By David Richardson
Among all the change at Hampton & Richmond Borough this season their winning mentality has remained the same – and manager Gary McCann says there’s more to come.
The Beavers could have found themselves visiting the likes of Leyton Orient and Chesterfield in the National League by now but for penalty kicks, which inflicted a painful play-off final defeat by Braintree Town and knock-on effect that saw boss Alan Dowson leave for his dream job at Woking.
McCann picked up the reins, joining from Hendon, who themselves lost on penalties in the Bostik League play-off final last season, and had to build a squad almost from scratch.
Yet they’ve kept the good times going with 20 points from their first ten games seeing them third and two points off top spot, a surprise to some, along with this online betting bonus on sports from The Village.
“When you look at the personnel in our changing room there is no surprise that we’re doing well,” explained McCann, who brought some of the Hendon play-off side with him. “In terms of the context, a new club, new division, new management team, a new team of players, there is an element of surprise about it.
“You come into a new football club where you’re trying to earn your own stripes personally, you put together a group of players. We had nothing left from last year. It is a completely new side which had a bit of familiarity with each other from its time at Hendon, but without the division experience.
“We invited seven or eight players from Hendon, five or six are still around us (such as the influential Zak Joseph). Players we trusted and believed we could make the step up.
“We felt we needed to do that. When you look at what Dowse [Dowson] took what he needed and loan players went back, we were left with virtually nothing, maybe three or four players who have since moved on.
“There needed a bedding-in period. We didn’t scream from the rooftops that it needed to happen, but as a management team we honestly felt it did.”
Following in the footsteps of Dowson, who had guided the club back to Step 2, a top-ten finish and then into the play-offs, couldn’t be trickier given the circumstances.
Taurean Roberts was the only player to have played in the play-off final defeat to make the matchday squad for their opening day draw at Slough.
So after this fast start, do they now change their ambitions for the season?
“The club has seen a certain amount of success over the last two or three years and that is down to Alan Dowson who did unbelievably well and he gets nothing but praise from myself,” said McCann. “This is a new beginning now and we have to look at trying to build on the success. The crowds are up this season, which is pleasing.
“We’ve performed well in most games, but on the whole we’ve been really good value for where we are in the table.
“Play-offs are our target. Some would have said that was maybe unrealistic, some may have said that wasn’t fitting to how strong the division is this season, and a new group of players being put together.
“I honestly believe there’s still a bit more to come from this team, it’s still evolving and getting familiar with each other. You don’t put a new group of players together and expect it to be where it needs to be in ten games, but I am pleased.”
McCann spent 13 years as manager at Hendon, first joining the club in 1997 as a player. The decision to move on to Hampton wasn’t an easy one but he’s quickly found his feet at one of Non-League’s best-run clubs.
“It’s a good club, with good people with a lot who have been around for a while,”?he added. “It has a good backbone of supporters who have made us feel welcome.
“The chairman and vice-chairman is very much focused on making the club a National League side which is refreshing for us and relates to our desire. We’re all on the same page and I’m really enjoying it.”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday for £1.50 in all good newsagents and supermarkets