A Summer of Change in Solihull
Yes, it's another month until the season begins but from this moment forward we can begin to get ourselves back into the routine of normality. Solihull Moors playing football on Saturday afternoons at 3pm with the occasional midweek fixture thrown into the mix.
No more Saturday's spent doing the washing, the ironing, watching a TV movie or playing FIFA (or getting rat-a***d from midday without a purpose for those of you who do drink). Football is back. Relatively meaningless friendly football but it's football nonetheless.
With it being July, it finally feels appropriate to review the squad properly - after all, there have been an enormous amount of changes at Solihull Moors since May. Harry White departure was virtually announced at the point of Guiseley's equaliser on the final day. We've seen several exciting additions walk through the door and some of the most identifiable faces in the club's short history leave for pastures new.
It is the outgoings that have occupied supporters, particularly those of Liam Daly, club captain and fans player of the year, and Jack Byrne, vice-captain and players' player of the year. Daly will line-up for Kidderminster Harriers who provide the security of full-time football while Byrne has joined ex-team-mates Connor Franklin, Danny Lewis and Andy Brown at Brackley Town.
Guys in their late 20's or early 30's that have full-time jobs and are no doubt unsure about travelling to Torquay United, Maidstone United or the middle of London on a freezing Tuesday night. Factor in the likelihood of a bigger wage packet and it's hard to dismiss their decision making. Liam McDonald has since advised us that Liam was offered a two-year contract, bonuses and double his Moors salary to join Kidderminster which tells you an awful lot. The club never stood a chance of holding onto him.
Harry White's early move was gutting but the opportunity to play full-time football was a chance he could not turn down while nobody could begrudge Omari Sterling-James' transfer to League Two Mansfield Town. Nathan Baxter joining Woking on loan rather than the Moors has also raised questions but given his full-time allegiance to Chelsea, moving to a club in the same city rather than travelling to Solihull every other night has probably made his mind up on that one.
Last season we survived primarily on our ability to put the ball in the back of the opposition net and our options have been boosted again this term. Luke Benbow has been the headline addition with the 39 goal striker departing Stourbridge with the boss finally getting his man. He has been joined by Glassboys captain Tom Tonks and winger Chris Lait from a club that not only excelled in the FA Cup but also finished 3rd in the Northern Premier League.
Signing players used to winning football matches is never a bad idea and Jack Edwards was a key member of the Leamington side that won the Southern Premier League play-offs and the Birmingham Senior Cup. He hit double figures during the course of the season and has been lauded by all associated with The Brakes.
Continuing with options further afield, Shomari Barnwell will add power to the attack having joined from Dagenham and Redbridge while McDonald will still be able to call upon the talents of England C international George Carline, teenage sensation Oladapo Afolayan and Shepherd Murombedzi who thankfully signed a new deal. We love you Shep!
Of course it is the other end that caused Moors the most concern last term, a mixture of tiredness and disorganisation key in so many defeats. This has been addressed in midfield with Darren Carter's homecoming and Paul Green's move from Tamworth, both players with a wealth of experience who should prove key.
Defensively we are still well short. In goal we have only Nathan Vaughan and Darren Acton, while Kalern Thomas is the only defensive addition, joining Joel Kettle, Kristian Green and Calum Flanagan.
It would appear that our goalkeeper next term will be one picked from somebody's Development Squad meaning we provide a learning curve for a talented youth. If that is the case, the need to replace Liam Daly will be even more pivotal with experience and leadership required at centre-half with McDonald openly advising that he is in talks with a replacement who has previously plied his trade in the Premier League.
On top of a keeper and a leading centre-half, one further defender is needed with the option of another depending on whether McDonald believes in the versatility of Green, Flanagan and Thomas.
There is little question that we still require a little bit of stardust in the final third of the pitch too, rumours of Koby Arthur and Jermaine Hylton getting supporters talking. What we had last year in Regan Charles-Cook and Omari Sterling-James were players that can win a football match in a moment, something we appear to lack currently.
One final factor in this window could be quite how well the young boys do during pre-season. The likes of Romario Martin and Tyrese Shade have long been lauded, Callum Coyle spent a fair bit of time on the bench while defenders Reiss McNally, Marshall Willock and Josh Endall will fancy their chances of making an impression. Not to mention the rest. Promoted from the bottom tier of the Midlands Football League last term, there is talent in abundance starting to make a move on the first-team and evidently capable of playing against men.
The last two years have been crazy and McDonald has to try and build an element of stability at a club that has literally seen an entire changeover in squad since the end of the 2015/16 promotion campaign. It's not going to be easy, our new boys are going to endure some difficult periods and will have to learn on the job while other talents may depart for higher acclaim. Leaders will have to emerge and we could be reliant on players such as Carter, Green and our new centre-half to drag us through games on occasions.
What we must do is stand behind the players at every point. Give them all the support we can, praise them to the hilt and they will give us everything to keep this club in the National League. Last year was about crashing the party, this year is about showing we belong here.
Up the Moors!