NLP Column 30th August 2016
This week’s NLP programme column below, written by Steven Coney.
THE National League North looks like one of the toughest leagues in the country this season so it’s no surprise it has claimed two managerial casualties already.
What is surprising is the calibre of the two bosses that have left their posts. Altrincham’s Neil Young and Stalybridge Celtic chief Liam Watson both stepped down from their roles after tough starts to the season.
If the National League North was competitive last season, it’s only got more fierce this term with the addition of some seriously strong outfits.
Famous Non-League clubs Altrincham, Kidderminster Harriers and FC Halifax Town came down from the National League while Salford City and Darlington 1883 climbed up from the Evo-Stik NPL Premier.
Add those into a mix that already included the likes of AFC Fylde, Stockport County, Harrogate Town and Tamworth and you have plenty of clubs capable of doing very well.
Experience is key in football, they say. So Alty and Stalybridge should have been well set with Young and Watson in charge.
Young, of course, was the man who helped Chester reclaim their spot at Non-League’s top table after the demise of Chester City.
After winning one promotion with Colwyn Bay, he was chosen to spearhead Chester’s climb back up the Non-League Pyramid.
Three promotions later and the Blues were back in the Conference – Young clearly had the knowledge needed to take Altrincham back too.
A rebuild of the squad was needed after Alty were relegated but few would have tipped them to start as slowly as they have.
Three draws have been followed by four defeats and the Robins already sit 11 points adrift of the play-offs. Still extremely early in the season, yes, but with the division looking so daunting, that is a lot of ground to make up.
In Watson, Stalybridge had arguably the best manager any club could wish for at their level. Three Conference North titles suggests Watson knows more than most about what is required to succeed.
Of course, he may not have had the resources at Bower Fold that he enjoyed at Southport, where he won two promotions, or AFC Telford United with whom he won the third, but he’s a determined character.
He somehow saved Celtic when relegation looked nailed on at the end of the 2014-15 season before leading them to a comfortable 12th place finish in his first full campaign at the helm. One win from their first seven games in 2016-17 was far from ideal.
The gap between the top clubs, who almost inevitably enjoy the most riches in the league, and the bottom half is becoming worryingly big.
Hopes of an unfancied club like Hyde or Alfreton winning the title like in years gone by are diminishing.
For some managers, competing with the likes of Kidderminster, Salford, Darlington, Harrogate and Fylde is an almighty uphill battle.
So you can’t blame Young or Watson for walking away from a league that looks completely different from just a few years back when they were the ones on top.
Watson, Celtic chairman Rob Gorski claims, has stepped down due to personal issues and the stresses of football management will hardly help.
For Young, it was a case of doing what was right for himself as well as Altrincham with hopes of an instant return to the National League fading by the week.
Both managers have also claimed they have retired from management which, if true, is a big loss to Non-League football and is a great illustration of how tough the National League North has become, even for the very best.
It looks like the league to watch this season and you can bet Young and Watson will be the first of many casualties it claims this term.