Varsity: Football aim to dominate Butts

With football as the finale this year, it was imperative for the Men’s Football Club to have the perfect preparation before facing Coventry at the Butts Arena. And they’ve done just that.

The _Boar_ spoke to UWMFC Captain Leo Harris about the team’s preparations for Varsity, and their season so far, on and off the pitch. The team has been boosted by the arrival of Coach James Ellis from Loughborough University, where he was Director of Football. As Harris suggests, Ellis’s presence has provided a new professionalism, through his experience with the England Futsal team and Kettering Town.

“On the pitch, we’ve been working hard, with James Ellis coming in as the new first team coach, and as a result the first team are flying. He has been brilliant for us; I have no bad words to say about the man. He’s put in so much hard work and effort in turning us around – in terms of discipline and the respect we show to the people who help us out off the pitch at the facilities we play at.

“In terms of our football, he’s brought a focus and a drive to the team. He’s a part of the coaching staff at Kettering Town and so there is a completely professional approach to the way he does things, from warm up preparations to the way we train. He’s actually got us training at 7am on a Monday morning, which some of the squad members didn’t like (grins) but it’s that sort of discipline and rigidity to routine that you need if you’re going to be successful.”

As a result, the team’s performances have been very impressive. The first team won the league recently and have also reached the quarter-final of the MUL (Midlands University League) Cup (and if the team eventually progress to the final, they will be playing at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park). The second team have also been on a good winning run and are currently 3rd. The third team are also 3rd and hoping to win their league which they could do if they win their remaining three games. The fourth team are still top and hoping to stay there for the rest of the season, so all in all, it’s looking very good at this moment in time for the Men’s Football Club.

In addition to this, Harris reflects on the club’s off-the-pitch work. “At the start of the year we wanted to change our reputation on campus. It was a little bit tarnished, with some of the old boys perhaps not really contributing back to the university community. So we, as a club, decided to make a conscious effort to change our image. We’ve tried to do things like the charity run at the end of last term where we all dressed up as Santa, and we also helped students move into Rootes at the start of the year. Hopefully, it improves people’s perception of us on campus.”

The team is also highly focussed on the upcoming Varsity fixtures, with special preparations in place to ensure a Warwick victory at the Butts Arena. Harris elaborates: “We’ve introduced a second training session on a Thursday night for the first team, and we have got another coach called Terry Angus (the former Northampton, Fulham and Nuneaton defender) in to run that session. And we’re still playing twice a week (on Saturdays and Wednesdays) so that helps to keep everyone sharp. We’re also planning a big ticket sales campaign to try and get most of the University to head down to the Butts Arena and support their team!”

The club has taken up a ‘win at all costs’ mentality this season, with results taking precedence over aesthetically-pleasing football. Whatever one thinks of a direct style, you cannot argue with the team’s excellent results this season. As Harris says, “The standard of pitch that we play on and the technical level we play at means that conditions aren’t always optimal to play the ball around like Brazil. If we’re playing on a flat Tarkett pitch every week then you can afford to pass it around. But this year, when you play on bobbly pitches in windy weather, it’s not always possible. The risk of losing the ball in your own defensive third is so great that you can be caught out and left with a 2 vs 1 situation. So we’ve chosen this tactical path and try and hit the channels, and we’ve got some big, strong strikers to chase the balls down.”

Harris appears quite confident, concerning tactics and dealing with Coventry’s style in general, given the scrupulous preparations the team has undertaken under Ellis’ tutelage. “We play Coventry throughout the season actually. They play in the Midlands University League on a Saturday as do we, and their first XI is in the same BUCS league as our second XI. So we get a lot of close contact with Coventry throughout the season. You get to know a couple of their players. You get to know who to watch out for. So we’ll be focusing on where their main threats are and how we can deal with them, and so when they’re at their weakest, we can plan attacks with set plays.” Naturally, Harris is guarded about revealing specific tactical plans for the game, given its high importance.

When asked about the pressure of keeping up Warwick’s 21-year Varsity winning streak, given that the University is currently 6-2 down in the current series, Harris is forthright. “Undoubtedly, you feel the pressure, but it’s an exciting pressure. Even when there were eight weeks to go, everyone had Varsity at the back of their minds. The games that we play on a Wednesday and a Saturday – everyone wants to be in the starting line-up and if you get a call-up to the starting line-up, it’s essentially yours to lose in the weeks leading up to the big game. So competition for places is at the highest it’s ever been.”

“And with the thousands of fans that come to the event, there’s a pressure to entertain them. You don’t want to let them down; they’ve all paid their money to come in and watch the game so delivering a result for them is very important too. The club has a lot of desire, heart and effort which they want to display on the day.”

Last year, the first team won comprehensively with a 4-1 score-line, but the second team drew, while the third team and the fourth team lost. Harris feels confident about this year’s fixtures. “I think, in the three years I’ve been with the Warwick men’s club, it’s been at its strongest, so it’s our best shot to try and get a whitewash with Coventry. The football during Varsity is generally quite close; I think that we have a great chance to get a strong result this time around.”

In terms of Harris personally, he likens his own style to Manchester United veteran midfielder Paul Scholes, but he hastens to add: “at the latter end of his career (laughs), in a deep-lying role, I try to ping the ball around really, hit the wingers and the channels.”

Reflecting on his role as Club Captain, the third-year Economics student accepts it is a big responsibility: “Potentially, I’m co-ordinating a football club for up to 80 people. That involves running trials, football tournaments – the lot really!”

The club is focused and determined to add a Varsity victory to their excellent league success this season, with cup success also a possibility. The new direction the club has taken under the coaching of James Ellis and Terry Angus has given the team a new impetus and optimism. A Varsity victory could be the start of something big.

**Captain Leo Harris on his teammates**

**Derek Quaye** is the best player in the club, on and off the pitch – good with the ladies and good on the ball! He’s definitely one to watch out for; he plays semi-professionally back at home.

**Joe Bloomfield** is an ex-Ipswich Town Academy player; he came into the club last year and is in his second year now. He’s set to be first team captain next year, it’s still to be decided, but it’s looking likely.

**Dave Holmes** (or ‘Ginge’ as he’s been imaginatively christened by his team-mates) is the 1st XI captain. He’s a fiery character, and he’s got a bit of a temper on the pitch. He’s been known to put a big tackle in now and again (laughs).

He’s definitely the hardman of the team. He’s always likely to make the crowd rise with a strong tackle – get stuck in to a few Coventry players!

But I guess the main player to watch out for is **Andrew Amato**, Minky to his team-mates. He’ll be the only International standard player playing in the Varsity game. He’s actually playing for the Maltese U21 squad. They’ve got the draw for the European Championships coming up soon so he could be drawn up in a qualifier against one of the Home Nations!

We’ve also got a Big Fat Swede, **Christian Salomonsen**, in goal, who’s very good. I don’t think he’s any relation of (ex-Manchester United ‘keeper Peter) Schmeichel, but he’s blond and Scandanavian so there’s always a chance! (laughs) He’s one of our key players actually, and he’s been with the club since he arrived as a fresher.

As well as being technically brilliant in goal, his greatest asset undoubtedly is his kicking. I don’t know anyone who can kick a ball further, and having someone who can make the opposition defence turn around and face their own goal is invaluable.


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