Vanarama National League South
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Weston kick off their 2023/24 Somerset Premier Cup campaign with a home tie against Hengrove Athletic tonight, with The Seagulls aiming to win the competition for the fifth time in their history.

All four of the previous successes have come in the last thirteen years after claiming the trophy in 2011, 2012, 2018 and 2019.

That first success in 2011 came under the stewardship of manager Craig Laird. In his first season as The Seagulls’ manager, he led his side to an excellent 1-0 victory over Yeovil Town in the final at The Glovers’ Huish Park ground. It was a fantastic result, especially when you consider Yeovil were in League One at the time and fielded a strong side that night that included future Premier League player Luke Ayling.

Captaining Weston that night was the ever-popular Craig Rand. This turned out to be his final appearance for the club as he returned to his native North East. Craig is now back in the West Country and is a regular on the Optima terraces with his young son.

We recently caught up with Craig to remember his time here with The Seagulls.

Hi Craig, you played for Weston for nearly six years, what would you say were the best games you played in?

Probably one of my early games back in 2005, scoring a 35-yard volley away at Weymouth that went in the top corner, they were flying at the top of the Conference South under Garry Hill. The ground was packed and it went totally silent when my goal went in.

My last game in 2011, being the first Weston captain to lift the Somerset Premier Cup, beating a strong Yeovil Town team on their ground. I had one of my best games for the club, although I did get sent off in the 96th minute.

Another game which sticks out in the memory would be beating Bromley 7-0 at home in 2010, they were top of the league at the time and it was some victory, we absolutely destroyed them.

You had a few different managers, what were they like to play for and how did they help you with your game?

Frank Gregan was my first manager in 2005, he was top class. Also a Geordie like me so we got on really well. His man-management skills were excellent, we had a lot of experienced ex-pros in the squad and it felt like a professional club under him with all the preparation and his attention to detail.

But the best manager would be Craig Laird, he was unbelievable with his style of play, tactics and coaching. He had us playing out from the back and we literally passed teams off the park all season. He was another unbelievable man-manager that never lost his temper and always stayed calm whether we lost or won. He made me captain but I’m disappointed I only played one season under him.

You made the decision to leave Weston in 2011 to return to the North East. Was it a tough decision at the time?

I really regret leaving the club when I did, it was the wrong thing to do. I still had one year left on my contract and always had a great relationship with the chairman. He was fantastic with me. The team finished just outside the play-offs that season I left and I honestly think I could have made a difference in helping us secure that play-off spot. But it wasn’t to be, I had a lot of personal issues outside of the game that I had to address and unfortunately this resulted in my career coming to an end at 30 years old.

Who would you say were the best players you played alongside here at Weston?

Without doubt the best player was Ryan Harley. He was a genius on the ball, technically gifted with both feet and always scored important goals for us. He left for Exeter City but also ended up playing in the Championship with Brighton. Lewis Hogg was a fantastic player as well, box-to-box he would run all day and also scored some great goals. Dayle Grubb would also be up there. Another talented player who always creates and scores great goals and obviously is still doing it now!

Do you keep in touch with anyone from your Weston days?

I still keep in touch with a few ex-players. It’s great to see the club doing so well. I was fortunate to play with Scott Bartlett and Scott Rogers, both for Weston at different times. Two brilliant players, great lads and both strong characters. Doesn’t surprise me how well the team is doing with those two in charge.

Are you still involved in football in any way?

I recently came out of retirement at the tender age of 41! I played a few games for Worle Reserves. I did it to help out a good friend, their manager Paul White, so I’m taking it one game at a time. But I’m really enjoying the banter and the general buzz in the changing room and the actual game itself. There’s nothing like it! No other involvement really, only to watch my 7 year old son play for South West Minis. My son is definitely a better player than I was at 7! I also enjoy going up to watch Newcastle play live. That’s about it really.

You and your son are now often watching Weston from the terraces. What have you made of the season so far?

Me and my son have been down to quite a few home games this season and each time, it’s been very enjoyable. The welcome I’ve had from club officials and fans has been fantastic and reminds me of how much I enjoyed playing football there. The crowd has definitely increased since my time and that obviously creates an exciting atmosphere. But the step up to National League South can’t be underestimated, really. It’s a tough league with some big clubs who each have quality individual players. From the games I’ve watched, Weston have more than held their own, played entertaining football but just been unlucky when certain results didn’t quite go their way. There is still a lot of football to be played though, and no reason why Weston can’t finish around mid-table & win the Somerset Premier Cup, like we did in my last season.

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