By James Grayson (Twitter: @jamesAgrayson)
For Football Managers, the work never stops during the summer. Hard-working Glasshoughton Welfare boss Rob Hunter has been preparing to raise eyebrows in the Northern Counties East League Premier Division ever since his side’s last game in May.
A top half finish in the expanded Premier Division is the target – something that would be remarkable considering the limited resources he and his assistant Mark Smitheringale have at Glasshoughton.
The pair, who were assistants to Paul Marshall during the Tadcaster Albion glory years between 2009 and 2011, are hoping to upset the applecart in 2013-14.
“I would be really disappointed if we didn’t finish in the top half of the league,” he said.
“We finished 16th in a 22 team league and if we finished higher in a 24 team league then we would be really pleased with that. Deep down though, I would be disappointed if we weren’t challenging around tenth spot. I think that would be a really successful season. Anything above that would be phenomenal for a small team like us.
“It is aiming a bit high (considering the resources), but you have got to aim high and set standards high. I believe if you are well-organised and get a good attitude from the players, the reserves and the committee then everyone is working together for the same goal.
“I’d rather aim for a high position and not quite get there than say to people that I’m happy with mid-table. Ninth, tenth or eleventh would be really good.”
If Hunter wants to reach the top ten then his side have to face 46 Premier Division games – four more than last year as the number of teams in the league has been increased to 24 teams.
It was the FA who made the widely ridiculed decision and Hunter, who believes Bridlington Town, Brighouse Town, Tadcaster Albion and Albion Sports will be among those challenging for the title, agrees with most of the criticism aimed at the decision.
“It is going to be tough as there are going to be a lot more midweek games and a lot more travelling,” he said.
“By the fact we have to play 46 league games, forgetting about the cups, we need a slightly bigger squad and a few players you can call on when you have Nottinghamshire or Lincolnshire midweek games when people can’t get out of work.
“My actual view on the 46 league games is that it is a ridiculous situation to put clubs in at this level in a scenario where they may have to play 50 or 60 football matches in a season. People don’t finish work until five and to expect us to play 14 or 15 midweek games is not great.
“But that is where we are at and everyone is in the same boat and I’ve read a few comments from people saying there are going to be so many dead rubber games at the end of the season. They’re absolutely right, there could be as many 50 or 60 matches been played in the last couple of months that don’t mean anything.”
More Premier Division games has meant that Glasshoughton, whose pre-season training began today, will have a bigger squad.
Most of Hunter’s squad that finished the season are coming back. Freddie Swales and Rob Pell (pictured above) can’t commit full-time because of University and work commitments, but the pair will still sign forms. Hunter is optimistic about keeping Manchester-based winger Russell Hedley who a couple of Evo Stik clubs are chasing.
With or without the trio Hunter has plenty of irons in the fire having had the plans for pre-season and next season in place a long time ago.
“I was like a kid getting up on Christmas morning today because it was the first training session, I couldn’t wait to get here,” he said.
“Mark and I met on Thursday having spoken non-stop to each other over the summer about players. We have been busy since the season ended. After our last match at Armthorpe we had a lads’ night out at Doncaster Races and then by the Monday I probably sent out 20 emails to organise our pre-season friendlies. By May we probably had 90% of our pre-season schedule done and dusted. That allowed us to concentrate on players.
“Players-wise, I have spoken to quite a lot of people so we have quite a lot of new players coming to pre-season. We got a few players who said straightaway ‘no’ and I probably spoke to in the region of 50 players. We probably have 14 or 15 committed to coming pre-season. There are probably in the realms of ten who have not made a decision yet.
“Without having the financial resources that some clubs have in this league, it is really important that we get the right character, the right people who are going to train hard. If we can’t bring the best players in then we have to be the best organised, the hardest working, the fittest.”
It was the being organised and hard-working philosophy that ensured Glasshoughton avoided relegation back to Division One. Hunter took over at Leeds Road in December, replacing Graham Hodder who had left by mutual consent. The team were in free-fall having not scored in six games and sinking down the Premier Division table.
Hunter and Smitheringale were able to put the stabilisers on and five straight wins towards the end of the campaign meant Welfare finished 16th. But, it was a tough task due to player availability.
“I enjoyed it, it was really good. We had a tough start and a few problems getting people to train and a couple of players left early doors and we really struggled to get a team out at times,” he said.
“I was in a situation in January and February where I was trying to sign players on a Friday night, just to get a team out. It wasn’t until ten games to go that we could say that we had 14 or 15 players that we could rely on every week.
“But, we stuck at how we believe the game should be played in terms of being organised and making sure the back four was organised. As the season went on, the game-plan we had started to work and we finished off with 20 plus points out of the last ten games. We were comfortably safe in the end and what was pleasing was the way some of the players improved and listened to us.”
Welfare’s first friendly is at Silsden on the 16th July, while Hunter’s first signings will start to filter out publicly after July 1st when the registration window opens.