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From Level 20: The Only Way Is Up?


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DODGY LLAMA – worst manager ever


ENGLAND Level 20

Devon & Exeter League Division 8

Sharpham House



Nine years ago - Dan BHTFC created a Level 24 English database for FM15. The only manageable team in Mid-Sussex Division 10 was Keymer & Hassocks FC.  For some years, my main annual save was based on his updated database. He eventually wandered off from this forum and I lost touch, but a few days ago I discovered he’d only recently finished a L20 version for FM23, which I've fired up and ported over to FM24. Whereas I never had any personal connection to Mid-Sussex, this time his lowest league is where I lived for 18 years, in South Devon.

There are two playable teams in the Devon & Exeter League Division 8; I’ve changed the name and exact location of one to make it a place I have wonderful memories of – an academic Buddhist community called ‘The Sharpham North Trust’, living in a wing of Sharpham House up a hill near Totnes.

I’m extrapolating my alternative history from my last thread. As I wrote (adapted for this save):

          “... the incoming UK Labour government is establishing a well-funded community for successfully-processed asylum-seekers in Totnes and Dartington, Devon. With Ireland deemed an experienced nation re. the non-political settling of asylum-seekers, the UN, UK government and FA together with the former board picked an international (mainly Irish including the board and chairwoman) team of asylum-seeker settling experts to run the club. The staff has no experience in running a football club and work as volunteers. Working closely with the UNHRC, scouts have been dispatched to refugee camps around the world to seek out interested youths. Any youth players our network brings to the club’s “academy” at Dartington College will get visas for their families and be granted second nationality as English. Only one youth and family per country-of-origin or ethnic group is permitted to be in the squad at one time. Being an amateur club, we can’t hang on to any players who wish to leave for another club, and we can’t improve them at our club.”

Fourth Wall breaker: Even though I tried to make my last save tough, I found we were winning too easily, so this is a new attempt – an ultimate attempt I hope, to create an FM career that cannot be harder! All the staff and playing squad start with an average CA1 and PA 5. I found all the personnel in the FM database and have kept most as-is.

The only incoming players to the club come through our academy intake – their names and details will be changed to make them non-British asylum-seekers, but their CA/PA etc will be as the game creates them.

My computer is a decade old and may well fail to handle a database of this size, or at best crawl very slowly. I only have the L20 English database loaded, but I have 58,000 people in order to find enough asylum-seekers from 38 trouble-spots around the world.

Our club reputation is 1. We are using the ground of Totnes & Dartington FC, Foxhole Sports Ground, as there is no level land around Sharpham, and our ‘academy’ is based there with the UNHRC office (where our staff also work). Our big brother plays in Division Two (14th tier).


Half the kids have spent years knocking around refugee camps across Europe, and some have learnt English well. Others can’t speak a word. Some seem quite committed to football, for others it’s a low priority. I'm ready to introduce you to the staff now; the lads will follow when they finish the English classes.

club home page.png

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And his team:



It's at this point that I mention my assistant here will take all the training. I was brought in owing to my commitment to the vision rather than for my 'talent'. So hopeless does the board regard me, that I'm only permitted to pick the team and tactics. Further responsibilities will be gradually accorded, based on qualifications and success. Jeni, the Director of Football, communicated the board's standards as follows:

Initially the board feels that most of the coaching staff have experience in physical workouts and will therefore take the training sessions. When I get my first badge, a UEFA Level 1 Certificate, I’m assured I can take general team training (i.e. use the General schedules and Match Prep only). After the second badge (Level 2), I’ll be let loose on team training however I like, assuming our coaching staff have the appropriate skills. With the third badge (Adult Coaching Licence), I’m in charge of the youth/reserves general team training. With the fourth badge (UEFA B Licence), I can set individual training. Once I've been at a club at least a full year AND have a UEFA Professional or at least A Licence AND two promotions, I get a say in staff appointments, including junior coaching and youth recruitment. We'll still be an amateur club, unable to offer contracts to staff or players, or improve facilities at the club.





hd physio.png

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I've had a look and ... oh my god.

