath on the left. I couldn't deny Ryan Ashington the chance to start in front of his old fans, and he would partner with Tappa Whitmore for the first time. Speedster Mark Rawle got his first start of the summer up front.

Lancaster started with the first chance, a Ryan-Zico Black cross to Neil Prince, who put his shot over from about ten yards at the right-side post. It was so good to see my former players, and I found myself wishing them well!

Ryan Ashington nearly got a dream start to his York career on about 12 minutes, as John McGrath sent a cross in, and he rose above the defenders to drive a header on goal, putting it narrowly wide of the far post.

It remained back-and-forth, with Black looking the most dangerous man on the pitch, until the 38th minute. That's when Tappa Whitmore played a long ball down the left side for the speedy Mark Rawle, who took it to the corner, and then sent the cross in. With Ashington making a near-post run, he drew the coverage, leaving Paul Robinson unmarked at the back post for a simple tap-in and a 1-0 lead!

Robinson returned the favor merely two minutes later, sending a cross into the box from about 30 yards back of the end line. Inexplicably, Andy Scott, who had been marking Mark Rawle, abandoned him just seconds before the cross, and with plenty of space, Rawle took the ball - which was coming in from his right side - with a right-footed volley from 10 yards. Jamie Speare had no chance in the Lancaster net, and that gave us a 2-0 advantage at halftime.

I kept most of the starters in the match through the 70th minute, as I'm grooming them up towards a full ninety minutes by early August, but one of the players I changed earlier was Mark Rawle, who lasted 57 minutes before giving way to trialist striker Alan Kennedy.

Lancaster right back Neil Uberschar played a back-pass to Speare just after Kennedy had come on, and the youngster with fresh legs charged Speare down, blocking the goalkeeper's hurried clearance, and to the amusement of everyone on the York bench, the ball richocheted off of Kennedy and bounced crazily into the open net for 3-0!

The final minutes of the game got a bit ugly, as the fans began to desert the stadium, rained boos down on the Dolly Blues, and started some profane and insulting chants about me. Lancaster striker Peter Thomson received a yellow card for pushing one of my amateur players, Jamie Withe, during injury time, and the ref blew a quick whistle to bring a close to the scene.

Lancaster 0, York 3

----; Robinson 38, Rawle 41, Kennedy 59

MoM: Whitmore

I did take the post-match moments to go shake the hands of a number of my former players. Ryan Elderton in particular had played very well, and I was happy to see Shane Tolley, Ryan Zico-Black, and Michael Yates: the match had had a comfortable, home feeling for me despite the ugliness of the final few minutes - and all of the players I had really liked were off the pitch by the time things got hairy.

I would have offered to take them out to dinner, or something, but I didn't want to be accused of 'tapping up', so I contented myself with wishing them well for the season.

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Monday, 25th July, 2005.

Saturday evening, captain and coach Steve Davis entered my office to inform me that he had signed a contract with the Kidderminster Harriers of League Two. He was aging, and like Lee Nogan before him, I hadn't felt that he provided a sufficient presence to justify the large salary he commanded.

Though the move would free up plenty more wage budget, it weakened our already understrength back line, and would deprive me of one of the true leaders on the pitch for our side. However, I wasn't thrilled with his abilities as a coach, and his usefulness on the pitch was steadily declining.

We also completed the sale of young Arran Reid to Gainsborough. I'd signed three new goalkeepers over the summer, and he hadn't particularly impressed me over the previous season.

Steve Davis, DC, 36: July 2004-July 2005: 1 season, 41 games, 3 goals, 1 assists, 6.85

Arran Reid, GK, 17: July 2003-July 2005: 2 seasons, 3 games, 6 conceded, 1 clean sheet, 6.33

I spent a few more hours on the phone, now trying to arrange my loanees for the season, at least the year-long loans. I intended to make full use of the four loans I was allowed, though I had had no luck arranging any of them to date.

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Tuesday, 26th July, 2005. Friendly, at Harrogate Town

It was time for our second 'grudge match' of the off-season, as this time we would travel to Harrogate Town to face former York manager Chris Brass, in his new position. Harrogate are one of the closest sides to us, about due north of Leeds, and so it was a very short journey on a warm summer day. Again, there was almost nobody in the ground, giving it the feeling of a scrimmage rather than a match, with a mere 98 fans in the stands for the "derby", primarily friends and family members of the players for either side.

I didn't want to ask too many of his ex-players to go out after their former skipper, so it was a bit of an odd lineup. First choice keeper David Stockdale was selected, with just-joined trialist Kevin West at left back. Michael Staley paired with Liam Fontaine in central defense, with Graeme Law on the right, making a very strong defensive unit. Up front, it got much weaker, with amateur Jamie Withe at defensive midfield, trialist Graham Allen on the right wing, and Darren Dunning on the left. Amateur Ian Black and trialist Kenny Robson would attack, while Andy Bishop was the striker. Six more trialists were available on the bench.

A wonderful 20-yard strike from Ian Black put us ahead merely 8 minutes in. The amateur player shows no signs of commitment or dedication in training, so perhaps it was pure luck, but he drilled a 20-yard shot from within the arc at the top of the penalty box for as lovely a goal as you are likely to see: 1-0.

The game remained a close-fought affair through the first 40 minutes, with some chances at either end. In the 41st minute, however, Graham Allen collected a loose ball out to the right. He put a high "hospital pass" into the box, and as though it were happening in slow motion, I saw Andy Bishop go up to head it, and goalkeeper Nick Buxton crashed heavily into him, taking his legs out from under him. With a sickening crunch, my leading scorer lay writhing on the ground just outside of the six-yard box. The referee had no choice but to award a penalty, but I hardly cared that Darren Dunning converted for 2-0 as I watched the physios cart Bishop from the pitch.

The second half I brought on most of the trialists, looking for any to distinguish themselves. Through the 83rd minute, none really had, and when they did stand out, it was in a bad way: poor passes, offsides, fouls, or leaving a man unmarked.

In the 85th minute central defender Jamie Cooper tracked down a loose ball in our left corner, and passed "back" to Mark Wright, who was in the box. Cooper's pass wasn't quite on target, but Wright looked up to play it before settling it on his foot, with the result that he missed it entirely! It rolled across the face of the goal about 15 yards out, a perfect tee-up for Simon Turnbull, who crushed it past trialist keeper Craig Saunders to make the game interesting at 2-1.

However, Ryan Ashington put it out of reach mere moments later, curling a spectacular free kick around the wall and to the far post from fully 30 yards away, and that made the final score 3-1. I couldn't believe he'd shot on goal from that range, let alone managed to put it in the back of the net: it looked more like the sort of strike you might expect from Zidane or Beckham!

Harrogate Town 1, York 3

Turnbull 85; Black 8, Dunning pen 44, Ashington 87

MoM: Dunning

I noted that a number of the players walked across the pitch to shake hands with their former captain and manager Chris Brass, which he accepted with grace and dignity. He can't have been too happy to step down to the Conference North, but he seemed to be taking it well.

