It isn’t often that a Dutch Eredivisie side visits Scotland for a pre-season friendly, never mind a tie against part-time opposition. However, FC Twente are bucking that trend when they travel to Stair Park to face Scottish League One side, Stranraer next weekend.
Stevie Farrell became the manager of Stranraer in January 2017, after leaving his position as Assistant Manager at Dumbarton.
“In terms of Cumnock [Juniors – where Stevie started off his managerial career], it was a great experience. I had just stopped playing as a player and I moved straight into player/management. That was a learning curve in itself, before I took the role full-time in management because I felt I had to. However, I also feel that, when I went with Stephen [Aitken] as Assistant Manager at Stranraer and then Dumbarton, I felt it allowed me to see exactly what a manager needed – so, perversely, going from a manager, to an Assistant, to a manager again, I think that journey has helped me. We done relatively well at Stranraer; it was a successful time in terms of the size of the club and where we had taken them,” explains Farrell. “I had the opportunity to stay and manage Stranraer when Stephen moved to Dumbarton but I felt the challenge of being a part of a management team within the Championship, could only help me, my CV and my knowledge and understanding. When Stranraer came back in for me, 18 or 19 months later, I had that experience under my belt and I just felt the timing was right to go back and become Stranraer manager.”
It has been a rollercoaster couple of seasons for Stranraer, but Farrell is only focused on the future.
“The reality is, I don’t speak about former managers or regimes at any club. I could only judge the situation on what I was trying to do, moving forward. I knew I had good players and I knew I just had to get their confidence back, a smile back and enjoying their football on a Saturday again. That is what we went in there and tried to do – we tried to get them to enjoy training, enjoy their working environment and take that into a Saturday. Luckily, we picked up enough good results that kept us up and in the division. No two seasons in football are ever the same; you can’t stand still, as football doesn’t stand still. In terms of where I found them in January – I found them bottom of the league and that was a task within itself as we knew we had to stay in the division. Luckily, the players responded in terms of going forward, from January through til May, which gained us the results that we ultimately needed.”
The Blues have had a large turnaround of players this summer, with two keys figures in Wuillie Gibson and Craig Malcolm departing Stair Park for pastures new.]]
“When you lose good players – and experienced players – as Wuillie and Craig are, then, it is going to be difficult. I offered both players a contract, but they took the option to not accept the contract which is absolutely respected: good luck to both of them. It was then up to us as a club to make sure we went out and replaced Craig and William with better quality and enough quality, to make sure we go on and have a successful season. Have we replaced them? Only time will tell.”
A handful of players have been signed by Farrell this summer to compliment the players which have been retained from last seasons squad.
“I think I have made good signings. I am happy with the signings I have made. Even the best player in the world, though, is a gamble at any club. I felt our squad needed freshened up – a lot of the players had been there for a long time; 3, 4, 5 years. There was a lot of loyalty there from the players to the club, and vice versa, but, I just felt that we needed to freshen things up if we were going to compete in the division this year. I am content that we have made good signings within the close season, but only time will tell if I am correct.”
The squad is filled with a lot of experienced individuals, with a good blend of youth as well.
“When we, the management team and Stuart Millar – who is Head of Recruitment – sat down at the end of the season, we tried to identify, not only the right type, but, also, the right age; the right individual; the right personality…you are putting everything into the mix, particularly at part-time level, because you only have these players a couple of evenings a week. You need the right type of people that are going to come in, fit in to the environment, and work hard – especially when times get tough and things aren’t going well. For example, with Tom [Lang], I knew him after working with him at Dumbarton. I knew he was a very, very, good professional as a young kid. Jamie [Hamill], his experience goes before him after having spells in the Premiership with teams like Hearts and Kilmarnock, especially as he has captained both clubs. He is a great age and I have to be honest, since I have started working with him, I haven’t been disappointed at all – I have been really, really, impressed with him in training, but, I am also really, really, impressed on the influence he is having on some of the younger kids.”
Farrell added: “I enjoy working with players; I enjoy coaching players. If that means, I can contribute in any small way, for players who have taken a step back the way, to then go again and go full-time, then I would never stand in anybody’s way if they want to go and make a living out of playing professional football. If they get that opportunity, and I have contributed in any way – by brining them in to a club at Stranraer and getting them playing again, then, so be it. It suits both parties: it suits the player, the club and myself as a manager.”
Stranraer have been able to attract big name players over the past few seasons – Christian Nade and current goalkeeper Cameron Belford arguably being the most notable. Farrell believes that this is purely down to the good environment created by Stranraer.
