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Pre-season Q&A with the gaffer

Just before Neil went off to take in a couple of England games at the Euros, Gibbsy and Martyn from our media team caught up with the gaffer for the latest club podcast to get his thoughts about the season ahead. Here are some of the best bits!

Media team: So Neil, what’s it like being a non-league football manager in the summer months

Bakes: Well in many ways it’s a nightmare! Of course, there’s time to relax and get some much-needed down time after the previous season but it’s also very difficult bringing in players and in some cases keeping your own players. It’s the norm at this level for players to be non-contracted so it certainly is a challenge.

Media team: For the first time in more than a decade we’ve been able to organise home friendlies with the ‘big three’ for us locally: Port Vale, Crewe and Stoke City. That must be a big fillip for the club?

Bakes: These will be three terrific fixtures and I have to say thank you to all three clubs. The games will be big tests for our lads and I’m very grateful to Darren Moore and Port Vale especially for agreeing to bring his first team to us. These fixtures are so important to a club like ours. Of course there’s the true test of where you’re at on the football side but equally we know that these games are a vital source of bringing revenue to the club

Media team: How do you approach these first season games?

Bakes: They are terrific games for our boys and all the players will want to do well testing themselves against professionals. It’s probably fair to say that we probably won’t get a lot of the ball and that then becomes a test of our fitness as well. What I can say is that they will be fully prepared and ready for the challenge.

Media team: Let’s now take a look back at your time with us last season – it was an unusual experience for you coming in to manage a team halfway through the season.

Bakes: Well it’s not anything I’d recommend and if I’m honest had I looked at the fixtures we had I might have thought twice!

Media team: But we started so well in January under your leadership!

Bakes: You’re right, we did. Getting that clean sheet with that first point against Hanley was actually the catalyst although a lot of people may not have thought that at the time and then going away to Mossley and getting a win just gave everyone a much-needed confidence boost but we never got carried away.

Media team: And then it continued to get better…

Bakes: It did. Getting wins against good sides like Prescot Cables – who went on to be promoted via the play-offs – and Runcorn was fantastic for the players and the supporters and we really started to look like a good team. I found a way of playing and a formation which suited the players I had and things were going well until we had a flurry of injuries.

Media team: And a lot of those injuries came in one area of the field…

Bakes: Yes, you almost couldn’t make it up. There was a period where Tommy and Jack van der Laan were both out and then they were joined on the treatment table by Jack Sherratt, Callum Holland and Jake Twyford. Every team gets injuries but to get so many in one area of the field was really unlucky. It stalled our progress unfortunately and we had to be creative by bringing in a few loan players – which I’ve never had a problem doing by the way as they often have a lot to prove – but it meant that we lost a lot of the momentum that we’d built up.

Media team: Finally Neil, what are your hopes for the season ahead?

Bakes: That’s a simple one to finish. I just want to keep seeing improvements. We’ve got a strong nucleus of a squad and some exciting players who could take us places this season. I’m not a mid-table manager, I’m ambitious but it’s down to the players - they have it in their hands. I’m very excited about what they can achieve.


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