Anyone who witnessed Ebbsfleet United’s last play-off campaign cannot forget the name of Michael West. Two goals in each of the three ties, including THAT overhead kick against Farnborough in the final, placed the young star firmly in Fleet legend. But fate has determined that this time around, Westy will have to watch from the sidelines after a cruel knee injury at Whitehawk ended his season. So as his teammates prepare to limber up for the Bromley game, Westy talks to FleetOnline about the 2010-11 campaign and how he envisages the future.
It’s a cliche that form goes out the window in the play-offs. Fleet didn’t win one of their last three games getting into the play-offs last time round, yet breezed through the Chelmsford and Farnborough matches. What was the feeling going into the Chelmsford semi-final then? Were there any doubts, especially as we’d lost to them only two weeks before?
I personally felt we were always going to win with the ability we had in our team, and I think that mentality went throughout the team not just me personally and the results showed that. I don’t think there were any doubts because everyone believed in themselves and form goes out the window in play-off games.
You were obviously the star of that campaign, with six goals. What are your recollections of it? Did you feel like everything just came together at the right time?
They are still to this day my best footballing memories. Yeah, I think everything was going our way especially in the final where as a team performance it was probably our best game all season, with everyone deserving man of the match.
What sort of preparation did the squad undergo? Was it all quite low key to keep your feet on the ground, or did any of you feel the pressure?
Back then under Liam Daish, nothing changed for the play-off games. We went into every match with the same mentality to win, it didn’t matter who we played or whether it was a play-off final. As a team we knew we had a good chance of winning and we wanted to win. I think that’s why we got promoted because every player didn’t think we could lose. That helped us throughout the season, an example being when we were the better team in the FA Cup run we had against AFC Wimbledon. We showed the ability we had and personally I thought we should have won.
You’ve now spent a fair amount of time with this season’s squad. How do the two groups of players compare from your different spells at Fleet?
Every team you play for each season is a little bit different, but the way the lads throughout the club have accepted me into the group so quickly is a huge bonus for me, considering my confidence levels were low, so it helped me personally. The ability in each individual player this year is higher and the desire to win, even in training or five-a-side, is brilliant. And I think that shows on matchdays when it really counts. So the only real difference between then and now is the training, which comes down to the manager and coaching staff. I also think people forget this is most players’ first season with Ebbsfleet, and to be where we are shows that the club is going in the right direction.
If Fleet are successful in this campaign, who do you think is this season’s Michael West, the man who could really unlock the opposition?
Like I previously said, the ability in all the players is high and I think that every single one of them can perform to the best of their ability. The desire and ability to win it can certainly come from any of our forward players. I’ve seen that already in the short period back here.
Is your overhead kick against Farnborough in the final the best goal you’ve ever scored?
Obviously the overhead goal means more to me and the club given the situation, but the Luton goal to equalise in the Premier game is my personal favourite, being 2-0 down and coming back to draw in 10 minutes was a good feeling, especially with their 2,000 travelling fans there.
Can you recall how you felt in the dying moments of that final, when Farnborough (led by Daryl McMahon!) scored twice in the last few minutes?
I know exactly how I felt taking the kick-off after they scored their second goal. “We are not going to muck this up!” is exactly what I shouted at the team, and thankfully shortly after we scored to give us that two-goal cushion.
Have you any words of advice for the players going into this campaign? Will you be conducting a Michael West masterclass into how win the play-offs?!
I’m still one of the younger players in this team, and I don’t think the boys need any advice from me. They all know what the prize is and that in itself will urge the players on and hopefully get us back in the Premier division.
What swung it for you to come back to the Fleet from Crewe? Did you have any other offers that you seriously considered?
Things started off really well up there, but as time went on living on my own took its toll and I stopped enjoying football and forgot what got me there in the first place. But these things happen and I have learned a lot in my time at Crewe. There were a few other higher division clubs that were interested but I saw the desire where Ebbsfleet as a club want to go, and that swayed me.
Have you changed as a player since the move to Crewe? Did the full-time training develop your game significantly?
I wouldn’t say I have changed much as a player, just I’ve learned a lot more and played different positions so if anything it’s made me a more well-rounded player, so I think I’ve developed.
The ownership and management at Ebbsfleet has changed since you left, but did it feel much like the same club when you returned?
A lot has changed in my time away from Ebbsfleet, but it’s all for the better – and of course it still feels like my second home.
Obviously, you must be gutted about missing out. Despite, the injury, will you be involved at the club and with your teammates leading up to these play-off games?
Yeah, I am gutted to not be able to play the remaining games of the season, as I felt I was getting fitter and growing in confidence with every game, but of course I’ll be there in the changing rooms and the stand watching the lads.
And speaking of the injury, what’s the prognosis on it? Have you got a target date for a return?
I have just had the staples removed, and should hopefully be starting to walk in three to four weeks’ time, and then we go from there with the physio and training to hopefully get back in the next seven months. But with things like your knee you can’t rush it given the risk of developing further injuries.
How will you be spending your time in the months you’re out? Is it just a matter of recuperating, getting fit and waiting – or have you other things to occupy yourself with in that time?
I really have to take every week as it comes and do the right things in accordance to what my knee can take. It’s going to be a long process but I have to do things right so I can come back even stronger than before I got injured.
A version of this interview appears in the Fleet v Bromley matchday programme.