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Ashley strives for the top

30 October 2013

Goalkeeping coach always looking for new ideas

It’s often said when football teams are going through tough times that they need big personalities around the place to help them come through – and Ashley Bayes certainly fits into that category at AFC Wimbledon.

 For those who missed it in Saturday’s Oxford United match day programme, we today reproduce the interview with Ashley (pictured above right congratulating Jordan Knight after his appearance for the first-team at Dartford in pre-season). Wimbledon’s full-time goalkeeping coach talks in-depth about his coaching methods, playing a part in success at Stevenage, and his first spell with the Dons under Dave Anderson.

Ashley Bayes set-up his return to AFC Wimbledon by contacting Neal Ardley as soon as he heard the club wanted a full-time goalkeeping coach. He made a big impression on the training pitch from the word go – and not just because he is the loudest character at first-team sessions at New Malden, but also with his coaching philosophy and enthusiasm.

As soon as he had signed on the dotted line at AFC Wimbledon during the summer, Ashley Bayes was bending the ears of Wimbledon’s Academy coaches about working with their young goalkeepers. Under-18 stopper Jordan Knight has described Ashley’s coaching sessions as an “eye-opener” and first-team goalkeeper Ross Worner constantly refers to him as a great goalkeeper coach.

Ashley, who made his first-team debut at Brentford as a 17-year-old and has played for 10 other clubs, already holds the UEFA B Goalkeeping Coaching licence, and he is dedicated to making it to the top in his second career.

“With me, what you see is what you get, and I’m a bubbly character,” Ashley said. But he knows that has to be tempered with professionalism: “There’s a line you cross when you get onto the training pitch. I’m enjoying the challenge so far, but I’m keen to keep learning and I want to get to the top as a goalkeeping coach. From day one, I wanted the young goalkeepers with us to learn from the senior professionals.

  “Our two young scholars, Jordan Knight and Billy Bishop, are doing well and they’re learning all the time. I have known Ross for a long time, and he will tell you that I basically run his life! I was his goalkeeping coach at Aldershot, but Ross got a really bad back injury and it was a tough challenge to keep him mentally strong and focused – but he came through. I expect high standards on and off the pitch and that goes for Seb Brown too. I know Paul Priddy, and he did a great job with Seb, but I’m a different type of coach. I’m always aiming to bring in new ideas. Seb was not in a good place when I first arrived, for whatever reason, but I had a long chat with him. Now he’s in good physical and mental shape – and long may that continue.

“We have a good structure in place here. The start of the week is in some ways the toughest for the goalkeepers because we start as we mean to go on, and as we get towards Saturdays we start working towards a game. I video the training sessions and get the breakdown of goalkeeping footage from games clipped. I can then sit down with the goalkeepers and run through any aspects that they need to improve on. I’ll do anything to make them better goalkeepers. There’s always something that you can take out of a training session or a match. It may be positioning or decision-making, but if it’s good or bad it’s well worth taking a look.”

Such attention to detail certainly fits in well with Neal Ardley’s coaching philosophy. The Wimbledon manager said when Ashley was appointed back in May that goalkeeping is a specialist position that requires an approach far removed from what he could provide himself. But Ashley says he has already learned a great deal since joining re-joining AFC Wimbledon, a club he helped for a while when Dave Anderson was manager in Ryman League days.

“I’d heard that Wimbledon were looking for a goalkeeper coach, so I made a few phone calls and then I rang Neal myself. I was out of a coaching job after what had happened at Aldershot, but I still had a playing contract with Basingstoke. Thankfully, they were brilliant about it, and as soon as I met Neal Ardley my mind was made up. I wanted to be part of this club with young, enthusiastic staff and good people to work with. I’ve known Bass a long time, from the days when Dave Anderson asked me to come in and help out with coaching for Andy Little. That was when Wimbledon held training sessions under the floodlights at Tolworth. I think Bass must have put a word in for me when this job became available.

“What stood out from day one was Neal’s ideas and the way he talked about taking the club forward. I got the feeling that I’d fit in well and I’m delighted with the decision I made. On a typical day at the training ground, Neal wants the goalkeepers to have a good session with the outfield players, and that’s great because you don’t want them to feel isolated.

“Ards, Coxy, Bass and Shaun North are all great to work with, and we all bounce ideas off each other. I always want to try new ideas to make the goalkeepers better. Coxy is good friends with Kevin Hitchcock, the goalkeeping coach at QPR, and we’ve been invited over there. My friend is the goalkeeping coach at Swansea. It would be good to find the time to get over to those places if we can.”

When Ashley took up his new role in May, the idea was for him to be used as a back-up goalkeeper in times of emergency, but after he suffered a knee injury suffered in a development match, plans for a possible playing comeback have been put aside for now. Though he is not yet thinking of hanging up his gloves at the age of 41, coaching is now his main passion - and that all began more than a decade ago.

“I started coaching 12 years ago when I was at Woking, and it’s all grown from there. I was coaching the kids initially, and on Sundays I still run two coaching schools in Bracknell. My first senior role was working at Aldershot under Dean Holdsworth and then Andy Scott. I have completed my UEFA B Goalkeeping Coaching Licence and I am awaiting confirmation to start studying for the A qualification. I’m always looking to improve and I continually talk to people within the game to get new ideas.”

There are certainly plenty of people for Ashley to call on for advice. He’s been in football for 25 years since he left his home city of Lincoln when he was 16 to join Brentford, where he signed YTS forms and later signed a professional contract after impressing Steve Perryman. That led to a first-team debut as a 17-year-old at Griffin Park, and he also earned England youth international honours.

“I had trials with several professional clubs, but Brentford spotted me when I was playing for the Lincolnshire county side. Leaving home to live in digs in London certainly helps you find your feet. You find your independence at a young age, and I think that bodes well for the rest of your career. I played for England from Under-17 level to Under-19. I played in the Under-19s World Cup and roomed with former Spurs goalkeeper Ian Walker. I played against Mexico in that tournament, which was a great experience.

“I’ve played at a lot of clubs, but I stayed for at least three years at most of them. I’ve had a lot of success, including helping Stevenage earn back-to-back promotions, winning two FA Trophies with Grays Athletic and winning the League of Ireland title when I was at Bohemians.”

Ashley made only four senior appearances at Brentford, but he went onto make over 200 Football League appearances during spells at Torquay United, Exeter and Leyton Orient. After his successful year in Ireland in 2002/03, he turned out for Woking, Hornchurch, Grays Athletic, Crawley Town, Stevenage Borough and finally Basingstoke Town. The highlights of this later phase of his playing career were helping Grays and Stevenage to success. Though he only made 10 first-team appearances at Stevenage (he was on the bench for Borough’s two Conference Premier games against the Dons in 2009/10), he believes the experience he gained through working with Graham Westley was invaluable.

“I was at Stevenage when Graham was in charge, and from him I learned a totally different outlook about the game; the mentality about winning, and everything being geared to success. To be successful you need a good team spirit and togetherness, but you also need a balanced squad of young professionals and experienced heads. The squad we had at Stevenage stayed together for two or three years and we built it up together.

“I think we are generating that here at Wimbledon. We have experience, along with up-and-coming players hungry to do well. The biggest thing for me at this club is that the fans are phenomenal for us, home and away. The club is in a much better position than this time last year, and Neal Ardley is trying to play a good brand of football. My message to the fans is for them to stay with us, and hopefully we can push the club forward.”


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