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Pre-Season Catch Up With Jay
Preparations for the upcoming season have turned up a notch in recent weeks. With The Gate’s pre-season fixture scheduled confirmed, new faces heading to HDP and Season Tickets now on sale, we thought it was time for a catch up with Manager Jay Saunders on all things Margate.
After two unprecedented seasons, Jay and his coaching staff arranged a series of behind-closed doors run-outs. Informal matches which proved to be incredibly useful.
“We made it optional for the boys who already signed for us, and it was an opportunity for them to play football and see each other again after such a long time. At this time of year, it is good to screen players, trial them in such scenarios. We have been sent a lot of CVs and the games we arranged enabled me to go through those and invite players in for positions we were looking for.”
“I’m not a big lover of having a pre-season full of hundreds of trialists and quite literally that can be the case at this time of year! There is no better way to assess a player than in a game situation and we enjoyed several against a range of opposition. From Ebbsfleet United to Academies like Soccer Elite, the varying levels were good for us to test ourselves.”
“We also had a game against our U23s which was a really worthwhile exercise, as it was fantastic to see some of the talent coming from the U18s and U23s and see the youth we have at the football club. That has always been a big thing for me and will continue to be, the youngsters coming through are talented, eager to learn and will have opportunities with my staff and I.”
Jay moved quickly to retain the services of key players from last season whilst adding new faces to impress at Hartsdown Park.
“I am really pleased with my squad. With no disrespect to the group we had last year but I think we’re in a better position this season. Given the way things have been, we have had longer to put a side together and more players have been available which has worked well for us.”
“We have kept a core of the squad together from last season and identified players and positions we wanted to bring in. Some we were able to get in straightaway, others we have had to be more patient with, whilst others have come through the trial matches. Upon reflection, I think we were maybe a bit too young last season, and we didn’t have enough forwards in the squad.”
“Looking at the players we’ve got, I feel we have a well-rounded, whole squad with more experience and a better range of ages. That balance is really important and without getting too carried away, I’m excited by the group we’re building.”
“I think I’m pretty much there with the squad. Lewis (Knight) and Doug (Loft) were two key final ones for me who I had spoken to for a while. But never say never, there will be a couple more we look at and add through pre-season but I’m keen to make sure we also take care and progress the youngsters coming through. Players like George Wilkinson, Charlie Hatton, George Lamb and Fynn Rutherford who have impressed already and continue to do so. There’s a handful of really talented players who I’m excited to work with and it is nice to go into the pre-season friendlies with such a group.”
“At this time of year there are comings and goings and in terms of an update for supporters, we have made the difficult decision to release Noel Leighton. Noel is a player who has done really well for us and was one of my first signings as Margate Manager. After suffering with injury for most of last season, I think it’s important for him to go and get a lot of games. Whilst our squad won’t be massive, it is vital he has the chance to play. I’d like to thank him for his services to the club and wish him all the best.”
Jay has signed seven new players for the 2021/22 season, here are his thoughts on each one.
- Doug Loft –“It took a little longer to sign Doug but once we agreed, a deal was done in minutes. I have been keen to get an experienced player in and Doug has been there and done it at the top, top levels. I think he will be great in helping youngsters like Archie Burnett and prove to be a really good signing.”
Ben Greenhalgh –
- “Ben is a really great character and good to have in and around the dressing room which is why we have added him to our coaching set up. Besides all that he adds to us in that respect, he has tonnes of ability and importantly he can match that ability with end product.”
- Lewis Knight – “Lewis has played at a higher level but he’s not unfamiliar with our division and has everything it takes to be an influential signing for us. Lewis is a big lad who is effective in both boxes. He is another character who will ensure we keep a good dressing room.”
- James Bessey-Saldanha– “I think James will be a real surprise package. He is what I call an old-fashioned winger. He has a good eye for goal, is confident to take on players and will become a favourite with supporters quickly, I have no doubt.”
- Dan Thompson– “Dan is the number nine I have been looking for for a number of seasons now. He is a natural finisher, hungry to get on the end of things and will be a real handful. His movement is great and is another player who I think will excite those who come to watch us play.”
- Mo Kamara– “Mo is a player we actually signed before but unfortunately never made his debut as the season was curtailed. Mo can play in a few positions. He has got bundles of potential and is a good age. At 24/25, he is a player I’m looking forward to working with and helping make a real asset for us.”
- Tommy Cooney - “Tommy knows the club really well and every time I’ve watched him play, he’s really impressed me including last season when he was playing for Bognor Regis. When we lost Jay Porter, I knew we had to bring in a quality signing to replace him which is exactly what Tommy is. Tommy loves to bomb forward and produces quality crosses which is exactly what I want from a full back and with Sess offering us that too, we’ve got good balance on both the left and right.”
Margate have confirmed the fixture list for pre-season games. EFL, National League and Isthmian opposition will all visit Hartsdown Park and Jay’s side will also have a few local road trips as we countdown to Saturday 14th August.
“It has been tricky here and there to arrange pre-season games. For us and many other clubs, we haven’t played football in such a long time, whereas for others their seasons have still been unfolding and plans very much tentative. We have to respect that clubs will have a change of circumstances and unfortunately some games we arranged with higher league opposition didn’t quite come through.”
“That being said, we have a Gillingham eleven coming down, a National League team who we will announce once their season is finished and local sides which is a nice mixture. We have a good blend of games and some real tests which is exactly what you want in pre-season. I’m not keen on having too many games but if you can get some with clubs in and around you – the likes of Hythe and Ashford who will be pushing to get into our league – then it will give you a good idea of where you’re at.”
Club Chairman Ricky Owen recently announced The Gate’s opening pre-season match will be free for supporters to watch. It’s a match is looking forward to immensely.
“I really cannot wait to see faces back at Hartsdown Park and to feel that atmosphere we have missed so much. I hope lots of people will take advantage of the offer the club is running and turn up. It will be good to be back playing and gives people the chance to see the new players we have and an idea of how our squad has progressed.”
This season is special for so many reasons. After months with no action at HDP, when football returns it does so just in time for an important birthday for the club. Jay hopes it will prove to be a season with plenty to celebrate.
“I think there is a lot to be excited about this season. For the non-league game, I believe there will be a renewed interest. So many of us were bored with the lockdowns that I think more supporters will return to the terraces and hopefully that is the case for us, especially with the special offer on season tickets. Hopefully, there may be people living in Margate who think about checking us out and coming down. If they do, I think there is a chance they can become hooked. We need to make sure we have a team to encourage them to come back!”
“There have also been people affected financially by the pandemic and might not have the funds or the inclination to go to watch games in the Premier League. Hopefully we can entice them to come and watch us. It will be great to see terraces full, hear the noise around Hartsdown Park and make it a memorable season for our 125th year.”
The club has recently received approval from the Secretary of State and Thanet Council to push forwards with re-development plans, the news was gratefully received by Jay and has already played a part in attracting players to HDP.
“I speak to players about the ground, I know how it entices players and the plans are incredibly exciting. I remember the plans being mentioned when I was a player here, so after such a long time, it is a major boost to get it across the line and major credit to Chris Chambers and the Chairman for doing so.”
“These are genuinely exciting times for the club, I want to make sure the team helps keep the buzz going and we’ll be building on and off the pitch. I remember the days when the ground was full of thousands of people each week, if we can get a team to do that alongside the redevelopment, it will be an exciting time.”
Friday, 04 June 2021
By Charlotte Richardson