He may share his name with one of most famous men in music but little is known of the man charged with leading the revived Blues back up the non-league ladder. PAUL WHEELOCK spoke to Chester’s new boss Neil Young and found a young manager determined to succeed in one of the biggest jobs in non-league football
AS Neil Young gazes around a resplendent sun-drenched Deva Stadium, the enormity of the task he has agreed to take on begins to dawn on him.
The Chester manager’s job has long been a sought-after one. The fact some of the game’s biggest names – like Kevin Ratcliffe, Mark Wright and Ian Rush – are recent incumbents of the post is testament to that.
But never before has the role of Blues boss been more important.
Just 13 months ago the club was playing in League Two, the fourth tier of English professional football. Now it is rooted deep in the non-league basement after it was forced to re-form and start again under the ownership of its fans.
Young is under no illusions that he must deliver instant success by building a completely new team capable of putting the Blues back on the long road to the Football League.
You would not blame the 35-year-old if he felt a little daunted – but Young is ready for the challenge.
“I see this as a massive opportunity,” said Young, who lives in Prenton on the Wirral with his wife and two young daughters and is a manager for Merseyrail.
“It’s an opportunity to start from the bottom up and take the club on to bigger and better things.
“This club has got massive potential. You look at the ground and the fan base and something like the relaunch of the club last week, which I think was unbelievable. Potentially it’s got everything here.”
Young plans to attends tonight’s annual meeting of City Fans United at Chester Home Guard Club to meet the fans.
A self-confessed perfectionist, his experience belies his age.
A promising semi-professional playing career was ended by a dislocated shoulder sustained when he was just 23. So the former Conwy United and Droylsden defender threw himself into management with Ian Doran on the fields of the Wirral with Queen’s Park and Sunday league football.
Young then took his first manager’s job, at Poulton Victoria in the West Cheshire League, before he enjoyed equally successful spells as number two to John Hulse at Rhyl and then Doran and Ken McKenna at Cammell Laird.
Colwyn Bay came calling next for the Liverpool supporter and former Anfield season-ticket holder, and, alongside his trusted right-hand man Gary Jones, last season he led the North Wales club to promotion into the UniBond League Premier Division.
“As far as my managerial career has gone, I think I’ve made the right decisions,” said Young, who was part of the winning Cammell Laird team that beat Vauxhall Motors in the final of the Cheshire Cup at the Deva in 1994.
“There’s a lot to learn about football management, and a lot of the time it’s not about what happens on the pitch. “Particularly in non-league football, you have to learn about the other side of the game – dealing with boards of directors, dealing with fans and their expectations, dealing with players and their contracts and non-contracts, dealing with budgets. It’s all very hands-on and it will be the same here at Chester.
“I’ve learned so much and I don’t think I could have had a better grounding.”
Young cites Doran, McKenna and Hulse as major influences but he is very much his own man.
So what can Chester’s fans and players expect from their new manager?
“If you went to talk to people at my previous job at Colwyn Bay, they’ll realise the amount of work I did away from the pitch to make sure everything was right,” said Young. “That’s just the way I am – I like to make sure things are done correctly.
“You’ve got to try and be the best at what you do. That’s exactly what we’ll be trying to do here. We’ll be making this club as professional as we possibly can.
“We’ll also develop a really good team spirit. If you looked at my Colwyn Bay team – and I’m not disrespecting them when I say this – but we weren’t the best team in the league, but the one thing we had was a togetherness.
“That’s what I want here at Chester – everyone together.”
A fully paid-up member of the Liverpool pass-and-move school, Young is delighted with the state of the Deva pitch and believes his team can play both winning and entertaining football on the surface.
But he admits that might not always be the case when the Blues go away from home.
“The way I want to play football is to pick the ball up at the back and play, but there are the times at this level if you go to teams and try that you could soon find yourself a goal down,” said Young.
“We found that out at Colwyn Bay, where we tried to keep on passing even when we went behind. We got found out a little bit and halfway through last season we changed the way we played and the results came with it. So it’s about adapting to the conditions.”
As at Colwyn Bay, Young will be assisted by Jones, the Chester-born former Tranmere Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Grimsby Town star who he has been friends with since they played together in the same Tranmere youth sides.
“I think in football, and particularly at non-league level, it’s not just about the Saturday afternoon, it’s everything that goes with it,” said Young, who also plans to bring in kitman Jimmy Soul from Colwyn Bay.
“So it’s important to work with people you trust as, away from the match, you’ll be travelling together, talking on the phone together all the time and training together.
“So to have your best friend around you is a big, big help.
“I think me and Gary are the right men for this job.”