Thorpe St. Andrew: Putting Side Before Self

Above: Thorpe St. Andrew FC. Photo: Thorpe St. Andrew FC.

In the first of a two-part interview, Thorpe St. Andrew defender Georgie Rumney and manager Tony Allen from the Tier Seven Norfolk Women & Girls Football League side spoke to Darrell Allen about their footballing backgrounds, philosophies, and the season to date (17/3/22).

Georgie Rumney is in just her second season of football, and already in her second different position.

“I’ve been playing for Thorpe St. Andrew Ladies for two seasons now, though this is my first full season due to all the COVID disruptions. I started as goalkeeper but, after breaking a finger in the line of duty, I found my true calling as a centre-back and my informal role as the ‘Colossus on the back line’.

In comparison, the club’s manager Tony Allen has had a lot of experience in the game. “It was Paul Neary at the University of East Anglia (UEA) who first got me into coaching. I owe him a great deal, it was a real education and I had a fantastic time doing all sorts of different things with both the men’s and women’s clubs there.

“I’ve been lucky enough to watch and learn from some fantastic coaches and managers like Paul Neary and Ray Harrison, Bex Burton and Harry Diggens at UEA and going back a bit further, Danny Wilson, Ian Butterworth, Chris Turner, and Colin West at Hartlepool United.

“I watch games back now that I originally watched from the Mill House as a fan when I was nine or 10 years old in a completely different way and understand a bit more the factors influencing their decisions.”

Tony also spoke to me about his coaching philosophy. “It is grounded by an unwavering belief in Billy Bremner’s idea of ‘side before self’ where the team is paramount and that is non-negotiable.

“I believe you can learn something from everyone, but I would like to list a few major influences for different reasons: John Beck, Neil Warnock, Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce, Dave Bassett, Johan Cruyff, Graham Westley, Brian Clough, and Ladislaz Lozano who took Calais to the Coupe de France final in 2000 – one day I’ll write a proper tactical analysis of how he did it, the man was a very, very astute football manager and to just call him pragmatic would be to do him and his team a gross disservice. “Not to mention Hope Powell, Gemma Davies, and Emma Hayes – top, top coaches who I sincerely hope I get the chance to meet and work with one day.”

Tony then went on to explain about his time so far with the club. “I joined Thorpe St. Andrew at the very end of last season, so I was able to use the summer to get to know everyone and let the new faces in the squad gel with the group. I see myself as more of an old-school manager. I love nothing more than being out on the grass, but we’ve also got great coaches at the club who are full of ideas, run engaging training sessions for the girls and feed into our decision making.”

Prior to the beginning of the season, there was a re-structure within the Norfolk Women and Girls League and Thorpe St. Andrew found themselves in Step Seven, something that was met with mixed emotions at the club as Georgie told me.

Above: Thorpe St. Andrew’s Georgie Rumney. Photo: Paul Langley.

“Being put into Division One certainly wasn’t something any of us were excited to hear, especially after we had been focusing our pre-season games on getting ready for Division Two, but the team overall was very optimistic. We saw it more as an opportunity to pit ourselves against some very good teams and players and see if we could rise to the challenge.

“In that way I certainly agree the season so far has been a massive success for us, we always turn up and play our best game no matter the opponent and we have improved exponentially as a result”

Tony revealed that he had aimed to field two teams this season, something that the jump up to Division One prevented. “Well, the original plan was to have two teams, one in Division One and one in Division Two. When it became apparent the club would not be able to sustain two teams, it was too late to just enter Division Two and so the lower team had to go.

“I had designed and delivered a really good pre-season to prepare us for Division Two, so naturally that was incredibly frustrating. Charles Dickens was correct: the law, sometimes, is an ass. Our case was a bit different to that of Thetford, Stalham, Beccles, and North Walsham, as by the time of the league restructuring we would have been in Division One regardless of whether it was a two or three league system.

“Therefore, at the SGM I voted for two divisions with gritted teeth and out of pure self-interest – it was made clear to us that there was no chance of us moving down, so having a larger division with teams originally in Division Two was the lesser of two evils for us.

“But at the end of the day what happened, happened. Running a league is a thankless task generally done very well by volunteers. And while there are still unanswered questions about the way our league placement was handled, we can’t change it now and the most impressive thing is how superbly well the likes of ourselves and North Walsham have done to carry on through what we knew would be a demoralizing season.

“We created our own achievable goals and took a long-term view. We could have approached the season with a massive chip on our shoulder and probably would have ended up folding, but we took the opposite approach, lifted all the pressure off the players, and their positive reaction to that says a lot about their attitude and desire to play. And adversity is great for finding out who your friends are in football. Certain managers in the league were incredibly magnanimous and encouraging especially in the early days – things like that stick with you.”

Tony then went on to tell me that expectations have been exceeded this season. “We have had ups and downs as every team does over the course of a season, but I would definitely agree. Of course in adult football you want to win games first and foremost, but the players have absolutely exceeded my expectations with the speed and level of improvement they have shown this season.

Above: Thorpe St. Andrew manager Tony Allen. Photo: Paul Langley.

“It has been a steep learning curve, they needed to adapt quickly, and they have done so, establishing a real team identity and core values, bringing pride back to the club.”

Thorpe St. Andrew’s head coach spoke of his huge pride in the team this season. “Every single player who has pulled on a pink and black shirt this season has been absolutely superb and given everything for the team. I feel like I could burst with pride every time I open my mouth to talk about them. Without going into detail, some of our players have overcome immense personal battles just to get on the pitch this season.

“If I’m going to name a few names, I’ve got to start with Emily Warnes. A true leader who has worked her way through the age groups at Thorpe, her effort and application is second to none – she’s a good communicator, has played all over the pitch, and not once have I ever seen her come off the pitch with anything left to give. She’s just as likely to come up with a goal-saving block or interception in minute 90 as minute one. At Christmas, she was deservedly voted Players’ Player of the half-season by her peers.

“I brought over Madison Wilson from UEA because she is coachable, intelligent, makes things happen, and drives us forward. Mads is another player who like Emily exemplifies ‘side before self’ – her non-stop effort and graft makes her a hugely respected figure in the dressing room.

“We have several girls who have come up from under 16 football into the adult game – that transition is never easy anyway, but our position made it even more challenging – Elizabeth Nichols is a constant threat and has scored some exceptional goals, and Tayla Woodhouse plays with the maturity of someone double her age. Also a huge shoutout to Helen Crook who had never played football before this season but has become a rock in goal, saving us on many occasions – she alone kept us in the game first half at home against North Walsham which we went on to win.

“Many players have got used to different positions, and I’ve challenged them with new formations and tweaks to their roles. Abi Langley’s attitude is superb and she also runs our brilliant team Instagram account. Tash Frankland has always been a classy ballplayer but has improved immensely in the gritty side of her game this season – she is also instrumental to the team’s chemistry off the pitch.

“Ellen Saw has played every position on the pitch without once complaining and has got a couple of excellent assists to show for it. Georgie Rumney, Ellen Boucher, and Abi Simmons are a manager’s dream, three great examples of how applying yourself in training pays off and gives you confidence to perform on a Sunday. Georgie has only been playing a couple of years and is now one of the first names on the teamsheet.

“Chloe Musson has shown great consistency and character, being put in a position she’s never played before, and has absolutely excelled every week, always putting herself on the line for the team and giving me lots of useful information from the perspective of the team. Grace Jackson often goes under the radar but we simply couldn’t play the way I want us to without her. When she has a good day, more often than not the team has a good day. She also volunteered to play in goal when Helen broke her finger which tells you everything you need to know about her character.”

Part Two will appear in the near future.

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