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Thursday, 28th July, 2005.

I rushed to the training room afterwards, half expecting to find that Andy Bishop had been taken to the hospital after that crunching tackle, but he was sitting there with an arm sling.

"He just dislocated his shoulder," Jeff Miller told me. "I was able to pop it back in, and he should be fine if you can give him a week off to bring the swelling down."

If that hadn't been enough to make me smile, on Thursday I inked 24-year-old Scottish right winger Jon Paul McGovern to a three-year contract. We had purchased him from Sheffield Wednesday for a mere £7,000 - putting to good use a part of the fee we'd received for Bryan Stewart.

AMR Jon Paul McGovern, 24, Scottish: A fast, agile winger with good dribbling and a strong work ethic, I was expecting great things from my new right wing. He'd play every match he was fit for, being much stronger than either of my other choices on that side.

That afternoon, we would play host to Feyenoord!

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Thursday, 28th July, 2005. Friendly, vs Feyenoord.

Feyenoord! I could hardly believe it!

The famous Dutch side was coming to Bootham Crescent - why, there were single players on their side worth more than all of our assets combined, and nearly every one of their starters drew more salary than I was paying my entire team, staff, reserves, and all. I didn't expect to win, or even to put up a close fight, but the matchup should be a fine money-spinner for us.

I was almost too excited to pick out a match side, despite the fact that I'd painstakingly written one out for myself before 'hell week' began, so that I'd get the right amount of playing time for everybody. When I finally got to filling out the lineup card, my hand was shaking.

Here's who got the honours: Mark Zawadksi in goal, with Paul Parkin at left back, trialists Mark Wright and Jamie Cooper in the middle, and Craig Shaw at right back. Gary Pearson would take the defensive midfield spot, with Adam Arthur on right wing and Marc Schofield on the left. Young Joe Foote was starting at attacking midfield with trialist Ryan Lyons, and speedster Mark Rawle got the nod up front.

We were, of course, utterly outclassed from the off. What did you expect? I hadn't started anything like my first choice lineup, and the 9,212 fans in attendance seemed more interested in cheering the Dutch side's stars than what our trialists and reserves might be trying to accomplish.

With a thoroughly defensive outlook, we managed to hold Feyenoord off the board for over 19 minutes, but then Sebastian Pardo's shot took a wicked defelction off of Adam Arthur, and left Zawadski wrong-footed; the Dutch side had us down 0-1.

Thomas Buffel made it 0-2 two minutes later, a half-volley from 6 yards, after a nice little run down the right side by Eusebiusz Smolarek, and it was well on its way to a rout.

In fact, I'd say we were lucky to hold that scoreline through halftime; it was tough to get any action up the pitch, and Foote and Rawle looked almost bored, they were getting so little service.

The second half started with more of the same, and a corner kick in the 52nd minute led to the third Dutch goal. Buffel towered over our lads just outside the six, powering home the header to take it to 0-3.

Ruud Gillit followed the third goal with substitutions galore, and I'm sure not even the Dutch travelling contingent knew who was on the pitch at the end. Mark Rawle did have one moment of glory, outracing the defense to track down a ball in the box, but he shot wide, and when it was all over, our crowd of 9,418 had seen us concede more goals than we had taken shots at the other end.

York 0, Feyenoord 3

----; Pardo 20, Buffel 22, 52

MoM: Goor (Feyenoord ML)

That was okay, the fans had come to see Feyenoord anyways. For me, it was just an honour to walk across the pitch and shake Ruud Gillit's hand afterwards!

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Friday, 29th July, 2005.

The large windfall from the Feyenoord gate had put us nearly in the black, turning an actual profit for the season to date and leaving us with a real possibility of having a positive bank balance after Saturday's game against Leeds. I hoped that indicated a sustainable budget for the remainder of the year, but with the loan payments continuing to drain our finances, it wasn't a sure thing.

Yesterday our Under-18 side played a friendly against Norwich U-18's. I selected a side consisting of primarily trialists and amateurs, and they won the match 1-0 on a goal by amateur striker Chris Simpson, who was covering out-of-position at left wing.

Today was the draw for the first round of the Under 18s Cup, and we drew a home match against Leeds United - ironic, as the senior club would be our opponents tomorrow!

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Saturday, 30th July, 2005. Friendly, vs Leeds United.

The big match against the closest Championship side to us was on Saturday. Unlike the Feyenoord match, I rolled out something close to our starting lineup.

David Stockdale would play in goal, with Paul Parkin, Michael Staley, Liam Fontaine, and Graeme Law across the back four. Gary Pearson was just ahead of them, with John McGrath on the left wing and new signing Jon Paul McGovern on the right. Tappa Whitmore and Ryan Ashington made our attacking midfield pairing, while young Turk Levent Yalcin would start up front. With three Scots, an Irishman, a Jamaican, and a Turk, we had more non-English players than English!

The crowd was 9,405, just 54 away from capacity, and we kept them entertained and engaged throughout the first half, playing quite even with the Championship side despite the large gap between us. It could have gone either way, but David Stockdale was up to the task, and the Leeds keeper did equally well, and it was scoreless at the break.

Leeds did pick up a goal early in the second half, when Simon Johnson's shot deflected off of Grame Law. Jamie Winter beat Fontaine to the rebound, and laced it home from 10 yards out.

To my surprise, the visitors then camped defensively, strangling our further offensive forays. Still, a 0-1 result against them felt entirely respectable.

York 0, Leeds 1

----; Winter 47

MoM: Saunders

Goalkeeper Craig Saunders earned Man of the Match honors, replacing Stockdale in net during the second half, after the goal, and keeping a clean sheet throughout his watch. It seemed to justify the contract I'd offered the 17-year-old, and I congratulated him with the pointed comment that I hoped it wouldn't be the last time we'd see such a performance from him!

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Monday, 1st August, 2005.

And with that, the majority of our pre-season was over. Just one more match, next weekend against Barnet, and then we would be into the regular season.

The monthly meeting with the board was this morning. We'd actually skipped it in July, as there had been little progress on the field or financially to discuss. With the season upcoming, they were all in a tizzy about our prospects. I heard from several board members how, since we'd done so well against Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United, perhaps we'd be one of the teams to beat in the Conference. I tried to downplay our chances - there's nothing more dangerous than an overly optimistic board - but it was nice to know the directors remained pleased with my performance.

I earned some grudging respect from Sophie McGill, meeting her with a profit for the year-to-date, and below my assigned wage budget for the first time since February. She even laughed when I told her to "enjoy it while it lasts" - the board must really be in a good mood! Though we'd achieved a positive bank balance with the gate receipts from the Leeds game, the month's loan payment had put us back in the red already.

On the pitch, our Reserves had travelled to Leeds on Sunday, and they met the same fate as the senior side had, a 1-0 defeat, with our second-half goalkeeper Gareth Gray earning Man of the Match honors. Right wing Paul Robinson continued his journey out of my plans by earning two yellow cards and a sending off - by referee Paul Robinson! It would have been an odd match for broadcasters, had it drawn a radio audience.