I think I can put out an XI in a risky 4-2-4 formation, but there are glaring holes in the squad, and some who are so spectacularly hopeless that I can't tell whether to call them a striker, defender or goalkeeper. Seriously. Here, see your yourself some of the puzzling ones -

The report says Bizzi is our best full back. Sure?

Bizzi FB.png

Best central defender?


Danboy, what do you even DO??


Half the staff believe Pema to be our best player



We have two strikers with a bit of pace about them. That's the only quality I'm seeing in the entire squad. So the tactic is to play both and keep launching balls to them until something happens. That's it - that's all I've got.

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I did say I was looking for a proper challenge, and I think I may have got oneJuly results.png

The lads are not enjoying losing, and morale is through the floor. However, my view is that it’s not as bad as it looks. The convention is to arrange some preseason games against minnows to keep spirits up.  The problem is, we are the minnows; there is no one weaker than us. So every game we play is against higher-level opposition - even reserve and youth teams. I think that when the league season gets under way in September and we’re playing exclusively tier 20 teams, we’ll do better than this.

First, we’ve got another month to get through, and somehow I need to get these boys to cheer up a bit. As an aside, now the handful of Wednesday evening friendlies have finished, all our matches going forward will be on Saturday or Sunday lunchtime. I’ve been observing the coaching team leading the training sessions (an hour on Tuesday and Thursday evenings), and I’m clearly a spare part. The ladies’ motivational skills are superior to mine, too. Given that the youths are based in Dartington where Foxhole is, and I’m staying at Sharpham which is the other side of Totnes, there seems little point in me showing up midweek – I effectively have a one-day-a-week job.


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Undefeated in six! Trust the process!

August results.png

Losing our Rohingya goalkeeper seemed like a disaster, given that he’d miss the start of the season. However, by them we’d played our hardest preseason friendlies and gone on a phenomenal unbeaten run, justifying my confidence. The last two matches, against the only ‘weak’ opposition who’d agree to travel over to play us, had strikers who lacked the quality to overwhelm our Eritrean stand-in keeper.

Fortunately, Hossain recovered a little faster than scheduled and was ready to don the gloves for the first league game. That was offset by Abdullah, our Yemeni striker, picking up his second injury.

By the end of preseason, all the squad bar one had had sufficient game time to be match sharp, and that I could reasonably assess them. That exception is Rovias Danboy (see above). He’s an agent of chaos – for us. Has it ever occurred to you the consequences of playing a player with high leadership and zero decision-making skills?  I’ve seen it. The team is far better organised without him, so I hope against hope never to have to start him.

My favoured Starting XI going into the season is pretty much my provisional thoughts before the friendlies began. Although I think many of the lads can play in interchangeable roles, I haven’t had the time to experiment with that, so I’m not tweaking any tactics, roles or duties just to keep things as simple as possible.




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3 hours ago, theBlackPrince said:

Yikes, level 20! Do they need a nearly 40 year old keeper who hasn’t played in over a decade? Put me in coach I think I can still do a job at that level :lol:

I'm sure plenty rivals would have him in a flash; my narrative requires academy kids only. You'd be sure to be an improvement on our coaching, but if you look carefully, they're not employed for their footballing talents :brock:

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With the professional and semi-pro leagues all well underway, at amateur level in Devon we had to wait until September. Sunday 4th was our big day. Our competitive debut in Division Eight saw us host the reserve team from the charming village of Farway. What a phenomenal show we put on! Our six defenders controlled the game from the back, passing the ball around nicely and never letting United demonstrate a whiff of creativity (apart from their one player who pulled out not one but two 30-yard thunderbolts). Our deadly front two got all the goals in a 5-2 demolition.

The second match had us make the hour-long journey up the M5 to the Blackdown Hills and the charming (they’re always charming around here) village of Hemyock to face their reserve side.

Found Hemyock Castle - anyone know where the football ground is?



