“A new era” is how new Woodley United boss Christian Parker describes the build-up to the 2021/22 season, the club’s first as members of the Combined Counties league.
Stepping up from running the club’s development side in the Thames Valley Premier League, the former Maidenhead United Under 18 boss has had a busy summer.
“A new league and new management staff, so there has been a lot going on behind the scenes during pre-season. With this being my second season involved in senior football, I didn’t know a great deal about the league. However myself and my backroom staff have done our research and are well aware there are some strong teams in this league and this is going to be a good challenge for our squad and something we are looking forward to. We are aware of the local clubs such as Aldermaston, Berks County, Eversley & California, Langley, Sandhurst and Chalvey Sports, some of whom have also made the step into the league; plus we played Wallingford Town in our final pre-season game last week and came away with a well-earned draw.”
After six seasons competing in the Hellenic League – the last two disrupted by COVID-19 – the step across to a Combined Counties league with a more local-looking constitution may well have helped Parker in terms of recruitment, and the man who took Maidenhead United Under 18s to the Third Round of the FA Youth Cup in consecutive seasons has used his contacts with the National League club to help supplement a new-look squad: “We have added a few names to our squad, but also kept a core group of players that were with the club when I took over. We have brought in Bevan Van Wyk who has a lot of experience at this level and will help the younger players in the squad. I’ve tapped up my old friend Aaron O’Brien and brought in a young goalkeeper Ethan Giles from Maidenhead Academy to give him senior experience and he has done very well during the pre-season games, especially against Wallingford. We are still hoping to add some more experience to the squad over the next few weeks. We have a young squad and I feel we need a few experienced players to get us through the tougher games and help with our game management.”
It is not just on the pitch where Parker has been making tweaks. He has brought in some backroom experience with the aim of building a strong support network for himself and the players: “My Assistant Manager is Nick Weedon, who has previous experience at this level with Reading Town and has helped in attracting players to the club. I have also brought in an old pal, Ben Hudell, who was part of my backroom staff at Maidenhead Under 18’s and he has experience of coaching at this level previously.
“Both Nick and Ben have also played at this level and understand what is required of players both on and off the field, the tactical side of the game and the importance of building strong relationships within the squad where we win, lose or draw together.”
United found it rather tough going at times during the two COVID-curtailed seasons, winning just 4 of their 31 league games. Parker is therefore keeping his cards understandably close to his chest when asked to predict how his side will fare in 2021/22: “Behind the scenes we have an idea of where we want to finish in the league, plus I have my own private way of dealing with what will be a long and difficult season. I know some clubs will have ambitions of promotion, top six etc., so what I will say is that we want to be competitive in every game we play, in both the league and cups and this should provide us with a respectable league position come the end of the season. As I previously stated when I took over the role of manager, this is a long term project for both me, my backroom staff, the players and the club; the players will give everything they can for the Woodley shirt this season and will aim to improve on the league positions from the previous few seasons.”
Intriguing times for United, who start their season at Bedfont & Feltham on Saturday 7th before welcoming Bagshot to Scours Lane the following Saturday.