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Tuesday, 2nd August, 2005.

The transfer mill continued to run, and this time we were joined by two young wingers. Mark Goodwin had been playing for tiny English semi-pro club Meir KA last season, scoring two goals in nine matches; we bought him for a mere £1,000 on his potential alone. Youth trialist Adam Corbett had been playing left wing in some of our friendly matches, and my coaches recommended full professional contracts for both he and goalkeeper Craig Saunders - the Man of the Match against Leeds.

MR Mark Goodwin, 18, English: The only phenomenal attribute this youngster has is his teamwork, but he is consistent across many areas, and my scouts like his potential. I haven't had the chance to watch him play, myself, but I'm looking forward to seeing him in the U-18's this season.

ML Adam Corbett, 16, English: Like Goodwin, the only truly standout attribute this youngster posesses is his teamwork. He is consistent in many areas, and shows good physical stats, decent concentration and decision-making, and in short has most of the things I am looking for. His utility as a winger is greatly diminished by his inability to cross or dribble, but I'm banking on my staff to be able to train those things, along with some of the other technical attributes he's lacking.

GK Craig Saunders, 17, English: What I did not need was a fifth goalkeeper, but Saunders had impressed too much during his trial period, including his Man of the Match award against Leeds. He shows phenomenal concentration, balance, and agility, and his other attributes are reminiscent of a keeper more experienced than his young age.

A review of our training schedules saw very little improvement, save in the physical side of things. That was to be expected with our heavy focus on preseason match fitness, but it was time to begin emphasizing more technical development.

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Friday, 5th August, 2005. Friendly, vs Barnet.

For our last training match of the pre-season, I went with my current starting lineup across the board. David Stockdale in goal; Paul Park, Michael Staley, Liam Fontaine, and Graeme Law left to right across the back; Gary Pearson at defensive midfield; John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern on the wings; Tappa Whitmore and Ryan Ashington attacking; and Andy Bishop up front.

It was a hard-fought game throughout, one which looked far more like a late-season promotion battle than a pre-season friendly. McGovern and McGrath broke free of the defense on a 2-on-1 in the first ten minutes, but Barnet captain Joe Dolan made a crucial tackle to prevent McGovern from finding his wide-open wingman.

We came close again on 20 minutes, when Ryan Ashington's pass sprang Andy Bishop into the box, but his 8-yard effort was tipped over the bar by Tommy Forecast. It was tough, end-to-end stuff through halftime, but the first period ended scoreless.

Barnet got the start they wanted to the second half, though, when Giuliano Grazioli came up the right side. Michael Staley abandoned his man, Liam Hatch, to come over and challenge Grazioli despite plenty of coverage on that side of the pitch. Grazioli played it over to Clist, who knocked it forward for the now-unmarked Hatch. Hatch converted, to put us down 0-1.

Some, nay I might say most, 18-year-olds might have given up at that point. Staley showed me what he was made of, battling even harder after his error. It paid off ten minutes later, when Jon Paul McGovern sent a corner kick curling beautifully to the near post. Staley climbed above the defense to head it home, earning complete redemption for his earlier miscue.

Though the match remained tight-knit through the final thirty minutes, neither side could find an edge, and that made the final 1-1.

York 1, Barnet 1

Staley 63; Hatch 53

MoM: Dolan (Barnet DC)

A hard-tackling, entertaining match through and through, and it was only appropriate that Barnet captain Joe Dolan was named Man of the Match: it was either him or Staley, as the two central defenders had played such a fantastic match.

It could only whet the appetite for the season to come!

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Wednesday, 10th August, 2005.

Rob Styles had refereed the Barnet match, though he seemed surprisingly nonchalant about it, handing out few yellow cards. He stayed in York through the weekend to referee our U-18 and Reserve friendlies, and again showed commendable restraint. The Under-18's lost to Leicester U-18's 0-1, while our Reserves defeated Wolverhampton Reserves 3-1. Young Adam Arthur, appearing fully recovered from last-season's surgery, created the first goal with a mazy dribble down the left side before feeding Darren Dunning for the score. Robbie Haw made it 2-0 on a breakaway in the final minutes, and though Wolves clawed one back, amateur Ian Black made it 3-1 when his cross into the box floated into the net.

We also signed another youngster, 16-year-old Daryl Peters, who can play both left wing and attacking midfield.

AM LC Daryl Peters, 16, English: The speedster demostrates excellent pace and concentration, with some real flair and an professional work ethic. However, his technique is amazingly poor: his heading, first touch, and finish are all abysmal, and his composure is similarly lacking. He might have the potential to become a great one, but he has a lot of work to do even to be able to contribute at the Conference level.

The Champions League was on to the third qualifying round today, and the two English clubs involved romped. Arsenal beat Dinamo Bucharest 4-0 in Romania, while Manchester United won their home leg 3-0 against FC Red Star Belgrade of Serbia.

Celtic beat Norwegian side Rosenborg 2-1, while Rangers drew the away leg of their tie against Ferencvaros 1-1, picking up an away goal.

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Thursday, 11th August, 2005.

I had completely failed to add any full-season loans-in, despite the fact that I'd been working the phones constantly for a month. There were some players I still wanted to enquire about, but most of them were on 3-month loans elsewhere, which would expire during September and October.

So, I turned my eye to an evaluation of the side we would start the season with:

Goalkeepers:

GK David Stockdale, 19, England, uncapped:

3 seasons, 33 games, 38 conceded, 7 clean, 6.44:

Not spectacular in any area, this determined youngster hasn't demonstrated any improvement since I took over the team. My coaches all agree that he is showing signs of developing into a quality player, but his average rating actually went down over the half-dozen starts he's made under my stewardship. In particular, I'm displeased that he hasn't improved his concentration and his decision-making. He enters the season with the edge of the incumbent - all of his competitors have just joined the side - but he'll have a very short leash.

GK Craig Saunders, 18, England, uncapped:

Schoolboy:

Has shown phenomenal concentration, which is rare in one so young, and when you add to that good natural agility, and communication and decision-making skills which are already better than Stockdale's, and I think he could be pushing the incumbent for the starting job by November. For now, he'll start in the Reserves to get him the experience he needs.

GK Kevin Butler, 16, England, uncapped:

Schoolboy:

Determination and hard work characterize this youngster's game, but he also has very good pace, acceleration, and jumping ability. There are areas of his game which need polish, particularly his anticipation and communication, but he does look to have all the potential to go a long way. I've decided to get him all of the starts at the U-18 level this year.

GK Gareth Gray, 18, England, uncapped:

Youth Academy:

The lone graduate of our youth academy this season, Gareth looks decidedly average alongside our other prospects, but our coaches rate his potential very highly, and he conceded only 1 goal in 4 appearances during the friendly season. Still, he's physically not a spectacular player, and the technical aspects of his game, such as his aerial ability and his handling, need a lot of work. He'll be selected as the bench substitute for both U-18 and Reserve sides. Viv thinks of him as an average member of the squad.

