Published: 06:00, 17 September 2020
| Updated: 06:41, 17 September 2020
Lockdown came at just the right time for Ramsgate – on and off the pitch.
It meant a torrid season at the wrong end of the Isthmian South East division came to an early end.
But it also gave manager Matt Longhurst – installed at Christmas – and chairman James Lawson the opportunity to reshape the club off the field.
“We’ve spent five months building and changing the football club to how we want it to look,” said Longhurst.
“When I came to the club it was a mess, there was no structure to the way we played, no links to the youth set-up.”
Longhurst joined Ramsgate after leaving East Grinstead, attracted by the long-term vision of the club under Lawson’s charge.
“It was the reason I went there,” he recalled. “I’d just come out of East Grinstead as I had taken them as far as I could.
“I was about to go as a coach at a National League South club when James rang me and said he wanted me and told me what he was trying to build.
“You always get people who say things and they end up being crazy ideas but all the stuff he said we’ve implemented.
“We’ve got 600 kids in the youth set-up, 91 coaches – the potential is unbelievable – and we want to engage those kids at first-team matches.
“If the crowds go up then you can build the team alongside it.
“But I’m not that short-sighted that we’re going to go from bottom three to league champions in 12 months, that’s not realistic. This is about having a long-term vision.
“We need to win games of football this season but success for me is long-term.”
So what constitutes success for Ramsgate this season?
“We want the supporters to feel the team is part of the club, so they know all the players and everyone feels together,” said Longhurst.
“I’d want to keep the crowd at 400, have people engaged with the club, build that interaction and keep the nucleus of the squad. If we can do that, then everything else will take care of itself.”
On the field, Longhurst has attracted Ryan Johnson, a player he has worked with before, to the club from Maidstone.
“Ryan is a talented player but also a good coach who I want the younger players at the club to learn from,” said Longhurst.
“Will Thomas is 21 but he’ll learn so much from playing alongside Ryan this season.
“You can have senior players in your squad but I’ve got to have them who then help others around them.
“Ryan played alongside George Elokobi last season so he’ll use that experience in our squad.”
Despite all the planning, Longhurst’s plans have not exactly fallen into place in pre-season.
You can’t legislate for injuries and unforeseen absence, but it’s meant a tricky start to the new campaign, including a 3-0 home FA Cup defeat to Chipstead last weekend.
They face a testing trip to Chichester on the opening day followed by a home clash with Ashford so Longhurst is realistic with what he expects from his team.
“In those first couple of games we need to be resolute against two decent teams if we’re going to pick up points,” said Longhurst.
“We won’t be the best version of Ramsgate on day one as we haven’t been together for two years. Ask me in a couple of years on the first day of the season and I’ll give you a different answer.
“We’ve put a new group together but we’ve had people missing. Ashley Miller and Rory Smith didn’t play last weekend, James Morrish missed two weeks in pre-season due to work, Tom Chapman went two weeks without training. They’re not excuse, they are facts.
“We’ve gone from looking really settled and having a good pre-season to Saturday when the team went out there without the level of preparation that we wanted.
“You build partnerships in pre-season across the pitch and we weren’t able to do that.
“We’re likely to bring in one or two players this week which is not a choice I would normally make but that’s what we’ve got to do.”
First four league games: Sat Sep 19: Chichester (a), Sat Sep 26: Ashford (h), Tue Oct 6: East Grinstead (a), Sat Oct 10: Three Bridges (h).