For the third match we hosted the reserves of Bow Amateurs from a historic village in Mid-Devon, and our fourth was another home tie, against South Zeal Amateurs’ reserve team (South Zeal is part of South Tawton on Dartmoor). Frankly, we coasted through all those games. The first victory gave the boys the taste of winning, and they wanted more – clearly, they wanted it more than our opponents. A setback of any sort could change things, but right now – we’re flying.

Sept results.png

Sept table.png

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If the schedulers were kind in giving me 3 out of 4 matches as home fixtures in September, they of course compensated in October with 4 of our five matches being away. We began at Lympstone on the east bank of the Exe near the delta, then Starcross on the west bank. After a home game against league leaders Bampton reserves, we were off to Tiverton to face the reserves of Amory Green Rovers, finishing the month with a trip to Tedburn St. Mary, east of Dartmoor.





At Tedburn we actually found the ground without getting lost

Tedburn  St. Mary FC.png

A slight dilemma at the beginning of the month – our best striker is a bit injury prone and had only just got himself fit and ready to start a game. However, the two strikers who started the season had been banging them in and had already formed a good understanding. Abdullah would have to bench it for the time being.

After winning six matches in a row, the first one we lost caused a rebellion. squadunhappy.thumb.png.ce539bcff68f7a2fa3d36e6dbf393a71.png

We had the better xG in that match and lost because Tueni fluffed his chances. I stayed at Sharpham House. I wasn’t going to argue over text message with barely literate children. What do they want? Me giving team talks in eight languages? If they wanted to talk, they’d have to travel up to face me. I heard nothing more.

I showed up on Saturday to a tense atmosphere. I gave out the team sheet with Abdullah on the bench as a ‘message’ and dished out some basic instructions. Fortunately, our opponent was the pointless basement-dwelling Starcross Dons. In a dour encounter, it took until the 89th minute to break the deadlock. In contrast to September, the games were tightly contested over October and results could have gone either way.

With the September impetus having waned, changes to the Starting XI were made – goalkeeper Hossain and trouble-maker Tuani were benched or dropped, and others who were impressing in Under-21 practice matches were promoted. In fact, it’s only the back-up defensive midfielders, including Danboy and a couple of others I wouldn’t consider at this time.

I dropped by a couple of training sessions over the month as I had a course to attend at Dartington Hall. I must say, Karen leads a very slack regime – she tells me the boys are tired after classes all day. I don’t think they get any real benefit from these training sessions, although I would estimate that half the squad has marginally improved as footballers since the start of pre-season.

By the end of the month, I had a decent idea of where we stand in Division Eight. Our perfect start in September was mainly due to having home ties against some of the division’s weakest teams. Through October, we lost away to some of the strongest sides, but won the other games.

October results.png

End of Oct table.png

At the end of the month, on the coach back from Tedburn where Tuani had been restored to the team and won us the match, Jeni mentioned that the UN people had informed the board that an agreement between Australia and Tuvalu was in the works. In due course, Australia will take responsibility for resettling climate refugees from that nation. It may be that the Tuani family choose to relocate.

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The amateur world went into semi-hibernation in these parts, to the gratitude of many of our boys who were not enjoying their first British winter. Three matches were scheduled in November, one in December, two each in January, February and March. We’ll cover the rest of the season in two reports.

A decisive clash occurred in November at North Tawton where, outplayed, we stole a 3-2 victory to replace North Tawton at the top of the table (on goal difference) at the half-way point of the season.


At the end of December, I had a chat with Amelia, our Head of Youth Development. I pointed out that all our boys have either peaked, or lack the chops to ever improve. We learned in this month’s friendlies against Division 7 opponents that this squad is not up to facing higher-level opposition, should we win promotion. We’d need a decent intake of new blood. Amelia explained that her job isn’t to scout local schoolkids – any interested in football take themselves off to Torquay’s academy; she liaises with the UNHRC and UN Refugees Commission. Our project is well-regarded and as a result, a few semi-pro and even professional clubs across Europe are looking to discover and nurture asylum-seekers as we do. Nevertheless, a decent intake would be arriving in April, but she couldn’t guarantee they’d be much better than what we currently have, or that I wouldn’t have to devise a whole new tactical system next season.

