Foot in the Antipodes

An FM’08 career by deanashtonsfoot

Well I decided to go to South Africa, but also opened the Australian and English leagues with a view to maybe branching out there later.

Of all the places I went in SA, I felt most at home in Cape Town, so I decided to manage FC Cape Town, one of the 2 playable semi-professional sides in Cape Town.

Season 1: 2007/08 – FC Cape Town (South African First Division)

Media Prediction: 12th of 16

I’ve got to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the players we had. So much so, that I made absolute no transfers in pre-season and decided to go with what I had. A complete lack of money might also have had something to do with that though.

The season started fairly well, and my main ST soon started putting away the goals to keep us sitting comfortably in mid-table. Things were going ok.

During the winter transfer window my scout found a couple of decent looking 17yr olds, who filled a couple of gaps in my side, and we made a bit of charge in the second half of the season, very nearly making the play-offs. Overall, a very positive first season.

Cups suck arse.

Pld 30 W17 D5 L8 F64 A50 Pts 56 POS 5th

First Division Cup: 1st Rd F.C.A.K 2-4(A)

South African FA Cup: 2nd Rd Ga-Rankuwa Utd 0-2(A)

Season 2: 2008/09 – FC Cape Town (South African First Division)

Media Prediction: 9th of 16

After last season’s success, I focussed on plugging a couple of gaps, rather than wholesale changes, bringing in a 17yr old CB, a LB and an ACM, all for free.

However, it would soon become clear that things were not going to be quite so easy. My free-scoring ST stopped scoring, my youngsters’ form dropped and we struggled in the bottom half for much of the season.

However, my 3rd choice ST took his chance thanks to an injury and after being useless last season actually started scoring a few goals. This stabilised us and we ended up 8th. Not bad, but disappointing after last season.

Cups suck arse.

Pld 30 W11 D10 L9 F48 A46 Pts 43 POS 8th

First Division Cup: 1st Rd Winners Park 1-3(H)

South African FA Cup: 1st Rd Maritzburg Utd 0-3(A)

Season 3: 2009/10 – FC Cape Town (South African First Division)

Media Prediction: 8th of 16

I had concerns about my STs. They were all old, and none of them had really found decent consistency. So my main focus was to bring in a ST. I ended up having to loan one, but he turned out to be my signing of the season, scoring 27 goals in 26 games!! We were also very weak at the DCM position, so I brought in two of those to try to firm the midfield up a bit. Still no transfer funds, so all of these were free transfers again.

One thing that became apparent though, although I had one of the better STs in the division, my defence was awful and had no strength in depth at all. We got a couple of injuries and started leaking goals for fun, shipping 5 or 6 on a number of occasions.

This led to a frustrating season of being utterly incapable of maintaining a lead, but because we were scoring so many goals we still did ok.

We managed our first decent cup run, beating one of the favourites for the First Division Cup, Maritzburg United, in the 1/4 finals to reach the semis. Bay United awaited, who were top of the league at that time. We went 1-0 up, but they equalised on 82, we had a man sent off on 86, and we went in ET on the back foot. It showed, and they dominated, but our defence did a sterling job (for once!) and held out until the 118th minute when they scored the winner from the penalty spot.

South African FA Cup sucks arse.

Pld 30 W13 D7 L10 F62 A66 Pts 46 POS 8th

First Division Cup: Semi Final Bay Utd 1-2(H)

South African FA Cup: 1st Rd African Warriors 2-3(A)

Season 4: 2010/11 – FC Cape Town (South African First Division)

Media Prediction: 8th of 16

Well, my free scoring loan signing ST returned to his club, so finding a ST was my main priority. I managed to bring in 2 STs who were far better than anyone else in my squad, but probably not quite up to the standard of last year’s hero. This time, they were proper signings though so I was hopeful of building a strike partnership for the next few years. I also focussed on strengthening my weak defence bringing in 2 CBs and 1 LB, all of whom went straight into the starting XI.

