Samo’s Stirling – Season Ten

It took nine seasons overall, six of those in the top tier, but last season we managed to secure the clubs first ever SPL title. Incredible scenes. Chairman, Stewart Brown, obviously felt like he couldn’t eclipse that any further and he decided to relinquish control of the club. The incoming board, with Graeme Mackay at the helm, obviously liked what they’d seen of me in my time at the club so far, as I was instantly awarded with a new deal until 2030. Correct decision, in my opinion.

Once the contract negotiations were out of the way the next order of business was to collaborate on the aims that will underpin my next few years at the club, the Strategy for Stirling. I’ll be touching more on them at the end of the season, but give that post a read if you fancy some ever-so-slightly wanky business speak mixed in with FM.

The board expect us to simply qualify for the Europa League this season, with the media expecting us to do the same, finishing in 3rd place. After the title win last season, plus the consecutive 2nd place finishes in the two seasons before last, I’m confident we can exceed those expectations and challenge for the SPL trophy again.

Transfers

Outgoing

I decided to keep the main bulk of my title-winning side together, so there was no major outgoings in the summer window. I say I decided, we didn’t actually receive any bids for my star men which continues to surprise me. How much longer would we go unnoticed?

It was mainly squad players who’d never be able to break into the first team that left the club over the summer. Australian left back, Daniel Savor, being the biggest sale back home to Melbourne City for a potential £700k. Not a bad little sum for a player who arrived on a free in January 2023. I took a punt on Croat, Dominik Males, a couple of seasons back, but aged 22 at the time, he was older than others who are already well ahead of him in the forward pecking order. He didn’t manage to break into the first team at all last season, so off he went to Ayr for £225k. Other than a few youngsters not quite ready for first team football heading out on loan, the only other outgoing of note was Marcus McGuane leaving for Preston for £200k. He had a couple of great seasons rotating in the Deep Lying Destroyer role when he initially arrived on a free transfer, but he’d fallen way down the pecking order now and spent last season out on loan too.

The January transfer window seems to be when clubs take a shine to some of our stars.

Eze arrived from Enyimba for just £100k at the beginning of last season. He had a fairly decent season out on loan at Hamilton, before staking a claim for a first team spot this season. After a total of just 23 appearances for the club off he goes to Swansea for a new Stirling record sale of a potential £11.5m plus 40% of his next sale. As is mentioned in the strategy post, sales like this are vital to keeping the club growing and on the way to that target of £100m in the bank.

After six and a half seasons, 243 appearances, 68 goals and 71 assists…club icon, Lewis Vaughan, leaves.

It’s always tough to let such a good servant go, but he wanted a new challenge and was finding himself increasingly out of favour on the right hand side of midfield. Off he goes to LA Galaxy for a potential £4.2m, we didn’t half get some value out of him for a free transfer.

Incoming

It wasn’t too busy over the summer at the Samo Stadium, but it is difficult to refrain from signing players completely. The recruitment goal remains young promising prospects or players who can immediately make an impact on the first team.

Never mind saving the best for last, you need to see Ivan Radovanovic now. It’s taken me a while to get used to the changes to scouting on FM18, and I do still get annoyed that it doesn’t really seem to work as well as before if you place your scouts in countries, but then they pop up with a gem like this in the scouting meeting. An absolute bargain at £775k from Red Star in Serbia, he’ll be going straight in as first choice striker this season.

We’d already poached the Pharaoh from Ismaily last season for a bargain price, and I went back this summer to buy El Sayed for just £210k. He’s a little bit raw with work to do on his finishing until he can be classed as a first choice option in my opinion. I’ve said before though that I’m an absolute sucker for physical specimens and El Sayed certainly falls into that category. He’s not quite rivaling the Pharaoh yet…

I’ve struggled to upgrade our left back options for a few seasons now. Owen Hughes has been a loyal servant and performed well, but long term, I want better. This summer, again, I struggled to find that option so looked more short term to fill the gap. Ryan Lang is a player I’ve kept an eye on for a few seasons now, he moved down to Liverpool in the 2024/25 season after breaking into St Johnstone’s first team. Liverpool must have this thing for Scottish left backs, as he’s struggled to displace Kieran Tierney from the side down there.

Connor Gray doesn’t really fit into either of the young promising player or immediate first team impact categories, but it’s difficult to turn down the opportunity to sign a relatively young international homegrown player on a free transfer. Celtic stupidly let Gray’s contract expire, why wouldn’t they just keep him in the squad for the homegrown rules, so in he comes. I see him as a rotational option on either the left hand side of midfield or if Horvat needs a rest in the attacking central midfield role.

