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How a holiday in Dubai helped Tonbridge Angels manager Jay Saunders sign Lewis Gard from Southend United

A holiday to Dubai helped Tonbridge boss Jay Saunders complete the signing of Southend midfielder Lewis Gard.

Saunders, having held initial talks with Gard, had a result when he arrived at the airport and bumped into Shrimpers assistant boss Darren Currie.

Lewis Gard with Tonbridge boss Jay Saunders. Picture: Phil Broad
Lewis Gard with Tonbridge boss Jay Saunders. Picture: Phil Broad

Not only was Currie on the same flight, he was in the same hotel as Saunders, and, inevitably, the subject of Gard came up.

Gard has played League 1 and League 2 football at Roots Hall and made a handful of National League appearances last season.

He was in boss Kevin Maher’s thoughts for the new campaign but the 22-year-old was keen to play regular football and decided to leave the club he joined aged eight.

“I had a chat with Lewis a few weeks back, and then he was away at the same time as me,” said Saunders.

“What did me a favour was going to Dubai and Darren Currie being on my plane and staying in the same hotel.

“I was hopeful we’d get Lewis over the line and Darren helped twist his arm a little bit more for me.

“There were a lot of clubs in for him at our level and I think, if he’d not had a couple of injury setbacks, he’d still playing in the Football League.

“It’s a good opportunity for him to come and play regular football, he’s really hungry and when we met and he left the ground I had a feeling he was going to sign.

“He’s a good lad, he’s good in the dressing room, which is important, and I’m looking forward to working with him.

“If we get him going and get a good pre-season in him, he could be a big player for us.”

Gard made his Southend debut in a 3-0 win at Oldham in League 1 four years ago.

He remains highly thought of but Tonbridge got their man.

“One thing Darren said was they thought he might be the one that’s going to come back and bite them,” added Saunders.

“They were going to talk about keeping him but Lewis went in and said he wanted to go out and play regularly, so Southend said, ‘OK, we’re not going to stand in your way’.

“When we had a chat, what I liked was he’d done a bit of homework on the club and myself.

“He said he’d seen I’d moved a lot of players into the Football League and full-time football and that’s where he wants to be.

Jay Saunders has been reunited with Mason Saunders-Henry. Picture: Ian Clear
Jay Saunders has been reunited with Mason Saunders-Henry. Picture: Ian Clear

“That was good to hear, he’s excited by the 3G pitch going down and I think he could be a very good signing for us.”

Tonbridge have also signed winger Mason Saunders-Henry from Welling.

Saunders signed the player while in charge at Margate only for Covid to curtail the season days later.

He went on to join Welling but had a brief spell back at Gate on a dual-registration agreement.

Saunders was impressed and there was further endorsement of his talent from ex-Wings boss Peter Taylor.

“Whenever I’ve seen him, he’s always impressed me,” said the Angels manager.

“I asked Peter Taylor how he did for him when he went back to Welling and he said was excellent, that if he went back into management somewhere else, he wouldn’t hesitate to take him.

“He’s got bundles of potential, he loves getting on the ball and taking people on.

“He’s one of those, when he’s on the ball, you feel something’s going to happen.

“He’s only 22, so he’s a good age, young enough that we can work with him and improve him, but not so young where he doesn’t know what the level is about.

“He’s got a bit of experience, which is good for what we want to do.”

Saunders hopes to complete one or two more deals by the end of the week but will take his time.

“There’s been a few where I think they’re done and then they get held up,” he said.

“It’s frustrating but, at the same time, I won’t rush on anyone. I’d rather get the ones we want that will suit us.

“We’re playing a waiting game on one or two but I’d like to think we’ll have one, if not a couple, done by the end of the week.”

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