Chesham United-James Duncan

Next up on Off the Post is James Duncan the joint manager at Step 3 club Chesham United. He has been at the club since 2019, when he and his joint manager left Potters Bar to move to Chesham. James is a former player who has now transitioned to management. We spoke to him during the 2nd lockdown about the season so far and much much more.

After 7 games of the season, you are just outside of the playoffs. Is that a good start to the season?

I think it’s not a bad position to be in, our goal is to finish in the top 5 this season, so where we are isn’t too far away.  We had a good start to the season, but in a few of those games we 

for various reasons fell short of where we wanted to be.But our form in the last few games before the 2nd lockdown was good. 

You have been with the club just under a year, have you been impressed with how the side has developed?

We feel the club has developed on and off the field in that time. Especially regarding the potential ground move, but we as a management team don’t have the control over that and the finances involved. The crowds have gotten better since we came in, our first game at home had 172 and the first one after lockdown was over 500, which is a massive jump and shows how far the club has come. But there is still room for improvement and we as a club want to bridge the gap with the community and youth teams. In terms of the playing side, i have been impressed with the squad, when we took over last year, it was to keep the club up which we out performed and this year is to finish in the top 5 and be competitive which we are doing. 

How challenging was this pre-season compared to previous years?

It has been the most difficult one. The recruitment of the players and trying to get the right players in was challenging,  but it was also hard to plan with wages and training. It was the most difficult in terms of recruitment , but the majority of players stayed from last season. We only bought in 3 players in the summer to add to a very talented squad we had already. It was also challenging planning games, training around the protocol’s in place. 

What is the team’s target for this season?

This season, our target is to be competitive and be in the top 5 of the league, possibly have a good cup run in the FA trophy as we are out of the FA cup. 

Has the chairman set you any targets for you for the next few years?

The chairman has worked with us as a management team  and wants us to be competitive, 

We both hope we can get the club promoted to Step 2 within the next few years. We have a good setup here with our ground and facilities, but with a new ground on the horizon would allow the club to grow even more and achieve our goals.

What attracted you to Chesham?

The history of the club, as a former non league player i knew about them and their stature in the game.  They are a big club in non league and that was the main attraction to come to the club to come and manage the club. 

What are your ambitions as a manager? 

Manage as the highest level possible.  Both i and Michael Murray are both in full time employment , this is our part time job but if possible for this to change in the future it would be amazing. But football is so unpredictable so you never know. But my ambition while at Chesham is to get them promoted and help them rise up the leagues. 

A lot of managers we have spoken to in pre-season have said your side are the side to beat and are the favourites for the title, does that bring extra pressure?

It does bring extra pressure, if you believe in it. There are a lot of good sides in this league like Truro who were ahead of us last season when the season was stopped. They had a few games in hand, but they will be hard to dislodge again this season. But in the division this season, there might be top 9 or 10 in with a possibility so we will see how it finishes.

Have there been any comings/goings since the summer?

Kept the majority of the squad. We added Jake Cass, Sam Beasant, Lewis Rolfe and BJ. In terms of out goings Dernell Wynter  moved to Harrow borough a few weeks ago. 

Any players we should be looking out for this season?

In terms of a team, they will do well, but as individuals it would be hard to single one out to look out for this season.

What club do you support?

Arsenal

Best moment as a player?

This would be when I was playing for Wealdstone at the age of 19/20. We played Dulwich Hamlet in the play off final on penalties and beat them to get promoted in 2004. I remember that being a great night and a great club to play for. Playing for Hillingdon Borough in the FA Vase final, it was a great occasion to play in a national final. 

Best moment as a manager?

This would be getting promoted with Potters Bar to step 3. We had a great time there and finished second in the division, which was enough to get promoted. During our time there, we were not expected to be up there and get promoted so it was a great achievement. 

Who was the best manager you played under?

Francis Joseph, he’s Zak Joseph’s (a player of Chesham) dad. I played under him at Wealdstone , he had been part of the crazy gang and was great at helping the players with morale and teamwork. He was great to learn from and helped me develop as a footballer which helped me make my first team debut so young. I’m still in contact with him now even though this was over 15 years again and was partly responsible for helping bring Zak to the club. 

How did you develop your coaching during lockdown?

I was working full time throughout it, so i didn’t have much time to develop my coaching, but in my spare time i still managed to listen to some podcasts and take CBD courses online and read a few books. 

Do you watch any other sports for coaching inspiration?

I watch a lot of documentaries on managers and clubs, but i’ll also watch any sport on TV such as golf, tennis etc. I watched the Michael Jordan documentary during the summer and it was very good from a coaching point of view. 

What are the clubs plans for the next 3-5 years?

Get the club promoted and to get the plans completed and hopefully moved into a new stadium. 

How hard was it during lockdown to keep the players fit and motivated and looking after their mental health?

It was difficult to manage, as we didnt know when we would be back. At least with the second one we know we will hopefully be back playing by the 2nd december so we can plan around this. During the 1st lockdown it was hard to know when we would be back training and playing games. But we kept in contact with the squad over zoom and getting their fitness work completed.

Who do you think will win the league this year?

I think there are  a good 8/9 clubs who have a chance of winning it , so i can’t single anyone out to win it.It will be very close and might even go to the last game of the season to decide it!


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