The Club’s Chief Reporter Liam Drury spoke to First-Team Manager Scott Bartlett for the first time since returning to BS24. Scott discusses the current squad, his targets and much more…
Hi Scott. Welcome back to the club. What made you return to Weston?
It was a difficult decision to leave in the first place. I feel like there’s a real opportunity to progress this club, and I enjoyed my time here immensely. I’ve gone back and had a couple of years in academy football, and achieved a lot in that time, but you never lose that burning desire to manage a club and the need to win games and develop players. The board and the supporters were brilliant to me last time so that played a big part in me choosing to come back here, I want to build something everyone can be proud of.
When the chance came up to return, was it a no-brainer for you to make that choice and come back?
In football, the timing is really important, the timing was right for me and the club needed a manager because it’s a crucial period. I met with Oli and Paul (Bliss) and was very impressed with the changes off the field over the past couple of years. The infrastructure is sound, the club has facilities that are fantastic for this level. All the bits off the field are there, which help to attract players, it also means I can concentrate on building the best team that I possibly can, not just for now but for the future.
How did you feel your spell with the club went last time?
It went very well. It was a challenge, the squad needed an overhaul and the team had a losing mentality and a blame culture had set in, but there was good players at the club. I knew exactly what I was taking on and had a clear plan of how to fix it. We identified quickly what we needed to do and I made some tough decisions for the benefit of the club, As ever some divided opinion at first more and some were more popular than others with the supporters initially but they were fantastic. Our overall league form from October to the seasons end was 7th in the league which is something I am proud of. If we had a few more weeks we might have sneaked into the playoffs which would have been incredible given the start we had had. I think it was successful because we were rooted in the bottom four, -27 goal difference or something like that, to finish 15th and put a good squad of players in place for the following season was definitely a success.
Looking ahead to the players currently signed on, are you happy with the nine that have been secured so far for the coming season?
I am. There’s a lot of talks going on behind the scenes, I will be patient to make sure we get the right players and use the budget in the best possible way. Key players like Luke Purnell, Jacob Cane and Jason Pope have played for me before, they know what I’m all about and sometimes keeping your best players is just as important as going out and signing someone like Greg Tindle, who’s going to be a fantastic acquisition. I’m really happy with where we are at the moment, and hopefully, by the end of the week, we’ll be a little bit closer to one or two others.
What can Greg Tindle add to the current squad?
I think he’ll do exactly what Barks did for us. He’ll give us a winning mentality, a toughness, some experience in this league and the league above. He’s a good footballer, but he wants to defend. When I came here before, I identified that I had to go and find someone like that. I think it’s one of the harder positions to fill, so for us to be able to go and get Greg and get him on a long-term deal means that we can now build for a solid foundation which will give us a platform to do well.
When you came in, you mentioned in your opening quote that you was after a player-assistant. Are you any closer to getting one?
I think with that, we have to be a little bit patient because the calibre of person I’m talking to will have other offers to stay in the football league. We have to recognise where we are, be a little bit patient, offer something a little different. I hope that would be resolved in the next ten days in a positive way for the club. For me, it’s a cleverer use of the budget. You get a player that’s played at a much higher level who wants to go into coaching once they’ve finished playing, and it’s something we did well with Barks before and I’ll be looking to follow the same model.
Would you say that the hunt is going well for you then? Are there many faces in the frame?
When signing players and recruiting staff I tend to not have too many plates spinning at the same time. There’s one that I’m hopeful of getting done, and I will give that person the right amount of time because I’m sure they are the right one and will add lots to us on and off the pitch. If that doesn’t materialise, I’ve got a couple of other options who I’ll speak to after that. I think it’s the right way to do it, similar to what I was doing with Greg. He was my No.1 target for that position and that leader type we needed. If we hadn’t have got that done, then we would have looked elsewhere.
You’ve got nine players signed on, you’ll probably need double that at least. What sort of players are you looking to add to the squad now?
