As 2016 draws to a close, the boss reflects on a year of massive highs and lows...
Jan/Feb - The Low Point
January and February definitely marked the low point of 2016. We were leaking goals, players who had been given responsibility went missing and we couldn't buy a win. How Ritchie maintained his positivity throughout all of this I'll never know but the club owes him a massive debt of gratitude for pulling us through such a bad period in one piece.
On top of this, the usual batch of late dropouts meant we travelled to Romans and Birmingham Blaze for GFSN league games with barely a full team and lost both matches, the latter of which was an absolute humiliation.
Fortunately everything got better from there!
March/April - A Miracle Survival
Just when it seemed like we couldn't buy a win, everything quickly got better. The GFSN Cup drew us against Stonewall in the semi-final and their squad selection showed a team that definitely wanted to reach the final. It was a tight, scrappy affair with barely any chances but Conal delivered in the shoot-out, sending us through on penalties.
That seemed to spark a turnaround in our fortunes in the GFSN league as we defeated Nottingham and Saltire in back-to-back 2-0 wins. We were doubtful this would be enough to keep us up but somehow the results went out way and we retained our record of being the only ever-present team in Division 1.
We also managed to end our losing streak in the LUL in the most dire of circumstances. With a whole bunch of players not turning up, Sam delivered a couple of quality replacements and, even though we started the game with 10 men, we managed to sneak past Stonewall with a 4-2 win.
May - The Cup Final Curse Continues
What do we have to do to win that bloody cup? For the third time, Falcons were defeated in the GFSN Cup Final and this one felt particularly harsh. Despite dominating the game, Mersey held out for a 1-0 win in Birmingham.
The club's long-term problems were made more obvious by what turned out to be the final LUL game of the season. Only 1 player who started the GFSN final was available for the game and Falcons played with 9 men as they were defeated by Phoenix. A game against Bexley was forfeited as the committee sat down to look at whether it was possible to turn things around.
Summer - The Recovery Begins
There was a very genuine conversation about whether Falcons could continue for another season. The problems hadn't come about quickly - these were long-standing issues where squad selection was inconsistent, promotion was non-existent and finances were delicate. Fortunately, a number of people pulled together to turn things around. I took on the manager's role but I was particularly happy to see Kieran weave his magic with recruitment and Ritchie move to secretary. Both guys have a massive love for the club and we're all pulling in the same direction.
There were some tough decisions to make - we decided to drop out of the GFSN League after deeming it to be too expensive a way to play football, particularly with a new squad to recruit. We also had to say goodbye to a number of long-standing players including Aew, Bruce, Eoin, Ian and Kevin. They had departed for a variety of reasons and it was now our job to find their replacements.
Fortunately, we finally got some training sessions sorted thanks to Dean and weekly training began over the summer at Kennington Park. After week 1 things didn't look too encouraging when we had nine people down. Then, we seemed to crack it. I still remember the week Elliot, Dave and Brady came down as it started to attract better players along after that. Olu and John followed, Francesco joined us after walking his dog by the pitch and then there was Duncan, Tom, Chris, Juddy and Alex too.
We played one pre-season friendly against Phoenix in August. You never quite know what to expect in seeing players transition from small-sided games to a full pitch but there were definitely signs of encouragement as we won 4-1 and played some really nice football along the way.
September - Off to a Flyer!
September couldn't have gone any better as we took maximum points from our first three league games. We rotated the squad a fair bit in the first month while everyone got their fitness levels up and no one disappointed. What was really nice to see was how the goals were shared out. Although Juddy bagged a hat trick against Soho, all lots of players contributed and it seemed we had a really good squad going.
We also competed in the annual Leicester Wildecats Tournament and played very well, defeated only by the victors in the semi-final.
October - Not our Month!
We sneaked by Titans with a late comeback at the start of the month and maybe that should have been our wake-up call for the rest of the month. We were unlucky in the two tournaments that followed. Soho rebounded from losing to us in the group stage of their tournament to pull off a late semi-final win. We then reached the final of the Titans Tournament but ended up losing out on penalties to Romans.
Our GFSN Cup campaign only lasted one round. Despite dominating against Birmingham, we just couldn't put the ball away and conceded some sloppy goals to exit at the first stage. Then, we turned up as a mess against Romans in the league and were deservedly beaten for the first time. We had been warned!
November - Back to Our Best
If we didn't have our stuff together in October, we certainly responded in the right way in November. In a match that will be remembered for a truly awful refereeing performance, we played some great football away at Bexley to win 3-2. We then had to cope with an incredibly strong Stonewall team and we battled really hard to hold on for a 5-4 win.
With our final couple of league games cancelled, we've had the chance to put our feet up for a few weeks and look forward to getting back to action in 2017.
When I look back on where we were a year ago, it seems remarkable the position we're in now. As with any sports team, it's only possible to take things forward with a lot of hard work from people who regularly give up their time and money to do things on behalf of everyone else. Dean, Kieran and Ritchie deserve thanks from everyone for putting their hands up when no one else would.
It also wouldn't be possible to achieve anything without a deeply committed set of players. Considering their time at the club, everyone has thrown themselves straight into the Falcons and it's become not just a great place to play football but also a great place to make some friends and share a drink or ten.
Despite the stresses, it's been a pleasure managing everyone for the past five months. We're in a good position right now but the hard work needs to continue in 2017 if we're to keep our position!