GK Mark Zawadski, 26, England, uncapped:

9 games, 12 conceded, 2 clean sheets, 6.91 with Basingstoke:

Zawadski has only been with the club for a month, and Viv is already confident in warning that he does not have enough quality to hold down a regular place in the side. Physically and mentally, he may be better than Stockdale, our starter, and when I'd signed him I'd hoped I was getting a veteran backup who could step in if the youngster faltered. However, his positioning, reflexes, and ability in a one-on-one are cripplingly poor, which is why I only signed him for one season as a strict substitute at best. He won't even see starts in the Reserve side this season.

Centre backs:

D C Liam Fontaine, 19, England, uncapped:

No appearances, 25 U-18 games with Fulham:

Centre back was one of our big weaknesses last season, and Liam Fontaine is my answer. Despite his lack of senior experience, he draws a first-teamer's salary, and provided an instant upgrade with very good positioning. He's solid both in marking players and in the air, though his pace and stamina leave a bit to be desired. His concentration wanders, which may be why Fulham wasn't interested in him. Still, for now he's my first choice in the back line.

D C Mark Wright, 18, England, uncapped:

No appearances, 23 U-18 games with Tottenham Hotspur:

Another reject from the Premier League, Mark remains good enough to contribute as a starter at the Conference National level. He's as slow as Fontaine, which will be our biggest weakness in the back line, but I like his decision-making, his anticipation, and his marking, and he's reasonably strong in the air. When you consider how young our goalkeepers are, we will be very inexperienced in defense, but that can't be helped now.

D C Michael Staley, 18, England, uncapped:

2 seasons, 12 games, 0 goals, 6.92

A starter in the Reserves and U-18's last year, Staley has made great strides since I took over the club, with progress both technically, mentally, and physically. He's about as slow as Fontaine is, and weaker in the air, but he's determined and has excellent teamwork. Viv agrees with me that he is capable of becoming a class act for this club. He'll continue to get starts in the Reserves, with frequent senior starts to aid his development.

D C Darren Hollingsworth, 16, England, uncapped:

1 season, No appearances:

A starter for the U-18 side last season, where he will remain this year. He has reasonable physical abilities, but appears to lack the determination to really improve his game. He's actually gotten worse since I took over the side, which might be an indication that the training I've assigned him to is too rigorous, or doesn't focus sufficiently on the technical side of the game. I'll try changing up his training regime this year.

Right backs:

D/DM R Graeme Law, 20, Scotland, uncapped:

4 seasons, 35 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 2 MoM, 6.94

The starting right back last season, Law is not outstanding in any area, is a bit physically weak, and lacks ability in the air. However, his consistency throughout his game is remarkable. He's shown fairly consistent development mentally and technically, and my coaches think he's showing signs of developing into a quality player. Right back was an area I wanted to improve over the off-season, but barring a loan, at this point Law is it.

D/DM R Nathan Kamara, 18, England, uncapped:

2 seasons, 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 7.00

Kamara played 36 Reserve and U-18 matches last year, with a mere 6.69 average rating. Though he shows great determination and fine natural fitness, he really hasn't been developing as I'd hoped he would. There are far too many holes in his game, from his decision-making and composure, to mediocre tackling and marking, for him to succeed without making great strides this year. Viv still likes him, and thinks that with hard work and good luck, he has the potential to become a very good player for this club. He'll get the majority of the starts this season for the Reserves.

D RC Craig Shaw, 22, England, uncapped:

31 games, 4 goals, 0 assists, 6.52, with Brigg

The weakest of the three right backs aerially, Shaw has also had trouble passing, dribbling, anticipating the game, and making decisions. In short, he's next to useless, save as a reserve, and I'm already regretting signing him to a four-year contract despite the very low wage and squad status he was willing to accept. Such a fundamentally flawed player really has no place in my side, but I was desperate to provide some form of coverage at the position if there were any problems with the others. He'll be on the senior side roster, but I hope I don't have to use him.

Left backs:

D L Paul Parkin, 21, Scotland, uncapped:

1 season, 10 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, 7.10

The only left back on the roster now that Dave Merris is gone, the Scottish left back has inherited the starting job by default. Viv thinks he has the 'football world at his feet'. I think of him as a backup quality, but he's much stronger than Shaw or Kamara, with fairly reasonable attributes. Unfortunately his net progress under my training regime has been negative - he's lost some quality both mentally and technically, though he's in better physical shape than he once was. In particular, he could use improvement in his decision-making, anticipation, tackling, and marking, but I have no other choice at left back.

Defensive midfield:

D/DM C Gary Pearson, 28, England, uncapped:

1 season, 35 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, 6.57

A solid starter last season, Pearson is the only option at DMC. I'd wanted to bring in somebody else, so that he could shift back and provide some experience at central defense, but it didn't seem to be in the cards. He's got a strong technique, but some of his decisions are a bit suspect, and he doesn't contribute too much going forward. He's also as slow as our central defenders, which could be a serious vulnerability this year. Viv rates him merely a 'useful' member of the squad.

Left wing:

AM L John McGrath, 23, Ireland, 5 U-21 Caps, 0 goals:

9 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 5.67 with Doncaster

With pace, crossing, dribbling, and good off-the-ball skills, the Irishman should be a dramatic improvement on the left wing. He doesn't do a whole lot defensively, and is especially weak in the air, but he should make up for that with his other talents.

M LC Darren Dunning, 24, England, uncapped:

2 seasons, 81 games, 4 goals, 3 assists, 6.69

Dunning is actually a much more complete player than McGrath, with a very well-developed mental game, and better technique. He's also an on-the-field leader, a natural selection for captain. However, he's slower, and doesn't cross or dribble as well as his competitor. He's also quite short, a flaw he hasn't even attempted to overcome through practice. Last year, Viv felt he had a lot of potential, but he doesn't seem to be developing much, if at all, and this summer Viv conceded that he is at best a 'useful player'.

AM L Marc Schofield, 20, England, uncapped:

1 season, 4 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 6.25

Viv rates him a player with the football world at his feet, which echoes the high praise our scouts had for him before I signed him last year. However, he hasn't shown me much, failing to improve particularly over time, and failing to impress on the pitch, either in Reserve matches or with the senior side. Though he works hard, he doesn't seem to have the creativity to contribute offensively, and his concentration wanders badly. He can cross, when given the chance, but he can't seem to beat defenders to create those chances for himself. This year, it'll be some substitute appearances with the Reserve side, as I'm afraid he's no longer part of my long-term plan.

AM LC Daryl Peters, 16, England, uncapped:

Schoolboy

This young winger is a model professional, hard working, and with pace to spare. His concentration never wavers, and if he can mature technically to match his mental attributes, he'll be well beyond the Conference level. For the moment, however, he has some glaring weaknesses, especially his first touch, his technique, and his off-the-ball runs. I also have concerns about his composure: hopefully he will learn to control his anger as he matures. Despite his age, I'll be giving him as many starts as he can handle at the Reserve level.