I want us to build from a solid foundation, I think that’s important in any team. I want us to be adaptable, I want to use the budget in the right way like we did before. I don’t want to carry a huge squad, so within that I need players with the right mentality to be adaptable to play in different positions and systems at times, I want to add more pace to the team, we need to add more goals to the team but we need to be solid and hard to beat first and foremost. We’ve dropped down a league, there’s no getting away from that that we’re going to have to travel to places that we haven’t been to where we’re going to have to roll our sleeves up, we’re going to have a plan B at times. As much as we want to play good football and be expansive and exciting, there’s going to be times where we’ll have to grind out a result so it’s those characters and experience of this level that we’re looking for.
Are there any positions you want to fill early on, such as the strikers or centre-backs?
For me, getting the spine of the team is important. Let’s get the spine sorted, we’ll secure another central defender, we’ll secure another midfielder and we’ll get a forward who’s capable of getting us 30 goals. Once we’ve done that, we can then have a look at what else we might need and who might complement those boys. We obviously used the loan market fantastically well last time we were here with Lloyd Humphries, Aden Baldwin and Brad Ash, people like that who came in were important players for us. I think that’s still going to be a big thing for us, but we need the core of the team to be Weston-super-Mare players and then we can use our contacts. We’re very close to Bristol City, we’ve got a good relationship with them so we can use that then to bolster our squad in a really specific way.
Looking ahead to the current season now, what are your targets going into it?
We would like to get promoted, but there’s probably going to be ten clubs with a realistic ambition of getting promoted. We have to make sure that what we do is better than what anyone else does, we won’t have the biggest budget or the biggest fanbase but what have enough of both to be competitive. What we can be is the fittest team, the strongest team, the team that’s most together. Those things are things that we can control so for me, it’s being the best we can and if that’s enough to get us promoted, then fantastic.
Would you say that the Playoffs are a realistic ambition then?
I would hope so, with the squad that we’re trying to build. We want to go and win every game, that’s not possible to do, but we’ll know a little more about where we stand when we get into November.
What’s your assessment on the current league? Are you going into it with no fear or are there any teams that you do fear?
I think that the biggest challenge for us, and one that we will need to overcome, is that this is a nice place to come, it’s a lovely pitch, it’s not particularly hostile, we’ll be a bit of a scalp for some smaller clubs. We’ve been in the National League South for a long time, so we’ve got to have the right mindset and know what’s coming. Some might come here and shut up shop, we’ve got to have a bit more patience than we needed to have when we were in the National League South. I think that the league’s strong, there’s not going to be any easy games, but you can make them easier by the way you prepare and approach the games. I don’t think that it’s going to be too much difference between the leagues but I do think if we can build some momentum, build some excitement, then we’ve got an opportunity to do well.
The Somerset Cup final against Taunton is your first competitive game back. Your last competitive game was against Taunton in the same situation, you start where you left off really. Is it a chance of redemption for you?
I think so. If it’s a criticism of me at all from my last spell, it’s that I was deemed to have not taken that seriously. I think some of my words got misinterpreted which wasn’t my intention at all about the competition, which is clearly important to the supporters. But, my job last time was to try and keep us up, by hook or by crook. There were times in the Somerset Cup games where I had to use it rest some senior players and to keep others sharp. That often got us the points on the Saturday to keep us up. The fringe players had done that all the way through, I felt that the boys who had done that deserved a chance to play in the final, obviously it didn’t work out as planned. That was my reasoning, it wasn’t a devaluation of the competition. We were very together that season, and some of those boys had waited patiently while the bigger hitters were playing week in, week out. I can guarantee we will be as strong as possible this time round, it’s a different situation, we are at the start of the season, the game is important to us.
Dropping down a league, you’ve now got more local games in the likes of Taunton, Tiverton, Yate, Salisbury not being a million miles away. Are you looking forward to them sort of games?
I’m obviously looking forward to the Salisbury one. It’ll be nice going back there, and then welcoming them here. Those games should bring excitement, a buzz around the place, ther local games are higher profile and attract bigger gates. The players should be desperate to play in those games
Going back to the current squad, how are talks with the ones left over from last season going?
