The bi monthly WST members meeting took place on Tuesday evening in the 1864 Suite when first team coach Carl Darlington was the special guest.
Carl provided a fascinating account of his career in coaching when questioned by Calon FM’s Dragon Heart presenter Kingsley Evans. Having been taken to the Racecourse as young boy, it was clear that Carl has remained a fan of his hometown club ever since being a spectator on the Kop throughout his childhood. His favourite player, although a difficult choice, was Gareth Owen for his “energy box to box style and way he could strike a ball but don’t tell him that!”. The best player he had ever seen at the Cae Ras was “probably Paul Merson”.
Although he played as a youth Carl admitted he “wasn’t a great player” but was picked for the Aston Villa development squad training locally but as when he was poached by Crewe, he found the travelling difficult. And so, he ended up (wait for it….) at Chester where he was friends with Darren Moss who was eventually offered the one scholarship on offer. He “wasn’t too disappointed as his heart wasn’t really in it” at that time but, aged 24, he decided to return to football first as a player with Holywell Town and it was there that, by chance, he got into coaching helping with the youth teams and “coaching found me”. Encouraged by his father, he studied for badges and spent three months in the United States coaching college sides, something he loved and returned there for the next three years.
Carl has been the Head of Coach Education for The FA Wales Trust for the last 13 years and explained his role in facilitating coach training including the UEFA Pro licence course and the many famous faces, including Thierry Henry, Roberto Martinez and the assistant manager at Man City who had attended them. It was clear that Carl had a developed a network with some of the most prominent coaches in Europe. His job also involves player development with the Wales age group teams as well analysing the opposition faced by the Wales senior team.
Yesterday he was at Swansea speaking to Paul Clement. He has met Pep Guardiola twice and “having access to that level of knowledge is great and can only help here at Wrexham”.
Carls involvement with local football continued firstly with Cefn Druids which was his first opportunity to coach at senior level. He said he owed then manager Dixie McNeil “a great deal”. He also coached there during the tenure of Waynne Phillips and Lee Jones.
Carl first met TNS manager Craig Harrison on one of the FAW courses and was invited to join him at Airbus. “Craig wanted to manage and didn’t think he could coach and I just wanted to coach” and the team finished higher than ever before.
Then TNS came calling. At first it was a struggle as they rebuilt the team and its style being 12 points behind at Christmas eventually finishing second securing European football. Carlls first experience of Europe was against the strong Irish outfit Bohemians. Having comfortably beaten them they next faced Anderlecht who brought a certain Mr Lukaku off the bench to score a hattrick. TNS went onto qualify for six successive seasons.
Carl’s first involvement with his hometown club came when he met Kevin Wilkin on a coaching course. And was invited to join as a coach.
Carl described the FA Cup tie at Stoke and the Carrington goal which he said was “right off the training pitch”. Peter Crouch later told him “you lot scared us that day!”. One of his lowest days in football though was the FA Trophy defeat to North Ferriby after being two nil up with 20 minutes to go. The audience shared his pain! After Kevin Wilkins departure, Carl took charge for the last 8 games of the season. The “proudest moment of my Dads life”!”
Although he did not want to be a manager he would have stayed at the club but Carl was not surprised when Gary Mills came in and wanted to appoint his own staff.
After a six month break he returned to TNS where they broke the world record for winning consecutive games which attracted worldwide media attention.
When Dean Keates was appointed last October, he tried to persuade Carl to join him but Carl said that TNS had stood by him and he could not simply leave but, as we know, eventually re-joined the Dragons in the summer.
Carl described the “massive squad overhaul” which was similar to when he first joined TNS and brought in a new team. He was full of praise for the Portugal trip and thanked the club for supporting the re build. Carl was disappointed that there could not be any preseason home friendlies as “the first game of the season was a bit like an away game for some”.
Carl said that they try to watch the opposition at least three times and have brought in a sports scientist and now have GPS to track the miles the players are putting in. He said these were” big changes” and it “will take time” for them to bear fruit. People were working very hard – the players put in12-13 km per game “more than Liverpool”.