M L Adam Corbett, 16, England, uncapped:

Schoolboy

Reasonably quick and strong, this youngster is showing some real talent already. His decisions are much better than one might expect from a 16-year-old, and he knows how to finish a chance. If he can develop his dribbling and crossing, he might turn into a quality winger. He'll be starting at the U-18 level.

Right wings:

AM R Jon Paul McGovern, 24, Scotland, uncapped:

6 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 5.83 on loan with Scunthorpe

The other big addition on my wings, McGovern is quite physically talented. He is also quite good at corner-taking and from the spot. His dribbling certainly belongs at a higher level than the Conference, and if he were a bit better mentally, he might be poised to move up a division. Given his age, I don't expect much development from him, though it would be nice if he could polish his crossing a bit.

AM R Kevin Donovan, 33, England, uncapped:

1 season, 19 games, 2 goals, 1 assist, 6.79:

Broke his leg during our match against Barnet last April, and will be out for at least another 4 months. The injury cost him his starting job, but honestly he is slower and weaker than McGovern in most areas of the game. He shows a better understanding of the game, as one might expect from a more experienced player, but his best days are probably behind him. When he returns, I expect to work him into the first team as McGovern's backup, but I won't renew his contract when it expires at the end of the year.

F RC Paul Robinson, 26, England, uncapped:

1 season, 21 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, 6.29

The last of my truly 'unwanted' players, Robinson will nonetheless start the season in the first team, spelling McGovern when the Scot needs a rest. He remains on the transfer list due to his lack of creativity, poor decision-making, and merely fair crossing and dribbling. He doesn't really get back defensively, either, so if McGovern is injured, I'm likely to turn to one of the younger players.

AM/F RC Adam Arthur, 19, England, uncapped:

3 seasons, 8 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 6.60

Fully recovered from his surgery last season, this tiny youngster has been battling to prove that he deserves a chance with the first team this season. He might have earned it, too, if I hadn't brought in McGovern, but it looks like he'll be spending the majority of the year down at the Reserve level as my first-choice right wing there. He doesn't really compete with our starters in any meaningful way, and needs a lot of improvement both mentally and defensively to be able to challenge.

M R Mark Goodwin, 18, England, uncapped:

9 games, 2 goals, 6.33 with Meir KA:

The only thing this ambitious youngster excels at is teamwork. His speed and decision-making are merely average, while his technical skills need a lot of polish. Still, my scouts think he has tremendous potential, and I'd like to give him a chance. He'll get the majority of the starts at the U-18 level.

Attacking midfield:

AM C Theodore Whitmore, 33, Jamaican, 127 caps, 29 goals:

1 season, 18 games, 7 goals, 7 assists, 7 MoM, 8.28

Far and away the best player on our side last year, the experienced attacker may actually have a supporting cast that can help him out a bit more this year. He's not the fastest player, but with excellent flair and creativity, he makes chances both for himself and for those around him. His acquisition last season rejuvenated a stale offense, and I have Tappa in the playmaker role this year, hoping he can recapture the phenomenal form he had during our February and March run.

AM C Ryan Ashington, 22, England, uncapped:

3 games, 0 goals, 7.00 with Lancaster

The first of my Lancaster players to follow me to York, Ashington is a hard-working, determined young man. He can drive a free kick as well as anybody in the conference, and his ability to shoot from range belongs in the Premier League. Unfortunately, he is let down by a number of other areas of his game, in particular dribbling, his first touch, and his aerial ability. He also contributes next to nothing defensively. Still, he's my clear first choice to partner Whitmore as an attacking option.

AM C Joe Foote, 17, England, uncapped:

1 season, 5 games, 1 goal, 0 1assists, 7.00

Our only other true option at attacking midfielder also secured 2 goals and 8 assists in a 39-match campaign at the Reserve and U-18 level, where he was often selected as a captain. He doesn't really belong at the Conference level, however, lacking the pace, technique, and mental sophistication to contribute at the senior level. He's been progressing, albiet slowly, so I'm tempted to disregard Viv when he warns that he doesn't believe Joe will ever improve beyond his current level. I'll be starting him with the Reserve side for the majority of the season.

Strikers:

S C Andy Bishop, 22, England, uncapped:

1 season, 46 games, 19 goals, 2 assists, 1 MoM, 6.93

The team's leading scorer last season, this determined Englishman remains one of the first choices at striker. He has a very good first touch, but other than that doesn't have too much to offer, with good pace and merely average finishing and aerial ability. In particular his decision-making is bad, which may be part of why he hasn't generated many assists.

F LC Levent Yalçin, 20, Turkey, uncapped:

4 seasons, 41 games, 5 goals, 6.76

The Turkish youngster scored his first goals last year, but an arm injury kept him out for more than a month. Before that, he had really been improving at a dramatic rate, commensurate with the potential my coaches all proclaimed for him, but after the injury he has struggled to find any subsequent improvement. Viv rates him as the only outstanding prospect on the club, and feels that its imperative we hang onto his talents. He isn't as fast as Rawle, but he has a very well-rounded game, especially in comparison with the other two. I expect that, with playing time, he will continue to improve, and he has the flexibility to line up as an attacking midfielder rather than a striker, if need be.

S C Mark Rawle, 26, England, uncapped:

1 season, 13 games, 7 goals, 1 assists, 1 MoM, 7.15

Speedy, with good acceleration, Rawle has been giving sides fits, especially with Tappa laying on inviting through balls for him. In particular, he seems to be good at running down the long ball, and he's a better shooter than Bishop when he gets a chance. He has a number of weaknesses which will probably prevent him progressing beyond the Conference: his passing and heading are awful, his decision-making execrable, and his concentration often wanders. When he's on, he's on, but when he's not it can be like pulling teeth to get him to contribute.

F LC Robbie Haw, 18, England, uncapped:

2 seasons, 7 games, 0 goals, 6.50

The best decision-maker of any of my strikers, Haw actually has the creativity and passing ability to potentially earn an assist. He did score 22 times in Reserve and U-18 matches last year, and like Yalçin, he has a fairly balanced game. He will probably remain at the Reserve level this year, but will get at least a few call-ups. Like Yalçin, he can play attacking midfielder if needed.

That's it - its not a very strong side, and its an incredibly young one, as I've gotten rid of anybody I didn't feel could help in the long term. My coaching staff will have plenty of work to do: as currently composed, I don't expect this side could live up to the oddsmaker's expectations. They've given us 16-to-1 to earn promotion.

However, if the coaches can help these young players improve, and I can add a few more pieces, perhaps we can turn this into a winning club, and move our way up the footballing pyramid.

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Friday, 12th August, 2005.

