FORMER Hampton and Richmond boss Ian McDonald, who has taken over the hot seat at Farnborough, has seen seven players walk out in his first week as manager and says: "Terry Venables has got it easy compared to me. But I'm not moaning I'm just going to get on with the job and keep the club in the Conference" (writes TONY FLOOD).

The cash-strapped McDonald, desperate to replace some of the highly paid stars following former owner-manager Graham Westley to Stevenage, has brought in two players in Hampton's Ronnie Girvan and Walton and Hersham's Paul Harkness who will cost NOTHING in transfer fees or wages.

He is also bringing in ex-Kingstonian and England non-league midfielder Geoff Pitcher from Brighton, initially on a month's loan.

McDonald explains: "Pitcher can obviously do a great job for us. Girvan and Harkness have seen the opportunity I have been given and want the same chance. They are young and hungry for success so they have agreed to come without wages on an expenses-only basis.

"The departure of Graham and seven players has left us short of both personnel and money. It's ripped the team apart. But I am also negotiating to make a signing from the Football League and hope the 14 players who are still at Farnborough will stay. They are all good Conference players.

"Unfortunately, because we have a cash problem now that Graham is no longer bankrolling the club, we cannot guarantee that their contracts will be honoured. But I sincerely hope they are. The situation will be monitored on a week to week basis.

"Midfield star Danny Carroll and left-back Justin Gregory followed Steve Watson, Gary Holloway, Barry Laker and Micky Warner in joining Stevenage, while centre-half Nathan Bunce also wanted to go so the club have terminated his contract as well.

"But that is where we draw the line. Enough is enough. Anyone else who goes will command a fee."

Ex-Chelsea youth team left-back Girvan had already been released from his contract at bottom-of-the-table Hampton by McDonald's successor Chick Botley.

McDonald comments: "Girvan has lots of talent it was just that his heart was no longer at Hampton. He didn't want to continue at the club while I was there because he was no longer enjoying his football, but he is good enough to step into the Conference. Harkness is a young striker who is equally ambitious and Walton have agreed we can take him until the end of the season."

McDonald is determined to prove himself as Farnborough's team much depleted from that which faced Arsenal in the FA Cup last month battles to avoid being dragged into a Conference relegation battle.

The former Kingstonian, Woking and Aldershot coach insists: "I am looking up the table not down it and it is still possible for us to gain a play-off place. But our main aim must be survival.

"When I left Hampton two months ago I didn't think my next job would be as a Conference manager. And I accept that as I live only five miles from Farnborough in Aldershot I was in the right place at the right time. But I've got until the end of the season to prove myself.

"So far I've spent much of my time taking telephone calls from other managers who think Graham Westley's departure has triggered off a free-for-all in which all the remaining players are available for nothing. I've told them they are mistaken - the players remaining are under contract and if I am forced to let anyone else go there will be a fee on his head. We can't afford to lose our remaining major assets the players."

McDonald's biggest nightmare will be if Farnborough can't honour contracts and other players do go because then he could become the man who takes the club down. He claims: "That won't happen with the squad who are here at the moment and those I am bringing in. But if the rug is pulled from under me then it will make life very difficult and we could slip down the table I'm hopeful it won't happen.

"We have drawn Halifax at home in the FA Trophy and have home Conference matches against top teams Yeovil and Doncaster this month so it is vital we keep the players in order to compete. If we do that the fans will see we are serious and we will keep their support then the games against Halifax, Yeovil and Doncaster could be real money-spinners."

The exodus to Stevenage has included assistant manager Graham Pearce and goalkeeping coach Graham Benstead, who stood in for one match as Farnborough's caretaker boss, so McDonald has made midfield player Gary Patterson his assistant manager. He says: "I know I can count on Gary - he was the England and Kingstonian captain when I was at Ks.

"With Bunce gone, goalkeeper Tony Pennock has been appointed Farnborough's captain and I am bringing in former Republic or Ireland assistant manager Ian Evans as guest coach. Ian was assistant manager at Millwall when I was reserve coach there and gained valuable experience as a player with Palace and Wales so he can help me get the best out of our new look' team."

February 7, 2003 15:00