“It is a good club. We are a solid part-time club. I think the professionalism at Stranraer has developed over the years and no that is being maintained. Things are done in the right way – we know we cannot compete in the financial market so we have to try and compete to attract players through over ways. We do that by making the club as professional as it can be; by allowing the players to enjoy the environment and all those things at part-time level matter. Also, players are the biggest salesman you will ever get – players will talk to each other; players will say things on social media. They will let people know if they are enjoying a club, the environment, the people…there has been good things getting said about Stranraer over the past few years and that is a big attraction for players that we are trying to bring to the club, which is great!”
With Pre-Season training having commenced, it is full steam ahead towards the first competitive match of the season on the 15th of July.
“I am content with the signings we have made so far. We have brought in key personnel in key areas, that we had identified to strengthen. Most importantly, we still have one or two areas we are still looking to add in; there is possibly still an opportunity for us to bring in one, maybe two, others before the start of the season and then, I have to say, I would be happy with my squad thereafter. There are a few reasons we brought the players back in slightly early,” adds Farrell, “one is that as a new manager, I didn’t get a long time with the players that I have kept – I didn’t get a lot of time to work with them between January and May, but, also, because we have had a high turnover in the playing squad. So, I just felt, for a number of factors, that bringing back the players a week to 10 days earlier was important for everyone at the club. The training has been of a high intensity, it has been high quality and I cannot ask for anything more. I am pleased at where we are. You have got to make pre-season intense – they have had 4 or 5 weeks off, so we have to try make the training as relevant as it can be, ahead of the start of the season. It is about that balance and getting it right – appropriate training in terms of fitness as well as technical and tactical. We also have to mix that with game time, too. Players can train as long as they want, but, playing games is the only real place that match fitness comes from. That is why we have scheduled 4 friendlies before the BetFred Cup starts.”
On the 8th of July, Dutch Eredivisie clbu FC Twente will continue their preparations for the new campaign with a friendly match against Stranraer at Stair Park.
“Footballers like playing games; the bigger the game for the footballer, the better. FC Twente are a proven side in the Dutch league – they are bringing their first-team, which is great, because that will make it even more competitive and it will mean the quality we will face is something we aren’t used to playing against. It is something the players can relish and look forward to. FC Twente coming to Stranraer, on the tight pitch that Stair Park is, it is a different experience and environment for them as well, so, it is something we can all look forward to. Is there a competitive edge? There probably is, slightly, because it is pre-season and both clubs are getting ready for their respective seasons, but, it is only a friendly and again, I re-emphasise, it is about getting people fit, and match-fit.”
Farrell is extremely happy with the draw for his side in the BetFred Cup, where they will face four full-time sides.
“I like it. I know we are the only part-time club in that section, alongside four full-time clubs but, that doesn’t concern me. I think it is important you are as competitive as you can be, during the month of July, because as soon as you go into the BetFred Cup, you are beginning to look towards the league season – and ultimately, that is our bread and butter. I am quite happy that we have four, quality, teams; four full-time clubs. They are all going to test us and I am not disappointed with that.”
Stranraer miss out on match day three in the BetFred Cup, but there is no rest for the players.
“We are going to play Cumbernauld Colts from the South of Scotland League, that day, at Broadwood. We won’t be taking any rest at all – it’ll give the players who haven’t been playing much in the BetFred Cup to get game time. We will ensure everyone amongst the squad gets at least 90 minutes under their belt in the month of July.”
Heading into this season’s League One campaign, it can be argued that the part-time clubs have their work cut out, with three full-time outfits involved.”
“A few years ago we had Rangers and Dunfermline in the league, some may argue that was the most competitive this league has ever been, but, this year we have got Ayr United, Airdrieonians and Raith Rovers who are going to be the teams to beat, you would think, due to them being full-time in this league. With Ayr and Raith coming from the Championship, with the experience they have got, they’ll be expecting big seasons. If you look at League One, though, and if you asked Rangers or Dunfermline or even Livingston from last season, you never get any easy games; it is a hard, hard, division. It doesn’t matter if you are playing a Stranraer, or an Arbroath, or an East Fife, they are all difficult and competitive games. Airdrieonians have been in this league for a few seasons and Ayr and Raith won’t get it easy – it wouldn’t surprise me if it is another closely competed league again this year. I ain’t a manager who makes wild statements saying we are going to do this, or that: the players will decide what we will do. I am confident that we are constructing a group of players that is capable of going and competing really well in League One next term. If these players compete as well as I think they can, then I think we will go and have a good season. Every team starts a season with the best aspirations, but, what a league season throws at you is twists, turns, different scenarios; injuries, suspensions, games off…nobody can forecast what is going to happen during a season, but these things are part of senior football so you just never know. When you are at a part-time level and finances aren’t great, in terms of a strict budget, then you have got to manage the club accordingly. With the players I have and I am looking to assemble, I am sure that no matter what the season presents, we will be able to deal with it.”