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Supporters’ Trust Fans’ Forum with Mark Burke

Wednesday, March 7 2018

Hitchin Town F.C. Supporters’ Trust Fans’ Forum with Mark Burke
21/02/2018 @ 8.00pm

Trust Chairman David Tudball welcomed Mark Burke (MB), Roy Izzard (RI) and everyone attending the meeting.  He then invited MB to give a brief review of the season so far before taking questions from the floor.

MB thanked everyone for coming and thanked the Trust committee for their continued work.

Moving on to the season so far…….
We lost four players from last year’s squad – Will Wright, Matt Lench, Kane Smith and Robbie Burns, but they have been replaced with players who hopefully will reach that standard in due course, but this will take time.

We have overachieved in the last couple of seasons.

We are unlikely to reach the playoffs, but it is good to have reached the League Cup final as this is realistically one of the two best competitions we can win. We also have the Herts Charity Cup final against Hemel, so two finals to which we can look forward.

Our target at the start of the season was a top ten finish with an outside chance of reaching the playoffs, but we have not been playing as well as we can.

We have been suffering a bit of a hangover after last season.  The players had grown as a group and peaked in the playoff final – the defeat had probably taken a bit out of the players.

This year shaped up to be the toughest league so far with some big teams – Hereford, Kettering, Weymouth, Kings Lynn and Slough.  The target is still a top ten finish.

Although not doing as well as the last two years we’ve still not done too badly, especially if we can finish with a good run and win a cup, or two.

We are aiming to strengthen the squad for next year and are already looking at new players. We may get a couple in before the end of the season, but there are a couple who are not available until next season.

Questions were then taken from the floor:

Q – What are your thoughts on our disciplinary record?
MB – We’ve not been great with dissent in the past and players get fined for being booked for dissent.  There were four main culprits last season – Callum and Brett Donnelly, Lewis Rolfe and Ben Walster.  This year Brett has been improving.  Lewis needs to learn quickly before it’s too late.  Ben has not had a great season, but he has played better on the last couple of Mondays. He needs to prove he is worth bringing back next season.  I feel some of the bookings this season have been harsh.  Discipline is key to being a good team.

Q – What are your thoughts on players taking holidays during the season?  Liam Brooks was put on the bench after returning from holidays, others were not.
MB – It is a frustrating disruption and other managers have the same problem. It was unheard of in my playing days. We don’t pay enough to stop players taking holidays; it’s hard to be tough on players if they are only on £30 a week. For the sake of a couple of weeks wages it’s hard to stop them.  It’s difficult for players to balance home life, social life and playing.  Some players’ partners may have restricted times to take holidays.  
Brett has to go in August when his children are off school, Josh is a teacher, so has restricted times to take holidays.  Some who are just going on “lads” holidays can go any time.

Liam goes on holiday at the same time every year with his family.  Some players came straight back in to the team on their return out of necessity, but I’d prefer not to do that.

Liam was frustrated at not playing and we had a poor start, but we picked up while he was away. It was disappointing he left as he has potential.

Q – When are we getting a new striker?
MB – Next season.  I’m talking to one but can’t say anything yet. Trust contributions are essential, so if the Trust could grow more and contribute to a new striker that would be great.
RI – We have more than one scout out looking for players.
Q – We have used 34 players this season.  Do you know your best team?
MB – We have been experimenting and this is a transitional season, while managing our budget. We’ve had injuries to Green, McCaffrey, Dowie and Bailey.  I’d rather not use so many, but it’s been unavoidable. 

Q – Substitutions – You bring them on quite late.  Why is Trey often on the bench?  Why has Desejado Da Silva not been used?
MB – Desi is not ready yet. He did well in the FA Youth Cup, but his form has dropped off. He is on the college programme and is still in the youth team.
Regarding substitutions it depends on the way the game is going. We made two changes after 32 minutes in the Farnborough game as things weren’t working. If a game is close I don’t like to change things, we can bring impact subs on late in the game.  
Trey has lots of ability and lots of pace. He has had six or seven clubs and got frustrated playing and then being dropped. He needs to be patient. He can come on as a sub and change the game. He needs to vary things about his play and not just cut inside and shoot.
He had an electric game against Weymouth, but he is more of an impact player. He has a great attitude.  He wants to be a pro and sees us as a stepping stone. He started the season and said he wanted to be a pro by Christmas.  He had a hat trick against Kings Langley on 30/12, on 31/12 he got an agent. His form dipped after that. He needs to keep his feet on the ground and needs to work for us.  We are helping each other.