Would you believe Rob Styles was still in York for our Under-18 friendly match against Leeds U-18's? No? Neither could I. If the match was to prove a preview of our first round Under-18 Cup match against them the following Friday night, it certainly augured well, as we won 2-0. However, the goals came through trialist strikers Gary Bentley and Alan Kennedy, neither of whom would be eligible the following week, so I took it with a grain of salt.

Gary Lloyd sent in his scouting report. Our first match of the season would be against Southend United, who were relegated from League Two last year. He thinks their side is strong, with a pacey attack, and a combative, hard-working midfield.

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Saturday, 13th August, 2005. Conference National - Match 1, at Southend United

My first full season in the Conference would begin on the road against Southend, and against the recently-relegated side I would start my strongest XI - with five debutantes. David Stockdale would again be the starting keeper, with Paul Parkin at left back. Liam Fontaine and Mark Wright would debut in central defense, with Graeme Law on the right. Gary Pearson was of course the defensive midfielder, with two more new signings, John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern at left and right wing respectively. Tappa Whitmore and Ryan Ashington would pair in the attacking midfield, while I hoped that Mark Rawle's speed would give the slower Southend defenders trouble.

Though it was an unfamiliar ground, it was a familiar drive - Southend-on-Sea is just beyond Canvey Island in the mouth of the Thames, and we'd been there frequently enough last season. Roots Hall is a beautiful ground, a 12,000-capacity all-seater, honestly the best facilities we'd played in since Millennium Stadium. 4,778 were on hand, which is a large crowd by Conference standards. The day was hot and sunny, the warmest weather I'd seen since coming to England.

I started out the game pressing forward, which seemed to stun the Southend players. Perhaps they'd expected that, with my two central defenders both making their league debuts, I would play conservatively to help them out, or perhaps they'd been counting the home opener as a sure three points against a 'weaker' side. They were surprised. After fifteen minutes of fairly complete control, I did fall back to to the more conservative formation, but they never seemed to recover. Oh, Tesfaye Bramble did manage a breakaway, but David Stockdale made a fine 1-on-1 save to keep the scores level.

In the 26th minute, however, Stockdale was down on the ground clutching his chest, and referee Ray Gould showed Andy Edwards a yellow card for inflicting the injury during a goal-mouth scrum. Mark Zawadski would come on for his York debut - not whom I wanted to trust against a talented Southend side!

You might expect the home side to come out firing after that, but no, they remained tentative and hesitant. Mark Rawle managed a pair of breakways, but both of his shots went wide or over. Ryan Ashington grazed the bar with a 30-yard free kick. When the whistle blew for halftime, the score was still 0-0, but we were obviously the controlling side and the large crowd stood silent.

"Don't let them hang around," I warned the lads over the break, and they must have listened. Right off the kickoff, we surged forward, with Tappa Whitmore threading a nifty pass through traffic to open Mark Rawle into the box. Rawle's powerful shot cannoned back off the crossbar, directly at the unlucky Edwards. He had little time to react, as the ball caromed off his knee, and back into the net from only six yards out. An own goal was hardly a glorious start to the season, but I would take a 1-0 lead however we came by it.

Whitmore nearly added one of his own just afterwards, but Darryl Flahaven made a fine diving save at the post. Rawle had another breakaway chance, and we were really looking in complete control even though he put it wide.

On 72 minutes, Jon Paul McGovern played a long ball down the right wing for Rawle. He dribbled around one defender as he came up the end line towards the near post, and he had a wide-open Ryan Ashington running to the far post. Greedily, Rawle shot from the narrow angle rather than pass. Flahaven again made the save, but he barely changed the angle, and the ball darted across the goal mouth to Ashington, who had an easy tap-in to score on his York debut. 2-0, and the Southend supporters began to file for the exits!

John McGrath nearly made the score three-nil just at the start of injury time, but Flahaven was up to the task, and this time the rebound was cleared away.

We would rue that error, as at 91:50, Husbands came up the left. He passed low to Kevin Maher in the center, and as Liam Fontaine came forward to challenge him, he played it past the youngster and into the space he'd just vacated for Lawrie Dudfield. Dudfield dribbled to 8 yards out, and put it past the onrushing Zawadski to make it 2-1.

Surely that was too late for Southend, I thought, but the remaining fans were on their feet and screaming for the first time since the first half. Again they came forward, and to my dismay Graeme Law tripped Michael Husbands in the box at 93 minutes! Referee Ray Gould blew the whistle, and came running forward brandishing a yellow card..

.. which he showed to Husbands, booking him for diving!!

It was a narrow escape, but we had our first three points of the season!

Southend 1, York 2

Dudfield 90; Edwards o.g. 46, Ashington 72

MoM: Flahaven (Southend GK)

It had been a tough-fought game, but the lads were rightfully proud of themselves afterwards, and Tappa Whitmore introduced our many new faces to the traditional post-game reggae which now accompanies a York victory.

We'd played well, better than I had expected, but I knew it was a long season, and wasn't yet ready to celebrate a single win.

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Sunday, 14th August, 2005.

Jeff Miller brought me the news about David Stockdale - the goalie had fractured two ribs, and would need to be out for at least three weeks, possibly as much as a month. That would be the break Craig Saunders needed - I'd suspected he might push for the starting job this season, and he would have it, at least for the next three games.

A quick glance at the standings - too early yet to have any significance - placed us sixth in the Conference for now. Tamworth had pounded Farnborough 5-0 to take the early lead. I turned back to my desk, where I had the contracts for two youth players, who had both been part of my pre-season trials.

D RLC Kevin West, 15, English: Signed in part because of his versatility, West is now the number-two left back on the side. He's fairly average physically, determined, with good tackling skills but poor man marking. At 15, its unsurprising that he needs to work on his understanding of the game, and a number of his technical skills are below standard, but I think he should do well if given time to develop.

D C Jamie Cooper, 16, English: Determined and composed, he's also very good with his head, and slightly faster than our starting central defenders. He shows a pretty good mental game, and I'm impressed with his decision-making; if we can train his technique to match, he'll be a very good player.

West played that afternoon as the York Reserves lost their last friendly match of the pre-season to the Manchester United Reserves. A paltry crowd of 191 got to enjoy a goal by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the 0-2 defeat. It was the fifth straight Rob Styles-refereed friendly we'd had in York, but he continued to show restraint, limiting himself to only four yellow cards.

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Friday, 19th August, 2005.

It was a quiet week; a number of other trialists departed, their trials over, as we shifted focus towards the regular season. Central defender Mark Wright twisted his ankle in training on Monday, which will move Michael Staley back into the starting lineup until he can return.

I sent a few 'ringers' down to help the Under-18 side in their Under-18 Cup match against Leeds United U-18's Friday afternoon, but it didn't help; Sam Hird scored early on for the visitors, and then they camped out defensively, taking only 1 other shot all afternoon. The one goal was enough, and our youth side were out of the Cup 0-1.

That evening, I read Gary Lloyd's report on Canvey Island. The Canaries are a familiar opponent, whom he describes as 'capable', normally employing a 4-4-2, and with pace in their attacking line.

