Back in February 2011, Off the Bench was published. That book was produced to celebrate 25 years of Non-League management by Gordon Bartlett. As part of the material for that particular publication, Bartlett kept a diary of the 2009/10 season. In December 2011 that diary was used as the basis for a new book, Behind the Season – A Scrapbook of Wealdstone FC 2009/10, with the aim of being a fundraiser for the club in support of Task Force 10 (an initiative to raise £10,000 towards the Wealdstone FC playing budget).
In terms of ‘look and feel’ the editors went for the concept of a scrapbook. This certainly works. The A4 size format with a cover showing various snapshots from the season is a great feature. Inside too, the scrapbook feel is continued and reflected in the layout which has a ‘rough-edge’ approach. Excellent colour pictures are mixed with black and white images along with a range of written material. Whilst the bulk of the material is provided by the diary entries of the Wealdstone manager, it is supplemented by match reports and snippets from local papers, The Non-League Paper and Wealdstone club programme and website. They all contribute to meeting the editors desired scrapbook feel.
The book is first and foremost aimed at supporters of The Stones and therefore the associated knowledge of the club in the seasons before and after 2009/10 would be an advantage. However, the format stands and is readable in its own right to a wider audience. For anyone wanting a view of Non-League football this is indeed ideal. The emotions and sentiments expressed in the diary are genuine and therefore irrespective of the club you support, as a football fan you can connect with this book.
In terms of the time-span the diary begins in mid-July 2009 and ends at the backend of April 2010; some ten months, reflecting how long a season actually is. It is a season that sees Bartlett reach 1000 games as a manager and one that is deeply affected by the severe winter that ultimately shapes The Stones destiny by the end of 2009/10. From that point of view the diary works as the story of just one season that can be viewed in its singularity. As with Off the Bench, the style and tone is straight-talking and honest – conversational and with no-little humour. The diary formats enables the reader to experience the journey of the season, the highs and lows, the ups and downs and along the way get to know the characters within the playing and coaching staff and behind the scenes at the club.
Beyond that, the book raises and highlights a number of points and issues. What is evident from the diary is the dedication that is required at Non-League level. When reading the book it is incredible to think that Gordon Bartlett also has a career as a teacher and has a home life to fit in around his commitment to Wealdstone. His players too have full-time jobs and as such this affects player availability. Throw in injuries and the reality of getting a side out to play week-in, week-out, is suddenly not such a simple task. The constant struggle with the financial realities of football at this level is incredibly revealing. A tight budget has a significant impact on the club, which ranges from the players wages, to saving money in areas like training facilities, other posts at the club and away game travelling arrangements. This highlights the financial importance of an FA Cup run and possible money from sell-on clauses each and every season. It was also interesting to read of the ‘networking’ that exists. This not only extends to other Non-League clubs, where managers swap information on opponents and players, but also some within the professional ranks. In Wealdstone’s case, this manifests itself in a good working relationship with Watford FC.
Ultimately, this is a book about the season as seem through the eyes of the manager. It is a genuine insight as Bartlett openly details his feelings, win, lose or draw. The frustrations, the pleasures are all there to read and the fact that despite his vast experience, it doesn’t get any easier.
To purchase a copy of Behind the Season click here.
To purchase a Kindle edition of Off the Bench click here.