I’ve been trying to ask Jeni why the board keep blocking my request to do a first-level coaching course. She’ll only give the vaguest answers. If it’s about the minimal cost, I pointed out that the board saddled the club with £5,000 debt when they took over; they’ve just somehow repaid it, but I’m none the wiser what that was about. Not sure how far they’ll try my patience if I’m blanked for too long.

Breaking News: After the board cleared the club’s debts, they allowed me to start on my first coaching course!


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6 minutes ago, Stuniverse said:

Great start to the season. Shame you’re into  an enforced Winter break #fixturecongestion


Congratulations on finally talking the Board into funding a coaching course.

Yeah, given my all-1-attributes coach got a job with a level 12 amateur club, I'd resigned myself to not needing qualifications for at least 8 years. Still, I'll take what's offered.

I'm trying to keep the lads' blood circulating with friendlies while not smashing their morale - it's a delicate balancing act when there are no easy opponents to play.


n.b. I'm patiently awaiting the launch of your Norwegian career :thup:

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The commencement of the new year, 2023, brought about the opening of the transfer window. I suspect in years to come that will give me sleepless nights, but right now I can’t imagine anyone poaching my players, and until now, no one outside our league even knows of their existence.

So in the first week we got two defections – our Irish lassies Sadhbh Giurgi and Roisin Fortune (she joined us about a month after I introduced the rest of the team above) accepted promotions to the Third and Premier Divisions (that’s the standard of coaching in the 12th tier??) and left us without a coach. Not for long though – Jeni found two physios, one from a village in the Blackdown Hills an hour away happy to join our project and another who’d just relocated from Suffolk due to her job. Jeni explained that she’d have preferred UNHRC staff, but that they’d need to alter their work schedules and that could take weeks or months given the way the UN works, and these ladies were immediately available and paperwork-free. Welcome, Jessica and Isabella.


By the end of the month, I felt I’d detected a greater liveliness in training sessions, and I was no longer having to give fruitless criticisms to slackers.

coaching session ratings.png

Seriously, this is a big upgrade on the all-half-star quality at the start of the season. Karen's learning well on the job and these new ladies are more enthusiastic than the departed couple.  I hope it lasts. Mind you, I've seen enough to conclude that most of the boys are playing as well as they can and have no capacity to play better, and a good few others are making no progress at all, whether they put in a shift in training or not.

The first team to beat us, Lympstone reserves were lying just behind us in third place. Smashing them 5-0 had, in my mind, made us hot shots for promotion along with North Tawton. Our two matches in February were against the bottom two teams, Starcross Dons, followed by South Zeal United. Embarrassingly, we lost in front of our fans 0-1 to Starcross in a game where we squandered so many chances – the long breaks had blunted out cutting edge. We didn’t fare much better at South Zeal where we drew 2-2.

South Zeal - another village where we couldn't find the ground

south zeal.png

There was no obvious problem to pinpoint – coldness and fatigue seemed to be the main factors. If there was a small comfort, it’s that our fellow rivals for promotion were struggling the same as us. We’d got ourselves to a point where mathematically the worst we could finish was 3rd, so the two promotion spots were between us, North Tawton and Lympstone, who’d recovered well since we thrashed them.

By now every player on the books has had first team match time, but my main defensive midfielders are especially flagging, and that’s where we have no depth to rest them.

squad end feb.png

Here is the squad as it stands. You can see all players have had at least some game time. Karen and I diverge quite sharply in our assessments of some of the players. I'm particularly concerned with the defensive midfield. Muzinga has started 18 competitive matches - more than anyone else, yet despite me never having had to scold him after a training session, he hasn't improved a jot. Zangpo, who Karen still feels is one of our best players, along with Danboy start every damn friendly and are simply consistently a disaster. As I say, most of our players have no capacity to step up should we get promoted, so I'm really depending on Amelia to bring us better youths in a few weeks.

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As March rolled around, bringing Spring with it, we badly needed to get back on track. We did just that away at Bampton in Exmoor, coming home with a 3-0 win against their reserves in the bag. With Lympstone reserves defeating North Tawton, we were back in the driver’s seat, albeit with four difficult games to come, culminating in a final and potentially decisive match against North Tawton.