A young GK and a decent looking ACM rounded off a busy close season, meaning my strongest XI at the start of the season contained 7 new signings, all free transfers. I was confident that I could improve on last season’s efforts.

Things did not go quite as planned however. Despite having a much stronger side on paper, we still struggled to keep clean sheets. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the gap in quality between the top and bottom of the division was enormous, with me stranded somewhere in the middle. I was comfortably better than most of the teams below me, but couldn’t get near
most of those above me.

This led to a frustrating year, and we finished 8th again…..the 3rd season in a row, except with our lowest points total to date.

Cups suck arse massively.

Pld 30 W12 D5 L13 F57 A58 Pts 41 POS 8th

First Division Cup: 1st Rd Winners Park 0-1(A)

South African FA Cup: 2nd Rd Jomo Cosmos 1-2(H)

Season 5: 2011/12 – FC Cape Town (South African First Division)

Media Prediction: 8th of 16 (again)

The close season was a bit quieter this year – I released quite a few players that weren’t featuring in the team, but only brought in 1. He was a very promising RM though, who my assman quickly highlighted as being our best player.

I had wanted to bring in some defenders as well, but my scouts failed to find anyone.

The season as a whole descended into complete averageness. We never went higher than 7th, but never went lower than 12th, and despite my team being much better on paper that it was a couple of years ago, I really felt as though we weren’t progressing at all. As much a I tried, I couldn’t find the players to move us forward, and we finished 8th AGAIN, but again we gained fewer points than last season, our lowest points total in my 5 years in charge.

I made myself a promise. If I didn’t see improvements next season, I was going to resign. I was sure this bunch of players could do better and if I couldn’t get it out of them, then I owed it to the club to step aside and let someone else come in.

Cups still suck arse.

Pld 30 W11 D6 L13 F46 A55 Pts 39 POS 8th

First Division Cup: 1st Rd Durban Stars 1-3(A)

South African FA Cup: 2nd Rd Hellenic 1-2(A)

Season 6: 2012/13 – FC Cape Town (South African First Division)

Media Prediction: 8th of 16 (yet again!)

Brought in a few players this close season…..2 promising young STs, a decent looking ACM, a LB, a LM and a GK. Again, most of these went straight into the first team, as on paper they were better than my existing players.

I’d decided this was do or die season. As often as I brought in better players, we’d finished 8th for 4 years running, with an increasingly lower points tally. Effectively we were going backwards and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. There had to be improvements this season or I was going to throw the towel in.

Things started awfully however. We lost the first 3 games, and managed only 1 win in the first 10 games. I’d decided if we didn’t win the next game, I’d walk. However, the lads then won 3 on the trot and I gave myself some breathing space. However, 1 win in 5 with an easy home game to follow left me again saying, win it or I walk. We lost 1-0, and I walked after 5 and a half seasons at the club. I was not getting the best out of the players…..they needed to get someone in who would.

However, shortly afterwards it quickly became apparent that I’d totally underestimated how difficult it would be to get another job. Even the lowliest BSS teams laughed at me, so I had no chance of going back to England. The Aussies physically wet themselves when I applied, so my only chance was staying in SA. Even this proved to be difficult, and it became quickly apparent that my only chance of getting another job was going to be to wait until the new season and apply to the 2 teams newly promoted into the SA First Division.

Cups still suck arse.

Pld 19 W5 D4 L10 F20 A37 Pts 19 POS 12th – my record up to my resignation.

First Division Cup: 1st Rd PJ Stars 0-1(A)

South African FA Cup: 2nd Rd Ajax CT 2-2(H) – lost 5-4 on penalties.

Season 7: 2013/14 – Unemployed

So yes, not a lot to report on this season……no one wanted to give me a job, even the newly promoted teams, so I ended up with a year off.

I just had to hope that someone gave me a job sooner rather than later.

Season 8: 2014/15 – Blackburn Rovers (RSA) (South African First Division)

Media Prediction: 16th of 16

So finally someone decided to give me a chance after just over 18 months on the dole. Unfortunately the team that did only had 5 players, all 16 or 17, and 3 of those were injured.

