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Malcolm reflects on season Flackwell Heath came so close to perfection

For the first season in ‘forever’, Graham Malcolm is not directly involved in managing or coaching football clubs and players.

For the past four years he’s been living in Spain, close to the border of Gibraltar, where he’s worked with a number of Gibraltan clubs, even coaching one of them to promotion to the country’s Premier League.

He’s loved putting on sessions for players and managers and working for clubs that can - if successful - qualify for the early stages of the Europa and Champions League.

However, it’s never felt quite the same as those incredible few years he spent at the helm of Flackwell Heath.

Over the course of a few seasons, Malcolm took the Heathens from being a middling step five level side to being one of the most successful in the competition’s history. In 2014/15 they won the Hellenic Premier League title at a canter, losing just one game in the process.

And they backed that up with an achievement Malcolm ranks as being just as special, a cup treble of the League Cup, the Wycombe Senior Cup and the Berks & Bucks Senior Trophy the following season.

They were heady days indeed for Heathens fans and, unfortunately for those still involved at the club, they have yet to be repeated.

Malcolm is currently under strict lockdown conditions in Spain. He can walk the dog 100m each day or visit the shops for essentials. It’s day 30 at home and he’s keen for a bit of escapism, to reflect on happier times.

“The year before (the title win), we had won the last 10 league games, so the signs were there,” he says. “We then signed Danny Burnell and Jamie Handscombe and a couple of centre backs, and I always remember Shoney (Paul Shone) saying ‘we’re going to win the league’.

“Shoney is always positive like that but he genuinely meant it. We got off to a great start by beating two of the favourites, Thatcham Town and Ascot United in our first two games, so two of the main protagonists were out of the way early. And the way things panned out we’d played the better teams before Christmas and had fixtures against sides in the lower half in the latter part of the season.

“You see these things pop up on facebook. It’s five years since winning the league and I’ve got these photos around the house of that day. It was just a fantastic day. We were playing the league’s bottom side Cheltenham Saracens, but they were just really gracious. We knew we were going to win it, it was just about whether we could get to a 100 goal difference, which is a really special achievement.

“We lost just one game all season. To Binfield in September. They came to us and comfortably beat us 3-0. But apart from that we were flying. We reached the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup. Which I still think is a step five record to this day. One round away from the first round. It’s mad.”

From a personal point of view Malcolm would have loved to have led the Heathens into step four football, but when the club was switched into the South West league, chairman Terry Glynn took the difficult decision to pass up on promotion.

“Of course it was a disappointment,” said Malcolm. “But only from a personal point of view, not from a club viewpoint. Terry made the right decision for the club. If we’d have played in the South West division we’d have needed to take coaches to 16 matches. And the players would have wanted more for all that travel.

“Logically it was the right thing to do. Of course I regret it sitting here but it was the right decision.”

Despite remaining in the Hellenic League, the Heathens managed to keep hold of the majority of the squad the following season. More success followed. They finished third in the table but lifted three cups.

“The Berks and Bucks Cup was the big one. We played Newport Pagnell who were a very good side and they came to win,” he said. “We beat them 2-0 but they were by far the better side in the first half. I’d not seen a team play that way against us but somehow we found a way. It was the same in the League Cup final when we were 1-0 down to Brackley Town with 15 minutes to play and came back to win 2-1 in 90 minutes.

“They found a way. That sort of mentality comes from the top, and when I say the top I mean the chairman down. I still speak to Mitchell (Woodward) and Sturg (Ben Sturgess) and it’s wonderful to talk about it because they always remember something different about that time. In some ways the treble was the better, harder, achievement. But the league was also special. If you play 38 games and lose just one, it must have been.

From a footballing point of view, life in Spain hasn’t panned out exactly as Malcolm would have hoped, but he knew the move was always going to be a leap into the dark.

“It’s not gone exactly as I would have hoped,” he says. “But then who would have known how it would pan out.

“I worked for three years with some senior clubs, but for some reason it just never felt quite right.

“I worked as the assistant manager of a club called FC Olympic, and we finished runners up and got promoted to the Premier League, which was a wonderful thing. I was putting on loads of coaching sessions which I really enjoyed. But my strength is working with and knowing the players, and in Gibraltar I didn’t get that opportunity. I didn’t see them daily and I lost my little, whatever you call it.

“You can speak as many Spanish words as you like, but it’s just a different culture and if you don’t understand the players. Here every team tries to play out like Barcelona, and I’ve enjoyed putting on sessions for managers who want to play in a certain style. But it got to the point where I was thinking ‘If I’m going to do this amount of football, I’d rather go home'.

“That’s how it got. This season I haven’t been coaching for the first time in forever. But you just feel different over here. You can step back a little and it’s not about football 24/7. It’s a slower pace of life, the weather is good, and I’m very, very happy.”

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