WALK ON WILD SIDE

Stu­art Ham­monds vis­its Northamp­ton to as­sess boss Chris Wilder’s im­pact

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Stu­art Ham­monds

MID­WAY through our 90minute chat in his Six­fields of­fice, Northamp­ton Town boss Chris Wilder breaks off to host a meet the manager ses­sion with the spon­sors of that night’s League Two match against Portsmouth.

“We lost five on the trot lead­ing up to Christ­mas and New Year, but since the start of Jan­uary we’ve won seven and drawn one of the last nine – what hap­pened?” asks the Cob­blers fan from Beach Mar­ket­ing.

“It was the mas­sive f****** Christ­mas party we had when we didn’t come in to train for five days!” dead­pans the 47-yearold, be­fore break­ing into a huge smile as the half­dozen guests crack up. He is jok­ing, of course; a demon­stra­tion of the work­ing class hu­mour honed in Sh­effield’s pubs when top-flight foot­ballers, as he was with his beloved United, could slip off to the lo­cal af­ter train­ing and get to know the “pun­ters”. It’s how he first came across vet­eran Cob­blers goal­keeper Matt Duke – “I’ve known Dukey for 20odd years, since he was play­ing Sun­day morn­ing pub foot­ball for my pal’s team, Brad­way” – and this is the kind of en­vi­ron­ment in which he thrives.

“Our spon­sors pay a lot of money to sup­port the club and it’s right that we do it,” says the for­mer Al­fre­ton, Hal­i­fax and Ox­ford manager who, like his old Non-League ri­vals Justin Ed­in­burgh (Gilling­ham) and Mark Cooper (Swin­don), has worked the hard miles to boss in the top 92.

“I wouldn’t want to have to go in and name the team in front of a cou­ple of hun­dred pun­ters who’ve had a drink, like Coops had to at Ket­ter­ing. But it gives them a bit ex­tra for their in­vest­ment and you get some good guys in ask­ing de­cent ques­tions, like th­ese tonight.”

Cor­po­rate du­ties ful filled, Wilder can get back to the night’s real busi­ness; try­ing to build on last Satur­day when he fol­lowed in Jose Mour­inho’s foot­steps as only the sec­ond boss to win at Shrews­bury this term.

Re­laxed

Con­fi­dent in the abil­ity of as­sis­tant Alan Knill – his one-time Southamp­ton youth team-mate and for­mer manager when their roles were reversed at Bury for five months in 2008 – to lead the pre-match prepa­ra­tions, he is re­laxed enough to sink into the leather sofa and as­sess where his team cur­rently lie.

My last visit was dur­ing his first week in charge af­ter leav­ing pro­mo­tion-chas­ing Ox­ford. It was trans­fer dead­line day in Jan­uary last year and the Cob­blers were star­ing rel­e­ga­tion in the face, six points adrift of safety.

One of the star­tling stats of 201314 was that Town spent 217 days in the bot­tom two and Bris­tol Rovers just 70 min­utes. Yet it was the lat­ter who dropped into the Con­fer­ence on the fi­nal day when Wilder’s new charges beat his old club 3-1 to com­plete the first job chair­man

David Car­doza gave him.

“The Jan­uary win­dow is not the best to work in, but we had to sign play­ers that in an ideal world we pos­si­bly wouldn’t have signed,” says Wilder.

“We brought in five on the day you came up, be­cause the chair­man knew the im­por­tance of it. He said it would cost the club £1m if we went down. No doubt about it, he backed us to bring in the play­ers to get us out of there and we man­aged it.

“But what you find is, the play­ers you bring in to have an ef­fect can’t main­tain it the next sea­son. Or the lads who were al­ready here had been used to los­ing for so long, they can’t ad­just to new ex­pec­ta­tions.

“The sup­port­ers have been out­stand­ing, even through the bad run, and I’ve said to the chair­man that maybe we have to put a struc­ture in place.

“I don’t like talk­ing in terms of plans, but there are cer­tain things this club doesn’t have that the ma­jor­ity of League Two clubs do; in terms of a scout­ing struc­ture, train­ing ground, player iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and video anal­y­sis, which has kicked on and has to be im­ple­mented to give the whole pack­age to a team that wants to be suc­cess­ful at this level and kick on to the next.

“Th­ese things weren’t in place, and it’s al­ways left me scratch­ing my head be­cause this club has had some re­ally good man­agers.