Champions League

It felt slightly weird going straight into the Champions League group stage this season, after our title win last season. The run to the Europa League semi final last season was incredible, but we wouldn’t be taking anything for granted this season. Especially so when we were drawn into a group with Dortmund, Napoli and Monaco. Last season we managed to pip CSKA Moscow to 3rd place, I wasn’t so confident we’d equal that this time round.

Dortmund eased past us on matchday one, leaving us with an uphill struggle but not an impossible one. A point at home to Monaco’s who’s who of FM stars was a bonus, but that’d be the only point we’d get in the first three matchdays with Napoli handing us a 2-0 defeat.

We gained revenge by beating them 2-0 at the Samo Stadium and followed that up with an unbelievable 2-1 win against Dortmund. Going into the last matchday, we were in with a shot of going through to the knockout round. Napoli sat bottom of the group but jumped up to 2nd with a 1-0 win away at Dortmund who’d already finished top. A positive result at the Stade Louis II would see us in Europe after Christmas again, albeit in the Europa League.

A Thomas Lemar winner in the 52nd minute consigned us to a 3-2 defeat and kicked us out of the 2026/27 Champions League. Still, we made a bit of cash and contributed to the overall Scottish European coefficient a bit more. I knew it’d be a tough group, but I’m pretty annoyed at the way it went in the end. Would we be back next year for another shot at reaching the knockouts?

Domestic cups

The less said about the Scottish Supercup pumping at the hands of Rangers, the better. After their penalty win in last season’s Scottish Cup final, they handed our arses to us in this season’s showcase opener. The Supercup continues to allude us.

We were dominant in the early rounds of the Scottish Cup against lower league opposition before a tricky away tie in the 5th round against Hibs was successfully navigated thanks to a Keaton Lockett double. St Mirren and Hamilton were professionally dispatched before Dundee, who we usually struggle against, were annihilated in the semi final. Would it be the Bhoys in green or the red, white and blue Teddy Bears we’d face in the final? Actually, neither.

We hit Hearts with a quickfire double in the first half and professionally saw out the rest of the match to bring home our second Scottish Cup trophy in three seasons. Not bad eh!

SPL

It’s probably for the best that we get the league table out the way to start with…

Boom! We’ve gone the entire league season undefeated! Maybe the 4-4-2 is hackz…

We smashed the league record for goals scored, for wins recorded and for stretch of matches unbeaten, which now stands at 40 and counting including the tail end of season nine. I’m personally pleased about our mean defence this season, conceding the least amount of goals since we were promoted to the top tier.

The first half of the season couldn’t have been more perfect. 17 matches, 17 wins, 55 goals scored and only 10 conceded. After that disappointing defeat in the Supercup against Rangers, we thumped Celtic 4-1 on matchday one which just set the tone for the rest of the season, to be honest. Ross County, Dundee United and Motherwell were all handed 5-0 defeats, while we secured a really solid 2-0 win at home against Rangers to exact some revenge for the previous two matches against them.

The second half of the season is where we dropped those six points, and there was few other matches where we were given a rough time.

A goal (dodgy penalty) and a man (Cairnseh in the 32nd minute) down against Celtic at home with 10 minutes to go… up steps Keaton Lockett to fire past Celtic’s Mexican keeper after a defensive error. The unbeaten run rolled on. We went six matches without conceding, including another five goal haul, this time against Partick, before crazy match number one of the season, against Kilmarnock. Radovanovic scored a 29 minute quadruple, before Killie hit back with two before half time. It was never really in doubt, and two further goals in the second half sealed the win before Kleven, our keeper, threw in another consolation in the last minute.

Our away match at Ibrox was disappointing, with both sides having a combined total of four shots on target. We’d fallen behind in the first half to an Odsonne Edouard (aye, him from Celtic this season) goal, but similarly to the Celtic 1-1, we kept plugging away without creating much of note, before getting that big chance. A trademark cross from our right winger, Mboula in this match, and the Pharaoh was there to power a header home. The unbeaten run rolled on.

Relegated Ross County were hit for six before nervy wins against struggling Dumbarton, a mid-table Morton and Motherwell. Crazy match number two of the season happened on matchday 32, with Hearts going 1-0 up after just five minutes. We hit back to make it 2-1 before the 30 minute mark, but Hearts equalised. Gray and an own goal pulled us clear, Rado scored a fifth, but Hearts did their best to get back into it again before Pharaoh sealed it a minute from time. They only had four shots on target, but had 18 overall and gave us one of our toughest matches of the season.