Q – Who has had the best season so far?
MB – No one has been outstanding, they have all been up and down. Kavan Cotter has been good, but he’s not ours! I wouldn’t like to single anyone out.  I went with experienced players on Monday night and their work rate was back where we have been for the last two years.
RI – It’s hard to put your finger on why we have been underperforming.
MB – A couple of players have new jobs and may be finding it hard to adjust. They can still do it, we still have 70% of last season’s team.

Q – It’s a tough league – the club should have prepared for it. The squad of last season has been broken up. I’ve heard Will Wright went for a five-figure fee, where did the money go?
MB – Some of the money was re-invested in Jonny Macnamara, which hasn’t really worked out.  The rest went into the overall budget.
We have overachieved in the last two seasons compared to other teams who have underachieved. We have to be realistic. The budget is as good as ever.  Some of the players who have been with us over the last four or five years started on peanuts, but have been rewarded for the success each year, so we are paying more for the same players.  Some may have become complacent – do they still want it?  Prove it.  Are any of them over paid now?  We have to make difficult decisions.
We enquired about taking a player on loan from Boreham Wood, but he was on £675 a week. We have to find the gems and sell them on. 

Q – Top Field means a lot but is in a poor state.  What is the club doing for greater investment?
RI – We failed our ground inspection but will pass the re-inspection in March. It is a gamble spending money on the ground. Nothing concrete to report.  I am confident in what we are doing behind the scenes.  RI/Andy Melvin/MB have been working on this for getting on for 30 years.  Several options are being looked at.  Trust us that we will come up with the goods.

Q – What is the secret of our penalty success?
MB – Bravery.  Lucas stepped up on Monday and hit his best of the season. They are good strong characters. We were missing a few regulars against Haringey.  Michael Johnson is doing well at saving them.  They don’t practice taking them.

Q – You brought in James Russell – was he brought in to be back up to MJ?
MB – MJ suffered a dead leg against Kings Lynn and struggled a bit afterwards.  I gave him a week to recover.  Russell was a bit rusty, but it also gave MJ a bit of a kick up the bum.  MJ has been excellent since then.  MJ was playing but not fully fit, but always wanted to play. Russell is still around if needed.

Q – Is Martin Bennett still available?
MB – If MJ was injured long term then yes, he would come back.

Q – Have you enjoyed Brett’s blog?
MB – Yes.  It gives an insight in to the dressing room. There’s been a great camaraderie over the last few years and that’s what comes out of the dressing room.  All the players can give stick and take it. If the blog was negative it wouldn’t go out.  RI and MB both vet it. Brett wouldn’t put anything in the blog that he wouldn’t say in person.
RI - No other clubs are doing it. MB doesn’t shy away from anything in his weekly notes either.  It’s all good to keep the club in the news – similarly events such as Ladies Day are all good publicity.

Q – When are we stopping the short corner routine to the edge of the box?
MB – It has worked a couple of times, so we’ll still work on it. The delivery is not always good, but we are persisting with it.

Q – Patrick Tshikala – is he signed, or on loan?
MB – He is signed on.  Similar to Trey in being an impact player. He can cause problems in the last 15 minutes when teams are tired. Defensively and positionally he needs work. He has lots of skill and is only 18.

Q – What has happened to Tyrone Mulholland?
MB – His fitness was an issue. He went to Hadley and was doing ok as a centre half but has now moved on.

Q – Your views on Toby Syme?
MB – He is only 19. He can come in for three or four games, then have a dip in form. Players like that need to have a rest and then you bring them in again, hopefully then for eight or nine games as they get better. We used a similar approach for Will Wright and Lucas Kirkpatrick.

On that note, David Tudball thanked Mark and Roy for attending and answering all the questions and the meeting concluded.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the report.  If you would like to contribute to the Hitchin Town Supporters’ Trust (and perhaps aid Mark’s search for a striker), please drop me a mail to: rupert.russell@hitchintownfc.club 

Further details are also available via the link on the front page of the website.

You really can help make a difference.

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