In fact, with our superior goal difference, our second victory in March all-but guaranteed us promotion. With North Tawton slipping up, we could go into April without feeling too much pressure.

In March, we got our first approaches for a player, our Uyghur defender Asymbekov. He’s one I don’t want to lose, but of course he and his family must decide. As the bids piled up, it prompted me to again call Amelia and plead for a quality intake, especially a right-back, and defensive midfielders. She hinted that I’d be more likely to get central, left and right midfielders, in which case I’d need to devise a 4-4-2 tactic.

As it was, once promotion was assured, Asymbekov opted to stay with us. It didn’t stop approaches from bigger clubs, however. At the same time, enquiries were pouring in for Tibetan midfielder Zangpo. I wouldn’t mind losing him, although maybe he just doesn’t fit the present system and might be fine in a 4-4-2 should I go that way. But where all the interest for a boy who hasn’t started a competitive match nor scored a goal comes from, I don’t know. Neither are tempted to leave us.

offers for zangpo.png

Into April and our final away tie was in Axminster where we played Millwey Rise reserves. As we edged a nine-goal thriller with Abdullah scoring a remarkable four goals, North Tawton blew their chances of the title and possibly promotion, handing the honour to us. Before the next match we’d be presented with the trophy in front of our fans, and the final match versus North Tawton would be a dead rubber - for us, if not for them.


title - fans ecstatic.png

Before the match with Tedburn St. Mary, we were presented with the trophy and went on to show we deserved it with a comfortable 5-2 win. The board were ‘delighted’, but Siobhan Brewin, our chairwoman has been looking to stand down. I wondered if promotion would chance her mind, although I get that UN business is more important.

The next day, Amelia brought 16 new lads for us to assess. They mostly consider themselves attacking midfielders, which we don’t lack, but we do have one right back. Not a single lad spoke up when I asked about defensive midfield – to be fair, may be that was a language issue. Anyway, I left them with Amelia and Karen while I concentrated on the last two league matches of the season. I did watch the trial match between the new kids and our non-starting XI. The 2-2 result indicated that overall, in the raw, they were collectively as good as our second XI is after being with us for nine months. I agreed with Amelia and Karen to sign them all up for now. Having 38 kids on the books is a little unwieldy, but we can expect some of our original squad to depart, and we can release others in due course. I’ll introduce them to you when I’ve had longer to assess them.

Our final match was against a demoralised North Tawton, who had led the league for so long. They gave it everything they had and smashed us on xG, but our defence held firm, and we countered to win 2-0, thus denying them promotion.

the final table

final table.png

We regained our composure in the final stages as rivals lost theirs, leaving the final table looking more comfortable for us than it really was. And after a season of fine-tuning, this is how we ended tactically:

tactic by end of season.png

Doubtless, we won't start the new season like this. I'll be using preseason to explore whether I can push the midfield two into central midfield and retain four forwards without exposing the defence too much, providing two of our new lads are better than Murwira and Muzinga. In my opinion, 12 players impressed me enough to retain their first team squad places next season. That leaves 10 who haven’t shown me enough to give me confidence they can compete at a higher level. The main clue as to how we are likely to fare in Division Seven is an analysis of the 23 friendlies we played over the season - we won 9, drew 6, and lost 8 That does seem to suggest that the core of the squad is good enough to keep us from coming back down, but can we push for a second promotion? That probably comes down to the quality of the new intake.

Lots to ponder over the summer. See you next July!

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18 minutes ago, Stuniverse said:

Congratulations, @phnompenhandy.

Hope you have a productive pre-season.

Good luck next season.


Ha ha, very productive - and time-consuming.

Fourth-wall-breaker:  I've signed up all 16 academy kids. Now I'm changing their names and nationalities, and reducing their English skills to basic, while finding and matching up player pix to each one. All in the name of a convincing narrative!

Note - the original intake's CA, PA, attributes, positions - all that stuff - is completely untouched.

