“We’ve gone through the whole year without a recognised number 9, but now we have one,” Ivor Green Lichfield City’s manager says with authority. The room goes silent, the eyes are shifting, as I look over to Dan Lomas as does everyone else, the room breaks out into a fit of laughter.

It’s a Wednesday evening and the mood was sanguine, the squad look happy and raring to go. I arrive slightly later than usual; I’m greeted by Scott Goodby who once again has the unfortunate responsibility of sitting next to me as I scribble down notes like a madman.

Green walks into the room, the music is turned off, the enigmatic man takes control of the dressing room. It’s a back four tonight with an unorthodox switch with Leighton McMenemy playing as a right-back, new signing Nathan Haines makes his debut alongside Jamie Elkes.

“This might be a long one mate,” Wayne Chapman tells me as he greets me in the changing room. Green is off, like a horse bolting from the starting gate at Cheltenham Festival there’s no stopping him. Two new signings are in the building Haines as previously mentioned and experienced striker Luke Keen arrived, he looks very professional and ready for battle.

Tonight is the JW Hunt Cup quarter-final against OJM Black Country Rangers, a side sat in the division below. Although judging by the team-talk you wouldn’t know that. “After Shifnal (a 2-1 loss) some of you players put your head down, if I see any of you put your head down, you’re f**king coming off,” Green says with such authority and vigour that the atmosphere becomes a completely different one.

There is a particular emphasis on Luke Childs and Jack Edwards to supply crosses to the new number 9 Keen, who has been described as a serial goal scorer by the coaching staff. The emphasis from Green is how important this game is: “9 games, 9 cup finals”. The belief from the manager is that promotion is still possible and why not, this squad has gone to unimaginable heights this season so why not push that little bit more.

As Green claps, the players respond with a collective shout of “come on boys!”. As the majority of the players filter out onto the artificial turf, a few remain and as he so often does Green pulls McMenemy for a chat and as the defender points out to me after the game, it’s a brand-new position for him.

As I meander my way down to the director’s room, a box is waiting for me. “Weve got a present for you, Shaun,” says vice-chairman Liam Heath. As he pulls out a Lichfield City coat, I was shocked and tried to not get too emotional. As I eagerly await kick-off, the directors from OJM Black Country filter in, the atmosphere is jovial, friendly and even pub-like, a stark contrast to the atmosphere in the changing room.

The game is an eventful one, Jack Edwards stands out with a fantastic goal from the left and a beautiful, dinked cross from the right which was smashed into the roof of the net by Max Dixon on his return from injury, which he admitted to me has been a tough recovery. A 3-2 win and the celebrations can be heard from the outside, You To Me Are Everything by The Real Thing is blasted out on the speaker in the dressing room, as it so often is after a victory.

As we walk through towards the clubhouse, Jack Langmore, Green and Chapman are standing in the hallway, Chapman invites me into the manager’s dressing room. “This is where the magic happens,” Chapman jokes with the obvious connotations causing the room to break out into laughter. The jovial atmosphere is a joy to behold between the coaches and a picture is taken with me, Langmore and Chapman.

The clubhouse after a victory is a special place to be, my task is to grab both McMenemy and Elkes for an interview, I think they know what’s coming as they seem to be in the corner of the room trying to avoid eye contact. As I move towards the bar, Edwards approaches and greets me, we talk about his performance: “19 assists now (in reference to Dixon’s goal) and people say I don’t pass (he laughs)”. We discuss his diet which was mentioned in the previous piece, he tells me he’s lost 7kg thanks to Max Black’s diet and that he has allowed himself Coco Pops, which he thinks may have contributed to the result.

Saturday, March 12th

“It’s great to see this isn’t it,” Chapman says as he approaches giving me a fist bump as he glides past me. The influential assistant manager is referencing how many people are at the ground for youth games in the morning. With Green not too far behind Chapman, pleasantries are exchanged, as they both approach the changing room, Green with his usual photographic memory remembers the code off by heart, albeit with a little help from Chapman.

As they both enter the changing room, Green gets his typical cup of tea ready. Chapman turns to me and says: “Ivor (Green) has 7 sugars in his tea, no wonder he’s so hyper.” A training session is the order of the day, club captain Kyle Patterson unsurprisingly is first through the door and the inseparable coaching pair exchange stories before the session.

The players stroll in one by one, Lewi Burnside as quiet as ever greets me, as does Chandler Pegg and Charlie Shaw. Elkes, the previous interviewee from Tuesday greets me with a grin on his face. Max Black jokes with the defender about his lack of words given in the interview, Elkes a man of few words laughs it off as he so often does.

As I take my metaphorical position near the goal, the players make their way out to the session, first-team coach Jack Longmore finishes setting up the session as he approaches. I thought it was a good chance to dig a little deeper into the man who takes the first team sessions.

“I got a call on one Saturday night at 8 pm from Ivor, it was a 90-minute phone call as you would expect,” he tells me with a smile on his face. It didn’t take much convincing from the influential manager to get Longmore onside he tells me. Previously at Stoke City and Shrewsbury Town, Longmore has previously worked alongside current Manchester United coach Eric Ramsey, he has been influential this season for City and his influence is growing.

Longmore has firm beliefs, one of the stringent beliefs he sticks to is that teams can train more efficiently with the ball at their feet and doesn’t believe in running for the sake of running. As he shows me one of the drills he wants to work on in today’s session on his phone, to my right Max Dixon and Lomas are striking penalties.

Shaun, are you watching this, get this down in your next report,” says Lomas as he strikes a penalty right into the top corner. Dixon follows up with an outstanding penalty of his own again, as he rifles another penalty into the corner.

As the training session continues, the players are put through their paces whilst I stand and watch. Green and Chapman are as vocal as ever, I look over and see the manager gesticulating as if he is Ludwig Van Beethoven, with Chapman nodding his head as if he is listening to music.

The final part of the training is a shooting drill, Nathan Haines cannons an effort over the bar, which forces Chapman to run off and retrieve the ball. Jamie Elkes does the same, which leads to hysterics among the squad.

As the session comes to an end, Elkes is presented with his player of the month award, which was not due to his goalscoring prowess evidenced by the previous paragraph. Elkes has been outstanding throughout the month of February and was awarded the champagne and a customary photo to go along with it.

I take a photo of Elkes and Longmore, with the strategically placed Lichfield City badge in the background. Whilst the three of us are trudging off the pitch, I ask Elkes whether he is a champagne drinker.

“I’m not a champagne drinker, I’m a Guinness drinker,” he responds in a serious tone, as I burst out laughing with his response.

By Shaun Webbley

Media
March 13, 2022
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