After such a disappointing campaign last season, this summer’s hectic business in the transfer market surely reflects the club’s determination to achieve better things in the forthcoming campaign, writes Malcolm Dawson. With all the interest in the Italians and the Cape Verde Swiss, the Argentinians and Swedes, the Americans, the Senegalese French and the Uruguayans, it is an Englishman who is occupying Pete Sixsmith’s thoughts …
In the frenzy of signings that we have made in the summer, the one Englishman who has joined us has somewhat slipped under the radar. Step forward Duncan Watmore from Altrincham – Conference North play off qualifiers and a club with one of the best known names in non-league football.
In one way the switch from Moss Lane to The Stadium of Light will be relatively seamless as both clubs play in red and white stripes and both have struggled to keep their place in their respective top leagues. For Alty a succession of last minute reprieves ran out a couple of years ago and they slid into the second tier of non-league football.
They had a decent side last year, reaching the playoff semis, where they lost to Brackley, while in the FA Cup they lost a First Round tie to Burton Albion having beaten Shildon in the earlier qualifying stages.
All in all a good season for a part time team who will forever live in the shadows of Manchester United, a mere 20-minute tram ride away – although they failed in their main aim which was to get back into Conference National.
Running a club like Altrincham must be difficult. They have a loyal fan base but that base will not be very wide and it would take a brave youngster to support his home town team when Rooney and Co are nearby and Aguero and his chums are just a bit further down the tramway. So when they get a decent youngster they will take the opportunity to move him on.
But it is not an exact science, plucking the aforementioned youngster from the (relative) obscurity of Conference North, giving him a full-time contract and then hoping that he metamorphoses into a player who will bang in 20 goals and go on to be part of a Sunderland side that finishes top of the Premier League and an essential element of an England World Cup winning side.
Young Duncan has a good pedigree. He went into the Manchester United system as a youngster and although he was released at the age of 13 he will have acquired good habits with the Old Trafford coaches. He joined Altrincham managed by former Bradford City and Watford player Lee Sinnott and combined football with his school and University studies.
In the season just gone, he made 33 starts and scored 17 goals – not at all a bad return. He was a consistent marksman in a team that included the prolific Damian Reeves (41 in 50), often working as the second striker, using his pace and determination to run at players to his advantage.
Duncan may also be the only player on the club’s books to be educated in the private, rather than the state sector. He attended Cheadle Hulme School which does not include the likes of Lee Cattermole, Jack Colback or Adam Johnson in its alumni and which I suspect does not regard football as a major part of the school curriculum.
He has been listed as part of the club’s development squad alongside John Egan, Billy Knott, Louis Laing and others. He will presumably spend the next couple of years hidden from view as it is rumoured that the Under 21 games are going to be played at the Academy and not at Hetton. That’s a shame and I hope the club and the Premier League review their stance on development squad football.
Our record of signing players from non-league is a mixed one. Len Ashurst who came from Prescot Cables on Merseyside went on to become a regular for 10 years, while Sunderland-born Lee Howey was signed from Bishop Auckland and played an important part in Peter Reid’s first promotion team. His two goals at Portsmouth probably turned our season round and gave us the impetus to push on.
On the other hand, we took Jamie Lawrence from Cowes Sports and in the four games he had in 1993-94 failed to impress. He moved around and is still playing for a struggling Tooting and Mitcham United team in the nether regions of the Rymans League.
David Buchanan joined us from Blyth Spartans in the mid 80s and, after a decent start, faded away as quickly as a Zoom on a hot day.
Let’s hope in four years time Duncan Watmore will be the name on everybody’s lips as he clinches the Premier League title for Sunderland before making plans to head England’s scoring force in the World Cup in Russia. If he does, remember, you read it here first.