Corby Town’s visit next Wednesday will mark Neil Young’s 100th league game in charge of Chester FC. To celebrate the milestone, PAUL WHEELOCK sat down with the double title-winning boss to reflect on his reign so far and his hopes for the future
YOU have won 71 of your 99 league games. How does that feel?
In the first season we got off to a slow start as we were still putting a squad together, a squad which had to change sharply as for the first two months we were planning for the Vodkat League. So I think the statistics could be better, if we had got off to a level start.
But we are very proud. To get 71 victories is great but the prime target was always to get the two titles.
Of the 71 league wins, are there any that particularly stand out?
The two that stick in my mind are not wins but the days that we won the titles – the horrible one at Garforth in particular. It didn’t really sink in and I didn’t really celebrate because going through all the emotions left me totally drained – not just on the day, but for weeks.
Then there’s the Northwich game – a full house with 5,000 people and to get the point we needed in the way we did late on with Matty McGinn’s unbelievable goal.
I’m a firm believer that you learn more from defeats so I remember the negative results more so than the positive ones unfortunately, like Nantwich Town away. But we’ve had fantastic victories.
The win at Fylde at the end of the first season and in particular when Michael Wilde scored the header that made it 2-1. I’m told I did a Mourinho-style celebration down the touchline before jumping on the lads – that’s what pressure does to you!
Last season was a little bit different. I was able to enjoy the back end as there was no pressure on me as we had won the league.
We produced some fantastic performances – the 2-0 victory at Chorley and Chris Simm’s hat-trick in the 4-0 win over Marine stand out – and some of the football we played when the shackles were off was great to watch.
What do you think are the key reasons behind your continued success?
Hard work and having a strong family behind me.
Equally important is my management team and in particular my number two Gary Jones. He is my best friend and has been for a long time. When you’ve got someone you can trust 150% and someone who you can talk through the good times and the bad with, it’s a massive plus.
Preparation is so important. We do a lot of hard work behind the scenes. People may expect Chester to do this and do that but Cammell Laird weren’t and neither were Colwyn Bay and we still managed to get promotion with both of them. And obviously the players are key.
You have won 11 of your 13 first Blue Square Bet North matches. Why do you feel the team have been able to adapt so well?
It goes back to working hard and getting an understanding of the division that you’re in or the division you’re going into.
We’re now watching a lot of Conference and League football. That helps you decide which players are right for the level that you’re at. When I look to sign a player, top of my list is commitment, effort, attitude and resilience. I think if you look at my teams over the last three seasons they’ve all ticked those boxes. Those qualities lead to a good dressing room.
Ultimately football is down to players. We’ve been selecting the right ones and their performances over the last two-and-a-half years have been absolutely fantastic.
Would you expect to be challenging for a third successive title come the end of the season?
I haven’t seen anything that suggests to me that we won’t. You have to give credit to ourselves for the way we have started but give great credit to Brackley and Guiseley. If we were all in different divisions I think we’d all be 10 points clear. Anybody can beat anybody in this division and it’s important not to get too down if we don’t win.
You start your full-time contract with the club on November 23. How are you feeling about the prospect?
It’s a massive opportunity but it’s also a big commitment as there’s no guarantee I will have the same job I’ve got now when I go back. My employers Merseyrail have moved heaven and earth to make the sabbatical happen and I’ve got to give them so much credit. I’ve been with them for 20-21 years but these last two-and-a-half years have been so tough because the Chester job has been getting bigger.
To think solely about Chester and put all my efforts into it will be great.
The main aim of my job will be to help get the club’s infrastructure right to prepare the club for full-time football or a version of full-time football.
But there are a lot of strands to it, be it from a community aspect or working with the junior and youth teams. Some people may think I’m going full-time as a football manager but there’s more to it than that.
Your new contract with the club will run out at the end of 2013-14. Where do you hope to see the club by that time?
I’d like to be in the Conference and at a level at which we’d be able to compete. But it’s going to cost a considerable amount of money.
I know the club are working on various revenue streams and I’ll be doing a similar thing in my role as well looking at ways to engage more with the community and the possibility of grant funding.
It’d be great to be in the position of holding our own in the Conference within 18 months but I don’t think people realise the size of the challenge. It’s all right getting to the Conference – which is difficult enough – but we’ve got to make sure we stay there and not become a yo-yo club.