Whitehill Welfare manager Gary Small has revealed he has had to rebuild his squad from top to bottom ahead of Saturday’s Lowland League opener at Selkirk.
The former Tranent Juniors boss took up the position in Rosewell last month after a six-month hiatus from the game, only to discover he had just two players under contract from last season’s disappointing campaign in which predecessor David Bingham lead the club to a mid-table finish.
Small admitted the last month or so had revolved around ensuring he had enough bodies for this weekend’s trip to the Borders, Whitehill finishing their pre-season off with a 1-1 draw against Midlothian rivals and Junior outfit, Newtongrange Star, on Tuesday night.
However, the 34-year-old now has a signed quota of 23, not to mention the club’s under-20 squad, and believes he has enough talent to call upon.
“It’s been a right busy time and tough getting a squad together – make no mistake about it,” Small explained. “In terms of where we’re at right at this moment the start of the season has probably come around too quickly for us. I’ve had to build a brand new squad from scratch having had just Ross Jardine, our under-20s goalkeeper who is 17, and striker Connor Brydon, who is currently out injured.
“But even before I took the job the one thing I also spoke about with the committee was changing the whole environment at the club as it’s not just about putting together a winning team out on the park. I’m under no illusions that is going to be a learning process for us all so it is going to take time. Everyone seems to have bought into that idea so we’re pulling in the same direction.
“We’d love to be at the top end challenging but we have to be realistic. One thing for sure, though, is we will be competitive. I am happy with what I’ve been able to bring in and the players have responded.”
One individual who won’t be donning the claret and blue this term, though, is midfielder Stevie Manson who, after six years at Ferguson Park, has decided to call time on his football career. Small, however, revealed he did all he could to persuade the former Craigroyston player to extend his stay.
“I tried to talk Stevie around but he’d made up his mind he was hanging up his boots,” said Small, who also lost his No.2 Grant Scott to Stirling University last week. “I respect his decision and he’s been a great servant to the club, but we now have to focus on the players that are here. His experience would have been a real bonus but we’ve brought in some experienced guys so they’ll need to help the younger ones out.
“We’ll be as ready as we can be come Saturday. We’ve been using a few of the 20s players during pre-season and a couple of them have shown up really well so they’ll come into the mix. We’re certainly not underestimating Selkirk, that’s for sure. They’ve spent a lot of money in bringing in some good players so anyone thinking it will be the Selkirk from last season is kidding themselves. I think they will comfortably finish in the top half this year.
“I’ve got a rough idea of the team I will go with but you just never know how things are going to go until the season kicks off. What we have seen is a gradual improvement in our pre-season games from the players. We’re not where we want to be but it’s over to the guys to go and show us they are ready for the challenge.
“As much as pre-season is a necessity for the fitness levels, the guys are buzzing for the start of the season now. We’ve gotten to know each other and I’ve put my ideas across so they’re champing at the bit.”
Meanwhile, Civil Service Strollers begin their second season as a Lowland League club when they visit Gretna 2008 on Saturday. The Christie Gillies Park outfit have fared well in pre-season, defeating a Hearts Under-20s side 2-1 nine days ago while also drawing 1-1 with a Hibs Under-20s team two days beforehand.
Manager Alex Cunningham’s team lit up the division last season with some sterling performances and should be aiming to improve on their 11th-place finish last term.
Defender Kyle Fee and striker James Hainey should be useful additions having joined from East of Scotland outfit Leith Athletic, with Spartans’ Andy Mair also making the move across the city.
Elsewhere, Edinburgh University begin the 2017/2018 season when they host Cumbernauld Colts at East Peffermill. Boss Dorian Ogunro is likely to be missing some key personnel with many of his students still away over the summer break.