Hot of the back of their second consecutive league title, Milngavie Wanderers were entering a transitional period this Summer. Having gone through their Glasgow & District League season unbeaten in 2012/13, by the time the league season started back in August only four players remained that had been with the club in March 2013. A combination of players seeking pastures new as well as the allure of pro-youth made it necessary to recruit a new squad. Scott Simpson went to Motherwell pro-youth after 2 great years with the club along with his father Phil, who had been an integral part of the coaching staff since the start. Iain Stokes also took his leave from the role of coach/club secretary. In their place, I joined the coaching staff in April and was followed by Brian Carmichael, both of us linking up with Scott Carson, Paul Mooney and Joey Muir. Pro-youth also came calling for Mitchell Duffy and William Fleming who both joined Greenock Morton just prior to the start of the season and they, along with Ryan Sweeney, Ryan Gilles, Daniel Cariney, Louis Fisher, Adam Greenlees and Jamie Forrester left with the club's best wishes following their respective contributions over the last two years.
Coming in to make up the squad for the new season was without doubt the league's strongest goalkeeper in Ross Fisher who had enjoyed a solid season with Finnart BC along with a trio who had so often been a thorn in our sides with Arsenal – James Logan, Kalvin Warren and Joe Slee. Scott Hutton from Antonine 98s made up the new signings along with Aidan Young and Alberto Vezza who joined at the tail end of last season.
A mere 7 days after 2012/13 officially ended with victory in the league cup final over Pollok, the second annual 'Scottish Youth Champions League' arrived, organised by the club at the sun-drenched Parklea Sports Facility in Inverclyde. In this year's competition, league champions from as far afield as Aberdeen, Fife and Oban came to compete for the trophy which was eventually won by Aberdeen champions Dyce. The Wanderers unfortunately bowed out at the semi-final stage after a defeat on penalties to St Peters but the newly assembled team had hardly played together prior to this and had showed a lot of promise. The event itself was a rip roaring success and preparations for next year are already well under way.
Next up for the boys was the Loch Lomond Festival which was deceptively held at the campus of Stirling University. Wins in the opening two days against Red Dear of Canada, Drumsagard and KSC Phoenix saw Milngavie coast through to Sunday's semi-final where they met central league champions Milton BC of Bannockburn. Despite Alberto Vezza giving them an early lead, Milton got a goal back and even though the Wanderers dominated the remainder of the game, it went to penalties which, given our record, did not fill us with confidence. A successful penalty then a save from keeper Ross Fisher though sent them through to the final against Coltswood Colts. The Coatbridge side went 1-0 up early on but from Vezza's equaliser on the stroke of half time there was no looking back for Milngavie as two goals from Joe Slee and one from Kalvin Warren saw them emerge as 4-1 winners with the first of hopefully many pieces of silverware.
The tournament capped off a successful week for Wanderers players as nine of them were part of the triumphant SYFA West Regional Squad that won the Cup Denmark – Alberto Vezza, Joe Slee, James Logan, Mitchell Duffy, Scott Simpson, Jamie Forrester, Ross Fisher, Scott Hutton and Kalvin Warren all played their part as the squad went through the tournament unbeaten to become the first Scottish winners of the trophy.
As a final warm up before the start of the league season, a friendly was arranged against Dryburgh Athletic in Dundee who had won their league and like us, went unbeaten for the duration. In torrential rain Willam Fleming marked his last game for the club with a superb second half hat-trick to overturn a half time deficit with the game ending in a 4-2 victory - Vezza getting the other goal.
Rangers SABC lay in wait as the defence of our title got started with a 4-0 win at Milton – Kalvin Warren notched a hat-trick as we hit the ground running. Up next was a slightly more unusual opponent as a Masachussets select side rolled up in Clydebank boasting players as old as me at 18/19. 5-1 down at half time, a thrashing looked assured but a spirited comeback and a hat-trick from Alberto Vezza left the older boys shell shocked as we somehow emerged with a 5-5 draw.
Next in the firing line were Knightswood whose squad contained many ex-Wanderers and Arsenal players. This added some spice to the fixture and as the sun split the skies it was Milngavie who split open the Knightswood defence – four times to be precise with a second consecutive league hat-trick for Warren. All this despite playing most of the game with ten men after Josh Shovlin was unjustly sent off – his red was later reduced to a yellow on appeal, well and truly justifying our dismay at the decision.
The month started with another win over Rangers – this time by six goals to nil with Bailey Williams stealing the show with four of them before the Scottish Cup rolled into town. After an agonising 3-2 quarter final defeat last season to eventual finalists Albion, we felt we had a real chance of going all the way this year. Pollok were our first round opponents and were eventually beaten 2-0 after Scott Hutton and James Logan's first competitive goals for the club.
Next up was a far tougher test in the shape of Motherwell pro-youth and our boys gave a great impression of themselves, looking a better football team at times before Well's superior fitness eventually showed as they scored 3 goals in the last 15 minutes of a 4-0 win. Parkmoor were then brushed aside 14-1 in the Scottish Cup second round before a 10-0 friendly win against Glenafton in Ayrshire: notable for five goals for Joe Slee, captain Jack Carson's first two goals of the season and an incredible solo effort from Alberto Vezza right at the death.