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Here's a 'sneak peek' at our new intake. My initial reaction is that about the same as our initial squad, which means that a few might be able to supplant the weakest in our squad early on, but that most of last season's squad will keep their places. Of course, much will depend on their attitude in training and off the pitch, but I can't assess that until they return.

With the war in Ukraine concluded, the new regime in Russia is destabilising ex-soviet republics in the Caucuses and Central Asia, as well as provoking conflicts in Central Africa, so there are new sources of political asylum-seekers as well as more nations being accorded 'Climate Crisis Nations' status by the UN. By the way, players from those nations are eligible to play for their countries should they be selected. Nearly all the players from asylum-seeking families are blacklisted by their governments and will not be picked. Although they have British second nationalities, by agreement with the UK government and UN, none are eligible to be selected by a British national football team.


new intake.png

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Just now, Eric Castel said:

Congrats on the promotion!

Love the narrative with the intake. The team is poised to become a shining example of inclusivity and hope!

That's the idea. It's a sort of "up yours!" to Patel, Braverman, Sunak and their ilk. And a utopian vision of the future.

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Just spotted something I thought I'd share - the fate of Exeter University's clubs this season


Exeter University's under-18s have been forcibly relegated from Division 2 (level 13) [How does a university have an "Under 18s" side? Don't ask!]

They're being pushed down to Division 3 because the Under 21s side is forcibly relegated from 4th spot in the First Division. So the senior side, Exeter University's 'A' team got relegated from the level 12 Premier League, did it? Well, no. It finished bottom of the Level 11. But the University of Exeter Reserves won the Premier Division (level 12). So it looks as if the Reserves will play in the level 11 division with the main side in level 12. That doesn't explain why the U21s and U18s should be relegated though.

By the way, the reserve sides seem to dry up around this level (11). Teams start to turn semi-pro around Level 9 and then professional in the stratosphere of the two Vanarama Regional divisions. In Division Eight, North Tawton was the only non-reserve side we played. We'll face four (out of eleven sides in the division) next season in Division Seven.

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2 hours ago, Vakama2619 said:

Just curious, what nationality rules exist for the match day squad + registration, how will this change in higher divisions and how will this impact your save?

I think I explained in the first post or two that in my narrative of resettling asylum-seekers, these youths are given a British second nationality, but as I mentioned in a post today, they are not eligible to play for their 2nd (British) nation. The downside of this is that any British club can poach my players without worrying about work permits. Registration won't become relevant until they're old enough (22 is it?). But the key point is - I wangled it so they have a British second nationality.



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Don't worry that I haven't posted today, chaps. I didn't want to give you a blow-by-blow account of preseason friendlies, but they're proving quite the drag. I'll post the story so far while i complete the matches:



I completed my National C coaching badge over the summer, so this season I get to set the general training schedules. I’ll keep it simple with one session of Physical, Attacking and Defending drills every week and a session preparing for the upcoming match to top the week off.

I'm told I've "come on in leaps and bounds" during this course


Amelia called to remind me of the conditions of getting sons of asylum-seeking parents for our team. “One youth per nation or ethnic group on the UNHRC’s books.” Turns out they have 38 on that list at the moment – and we have 38 youths registered. Unless a fresh war or genocide breaks out this year (and I don’t wish that on anybody!), we won’t be able to recruit any more unless we release some (and nobody appears to want to leave voluntarily). And the longer it takes me to decide who to release, the shorter time there is to find a replacement. There’s no urgency right now, but I thanked her for the clarification. I fully intend to trim the squad anyway, probably at the end of preseason.

We accepted an invitation to join an Under 18s league – it seemed like a good opportunity to get game time for our bloated squad. But when the schedule came out, the other sides are youth squads of top semi-pro clubs – I’m not sure receiving weekly hidings is good for anyone. When the squad assembled for preseason training, Jeni had pre-arranged five friendlies. None of our erstwhile Division Eight opponents were willing to play us, so I filled the rest of preseason with matches against our Under 18s.