It was my only chance though, so I took them on anyway. The scouts only had 2 weeks to bring people in before the transfer deadline, and they did a sterling job. Well, they did in the sense that they found plenty of players, unfortunately they were all utterly shit beyond belief.

I tried to remain optimistic, but any trace of optimism had evaporated completely after 15 games………..played 15, lost 15.

To say the season was a disaster is an understatement. Some signings in the February transfer window improved things slightly, but we still finished well bottom with a pathetic 7 points. Back on the dole again then.

Cups definitely suck arse.

Pld 30 W2 D1 L27 F27 A83 Pts 7 POS 16th

First Division Cup: 1st Rd Dynamos 0-3(A)

South African FA Cup: 1st Rd Thanda FC 0-3(H)

Season 9: 2015/16 – Unemployed

Season 10: 2016/17 – Unemployed

Season 11: 2017/18 – Unemployed

Yes, you heard, 3 years on the dole.

I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get a job again, and then just in the nick of time when I was on the verge of giving up on the save completely someone finally ended mymisery.

Season 12: 2018/19 – Hannover Park (South African First Division)

Media Prediction: 16th of 16

Finally back in a job after 3 years out of the game, but the newly promoted teams in South Africa always struggle, so I was going to be up against it again.

This squad was stronger than the one I had at Blackburn though, and my scouts managed to help me bring in some half decent looking players. One thing was for sure, we were going to get more than 7pts this season.

However, compared to the other teams in the division we were still very very s**t, and although for a while it looked like we could gain that all important 3rd from bottom spot, we lost some key games against the other teams we were battling against and we ended up bottom.

Much better than my last attempt, but I was out of a job again.

Cups completely suck arse.

Pld 30 W4 D7 L19 F46 A80 Pts 19 POS 16th

First Division Cup: 1st Rd African Wanderers 3-4(A)

South African FA Cup: 1st Rd Real Rovers 1-3(A)

Season 13: 2019/20 – Mpumalanga Black Aces (South African First Division)

Media Prediction: 16th of 16

So the job hunting wasn’t quite such a pain in the arse this time. One of the newly promoted teams Black Aces wanted me, so off I went.

The squad wasn’t as good as my squad with Hannover Park, but better than the one I had with Blackburn, so if I’m honest I wasn’t hopeful.

As it turned out we were woefully bad, but luckily so were 2 of the other teams in the division and the relegation battle ended up surprisingly close considering we only managed 1 win and 10pts all season.

Finished bottom, although only 4pts from safety, which is actually closer than I was last year!

Cups suck big hairy donkey arse.

Pld 30 W1 D7 L22 F32 A89 Pts 10 POS 16th

First Division Cup: 1st Rd Thanda FC 1-2(H)

South African FA Cup: 1st Rd Dynamos 0-1(A)

Season 14: 2020/21 – Young Tigers (South African First Division)

Media Prediction: 16th of 16

To be honest, I don’t even know why I took this job. It was a complete non starter right from the beginning. 2 players, both 16, and no staff.

And I took the job 3 days before the transfer deadline.

Needless to say we got our arses slapped soundly into next week and made the 7pts I managed a few years ago seem like a great season. This is easily the worst season I’ve ever had.

I was seriously stuck in a rut, and was starting to wonder how on earth I was ever going to get out of it.

Cups – do I even need to bother saying they suck arse?

Pld 30 W0 D2 L28 F19 A102 Pts 2 POS 16th – FM08 record for lowest number of points in a season??

First Division Cup: 1st Rd Platinum Stars 0-5(H)

South African FA Cup: 1st Rd Hannover Park 0-1(A)

Season 15: 2021/22 – Unemployed

Unsurprisingly, after managing to scrape together just 2pts last season, no one wanted to touch me with a barge pole. A year to reflect on my pathetic situation ensued.

Season 16: 2022/23 ? Welling United (Blue Square South)

(AKA: Thank f**k for Welling!)

