As games come thick and fast in the North West Counties Football League, the fixtures begin to pile up for some clubs in the Hallmark Security League. However, Division One’s Stockport Town have been fortunate to have a rest period due to a postponement at Bacup Borough last week.
Given the free weekend, I caught up with Lions boss, Dave Wild, to sit down and discuss the season so far and what he makes of his own first full season in charge and the targets he has set.
“In terms of the season so far, I am not going to give too much away in regard to what we had set out for the team, but we are roughly there or thereabouts when assessing the targets, take that as you will,” said Wild. “The lads know in-house what we are aiming for and we [staff] will continue to push and work hard to ensure that the targets we want are achieved and hopefully improved upon slightly.
The Town manager didn't hold back when he gave a brief assessment on this 2017/18 season so far. He added: “I’m not thrilled with some parts of this season, we have seen another large turnover in players, all at once, which I really didn’t want this season.
“But, when assessed, we decided that some, not all, of the lads who have left were nowhere near the professional level that we expect, and weren’t right for us going forward. Others have left for better opportunities, which I will always support, and if a player feels a move will benefit them I’ll back it one hundred percent.
“In terms of the players that have come in, I really do think that we currently have the right group and mindset to achieve what’s being asked week on week. That’s shown in the last month with us having only lost just one of the last six. We’re finally finding some consistency.”
As the season enters the winter period, and as is non-league football, the facilities are limited for many clubs with regard stop keeping matches on schedule and playable, however the weather almost always has a say every season.
Wild commented on this predicament and is thankful for the services and facilities available to his Stockport Town side at Stockport Sports Village. He added: “Our league is renowned for postponements so I personally don’t see it effecting any side certainly not at the top end of the table!
“Obviously we’re in a good position that our home games will always be playable which helps in the sense that we keep match sharp over the winter months, but I really don’t feel that it gives us any extra edge. Ultimately the season will end when every team has played each other twice so it doesn’t matter when the games are on they all get played at some point.”
“I’m sure every manager like myself knew that this time of year will be very much stop start and I’m sure again like me all have ideas in place to to prevent issues within squads!
With regards to games that have stuck in the managers mind this season, Wild was quick to answer: “The stand out games this season, the main bulk have come in cup competitions, which is great, but that has to be replicated consistently in league games.
“Beating Maine Road [a Premier Division side] with an astounding 7-1 score line was pleasing, and my other favourite result this season has been the 6-1 home win against New Mills in the league. Not only did we get a great result but we broke the club attendance record for a home fixture as 226 watched us put on our best attacking display of the season.”
“Other games that spring to mind were the 4-3 win over Northwich Victoria [FA Vase Trophy] and the 2-1 win against Runcorn Linnetts [League Cup]. Both opposition in those games are huge non-league names, and for us as a new found club, getting victories against such big forces is a proud achievement that I’m sure is echoed throughout the club.
“However I still don’t think that we have seen the best football from this group of players which is mad to say after 7-1 and 6-1 wins but that is something that we will all be pushing to improve on in 2018!”
On a whole, Wild seemed pleased with how he has taken charge this campaign but did by no means take all the glory. He continued: “I’ve really enjoyed my first full season as a manager, it’s come with lots of challenges, some that I didn’t expect [overhaul of players] but I really do think it has made me a better person within the game.
“I’ve previously been quite quick and one minded with my decision making, whether that be players, tactics, formations etc, but I’ve learnt to take a step back and assess situations and take stock of things before making final calls. A huge part in this is my Assistant Manager, Phil Carratt, who supports me daily in absolutely every aspect, and quite frankly I couldn’t do it without him!
“My passion for football really knows no bounds and I’ll always feel that way so being involved at managerial level at 29 years old is something that I’m still very proud of and over the course of the season I’ll give everything I have day on day to make our club stronger, both on and off the field.”
Wild has seen the club through a transition period when he first took over back at the start of January this year, and over time the manager has seen improvement in many players over the course of his first year at the helm.
When pressed for a player that has stood out Wild said: “On the whole I don’t like to single individual players out for praise because I am an absolute firm believer in team achievement and I’d like to think our players echo that sentiment. However it would be unfair of me not to mention Ben Halfacre.
“He finished last season as leading scorer and then found himself as a non-starter during the open weeks of this season. So to see the effort, commitment and sheer determination to get back into the side has been an absolute joy to watch.
“I’ve known Ben a very long time and anyone who knows him will say that he’s a target man, but he’s so much more than that and he’s finally proving that this season.”
The Lions manager continued: “He’s added a real work ethic to his game this year, harassing and harrying defenders and goalkeepers which has in turn added a new dimension to the whole squad because when he leads the line in such a hunger and determination it makes other behind him follow suit.”
“The important thing for Ben especially if he reads this is to not let the good showings in the first half of the season make him think the job is done. However I’m sure he knows we won’t allow complacency!”
Not only has Wild had to deal with an overhaul of players this season, but the Stockport board have now seen two overhauls of players in the space of one year, such is the nature of the NWCFL, and Wild was sure not to forget their mention.
“The staff and board around me are nothing short of exceptional and every person deserves their credit and mention,” said the Town boss.
“The work Ian Dixon [Club Director] has put in behind the scenes to get the clubs new academy and education programme running is incredible and something that he should take huge credit for.
“In a similar light, our other club director, Rob York, has really helped and supported the improvement off the field and of the Under-21 squad which has seen them develop impressively on the field under the stewardship of Jake Davies and Tom Upton.
“They’ve turned around into one of the best sides in their division and all three should feel a great satisfaction in the way things have gone thus far.
“Our Chairman, Seb Rowe, and Rob Clare [Club Secretary] deserve medals and knighthoods for the amount they do for me and the club, as well as the amount they have had to put up with, with me bombarding them daily for anything and everything! I owe them both an immense amount of thanks that hopefully my staff and I can repay them and the club in the future on the field.”
At the start of the season there was a lot of talk around the league in relation to favourites for the championship, as well as promotion, and Stockport Town were named on more than one occasion both on social media, as well as by other league managers.
Commenting on those murmurings, Wild replied: “During the summer I saw a lot of people talking up our chances of winning the title, but I can assure everyone that no one at the club read into anything that was posted or written on social media or non league outlets!
“Obviously we aimed to build a squad that was strong enough to compete in every game this season, but this league is the same each year, and holds absolutely no prisoners, given that anyone can beat any opposition on any given day.”
“I did say that Silsden and Prestwich Heys would have been my two favourites to go up and currently it’s looking likely. I think in all honestly Silsden have already won the title, they’ve got themselves so far ahead, that slipping up is unlikely.
“I don’t think Prestwich will find putting a run together difficult as the standard of their squad is excellent and they know that themselves which makes them a dangerous force.
“Litherland Remyca, Alsager [Town], Sandbach [United], AFC Blackpool, Cammell Laird, Holker [Old Boys], Carlisle [City] and Atherton LR are all really strong, competitive sides, and every one of them can make it into the top six.
“It makes this league such an exciting level to be involved in. Like I’ve said previously, we’re a very young club in comparison to 95% of the ones just named, so we are just aiming to try and take points off teams and hopefully play a part in deciding who finishes where come May.”
The Stockport Town boss now turns his attention to their next league fixture, a home tie against Atherton LR at Stockport Sports Village this Saturday, kick-off 3pm.