Jeni had also hired two new staff - a manager and assistant for the Under 18s. The first is a local PE teacher; the second has recently moved to Torquay from Brighton where she was physio for ‘Diversity United’, a project sympathetic to our values. They had some effect on the kids. Before they’d arrived, I’d watch a kick-about between the old squad and the newbies whom I’d placed in the Under 18s, and they looked raw and clueless. Within a couple of weeks, they were transformed – or a good few of them were.

Welcome, ladies



Once everyone in the squad had played a substantial number of minutes (i.e. the bulk of five friendlies each), I was in a position to assess the squad and then try out my first choice over the last two games in August. My experimenting had resulted in moving Burkinabe left-winger Adama Traore (not that one) to striker and integrating at least five new recruits into the first-choice starting line-up. At the same time, I’d identified six kids to be released – defenders El Hacen and Soumare, defensive midfielders Danboy, Muzinga and Murwira (meaning I’d be unable to revert to last season’s tactic if things went wrong), and wingers Warid and newcomer Asrat. As Bizimana and Zangpo kicked up a fuss about losing their first team spots and insisted on leaving, I retained Soumare for now and added those two to the release list. Once Jeni either finds new homes for the leavers or releases them, it will still leave a large squad of 30.

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We were easily beating clubs in the higher echelons of the Devon amateur pyramid in the July games, but in August it became apparent the reason was mostly down to lack of match fitness of the opposition.


Before preseason ended, the Under 18s league was underway. Our kids were slaughtered in their opening games, and in September they were due to play the likes of Havant & Waterlooville and Kidderminster Under 18s. I wasn’t going to be had up for child cruelty, so I moved them to the Under 21 squad where they will play friendlies we arrange, and the National League Football Academy South-West division can go hang.

U18 fix.png

Just as preseason drew to a close, I completed my second licence. Now I can set general training for the U18s (even though the squad is empty and two staff redundant).

I needed all those matches to complete my experimentation, and I've settled on this tactic and match-day squad.


My feeling is that this specific set of players can take us comfortably to the title. However, if and when we lose any to injuries or departures, there's a major gap to their back-ups in the Under 21 squad, especially in defence and midfield.

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We started our league campaign with a narrow 2-1 win over the reserves of Newton St. Cyres outside Exeter.

instagrammable village klaxon!

Newton St Cyres.png

Our tactics have changed very little since last season; the ‘old campaigners’ are very familiar with it and the new boys have slotted in well, demonstrating better team coherence than I ever saw last season. Nevertheless, there was understandable rustiness in the legs and minds, something to expect over the opening two or three fixtures. My only concern is with Asymekov, constantly in demand and consistently quite poor over preseason – the problem is he’s our only speedy defender and without him I would have to radically alter the defensive tactics.

We hosted Priory of Exeter next where I started Traore and Abdullah as they’d scored in the friendly match-up the previous season – that selected tipped the balance in a very tight 3-2 victory, and then travelled to Lympstone (which I introduced you to last season) and beat their reserves in one of those crazy ‘tactics are for the birds’ all-out-attack games, as the 7-4 score indicates. Some of the new kids couldn’t manage a third match in three weeks, so the bench players have had minutes too. Led by our Ethiopian star winger Chernet Manyazewal earning his third Player of the Match in three, we surged to the top of the table.

Manny, by far our best player, cutting in from either flank.


And badge up people! We're bringing a level of professionalism to this league


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In October we crammed in five matches, mostly at home against opponents who started the season badly. I’d made some fine adjustments - analysing ongoing minor problems with Asymbekov’s form suggested that he doesn’t get on with fellow centre back Hussain, so I tried partnering him with the new lad from Hong Kong, Ho Lok Tsun and it did make a marginal difference. I’m also finding South Sudanese defender Tala Majak’s versatility very useful, either using him off the bench or filling in for any tired player along the back line.

Injuries are starting to kick in, but at the same time after taking a few batterings, the Under 21 squad is starting to show some form, leading me to think most of them could step in for league appearances when required.