Media Prediction: 13th of 22

As I prepared myself for yet another round of rejection letters, I was beginning to wonder if it was really worth it. The rut I was stuck in seemed never ending. This had become by far the least successful save I’ve ever had, with 4 consecutives jobs ending in relegation and the sack after just one season. I truly had reached a previously unprecedented level of crapness.

There seemed no way out of it as the only teams that were even showing the slightest bit of interest were the newly promoted South African teams, and they were always odds-on to go straight back down without so much as a whimper.

Then something happened that literally made me fall of my chair.

I was offered the job at Welling United in the Blue Square South.

They weren’t even a newly promoted side, but had been bumbling along in the upper reaches of bottom half of the table. So, there was no argument. I packed my bags and after 15 spectacularly unsuccessful seasons in South Africa, I headed home to England.

It was immediately obvious I’d made the right choice. For a start they actually had more than 4 players and some decent back room staff already in place.

We had no money and the wage bill was way too high, so I shipped a couple of players out who seemed to be spare parts, brought in a GK and a CM, then signed a half decent looking ST and a LM on season long loans.

We instantly entered uncharted territory for me in this save, winning the first 3 games of the season!!!!!!!!!

It didn’t last, and we’d soon dropped to 14th, but some steady progress as I got to know the players saw us climb back up the table in the second half of the season to get ourselves into contention for the play-offs.

We eventually sealed the play-off spot on the last day, finishing 4th. Very pleased with that!!

I may not have managed to break South Africa, but I’d got out of the rut, and to be honest I was relieved.

The play-offs saw us face 3rd placed Basingstoke. The first leg was at home, and they soon went 2-0 up, but a battling performance in the 2nd half saw us win 3-2 to take an advantage into the 2nd leg.

Unfortunately it was to no avail……if I’m honest, they battered us, running out 3-0 winners on the night, 5-3 on aggregate.

Cups suck arse?..although the Sultana Shield was at least mildly interesting, as we reached the 1/4 finals.

Pld 42 W20 D11 L11 F83 A68 Pts 71 POS 4th

FA Cup: 2nd Qual Rd Newcastle Blue Star 1-2(H)

FA Trophy: 3rd Qual Rd Hayes & Yeading 1-2(A)

Setanta Shield: Weymouth 0-1(A)

So, for the first time in 11 years, I’ll go into the close season with a job. The club is massively in debt, so I’m not expecting great things. I want to try to stabilise them financially. Obviously a promotion would help to do that, but one thing at a time. For now, I’m just happy to have stopped the rot.

Season 17: 2023/24 ? Welling United (Blue Square South)

Media Prediction: 9th of 22

So I actually had a close season without having to look for a new job!! We weren’t really in a position to sign anyone properly as I had to cut the wage bill, but I was able to find a couple of loan signings. A ST and an ACM.

Still, the squad had performed quite well last season and with a couple of youngsters progressing nicely I was quietly confident.

The season started well, and it soon became apparent that I was involved in a 3 way battle for the title, with Stevenage and Bath. My defence was solid, although we were prone to not turning up occasionally for away games, shipping 5 goals 4 times.

My on-loan ST turned out to be a complete legend, breaking the club goalscoring record 43 in 44 games overall, 37 in 39 in the league.

We topped the league with 5 games to go, but then a poor run in saw Stevenage walk off with the title and Bath finally overtake us in the penultimate week, leaving us to finish 3rd. Still pleased with that though.

So back into the play-offs…..2nd year running for me and 4th year running for the club. This year we faced Merthyr Tydfil and we got off to a flyer, quickly going 3-0 up in the first leg. Our defence couldn’t hold them out though as they piled on the pressure and they pegged up back to 3-3 by full time.

This gave them the momentum going into the 2nd leg, which they duly took and ran away 2-0 winners. Another play-off semi final defeat.

Cups suck arse.

Pld 42 W23 D9 L10 F87 A58 Pts 78 POS 3rd

FA Cup: 4th Qual Rd Gillingham 0-6(A)

FA Trophy: 1st Rd Cambridge City 2-4(A)

Setanta Shield: 2nd Rd Thurrock 0-1(A)

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