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Andy Woodman's Extra Mile
Can Andy Woodman make history yet again? Machel Hewitt explores
“Myself and Alan Dunne call post-January the business end of the season. If you are in and around the top ten at the turn of the year, and you make the right additions to the squad, that’s when you really step up.”
These are the words of Bromley manager Andy Woodman, and his declaration holds true.
Since his appointment in March 2020, Woodman has produced history-making run-ins without fail.
A first-ever National League play-off finish in 2020/21 was followed by a first-ever FA Trophy win in 2021/22, which was followed by a first-ever National League play-off semi-final in 2022/23. Exhausting excellence.
More to the point, each of those achievements can be attributed to a well-timed unbeaten run.
Three years of success has turned many an envious head in Bromley’s direction and has prompted a few pundits to tip the Ravens for National League promotion. The bar is high.
But, as is often the case in the National League, when a smaller club achieves success, exits inevitably follow.
Last season’s Player of the Season, Omar Sowunmi, ran down his contract and departed for League Two club Sutton United. Losing the colossal centre-back was a serious blow, but one that Woodman completely understood.
“We offered Omar contract after contract. But, to be fair to Omar, he backed himself to get a deal in the Football League and rightly got several offers in the post-season. We can't begrudge him departing, and he never once phoned it in as the season ran down. He gave us everything up to the final kick of the season.”
Likewise, promising teenager Kellen Fisher saw his meteoric rise lead to a substantial offer from Championship club Norwich City; a deal that saw the youngster leave with the club’s blessing.
“That was a deal where everyone won: Kellen, Norwich, and Bromley,” Woodman admitted.
“Kellen was an absolute pleasure to coach and provides a great symbol to the rest of the academy as to what hard work, talent, and dedication can achieve within the Bromley FC academy structure. He’s the standard bearer, and Liam Vincent before him.”
Quizzed as to whether Bromley enquired about a loan-back deal, Woodman was forthright as to that not being right for Kellen’s development.
“Kellen has shown his worth at this level already. It would be a backward step for Kellen if he came back. I’m a big believer that when you get a move like that, you kick on. If Norwich had taken Kellen midway through the season then that’s a different matter, but it’s right for Kellen to move on now.”
Along with the departures of Harry Forster (Crawley), Reice Charles Cook (out of contract), and the departures of successful loanees Ryan Stirk (move to Walsall) and Deji Elerewe (Charlton first team), it leaves Woodman with the unenviable task of another team restructure.
It’s one of the hidden costs of success, but it’s a challenge he relishes all the same.
“People think I’m exaggerating when I say we don’t have the budget of the top teams in the National League, but it’s crazy some of the money you see being spent in this league. Whether that be Chesterfield, Oldham, York, or even down to the Wokings and Barnets, we simply do not have a play-off budget.”
With those restrictions in mind, Woodman has had to be creative in his recruitment. That creativity has earned him a reputation as a savvy operator in the transfer market, particularly the loan market.
Over the last two-and-a-half seasons, he’s brought in numerous talents whose careers have blossomed or reignited following a spell at Hayes Lane.
Ali Al-Hamadi (AFC Wimbledon)
Ryan Stirk (Walsall)
Ethan Coleman (Gillingham)
Ellery Balcombe (Bristol Rovers)
Omar Sowunmi (Sutton United)
Deji Elerewe (Charlton)
Alex Mitchell (Millwall)
It’s a reputation Andy puts down to his 37 years in the game.
“I’m fortunate to have a big network of agents, coaches, and loan managers who I trust. A perfect example being my old manager Ian Atkins. When I moved for Ryan Stirk, Ian told me it was a 100% no-brainer and I knew that to have his ringing endorsement meant it would be a winner for Bromley.”
That said, Woodman admits he’s had to tweak his recruitment strategy during his tenure in the hot-seat.
“When I first joined the club, and in my first summer, I tried to get all my business done early. But the reality is that Bromley aren’t a lot of players’ first choice. We don’t have the name or EFL history to immediately sell a transfer. To get the quality of player that builds on what we already have, you have to be prepared to play a waiting game.”
He added: “Whether that be players on loan; sometimes you can think someone is coming but then maybe the first team manager wants to keep them around the squad after a good pre-season. That then goes on the back burner after working so hard to bring the player through the door. For those whose contracts have run out, many are happy to play the waiting game until July 31st and explore their options, so again you can't make your move until then.”
It's a philosophy that gives us an insight into why Andy Woodman often preaches patience. He believes the long game is worth playing. Looking at his record, it’s hard to argue.
Although an injury-hit Bromley started the season with an opening-day defeat at FC Halifax Town, Woodman seems unlikely to deviate from his patient method this season.
In Sowunmi, he concedes he’s lost a defender who almost guarantees 10 goals scored and 10+ goals saved per season. However, he backs his summer recruitment to pay off over the course of the National League season.
Chin Okoli (Millwall) and Cole Kpekawa (Maidenhead) have arrived to bolster the centre of the defence, while Josh Passley (Havant and Waterlooville) has replaced Kellen Fisher on the right flank. In goal, meanwhile, the talented duo of Grant Smith (Yeovil) and Teddy Sharman-Lowe (Chelsea) will do battle for the #1 shirt.
Business is far from over, with Woodman conceding that he’s looking to bring in at least three more bodies. While some Bromley fans will lament that business has yet to be concluded, Woodman will point to his track record and encourage them to trust the process.
But can a manager keep losing key players only to pull more transfer rabbits out of the hat?
On the field, we hope to witness more of the celebrated ‘Bromley DNA.’ For the uninitiated, that term loosely translates into a defensively resolute side of scrappers who fight to the final whistle and make teams earn the right to play.
Woodman will defend the virtue of keeping clean sheets until he’s blue in the face. “That’s what success is built off, Mash.” But he’s at pains to point out that his side has an offensive threat to match any side in the National League.
The stats back up his claim. In 2022/23, Bromley were the fifth-highest scorers in the league. On that evidence, perhaps ‘Bromley DNA’ has more strands than we appreciate.
Instilling his DNA mantra in the club’s coaches and players, from the youth teams to the first team, has built Andy an enviable platform. But, after three seasons of sustained success, this season might represent his biggest challenge.
With continued success comes great expectation. While it takes a brave man to write an Andy Woodman side off, make no mistake, 2023/24 will be a hyper-competitive edition of the National League.
The overriding question is: Can Andy Woodman combine the lessons of the last three years to go that extra mile?
FBWL Season Prediction: 7th
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