I’ve spoken to the majority, with some having decided to leave prior to me coming in. We’ll just let that be. The talks are going well, there’s always a good set of lads here but the squad will look quite different. I think it needs that freshness and it won’t just be built for this season, it’ll be built for the following one and the one after that. Anyone that we’re signing now is for the right reasons, it’s not for big money, it’s not for an easy season, it’s not for a last payday, it’s because they want to play for this football club. My priority was getting a centre-half in first, which we’ve done, and then I’ll need to go and find someone who’ll score us goals. Once I’ve done that, then I’ll make decisions on the rest.
Would you say that the majority could be departing the club then?
I think the door’s still open. Players rightly so, at this stage of the season are looking around. Anyone that I can’t commit to right now, I wouldn’t be against them moving on and securing their future because it’s the right stance to take.
Would some be playing for contracts in pre-season?
Earlier, you spoke about the facilities. You’ve of course now got the 3G pitch and the gym. How are you planning on utilising those facilities?
We didn’t really have anywhere to train when I was here before. Bob (Flaskett) did a great job last time but the all weather pitch give us an opportunity to train how I want to train. We will definitely be using the gym, I think it’s a fantastic facility. I’ve been in there this morning, I think it’s brilliant. We are very fortunate to have it, it’s a great space used by them and by the club. The core sessions that we did when we were here before established the principles within our team that we needed. It not only increases strength and physical attributes, but it also reduces the risk of injury. I don’t want to run with a big squad, so it’s key for our players that they stay fit and well for the course of the season. The gym will be a huge part of that with our physio department.
How many players are you looking to have in your squad?
I think it’s important that we look at what’s beneath us as well, who’s going to be the next Dayle Grubb, Brad Ash or Luke Purnell coming through. Jack Goodall is there within the fringes of the squad already and so is Tom Llewelyn. The best squad size for us will be 18 and 20 but three or four of those might be young players that are coming through and not quite ready yet.
On Tom Llewellyn, are you looking to build the team around him?
I knew Tom before, I like him. First and foremost, we can only build a team around someone who’s in it all the time and doing well consistently. He’ll need to do the same as Jacob Cane and Jason Pope, and get to that level on a consistent basis. I am interested to see how far we can push him and see how far he can come and whether he can force his way into the starting line up regularly.
In terms of the captaincy, will Jacob Cane be keeping it or is it yet to be decided?
The captaincy will be something I think about once the squad’s finished and finalised. I think that we have a number of candidates, Jacob being one of them. Popey can do it, Luke can do it, and they will all lead in a different way. Luke will be more vocal than Jacob, but Jacob leads by example in every training session with his work ethic. We’ve brought Greg Tindle in, who’s a leader by nature. I’m not going to say it’s not important, because it is, but it’s not a priority for me, and the first person I speak to about it would be Jacob.
Just on your philosophy, last time you played exciting, attacking football but the team could also defend as a unit. Has that changed at all or is it still the same?
It’s staying the same. I won’t change. We’ve got to be hard working, gritty, very determined, very fit, I want us to be the fittest team in the league. I want to get the fans off their seats but we can’t do that without the foundations behind us so the goalkeeper and back four will be key to how we play. They will be key to how we build, we need to deny the opposition space by working harder than them, we need some pace in the team so that we can counter-attack and we need people to get up and support our centre forwards. So, to sum us up, I would say that we’ll be fit, disciplined, and exciting.
Looking long term, what are your long-term aims for the club?
I think that the board here are ambitious, they’ve spent an awful lot of money behind the scenes, everything probably costs more money than what people realise. They’re ambitious. For me, a short-term goal is to build a real unity between the players, the fans, the board, the whole club pointing in the same direction, doing as well as we can, try and get promoted this season, if not we’ll do it the following year and then get into the National League South and establish ourselves there, then go again. I don’t see why not, because other teams have done it in the past but we have to do it in a way that’ll safeguard the club’s future.
Is a three-year deal a sign of intent about you being here long-term and building the club back up?
I think that my situation was more complicated before. Forest Green got promoted and that changed things for me. It was actually the Football League that said I couldn’t do a dual role, which was what I was doing before. They actually made the right decision, because the workload in the last two years has been incredible. When I spoke to Paul, Oli and the board, I wanted to show them that I wanted to see this project through. There’s going to be ups and downs along the way of course, but a three-year contract for me and them gives a real intent that we want to progress the football club together.