So that’s the end of another season. Last night’s Club Dinner brought the show to its usual raucous conclusion and we head into the summer months and… preparation for next season!
The summary of the season just ended given at last night’s Dinner was trite and rather harsh, but it’s fair to say there were some attendees who were in no position to appreciate subtlety. It was reasonable to comment that in general the Club did not distinguish itself in BUCS competition – in fact, this was surely the worst season overall in recent memory, with three Men’s teams finishing last of six in their divisions, one coming in fifth and two achieving fourth. Only the Men’s Seventh did better, coming second – and that in the same division as the Sixth were fifth, so it’s not true to say the Seventh was the worst team!
It should be noted, however, that the Women’s team did much better and had absolutely evil luck in failing to gain what would have been a deserved promotion. A weakened side lost 4 – 3 in its last match, a crunch game against Edinburgh Napier First, after the Watt side had beaten all other opponents – and annihilated most – apart from divisional winners Dundee and Angus College First, who also had an agonising one-goal victory over the Watt team, winning 5 – 4 back in October. Imagine having a goal difference of Plus 36 in a six-match division and finishing third! We are sure that the Women will use the frustration felt at this near miss to fuel a successful promotion bid in the season ahead.
The Amateur team also had a frustrating season, never quite gaining enough points to catch the leaders in the Edinburgh East Division of LEAFA after, as usual, starting a little late. The Amateurs also reached a cup semi-final, although we’ll draw a swift veil over that occasion of ill memory in which Watt contrived to throw away a two-goal lead in extra time against ten men of a side they were expected to beat.
The East of Scotland team did not fare as well as we had hoped, but it’s fair to say there are some decent excuses. With only two graduates playing for most of the season – the lowest number for more than a decade – the squad suffered awful problems with injuries which kept key players out of action for long periods. It is never easy for coaches unused to the circumstances of university football to adapt, but it is fair to say that Ian Little, in his first season as Head Coach, has faced just about every problem imaginable. He has accepted the situation philosophically, however, and has focused on practical answers to the issues he has had to address.
Central defence was the area most affected by injury. We thought we were well covered when Andy Forbes moved on to the Juniors at the end of last season, but when Ryan Higgins was drafted in to that position in the last match down at Duns, he became the tenth player to be given the role during the season. During the first half of the programme, Adam Woolven had been a constant, playing every game, normally in partnership with David Kerr, Jamie Hume or Finn Watt, but in the last match of 2015 it was necessary for the second time to draft Jack Daniel in as Adam’s partner. This was a sign of things to come, as after Adam himself received, in February, an injury which kept him out for the rest of the season, Jack never again played in his preferred position of left-back. The centre-backs for the rest of the season were many and varied: Neil Laurenson covered one game; Andrew Imray played a couple of times, but couldn’t be expected to play on both Fridays and Saturdays for the rest of the season; David Dunnett stepped up from the Amateurs and played a few matches; Finn Watt came back and played, half-fit, in a number of games; Max Allison was called upon to fill in for one game; and finally it was Ryan’s turn in the last fixture. Not much continuity there, so it was no real surprise that during the second half of the season, the Watt had its worst run of results in years, losing five on the bounce before the relief of a win against Ormiston just before losing again at Duns in its last match.
The other major disappointment was the inability of either of two talented midfielders, Jamie Forsyth and Rob Service, to overcome serious injuries which had already kept them out of action for the entire previous season and longer. Both attempted to come back in BUCS games, but neither was able to overcome the effects of their injury problems and play a role in the East of Scotland season. We wish both well in their efforts to regain full fitness in the future.
About the Under-20 Development side, much has been said already. Other clubs in the Development League might wonder what all the fuss is about in relation to a side which has finished ninth out of twelve teams in its league, but the strength of that league cannot be overlooked. It is the Lowland and East of Scotland Development League and eight of the twelve teams are Lowland League sides (including Edinburgh City, to be a SPFL club next season, but whose team finished last of the twelve by a margin). Of the other four, Edusport Academy is a special case with substantial resources. The Watt is one of three East of Scotland clubs represented, the other two being Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale and Civil Service Strollers, both of which have youth set-ups covering a range of age groups. In the former case, the team is that of the Hutchison Vale part of the amalgamation, a club which is justly famous for the success of its youth sides. In other words, these clubs have Under-20 teams which have largely come through the age ranges together whilst the Watt has to put together its side quickly at the start of the season and try to get it to coalesce. The only severe beating it received during the season was in its second game, against a very strong Edusport selection, and it has achieved some notable successes, including finishing the season strongly with two good wins and a draw. More than this, however, Banji Koya has insisted on his team playing constructive football at all times and some of the play has been a joy to watch. The players have certainly learned to be cool under pressure, but the greater test comes now. Several of them are now too old to play Under-20 again next season and although during this season an unprecedented number have moved up to play in the First Team – some, like Jack Daniel, Liam Walker, Sean Campbell, Max Allison, Fraser Wilson and Anton Dowds playing regularly – the young players moving up to First Team football must now cope with the much more physical challenge of the adult league. Under-20 games are played almost exclusively on perfectly flat synthetic pitches and although the fine one-touch play shown by the Watt Development side has stood them in good stead in these circumstances, the players now need to adapt to competing on grass pitches which may be bumpy and uneven or soft and muddy. We look forward to finding out how our cultured youngsters cope with the cut and thrust of East of Scotland football on a range of surfaces.
In saying goodbye to the season, we must also express our gratitude to the players who are departing. It is a perennial feature of a university football club to lose players who are graduating and moving on. Head Coach Ian Little has asked me to add his thanks for the service to the Club which has been given by those leaving us and we wish them well in whatever life brings for them. They know they will always be welcome when they visit the Club in future – Once Watt, Never Not.
We also convey sincere thanks to Euan Cole, who has given sterling service to the Club’s coaching team for some years, but who is now moving on to a new challenge with the youth team of a major Lowland League club. All the best, Euan, and many thanks. You have shown that you have what it takes to succeed in coaching and we are confident that you will do well in your new role. Ian Little also wishes to convey his appreciation to the coaches who have worked so diligently throughout the season. Banji Koya, Chris Sellar, Andy Gibson, Euan Cole and Costas Christodoulou have all gone beyond duty to make significant contributions to the development of the players and we extend grateful thanks to all of them.
And so, finally, to that headline. The pre-season schedule for 2016 – 2017 starts with training at Riccarton on Monday the 20th of June – less than a month from now! The build-up will go on over the following six weeks and the First Team will play its first competitive match in the new East of Scotland season on Saturday the 30th of July, a uniquely early start for East of Scotland fixtures, but not unexpected, given the way things have been tending over the last few years. Players are therefore encouraged not to be idle over the close season, but to keep a decent level of fitness ahead of the resumption of serious training. By the look of the pre-season programme, those who don’t will have some suffering to do. So have a good summer, everyone, but don’t slob out – remember you are athletes! Keep up your fitness levels and reap the benefits in performance and achievement in the season to which we now begin to look forward.