“Colin Calder­wood, Stu­art Gray, Gary John­son, Aidy Boothroyd... and I don’t think I’m be­ing too con- tro­ver­sial in say­ing that maybe two or three of the man­agers have seen this as a stop off to get back up to the level that they wanted to work.

“I’ve never re­ally worked like that. I am am­bi­tious, of course I am, but, if that hap­pens, it’s off the back of my work longer term.”

Builder

Wilder de­scribes him­self as “a builder”, which is ironic con­sid­er­ing he once spent a day labour­ing on a build­ing site af­ter his pro­fes­sional play­ing ca­reer had come to an end, and vowed never to go back.

Af­ter a sea­son win­ning four tro­phies as player-boss of then-North­ern Coun­ties East club Al­fre­ton Town, he re­built Hal­i­fax and Ox­ford af­ter they’d fallen on hard times. In the sum­mer of 2002, he took over a re­cently rel­e­gated Shay side in ad­min­is­tra­tion. He took them to the Con­fer­ence play-off fi­nal in 2006, but the cash­strapped club were liq­ui­dated two years later.

Ox­ford were lan­guis­ing in the bot­tom half of the Con­fer­ence when they ap­pointed him in De­cem­ber 2008, but were pro­moted as play­off win­ners in 2010.

“Ev­ery club I’ve been at, I’ve been there long-term,” says Wilder. “I talk to the chair­man all the time and he knows what we want to do longer term.

“We’ve had in­juries all sea­son – ridicu­lous things like los­ing play­ers at ten-to-two on match­day, and both cen­tre-halves within 15 min­utes at Tran­mere – and not been able to get a set­tled side un­til De­cem­ber. When we did get big play­ers back fit and a con­sis­tency in se­lec­tion, it en­abled us to thin the squad out and do a bit of busi­ness to get two or three in, like Ricky Holmes, Bren­don Moloney and Ja­son Tay­lor.

“You al­ways want to get there in the quick­est pos­si­ble time. Peo­ple say ‘Well, is it too early to sneak into the play-offs or get pro­moted?’You can never turn any­thing down.You never turn a win down, do you? But you have to build and the chair­man recog­nises that.”

Watch­ing play­ers like Lee John­son go­ing straight into man­age­ment at League One Old­ham, aged 31, then switch to a big­ger club in Barns­ley in­side two years, not to men­tion Garry Monk in the Pre­mier League with Swansea, you could for­give Wilder for look­ing up with a hint of jeal­ousy. Not so.

“Some­times it’s all about tim­ing,” he says.“You have to be in the right place at the right time, but I’m pleased to see the likes of Gary Rowett (Birm­ing­ham), Coops and Justin get jobs, be­cause they’ve done the same as me.

“I’ve not got a sacking on my CV and I’m proud of that. Maybe if I had, I’d have put a cou­ple more quid on my bank bal­ance. You see some of them, they leave a club and get paid off, they find an­other, get sacked, get paid off and move on again.

Am­bi­tion

“Of course you want to man­age at the higher level, but I al­ways want to do it with the club I’m at.

“I know that when the chair­man here sees the likes of Brent­ford, Bournemouth and Rother­ham com­pet­ing in the Cham­pi­onship, we have to have that sort of am­bi­tion.”

If Northamp­ton keep on go­ing the way they are – the 1-0 win over Pom­pey that fol­lowed made it eight wins from ten and put them within three points of the play-offs – Wilder could be in League One sooner than ex­pected.

He adds:“We are all des­per­ate to have a go at it and we be­lieve that if we keep in­jury free and the boys keep play­ing the way we are, we could go pretty close in terms of get­ting in the play-offs.

“There is a lot of hard work to do, but we want to keep our sea­son alive as long as pos­si­ble.”

If it runs into May, it could be time for an­other mas­sive party. This one for real!

PIC­TURE: Pin­na­cle

PLENTY TO AP­PLAUD: Chris Wilder has had an ex­cel­lent first year in charge of the Cob­blers – and now wants to aim for more

WIN­NER: Chris Wilder with his Jan­uary manager of the month award LEFT: Mark Cooper is im­press­ing in League One with Swin­don RIGHT: Chris Wilder looks more se­ri­ous while as­sis­tant manager Alan Knill sees the funny side

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