For a while there, I thought the pattern seemed set. It’s tedious in the extreme knowing you’re in a perma-winning season. I normally quit these saves, but in this one I reason that given my club facilities, recruitment, Head of Youth Development etc are not evolving, the quality of new intakes should stay the same, and at some point, we’ll come up short.

For this season, we’ve played 40% of our league matches in the first two months and on closer inspection, you’ll note that most of them were actually very tight duels. Our next match is potentially the trickiest of the season, away to Hatherleigh. Here on in, we play two games per month, so I’ll only post if ‘something’ happens; otherwise, I’ll just keep going until the end of the season, which will take me some time.


visiting the obligatory thatched roofs on the way to a game (Sandford here)


nobody wants to see this - win, win and tedious win

results to oct.png


Crowds are way up though - we have season ticket holders! Last season, we had 20 paying spectators on average. I think we've quadrupled that already.

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We visited – and sacked and pillaged – some lovely villages. The first was Hatherleigh, the purported main rival for the title – when we strolled through them and chalked up a 4-1 win, I sensed we were kicking into gear and would put clear blue water between us and the other nine teams in our division soon enough.




Hatherleigh - far side of Dartmoor. Thatched cottages klaxon.png


Cheriton Fitzpaine

Cheriton Fitzpaine.png


Otterton - post-match snack before heading home

otterton - post-match snack before heading home.png

I haven't posted locations of teams in the city of Exeter, so outside of that here is our regional metropolis - Exmouth


One of our tier 19 divisional rivals has its own Facebook page


I never met our revolving door of so-called scouts – that’s Jeni’s job. She generally taps up people who’ve seen the next opposition team played recently and gets a few hints. I chatted to her and suggested we really didn’t need intel on clubs in our division. I wanted to spread the net more widely, and asked her to contact people who knew the better teams in the higher divisions in our branch of the amateur pyramid. I went to a few midweek games myself. By the end of the season, we had a clear picture – right up to the Premier division in tier 12, the quality of player didn’t change that much. There is, however, a bit of a quantum leap between tiers 12 and 11, a point where teams are amateur, but players are either ex-semi-pro or have the quality to be so. The implication is, therefore, that even without substantial improvement in our staff, facilities or youth intake, we can climb out of the nine levels of Devon & Exeter divisions.

In the downtime weekends between league fixtures, I put the first team in those matches the Under 18s were scheduled to play. Even against Vanarama South Under 18 sides, we were outplayed. We do have a ceiling. To wander back off-narrative for a moment more, I’ve got strikers with CA2/PA2 who are excelling in this division; Manyazewal matched his PA last season and cannot improve – he doesn’t need to. Much of my first team squad might max out their CA this season, but even with PA considerably below 10, they are young enough to smash one league after another for years, and with each intake I will naturally drop the non-performers for fresh blood who will improve the overall quality of the squad even if they don’t exceed PA10.

However, the factor that would fatally undermine this presumption is whether or not we could retain the best players.  Our squad of 31 seemed loyal, many bids were coming in for a handful of our best players, either transfers or trials, and all were rejected – but for how long? Even if I can wait nine years to get off this branch, why would they, whose playing careers are far shorter? If Manny for example were to accept an offer to move to a tier 13 or 14 club and be a first team regular, he’d have a good chance of being spotted by scouts for Exeter City or Torquay United. The chance to dream would be solace for his family, who are complaining about the British food and such matters, hindering their ability to truly settle in their adopted homeland.

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My apologies to those of you enjoying this thread: my decade old rig is creaking with this 20-level database. I've indicated above how tedious the next few years will be until we get up to around level 11 or 12. At the speed at which I can process, it will try your patience and mine beyond a tolerable threshold.

My last thread was a save using a 13-tier Scottish database and that ran just fine. The FM24 version is now out, so after my customised modifications (adding my beloved Highlands and Islands) clubs to the system, and Daveincid's FM24 files are out, I'm going to restart with a Scottish adventure, porting over my asylum-seekers scenario to the most beautiful if remote corner of Europe.

I hope some of you will forgive me and indulge me in enjoying pictures of Scottish villages when I start my new narrative in a few days.


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