Last night, I had the pleasure of attending ‘an evening with Jez George’, which was not an Indecent Proposal style event, but instead a valuable and fascinating insight into the club’s recruitment strategy.
I picked this over a signed shirt or anything else you could get from leaving your ST money in the club. It appealed enough to at least 13 other people, who were asked to make their way to the EPC for 6.30 pm. However, before I get into it, let me tell you briefly what I did before that.
As some of you know, once a year I am involved in a project with the Priory Federation of Academies, where Year Nine students work with myself and key academy staff to produce a booklet. It’s all about encouraging those with a talent for writing to do so, but not by using Shakespeare or Dickens, but instead focusing on the Imps. We’ve had some great results in the past, but the last two years have been disrupted.
With Covid, we had one course that wasn’t completed properly, and another conducted 100% over video calls. Last night was the first time we’d had a face to face meeting in more than 20 months, and we brought together two years for a presentation. Max Sanders, Regan Poole and Remy Longdon came up for the event, and it was a big success. I write about it here because it actually made me a bit teary earlier today! I won’t go into specifics, for obvious reasons, but one piece of feedback from a pupil really smashed home; together, Lincoln City, the academies and myself have affected a young life positively. I get why teachers do what they do now because one piece of feedback has left me feeling like a better person. I’m sure there were others who didn’t speak up as well, and I’m just happier for it.
The truth is, I’ve found the last couple of weeks challenging. I’ve started a new job, and it’s taking a lot of my time, and when that’s coupled with the recent run and the negativity that comes with it, I’ve felt pretty down about football. You may have noticed I’ve stopped much of my social media activity, not completely; I just don’t engage with people as much. I’ve got sick of tweets like ‘well, that was woeful’, or even worse, calling for the manager’s head. I was even asked, multiple times, about the future of Jez George recently, our Director of Football. I have to laugh, as if I’d know anything for a start, but why are we looking for scapegoats right now? Why is there always someone at risk, or a conspiracy afoot? The whole thing has ground me down, which seeps into what I see and write. I shouldn’t take it to heart, I know that, but I do. I love the club and I believe in the structure and the board, even if we’re not getting results right now. I’m not down on the club, but others are and I feel that. I’m not saying people should be positive for my sake, but I just needed something to take away that was positive, something that stopped the rumours, doubters and negativity from finding a place to grow in me.
I got that at the EPC last night, and I want to just share the experience with you. I won’t go into specifics; Jez spoke for more than two hours, passionately, about the recruitment. He was very candid about a lot of things; the past, the future, the current squad. He took us through each player, blow by blow, and never tried to paint things in a different light to what I understand to be the truth. Players who aren’t doing well, he didn’t gloss over. He went into the process involved to get them here, the thinking behind each move and what they have to do to progress. It’s no secret what we need and he didn’t shy away from that either; ‘7, 9, 11’ was his assessment, and that’s before any departures. January might be sensational, it might be tough, but the club aren’t wandering around in blindfolds sticking pins in a list of names, and they’re perfectly aware of what is needed.
How they select those players, genuinely, would blow your mind, and hopefully, we’re getting Jez on the podcast soon to go into more detail. He showed us a slide with the process on it, and it took 40 minutes just to explain it. He talked about the involvement of Marc and Joe, our scouting team. They’ve watching matches all the time, from U23 level to non-league and through the divisions. One watched videos of games, the other is there in person. There’s a database at the club that would make Football Manager fans want to secretly creep off upstairs with a box of tissues; not one they buy into, one they look after themselves, containing possible targets. Numbers weren’t talked about, but I think we’re looking and several hundred names, if not more. Look, I won’t go into the whole thing here, but if you truly believe that the club picks one target and then look at each other gone out if that falls through, you’re mistaken. I didn’t go into the presentation last night expecting quite the level of detail we got. When they say recruitment is ongoing the whole time, they’re not lying and work that goes in one window might not come off. I don’t think it’s a secret that we tried for Morgan Rogers at the same time as Brennan Johnson; one came off, the other went on the backburner for six months. However, that work in the previous summer meant when the window opened, Jez was there on Man City’s doorstep with a taxi waiting for Morgan. In you get son, we’ve already got you in the bag. Could there be a similar situation this winter? The truth is we don’t know, Jez was open and it’s likely until ink is dry on paper, nothing is set in stone.
We talked about the academy, how we have jump-started the system to get the likes of Freddie Draper, but how the future will hopefully see our players come from the Under 13s or so, and not arrive at 15 or 16. Obviously, there are not enough players in Lincoln for our youth team to be all Lincoln boys, but the aim is to ensure the standard is high enough through every age group to give those local boys quality teammates. I think you can only go an hour from your location for young players, so we’ll still have a local feel.
We spoke about emerging markets, places we’re looking for players, and how Brexit (damn you) closed off a possible goldmine of talent; Lewis Montsma was never meant to be the last player we signed from the Netherlands, but the points system sued to determine whether a player can move from the EU is weighted so heavily against us, we’re unlikely to get anyone from there again. We talked about Ireland, both in terms of senior players and youth players; genuinely, no stone was left unturned.
You can hear for yourself if we get Jez on the podcast, but one area I want to finish on came after his presentation. One of the questions was ‘tell us about yourself’. Jez has always been quite closed about that, and that’s seen social media muppets speculating about him being chased out of Cambridge and all sorts. I lived in Cambridge when he was DoF there with Richard Money as manager, and they got promoted. I know that he was respected; he was a local lad, a Cambridge fan as a boy, who ended up as manager because (frankly) nobody else wanted it. He was their Chris Moyses, a man fueled by local pride as much as anything. Chris stepped down when the club were in a position to move forward after he had helped bring some dignity and respect back; Cambridge didn’t have that. Jez stepped upstairs instead of aside, and ended up as CEO. Cambridge didn’t get their Clive Nates, and as all disgruntled football fans do, a vocal minority looked for a scapegoat.
Did you know, with Jez as DoF, Cambridge were promoted, and they won the FA Trophy? Did you know, in his first (and only) full season as manager, they finished ninth in the National League? Did you know it was Jez who gave Luke Berry, Michael Gash and a certain Adam Marriott a chance out of the youth team there, and helped them develop? Probably not, because it’s not been said before. Well, he did.
I’ve spoken to Jez before, but last night was the first time I spent any real time in his company. He’s engaging, articulate and open, and believe me when I say he is incredibly driven. The recruitment process is solid, more solid than I’ve ever understood, and I have a renewed optimism about the future. We’re going through a bad patch, but the club is still moving forward. There are variables, there are reasons this year’s recruitment was more challenging, and they’ve been covered (salary cap, our late play-off game, Brexit, player leaving as well as coming in), and that’s coupled with some players currently not paying off what we thought they would. However, I hope you will take it from me (and those that were there who will echo my sentiments), that we are not going to knee-jerk, we’re not going to abandon our principles and we’re definitely not going to lose our focus.
I’m still not going to indulge on social media though, I want to keep this positivity until at least 5 pm tomorrow afternoon.
Thanks to Luke, Jake and Ian for their part in making it a good night too. I will never bore of an EPC tour, free sandwiches or football talk.
If your first thought after reading this is to put something generic on social media about the summer, or January, or ‘get the chequebook out’ then don’t.
1: You’ve likely made your point elsewhere. I just haven’t read it.
2: My muted list is slowly getting to be more than half the size of the list of people I follow, and I don’t want to have to add you too.
3: Nobody uses cheques anymore