Matty Hayward – @mattyhayward96
Signing new centre backs is a bit like painting your skirting boards. Get it right, and they’ll pretty much go unnoticed. They’re just there. Doing their job. No fuss. Get it wrong and you look a right mug, your weekends are ruined, and in a month’s time you’re paying through the nose for someone else to do the job for you.
On Monday, in the midst of a 30-minute YouTube video (which I have now had to watch twice(!) for this piece), Gary Johnson announced the additions of Gary Warren and Fraser Kerr to his squad. Assuming the contractual i’s and t’s are dotted and crossed, the two centre backs are set to form a key part of next season’s spine. But who are they? What’s their style? From whence do they hail? Allow me…
Gary Warren played Peter in the 1970 film The Railway Children. Oh, no, wait. That’s a different Gary Warren. Our Gary Warren was born in Bristol and started his senior career with Mangotsfield United, where he won the Southern League, before captaining Team Bath to Conference South play-off victory. Clearly a natural leader, Warren was immediately appointed captain of his new club – Newport County – who he led to the Conference South title and with whom he was awarded the league’s player of the year. During his time at Newport, quite ridiculously, he represented Great Britain at the World University Games in Shenzhen, scoring in a semi-final win over Brazil, only to be beaten by Japan in the final in front of 35,000 fans. Back on terra firma, Warren moved to Inverness in the summer of 2012 to play under Terry Butcher. Here, he won the Scottish Cup and the Scottish Challenge Cup in his 181 appearances in Scotland (five of his six seasons there were in the top flight). Warren returned to the South West of England in 2018 with Yeovil, then Exeter, before a short stay at Plainmoor last season.
A player with even stronger Scottish links than Warren is Fraser Kerr. Having come through the ranks at Birmingham, the Scotsman moved to Motherwell on loan in 2012, for whom he would sign permanently the following year. Here, in a game where his side battered Rangers 3-0 and secured their place in the Scottish Premiership, Kerr got involved in a “brawl” with opponent Bilel Mohsni, for which they were both dismissed. After Motherwell, he had spells at Cowdenbeath and Stenhousemuir, before dipping south of the border and joining Gateshead in the National League. He was a mainstay in their back four until last summer, when he joined Hartlepool. He has since been released by the Pools and joins Torquay on a permanent deal. Like Warren, in a way, he has represented his country: playing for Scotland’s under 16s, 17s, 19s and 21s.
As you may imagine, YouTube highlight videos for defenders are harder to come by than ones for forwards. Nonetheless, some absolute legend has compiled this homage to Gary Warren’s time at Inverness, soundtracked by a beautifully mixed combination of Charlie Puth and The Script. It does, quite inexplicably, contain one or two aimless hoofs and him missing one quite clear-cut chance. I guess the barrel had to be scraped.
Fraser’s barrel is even more bare. All I can find from him is a Downesy-at-Telford-esque tackle for Motherwell. Fair play, it is worth a watch:
Playing Styles – A View from the Gaffer
We know what sort of player Gary Warren is from his short loan spell at the club. He’s solid, a commanding presence, and is powerful in the air. He adds some much-needed experience to our back line which, at times last season, looked lost at sea. Looking back through his career, too, it’s clear that he’s both a good leader (having captained Bath, Newport and Inverness to success) and a threat from set pieces – another thing we missed last campaign – scoring 46 goals in his senior career to date. The Gaffer says “we’d be silly” not to have brought him back in. At 35, age is obviously a concern, but Johnson reckons he’s “fit and raring to go”, and perhaps his lack of sharpness will be covered for by the speed of Fraser Kerr.
Kerr is 27 and, according to Johnson, “a good athlete” with “good pace,” “and he can play”. He’s spent his last three seasons in the National League, and while not as weathered as Warren, has plenty of football under his belt bringing valuable know-how to the back line. It’s undoubtedly true that our weakness last season was at the back and the addition of two experienced defenders should help us solidify and allow our attacking players’ flair to flourish in the confidence that they won’t have to score three times every game to win.
From what GJ says, it looks possible – maybe even likely – that we’ll begin the season with a back three. This will help mask Warren’s potential sluggishness and hopefully create a more solid base from which we can build our team. If that is the case, the three senior centre backs we currently have at the club (these two, plus Kyle Cameron) probably aren’t enough. I’d hope – expect – that if we are to play a back three, we’ll be looking for some backup in the loan market, because I don’t like the idea of relying on Asa Hall and – to a lesser extent – Ben Wynter covering those roles.
Similarly, we still seem to be stretched in the full back positions. Wynts and Davis are very able first-choices, but I’d rather we weren’t relying on them to stay fit all season, and that we had some supporting options in reserve. The squad would benefit from Gary dipping back into chartered territory and offering Jackson Longridge and/or Joe Lewis second spells at the club to provide cover across the back line. The additions of the players who will henceforth be known as Dawlish and Juan are welcome, but we ought not to skirt around the potential problems a thin squad could cause.
COYY – Matty