Friday, 22 October 2021

Football coach who's competing with ‘big boys’

WHEN I arrive at Kings Park, AFC Bournemouth’s training ground, at the end of a morning session, Simon Weatherstone is still busy

WHEN I arrive at Kings Park, AFC Bournemouth’s training ground, at the end of a morning session, Simon Weatherstone is still busy.

With just days to go until the start of the new Premier League season, he is working with club captain Tommy Elphick on diagonal passes.

Weatherstone, a former professional who was born and raised in Woodcote, is the Cherries’ first team coach, working with manager Eddie Howe and assistant Jason Tindall on training and developing players.

“We have a real honest group here,” he says. “If you go back to when Ed and Jason first came in some of the players are the same and they’ve been brought on by the coaches.

“For me, that’s down to Ed and JT. I could be biased because I work with them but they’re top people too. With me being a few years younger, I learn from them.”

Weatherstone, 35, has been sports-mad since he was a young boy growing up in Woodcote.

He lived with his father Martin, who still lives in the village, and mother Jennifer, who has since remarried and lives in south-west London, and brothers Giles, now 38, and Rosco, 34.

The boys all went to Woodcote Primary School and then Langtree School, where they played a range of sports ? football, rugby, cricket and golf or tennis depending on the time of year.

However, football was where Weatherstone showed most promise. He recalls: “Me and my brothers all grew up playing football and played with our best friends. Everything we learned was self-taught from a young age.” The boys were about seven when they started using the playing fields at the Oratory School without permission so they could develop their skills on a better surface.

Weatherstone says: “We would sneak on to the cricket field. This bit of grass was probably only a bit bigger than an 18-yard box. We used to get kicked off every day by the staff. We got kicked off and then we would go back on, get kicked off and go back on.

“I used to play there even when I was a professional ? me and Rosco. It got to the stage where we knew the staff. One went, ‘how old are you guys now?’ and we said, ‘we’re 24’. He goes, ‘you know what? Just use it because you treat it better than our students.”

He was just six when he began playing for Crowmarsh Boys. He stayed there until he was 11 when he signed for Oxford United, the club with whom he would turn professional.

“I started as a professional when I was 16,” he says. “I had played at Crowmarsh until the under-11s but I always played a year ahead of myself in the older age group.

“That was because I was so keen when I was younger. There wasn’t a team for my age so I played a year up.

“I was in Oxford’s school of excellence from 11 playing against other professional teams on a Sunday.”

He was 17 when he made his debut for the first team in a 2-0 defeat by Port Vale in the old Division 1 (now the Championship) in April 1997.

Then Oxford manager Dennis Smith told the midfielder he was ahead of his time. Weatherstone recalls: “He told me I was like a number 10 but not really an attacking midfielder ? what we would call a 9.5 now, somewhere between centre forward and attacking midfield.

“I could play centre-mid or further up. Dennis Smith and Malcolm Crosby, who was the assistant manager, were saying ‘you’re playing a position 10 years before your time’. There was a lot of straight 4-4-2 back then and no 4-4-1-1, 3-5-2 or  4-2-3-1.”

Weatherstone spent the first five years with “The Us”, making 27 starts and 29 substitute appearances and scoring four goals.

He then played for a number of clubs including Boston United, Yeovil Town, Stevenage, Weymouth, Crawley Town and Eastbourne Borough. It was at Weymouth where he first met  Tindall.

He retired in 2011 but having  completed his coaching badges up to the second highest level at UEFA A, he landed a job at Burnley where Howe and Tindall had recently moved after a first successful spell at Bournemouth.

Weatherstone, who now lives in Bournemouth with his girlfriend of four years, says: “I used to support them on the training ground with the first team plus I was one of the senior scouts.

“When they made the trip back to Bournemouth in October 2012 I stayed at Burnley and was promoted to under-21s coach under Sean Dyche, Ian Woan and Tony Loughlan. It was huge for me.

“One of the biggest things I can say is that Ed and Sean have completely different styles of coaching.” Weatherstone followed Howe and Tindall to Dean Court in January 2014 when Burnley were on their way to promotion to the Premier League.

However, the clubs swapped places at the end of last season when the Lancashire club were relegated while Bournemouth finished top of the Championship.

Weatherstone says there was a positive atmosphere at both clubs as they fought to compete with the big boys such as Chelsea and Manchester City.

“When I left Burnley there was an unbelievable feeling around the club and the spirit of the lads when I came to Bournemouth was very similar,” he says. “I felt an aura around the place ? there was belief. We missed the play-offs that year by about six points.

“We gave it a good push and the momentum took us into last season. “Everyone grew together ? the players, the backroom staff, even the office workers and, of course, the fans.

“The stadium is a tight environment and you can hear everything. Every home game is sold out.

“It’s hard to explain but there was just an electricity around the club. If we had a negative result people wanted to bounce straight back and we would.

“It was similar to the Burnley promotion year when it just felt right.”

Weatherstone says that despite the fact the Cherries are now in the “biggest league in the world” with players who are multi-millionaires, he, Howe and Tindall agree that they want their club to be about coaching and developing players.

“Ed is not just a man manager, he’s a top coach,” he says. “That mix is key. The same with JT, he’s a top coach too. “For me as an individual, I am pleased to have joined with them. I want to bring players on, not just bring them in.

“A player needs to develop. You never stop learning as a player or a coach, you need to evolve.

“Bournemouth is a learning environment. Players are here to improve technically and tactically, hence the transformation of this football club since Ed and JT took over.

“The most important thing is staying in the Premier League. It’s the best league in the world and it’s intense. “For a club like ours we have to embrace it because you might only get one opportunity.

“We’re going to embrace it and enjoy it and evolve from the experience. We’re going to learn as individuals and learn as a team.”

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