Later that day were West Region trials which eventually saw four of our players selected – James Logan, Kalvin Warren, Joe Slee, Ross Fisher and squad new boy Nathan Carmichael. They will play a series of friendlies over the course of the year before taking part in the Donosti Cup in Spain this Summer. Joe,James, Ross and Nathan were also selected to represent Scotland at under 15s.
The toughest test of the league season so far came against last season's runners up Celtic BC who also boasted a 100% record up to this point. Despite going 2-0 down early on, goals from Kalvin Warren and Joe Slee brought us back on level terms before the break. The second period was far more comfortable as Celtic were outclassed with Slee completing his hat-trick and Rory McInnes getting his first of the season to complete a 5-2 win.
Old Firm Alliance were blown away in Easterhouse before league new boys Airdrie United presented an unknown challenge at Seedhill. When Milngavie went 3-0 ahead after an hour, another routine win looked on the cards but the Diamonds hit back twice in quick succession to cut the lead to one before Kalvin Warren rounded off his hat-trick and Baily Williams his brace to make for a more convincing final score of 5-2.
Callander Thistle were beaten 6-1 in the 3rd round of the Scottish in a game most notable for a hat-trick of the highest quality from Rory McInnes as he added to his solitary strike for the season so far in some fashion.
Prior to the game in Easterhouse, the boys and coaches raised club funds with a bag packing day at Morrissons in Anniesland – we raised around £900 towards new rain jackets and sweatshirts with the rest of the money coming from a generous grant from Glasgow Airport's Flightpath community programme.
November started with what has definitely been our most hard fought victory so far. We arrived in Clarkston to play a Busby side high on confidence having lost only once in the league. Despite dominating the first 40 minutes we only had one Duncan Nicolson goal to show for our efforts and we were punished early in the second half as Busby took a hold of the game and levelled with a long-range screamer. The game was won late on however with two goals from captain Jack Carson following some great work from Kyle Campbell for both in the final five minutes of the match.
Another derby game followed against Knightswood and this was a far more comfortable showing than before as we emerged 5-0 winners – the picks of the bunch were a 30 yard lob from Joe Slee and another wonderful solo effort from man of the match Alberto Vezza. There were also first appearances for two new boys – James Macmillan who came from recently folded Harmony Row and Aran McDonald who was previously with Milngavie Boys Club.
Next up was the big one – after a relatively straightforward first 3 rounds of the Scottish Cup we were to play Hamilton Accies BC in Ravenscraig for a place in the last 16 of the competition. Hopes were high going into this one but unfortunately it didn't go the way we hoped it would. Despite dominating proceedings early on we conceded a poor goal after half an hour and created few opportunities before they got another soft goal late in the second half to end our cup run for another year. In all, a very disappointing end to what could have been a special cup run.
Staying with knock-out competitions we then turned our sights to the West Regional Cup which we won in 2012 and without the Scottish is now an even more important target for us. Clydebank United were our first round opponents and they were comfortably beaten 14-0. Alberto Vezza took a turn in goals for the second half while Ross Fisher went up front. The latter having a slightly more eventful half as he banged in four goals. Aran McDonald also got his first goals for the club with a hat-trick while Robbie Donaldson, also recruited from Harmony Row, got a debut double.
The next match throw up many questions as to what might have been as Moorlands BC of Uddingston visited Seedhill in a friendly, sitting top of the league containing Hamilton Accies. With an experimental line up and formation, the boys went in at half time with the game goalless but a superb second half performance saw them score four without reply. A fine result but one that makes our Scottish Cup defeat all the more frustrating.
If Moorlands threw up questions about what might have been then the next game threw up questions about the league structure in Scottish Youth Football as we won a league match 28-0. Surely there is a way to help teams such as this find a level to suit them so they can enjoy their football and develop their game in an environment suited to their abilities because we don't benefit from games like that and they certainly don't either. Highlights of this one though were 8 goals from James Macmillan and Josh Shovlin getting his first goal in Milngavie colours – the purchase of lottery tickets after that is now heartily recommended.
The calendar year was concluded in footballing terms with a comfortable 6-0 win over Southside at Seedhill – James Macmillan helped himself to another 3 goals while Ben Jenkins, Alberto Vezza and Kyle Campbell got the other 3 between them. That leaves Macmillan as the club's fifth top scorer with eleven in only five games with us. There was another fine performance from Scott Hutton as well at left back who has come on leaps and bounds since his return from a heel injury.
Going into the new year, there is a lot to look forward to: The boys are well on their way to another league title, sitting nine points clear of their nearest competitors and despite the obvious disappointment of an early exit from the Scottish Cup there is still a Regional Cup to be contested with the second round of that coming mid-January against fellow GADYFL side Celtic BC. The boys will be keen to make it to the final in Petershill to atone for last year's semi-final defeat to Arsenal. The league cup final will also take place at Toryglen towards the end of the season so there is still plenty to play for.
On top of that, April will bring an exciting trip to Blackpool where we will take part in the annual Blackpool Cup at the £5m sports academy at Myerscough College in Preston. Last year's tournament was dominated by German teams and there is currently interest from Dutch, Belgian, Swiss, Irish and German teams to take part in the 20thanniversary of this UEFA backed competition so it will certainly be a tough test for the boys. In all, if 2013 was a good year then 2014 promises to be even better for Milngavie Wanderers.