With the Thames Valley League kicking off on Wednesday 28th August, Football in Berkshire nipped over the county border into Oxfordshire to catch up with Sam Tucker, manager of Woodcote FC.
Woodcote are a club that have gone through several changes both on and off the field in the last couple of years, but Sam now feels they are in a position to push forward in 2019/20.
“Our pre-season has gone well. We have played Hurst, Woodley United, Westwood United, Silchester, Milton Dev and Taplow United, as well as an inter-club friendly and having got positive results in most of the fixtures I am pleased with the progress so far.
“Fingers crossed we seem to be getting a strong squad together this season. In terms of players who’ve left from last season, striker Jonny Adey has retired, Ben Rusher has joined Wallingford and Mark Froude has gone to Newbury. Every else has agreed to sign.
“In terms of new players – Goalkeeper Ben Lallament has signed from Eversley which is a big plus for us after goalie Josh Scurr from last season unfortunately broke his foot recently. Centre half Jake Bailey and midfielder Josh Beisley have both signed from Mortimer, Carl Self has signed from Newbury, and Jake Dillion has also signed after missing all of last season due to other commitments. Some of the Reserve lads from last season have really impressed me so far during pre season and are certainly pushing for a place and we also have a couple of other players who I am hoping to get over the line before the season starts. On a down side, fitness for me is key though and is not quite at the standard I’d like it to be at currently across the whole team.”
When I ask Sam about his targets for this season he is pretty adamant the club should be looking towards the top of the table.
“[Our goal] has to be to win the league really. We finished 3rd last season which in a very competitive league was great going, especially with a lot of upheaval during the [previous] summer. I’m sure the league will be even tougher this year but a title race as well as a cup final would be what I’m looking at.”
The upheaval Sam refers to is when former manager Ross Weatherstone left to join Binfield [now at Bracknell Town], taking a few of the Woodcote players with him in his new venture.
“I became player manager at the beginning of last season. [Chairman] Pete McAllister asked to meet me randomly one evening and advised me that Ross would be leaving and how we should proceed finding a replacement. We banded a couple of names around but unfortunately for one reason or another they couldn’t do it. Pete then asked me how I felt about being manager and that’s how it came about really.
“Ross left to go and manage Binfield FC. I loved playing under Ross as a player and have the upmost respect and admiration for him. We still get on really well and in fact speak quite regularly about players and how we are both getting on etc. He even loaned me some players from time to time last season which was a big help.
“Ross leaving was a pretty big upheaval, with a large number of the squad leaving too. I think we’ve done really well to get to where we are now though. The team spirit in the camp is tremendous and I genuinely really enjoy being able to manage such a talented group of footballers.”
While being fairly new to the management game, Sam has a long career in football that he can draw from.
“I had been at Woodcote just over two seasons when I became player -manager.
“In terms of my playing career I started playing for Westwood United, who are also in the Thames Valley Premier, when I was 16 and was lucky enough to win this league with them when I was 18.
“I then went from there to Thatcham Town in the Southern League for a season as well as spells at Didcot Town and Abingdon Utd. I then went travelling and moved to Australia where I played for St Kilda in the State League before coming back to England and joining Woodcote towards the end of the 2015/16 season.”
“Good cop, bad cop!”
As well as Sam’s playing experience there will be plenty of managerial experience in the Woodcote dugout this season as the club’s former manager and current chairman Pete McAllister will be Sam’s assistant for the 2019/20 season.
“Pete managed the club from the 2000/01 season to the 2015/16 season. He is now also the club chairman and my assistant. Last season one of my good friends Darren Russell was my assistant manager but he has had to step down due to family commitments, so Pete has stepped up to the plate.
“Obviously due to the fact it’s a new relationship I can’t comment too much [on how the relationship will work] however Pete has been in football management circles for a long time and certainly knows his stuff, so is great to have on board. He also tells me how it is which I need from time to time, with me being a fairly young and inexperienced manager really. I certainly think we will work well together this season. Good cop, bad cop!”
A long history
Sam is also aware of the club’s long history, including that of Stoke Row FC
“Woodcote and Stoke Row football clubs amalgamated in 2001 to form the present club which plays its matches at Woodcote Recreation Ground. The club runs two Saturday teams in the Thames Valley Premier League, formerly the Reading Football League. The First Team is in the Premier Division (Step 7). In 2015 an under 16s youth team was introduced, playing in the OFA Invitation League.
“Woodcote FC was formed over 100 years ago (there is a team photo in existence from 1906). Both clubs were re-formed after the war and Woodcote has remained in existence continuously, while Stoke Row was disbanded and re-formed again in 1994.
“The club has risen from Division 4 of the Reading League [the previous name for the TVL] with promotions in 1996, 98, 99, 2003 and 2007.
The clubs committee decided to drop Stoke Row [from the name] as we no longer have any affiliation with that area really. And wanted to go back to the original Woodcote FC.”
Since gaining promotion to the Premier Division, Woodcote have continued to be successful and have finished in the top 4 of the table in each of the last 10 seasons.
“I have been with Woodcote since the end part of the 2015/16 season so can’t comment entirely on the last 10 seasons however I think a lot has to be down to the fact the it has always seemed a well-run club with a tight knit bunch of players who always seem to be prepared to dig in and battle for one another. Certainly, since I joined, I always felt like I was made immediately welcome and part of a community so to speak. We nearly always get good home support, often in excess of 100 people which I think definitely helps too.”
Oxfordshire Groundman of the year
Sam is also quick to mention the volunteers who support the club off the field.
“I’d like to mention my thanks to my dad who comes to every game and helps me with a lot of the back office stuff / changing room kit man which helps alleviate some of the pressure I feel on match days and the loyal Woodcote locals who have the pitch marked out, roped off etc before every game so the players can just turn up and play on what is a magnificent surface for any level of football.
“In 2017 the work of long – serving groundsman, Stuart Higley was recognised when he was named Oxfordshire Groundman of the year.”
Woodcote started their season with a dramatic win at home to fellow title hopefuls Cookham Dean on Wednesday. A hat-trick from new signing Carl Self and one from Jos Miller helped them to come from 2-0 down to run out 4-3 winners and get their season off to a winning start.