A disappointing 0-0 home draw against Inverness followed, the only league match that we didn’t score in all season. We created nine half chances according to the stats, only one clear one, but just didn’t do enough to secure the three points at the end of the day. Dundee United at Tannadice on the last day was all that stood in our way for that unbeaten season. After 10 minutes, it wasn’t looking good with the Arabs 2-0 up. The wide men were pushed up to the AM line and the panic 4-2-4 was out. We were knocking on the door but Rado finally managed to break it down after 37 minutes, and from there, they swung wide open. By half time we were 3-2 up and by full time it could’ve been more than 6-2 after Horvat missed two penalties after the one he’d scored in first half injury time.

We scored four goals or more 12 times this season in what I think might be the most prolific goalscoring season I’ve ever had of any teams I’ve managed. Could we keep it up next season and do it all over again?

⭐ men

Pharaoh

It was tough to pick the main man this season, but I think the Pharaoh edges it. His output of 23 goals, 14 assists and six man of the match awards in 34 appearances wasn’t as good as Radovanovic’, who you’ll see in a second, but he’s always a threat and that’s why he pips Rado to it. When he picks up the ball he must make our opposition scared with his ridiculous dribbling, speed, movement and balance. He’s got work to do on his finishing and composure, especially when I’ve chosen to ignore his best position and play him as our deep lying forward, but he gets into some excellent positions to score, hence the goal output. His fellow professionals thought highly of him too, voting him Players’ Young Player of the Season. It’ll be tough keeping him this summer with the likes of Real Madrid sniffing around.

Radovanovic

What a debut season for the Serb. 28 goals, 19 assists and eight man of the match awards in 34 appearances, plus the Scottish Football Writers’ Young Player of the Season, all for £775k. Bargain! Pharaoh and Rado’s combined total of 51 was some way off season six where Hardie and #Rog bagged 78 goals between them, but I can’t complain really. We’ve got a number of very good forwards at the club now, but where possible, I felt it was essential to get Rado and Pharaoh on the pitch beside each other. We carried so much more of a danger when they were. Special mentions to Keaton Lockett and #Rog though, who, in significantly less game time, scored 17 and 15 goals this season, respectively.

Mboula

I said at the end of season nine that Mboula would be first choice on the right wing this season, and he delivered another storming season, better his last one, in fact. With 15 goals and 15 assists in 36 appearances he’s always a danger on that right hand side. He’s still keeping promising 21-year-old, Slobo Stankovic, from securing a regular starting spot. He was named Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Season, with Radovanovic and Pharaoh coming second and third, respectively, and also the Scottish Players’ Player of the Season. Again, not bad for a free transfer a couple of seasons back.

Further special mentions to Edvin Horvat, who continues to keep us ticking, and captain, Ryan Porteous, who capped off a brilliant season by being named in the league team of the season, along with Mboula, Radovanovic and our keeper, Kleven.

Club growth

You’ve seen the senior side win a domestic double, but that wasn’t the only success this season for the club. The Strategy for Stirling set out that I wanted the Futures to get that winning feeling too, and they did in incredible style this season. They won their league title for the third straight season and followed it up with retaining the u21 Cup too, winning a domestic double of their own. That wasn’t all though. They’ve written their names into Stirling history by following the likes of Manchester City, Barcelona, Dortmund and Juventus by winning the UEFA Youth League. An incredible achievement for Scott Robertson’s side, and I’ll be following up with a separate Futures update very soon.

The aim as part of the club wide strategy is to reach £100m in the bank balance. At the end of season 10 it sits at £63m. Prize money and player sales contributed massively to the balance growing this season, hopefully both will continue to do so too. We actually had a 2% season-on-season gate receipt dip, but that can be directly attributed back to our run to the Europa League semi final last season, which obviously gave us some extra European home matches under the lights at the Samo Stadium. Positively though, the season ticket holder numbers and league average attendance both grew again, by 23% and 37%, respectively. The average attendance of 13,353 this season sees us almost maxing out the Samo Stadium already, so I’ll be approaching the board to increase the capacity very soon, another of the strategy aims.

The commercial department have been working hard to get some new deals in place for next season, as our sponsorship income looks set to rise from £1.5m to £2.2m. While we managed to sign an affiliate agreement with Newcastle Jets from Australia, it doesn’t seem to have affected our merchandising too much this season. Maybe once we play our first friendly down under we’ll start to convert a few fans and persuade them to buy our kits.

Where do we go from a domestic double and an unbeaten league season? There’s plenty more to come and I hope you’ll keep joining me…

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3 thoughts on “Samo’s Stirling – Season Ten

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