The emphasis had been on building a strong defence as the two-year contracts and 5 consecutive clean sheets showed. He said there was “still a lot to work to do” and that he and the team understood the passion of the fans and the ambition of the Club but cannot let themselves “get too high when they win or too low when they lose”. He didn’t listen to the “noise of social media”. An anxious crowd could affect the players and the first aim of an away side is to try to quieten the crowd and “it’s a fact that the team who score first win the match over 70% of the time”. He described Guiseley’s tactics after going ahead as “horrendous” and it was up to the ref to stop the time wasting.
In response to questions from the floor, Carl said that on match days he watched the game from the stands being in contact with Andy Davies and with the video analyst they produced clips to be played at half time to make points to the players.
Carl said, “we fear no one in this league” and will going all out for a win at Tranmere on Saturday.
When asked about the goal scoring so far, Carl said we had four centre forwards and Reid was still a young lad who they needed to give a rest to last Saturday. Holdroyd is getting back to full fitness after a long time out and both Massanka and Boden both had preseason injuries which effected their preparations and were still catching up fitness wise.
When asked about “hoofball” Carl said this was “not intentional!” It wasn’t part of their game plan and they wanted players to relax and pass it.
It was clear that Carl was frustrated with the standard of refereeing and quoted the series of error at Maidstone which led to the two sending’s off.
Asked about Welsh Premier League players, Carl said there were some who could play at this level and that he was keen on Scott Quigley who has now left TNS for Blackpool.
Asked about the Wales managers post, Carl said he hoped that Chris Coleman would stay but if he left he hoped they “kept it Welsh” explaining the legacy left by Gary Speed and carried on by Chris.
Asked about the youth department, Carl said Andy and Joey had done a great job and it was still producing players including two who were today with the Welsh under 17 squad.
The meeting thanked Carl who came across as an articulate, friendly, well-connected coach who was passionate about his home town club and was determined to see it succeed.
The second half of the meeting consisted of a question and answer of the Trust Board.
Asked about future redevelopment of the Racecourse, Spencer Harris said that they “would love to see the ground become a 15-20k capacity stadium”. The club had “come a long way from inheriting and then paying down the debt to recovering the ground by the 99-year lease. We don’t have millions of pounds to do it ourselves but are quietly building partnerships to try to get others excited about the idea as well”. He could not make any promises but Spencer said he and others were making a presentation to the Welsh Assembly in a couple of weeks “to set out a vision for the stadium”. It wasn’t easy as the ownership of the land around the Kop “had a complicated history” but “we are doing everything we can to turn this into a reality” and they had previously met with the Council (who supported the idea strongly but were not able to resource it) and members of the Government.
He said that they were shortly to consider plans for a second viewing platform. Steve Gilbert said the DSA said that they could access the funds to pay for it.
Build the Budget
Asked about the Build the Budget, the board said that the monies had made a difference and were in addition to the playing budget provided by the club and that “some money is still available”. That money will only be used for players.
Asked about concerts and the profits made, it was said that a six-figure profit was in “the right ball park” and they are in discussions about doing the same next year hopefully earlier in the summer if possible.
The club are also in discussion about sponsorship of the MRS. “18,206 cars passed it every day and it was a marvellous opportunity for a sponsor”.
Asked about whether McDonalds were the potential buyers of the land, the board replied that they did not believe that to be the case.
It was hoped that the Club AGM could be held “this side of Christmas”.
Asked about the Director for the Day scheme, Richard Ulrich said that it was not just open to Facebook users - that had been just one method of selecting the winner.
Mike Lewis and Colin Williams explained what was happening with the community side of things including seeking volunteers for various tasks and Junior Dragons events. Next will be the Christmas shop.
Paul Smith spoke about fundraising and that they would shortly be requesting prizes for the Christmas raffle. The Kop barriers sales (£300 each) were going well and he thanked Phil Salmon for his work with this – they were requesting photographs of the barriers in their new homes.
Richard Ulrich and Sarah Smith- Howard spoke about membership which stood at 3196 - up 12% since last year. They are exploring what further benefits could be added. Only a few membership cards remained to be sent out.
Phil Salmon explained the various jobs which had been going on around the ground. And at 9 Acre. He thanked the various local companies who had kindly donated services. Any fan who could help e.g. with painting or even weeding was asked to contact him.