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Saturday, 20th August, 2005. Conference National - Match 2, vs Canvey Island.

There were only three changes from our season-opening side in the home opener. Craig Saunders would make his league debut in goal due to Stockdale's injured ribs. The defense would be Paul Parkin, Liam Fontaine, Michael Staley (on for the injured Mark Wright), and Graeme Law. Gary Pearson would go again at defensive mid, while John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern retained the wings. Tappa Whitmore and Ryan Ashington own the attacking midfield roles, while Levent Yalcin would earn the start up front.

I sent the lads out with orders to attack and be aggressive, but the Canaries were the one to push the issue right from the off. Just 8 minutes in, defender Ben Chenery struck the post from a 25-yard free kick. He looked to have had Saunders beat, but was unlucky it carombed away from goal.

Four minutes later, it a cross from Junior McDougald found Ben Sedgemore in the area. He headed it back for Kevin Dobson, who was right on the 18-yard line, and struck a wonderful half-volley which Saunders could only admire as it went into net. Twelve minutes in, and we were trailing 0-1 to the lowly Canaries!

John McGrath nearly found a reply a minute later, but Shaun Allaway saved his best effort. Whitmore put one wide, but then Canvey Island began to push forward again. It was all Saunders could do to tip aside Dobinson's shot from 10 yards in the 35th minute, and he tipped over Steven Murphy's header on a corner kick in the 39th minute. We went to the half feeling lucky to trail only 0-1, and from the hang-dog looks in the lads' eyes, they knew it could have been a lot worse.

I slowed down our offensive pace, trying to find something that would lead to a slow build-up of pressure, letting the rest of our players catch up to an attack instead of the lightning-strike methodology we usually employed. That went nowhere through the first twenty minutes of the second half, so at 65 minutes, I tried switching to the 3-5-2, bringing off Paul Parkin and sending on Andy Bishop.

I can't fault the tactic for the Canaries' second goal, as Ty Gooden launched a long-range shot into a pack of four defenders. It took a deflection off of Ryan Ashington, and Saunders couldn't quite get to it. Unlucky, but we were down 0-2 with twenty minutes remaining.

Levent Yalcin finally made some noise after that, as we really began to push the pace. His shot to the right-side post forced a beautiful saved from Allaway, and when Whitmore shot wide, and Pearson put one over the bar, the already-sparse crowd of 1,214 began heading for the exits.

Four minutes of injury time were announced, but that turned out to Canvey Island's benefit. Deep into the third minute, Chenery sent a cross in, and Lee Boylan leaped above Jon Paul McGovern to head it home from 8 yards out, and that made our humiliation complete.

York 0, Canvey Island 3

----; Dobinson 13, Gooden 72, Boylan 90

MoM: Murphy (Canvey Island DR)

There was no joy in the locker room tonight.

I gave the lads a thorough chewing out for the least inspired performance I could remember them giving. This was a side we had dominated last year, with a pair of 2-0 wins on the road, I reminded them, and I, their fans, and even their mothers had expected better of them.

I don't know if the tirade helped, but at least I felt better for having delivered it!

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Sunday, 21st August, 2005.

The lads were as shocked as I was - but I had been privately worrying about having reduced the age of the club too much. There were only five players on the squad over the age of 24, one of which was transfer listed, one of which was a reserve at best, and one of which was out with a long-term injury. Only two members of my opening day lineup had the age and experience to rebound from that sort of pounding, and neither of them had real leadership abilities.

I worried about the character of the squad - in letting go of Steve Davis and Lee Nogan, had I sold the soul of the club?

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Monday, 22nd August, 2005.

Our trophy-holding Under-18 side had no such worries, and manhandled Lincoln U-18s at Bootham Crescent on Sunday, 2-0, despite only two day's rest since their defeat against Leeds United. Speedy left wing Aaron Dennis scored the first, and amateur striker James Smart added the second, but most impressively Lincoln failed to put a single shot on target.

Unfortunately, Dennis had been on the pitch because starter Adam Corbett had injured his shoulder in the first half; physio Jeff Miller indicated that he would be out for only a week.

As for myself, I took Sunday off, and went with my wife for an outing. We took the train north to Edinburgh, which I had always wanted to see, and spent the day exploring the city. Of course the Castle is the most impressive sight for an American, situated commandingly atop the hill: one can only imagine how futile it would have been to advance up that hill against such a stronghold! We found a fine little restaurant for dinner before heading back home to York in the late evening.

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Friday, 26th August, 2005.

The rest of the week it was back to work. Tactically, I'd decided that part of my mistake against Canvey Island had been coming out too aggressively - we'd beaten Southend 2-1 primarily using my 'conservative' 4-5-1, where all of the players adhere to their defensive responsibilities first, falling back to almost a 4-3-2-1 when the opposition has the ball.

My middling 'aggressive' 4-5-1, with the wings and fullbacks pushing forward, had resulted in a 1-0 deficit against Canvey Island, and it was only the all-or-nothing 3-5-2 which had cost us the final two goals. So I drilled the lads in defensive tactics, and would revert to the 'conservative' formation for our next tie.

I did decide it was time to shift to our regular-season training schedules, moving from the physical focus of the pre-season training to the more tactical and technical focus which I had kept the side on last year. I would pay close attention to see who was responding well to it and who was not.

We added young Jason Pickering to the side - he signed on Monday, and reported for practice Tuesday morning.

D L Jason Pickering, 16, English: Another youngster with loads of potential but not much to offer the club in the short term. Physically, he's a bit above average, but honestly no attribute really stands out, and none of his technical skills offer sufficient strength to make him a threat at the Conference level. To be quite fair, I mostly wanted him to have additional coverage at left back.

Mid-week, the York Reserves kicked off their season with a 2-1 home win against Brighton. Daryl Peters and Robbie Haw tallied the goals, while young Joe Foote was the Man of the Match.

Of more interest to you, dear reader, may have been the Premiership news. First, Chelsea had shattered the Premier League transfer record with a £40M fee for Mista, the Valencia forward. Added to the £20M they'd paid Dortmund for Tomas Rosicky back in January, and one can see why the most common complaint in English football is about Roman Abramovich trying to buy the title!

The Champions League matches of the week added some interest - the Third Qualifying Round, last step prior to the group stages. Both English clubs qualified easily after their big wins in the first leg. Arsenal added another 4-0 victory over Dinamo Bucharest for a whopping 8-0 aggregate, while Manchester United drew 1-1 at FC Red Star Belgrade, easily enough for a 5-1 aggregate.

Celtic, however, were eliminated with an embarrassing 4-1 defeat at the hands of Rosenborg, which left them out on a 5-3 aggregate to the Norwegian side. Rangers beat Ferencvaros 2-1, giving them a 3-2 aggregate win over the Hungarians.

