Book Review: Behind the Season by Gordon Bartlett (Edited by Roger Slater and Tim Parks)

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.


Book Review: Off the Bench by Gordon Bartlett & Roger Slater

If you enter the name Gordon Bartlett into Wikipedia you get the following details:

“…Gordon Bartlett (born 3 December 1955 in London) is a former professional footballer who played as a forward…1973-75 Portsmouth FC. 2 appearances, 1 goal…In 1975, he played for the Denver Dynamos in the North American Soccer League (NASL)…His career was cut short by injury…He is currently manager of Wealdstone FC…”

Anyone coming across this brief information could be forgiven that there is no more to the story than that. Just another professional who never made the grade due to an injury and then took up management – nothing remarkable. Well the internet may be a fantastic tool in so many ways, but the story of Gordon Bartlett is not one that the World Wide Web has got right. Instead it is left to the written word of the book to tell the tale of this Non-League luminary.

Off the Bench – A Quarter of a Century of Non-League Management (by Gordon Bartlett & Roger Slater) is the recently published book which charts the career of the current Wealdstone “gaffer”. The book openers with a foreword which covers the unfortunate injury plagued career of Bartlett. In the 1974/75 season on 14 December he came on as a substitute and scored the second goal as Pompey ran out 2-0 winners against Bolton Wanderers. His only other appearance was later that month against Southampton on Boxing Day. However, he was released and went to Denver to play. Fate was against him, as injuries meant he never actually played for the Dynamos in the NASL. Bartlett returned to England to try and regain fitness, but an unsuccessful months trial at Brentford showed that his professional career was over. Despite the injuries he did return to playing for Non-League Hayes FC.

What changed the course of his path in football was studying for the FA Coaching Badges and his first management position as Hayes Youth team coach. When Hayes dispensed with their Youth team, Bartlett moved to Southall to take over their Youth set-up. What this lead to later in 1985/86 was his appointment as first team manager. It was an incredible first season, as the club reached the FA Vase Final at Wembley against Halesowen Town. What follows in the book is a year on year account of Gordon Barlett’s career in management, from that first season at Southall, the years at Hounslow FC (1986 to 1989), Yeading FC (1989 to 1995) and Wealdstone FC (1995 to 2010) – a total of 25 years in Non-League Management.

However, the chapters of those years aren’t merely a game-by-game analysis of a season. In terms of tone and style it is very conversational, with plenty of humour and sincere reflection of both the ups and downs at the various clubs. Events, players and games spark off memories and stories for Bartlett, with the warmth of his recounting of these events making for a very readable book. It is a straight talking and honest look at life on the Non-League circuit and provides a revealing insight into the realities of budgets, player transfers, club management and fans outside the top 92 clubs in England.

Over the 25 years Gordon Bartlett has experienced the full range of emotions in the game. From the highlights of winning the FA Vase, to the lows of battles against relegation. With the joy of discovering players who make the grade such as Les Ferdinand and Jermaine Beckford, there is the despair of players who simply don’t turn up and vanish, never to be seen again. There too is a 15 year management stint at Wealdstone, which is an incredible act of faith and loyalty by both Gordon Bartlett and the Club Board, which survived the ill-fated Prince Edward Playing Fields project.

For me this book will appeal across a range of people in the football world. It will be a fascinating read for players, officials and fans of the clubs Gordon Bartlett has been involved with, as it may throw light on why decisions and events occurred the way they did. Certainly for anyone who follows a Non-League football, it will be a point of comparison for how their particular club is run. Also, I believe it will make interesting reading for fans of the professional clubs, to see how the “other half” live and the financial reality and resource issues that clubs outside the Premier League and Football League have to deal with, week in week out, season after season.

A real insight into all aspects of Non-League Management by a “real” football legend.