There was one other notable result from the day: Spanish giants Real Madrid were eliminated by Croatia's Hajduk 1-0 despite piling 19 shots on Hajduk 'superkeeper' Josip Knezevic. After a scoreless first tie, the result sent the aging 'Galacticos' crashing out before the group stages!

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Saturday, 27th August, 2005. Conference National - Match 3, at Scarborough

The side were still in fairly good spirits despite our embarassing loss last week: there's nothing like a match against your local rivals to get spirits up. I stayed fairly constant with the squad, starting ten of the eleven who had failed me against Canvey Island: Saunders got another chance in goal, with Parkin, Staley, Fontaine, and Law across the back, and Pearson playing the holding midfielder. McGovern and McGrath remained the wingers, with Whitmore and Ashington ahead of them. Last year's leading scorer, Andy Bishop, got his first start of the season up front.

The home side had the better of the first half, and it was Danny Cadamarteri in particular who looked the most dangerous, twice getting past our last defender in the first 20 minutes, but missing the target each time.

On 27 minutes, John McGrath sent a beautiful cross into the 6-yard box, and Andy Bishop got up to head on goal, but his header went narrowly over.

On 41 minutes, Scarborough captain Keith Gilroy launched a long ball over our defense. Danny Graham looked to be offsides, but on looking at the replay he may have been held onside by Staley. With a two-step lead on the slower Liam Fontaine, he was never going to be caught, and slipped it past Craig Saunders from 16 yards out to put us down 0-1 at halftime!

We had several chances early in the second half, but Whitmore's best effort was off target, and McGrath forced a fine save from keeper Joe Lewis. At the other end, Saunders made a few good saves to keep the defecit to only 1 goal, but come 65 minutes we still trailed 0-1. I called out the commands to switch to our 'aggressive' tactic, sending on Darren Dunning to take the captain's armband on the left wing and speedster Mark Rawle to play up front.

When the clock ticked past 80 minutes, I felt despair begin to settle in on our bench, but in the 83rd minute, Scarborough sent men forward on a corner kick. Graeme Law won the ball, and as our lads flowed forward on the counter-attack, he played it to McGovern, who moved it forward to Tappa. The Jamaican looked up to see Ryan Ashington in full stride, and he launched a long pass just moments before the youngster passed the last defender. He outran two desperate defensemen, and from sixteen yards launched a laser past the onrushing keeper to equalize, 1-1!

As I shouted to 'fall back', the lads continued to push forward, ignoring my instructions for five full minutes. In the 88th minute, Whitmore was again the architect, this time freeing Rawle in the box. His rifled shot for the lower-right corner was barely tipped around the bar by Lewis.

The resulting corner went through the box untouched by anyone. Rawle tracked it down on the left wing, but his attempted cross took a deflection. Fontaine held it in on the edge of the penalty area, passing right for Jon Paul McGovern. McGovern launched a shot from long range for the far corner, but as Lewis moved to his right, the shot deflected off of Mark Hotte and rolled in at the near post. There was nothing Lewis could do - it was in the net!! McGovern's first goal as a Minsterman couldn't have come at a better time, putting us ahead 2-1 as the match rolled into stoppage time!

Deep into injury time, Paul Robinson nearly scored his first goal in a York jersey as well, launching a beautiful strike which Lewis barely tipped wide to preserve the final scoreline.

Scarborough 1, York 2

Graham 41; Ashington 83, McGovern 89

MoM: Lewis (Scarborough GK)

That had certainly answered my questions about our young side's character! They had fought back from a deficit with two goals in the final ten minutes, and had fully earned the reggae which blasted through the visitor's locker room!

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Sunday, 28th August, 2005.

It had been a very busy Saturday, with all three of our teams in action. Our Reserve side won on the road 1-0 against Accrington, getting the game's only goal on an own goal. Amateur defensive midfielder Jamie Withe won Man of the Match honors - that was a position I didn't have any professional coverage at, having only Gary Pearson under contract. Graham Allen had done another fine job on the right wing, and I made him a full-time contract offer.

In Halifax, our Under-18 side drew 1-1 against Halifax U-18s. Amateur attacking midfielder Ian Black had put us ahead late in the match, but Halifax replied in injury time to earn the draw.

When I got back to the office, I found a newspaper sitting on my desk with a yellow sticky note calling my attention to one article: it quoted our chairman, Steve Beck, expressing his pleasure at beating our rivals.

I got my pleasure when I turned to the 'statistics' section and found the Conference National league table. We stood seventh, but no team had come through the first three matches perfectly, so with six points we were only one point behind leaders Tamworth.

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Wednesday, 31st August, 2005.

Young goalkeeper Craig Saunders's run with the first team came to a screeching halt when he suffered a calf strain in training. He hadn't particularly impressed, and with Stockdale due to recover from injury in time for our next game, I figured Saunders would return to the Reserves when he was fit to play.

The final day of the month brought our third Reserve match of the year. With a full two weeks between senior matches, I used it to get a number of fringe first-teamers starts: Craig Shaw, Darren Dunning, Paul Robinson, and Mark Rawle were all in the lineup, with Mark Wright on an injury rehabilitation assignment as well. The referee decided the outcome, handing two red cards to Gravesend players, and awarding a spot-kick to us for one of them. Veteran right back Craig Shaw converted the penalty, but Dunning picked up a knock early in the first half.

I brought on Daryl Peters for him, and Peters earned Man of the Match honors, scoring a second goal late to make it 2-0. I was amused to note that this had left my Reserves top of their table, the only team with three wins.

The transfer window closed Wednesday night, without any major news for York fans. I still had transfer budget remaining, in fact, and would remain free to use it on domestic transfers - the only real effect on us that the transfer window has is making us unable to bring in Scottish and Welsh players from those leagues.

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Thursday, 1st September, 2005.

The morning started with our usual board meeting, to review the status of the club. The board remained pleased with our performance on the pitch, although the books remained unsettled. This month alone, we'd lost £50,000, and though for the season as a whole we had a positive inflow, most of that was due to the sale of players. Sophie warned me that we were back £44,000 p/a over the targeted wage budget, with the bulk of that going to six 'first teamers'. Honestly, though, its the bank loan that's getting us: our current balance is £60,000 in the red, which is coincidentally three months payment of the loan.

I followed that with the monthly review of training with my coaches. Left wing Adam Corbett was making incredible progress, absolutely mind-blowing, in the month since we'd signed him. My coaches had a hard time believing what they were seeing, but he had literally improved every facet of his game since joining the side.

Levent Yalçin, Graeme Law, and Jon Paul McGovern were also improving, and my coaches felt McGovern was the most talented player on the side. Mark Wright was also improving, despite his injury, and with regular play, Paul Parkin had brought his game back up to the highest level it had been since the week he joined the side - which made him the side's most improved player since May. Of the young goalkeepers, Kevin Butler was showing the most development.

Following the two meetings, I locked up my office and went on vacation with Stacy. It was my birthday weekend coming, and none of our sides had a match until the seventh, so we took off Thursday evening to catch a train to Italy.

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