CALL­ING THE BOYS IN BLUE!

Jonno lov­ing life at Ch­ester! But Blyth de­feat still hurts...

The Non-League Football Paper - - NEWS - By ALEX NAREY

Emo­tions? An­thony John­son has had a few!

From muck­ing it out in the depths of the North West Coun­ties League with Rams­bot­tom United to rid­ing the crest of a public­ity wave at big-spend­ing Sal­ford City, the last six years have seen the 35-yearold be­come one of the most dec­o­rated man­agers – along with side­kick Bernard Mor­ley – in the Non-League pyra­mid.

But the Ch­ester co-boss has been in­volved in foot­ball long enough to un­der­stand that no mat­ter how many highs you en­joy, the knocks will al­ways bring you thump­ing back down to earth.

One of those came last May, just two weeks af­ter guid­ing Sal­ford to the Na­tional North ti­tle. A dis­pute over pro­mo­tion bonuses with the board forced him and Mor­ley to leave the club, and while the Am­mies’ loss would turn out to be Ch­ester’s ini­tial gain with a se­ries of high­pro­file sign­ings see­ing a sig­nif­i­cant lift in pre-sea­son ticket sales, the events of Satur­day Au­gust 11 are still hurt­ing John­son to this day.

Thump­ing

“Hurt is an un­der­state­ment,” he says. “The only time I have seen a team los­ing by eight is the likes of San Marino when they play Ger­many or some­one like that in a hope­lessly onesided in­ter­na­tional mis­match – not a Na­tional North game be­tween two sides on level terms.”

John­son is of course re­fer­ring to the 8-1 drub­bing his Ch­ester side suf­fered at the hands of Blyth Spar­tans in only their third league out­ing of the sea­son. It was a re­sult that not only left him ques­tion­ing both the heart and ap­petite of some of his play­ers, but also him­self fol­low­ing a tem­pes­tu­ous few months in man­age­ment.

“As man­agers you are not look­ing for an ex­cuse, but you are look­ing for a rea­son as to why some­thing has hap­pened,” he adds. “We were just pun­ished.

“It was the low­est re­sult and per­for­mance I have been in­volved in, but what hurt more was when our own sup­port­ers were say­ing it’s the worst re­sult in the club’s his­tory. That was, and still is, tough to take.”

Sadly for John­son, the storm clouds con­tin­ued to gather – quite lit­er­ally – with The Deva suc­cumb­ing to a flood in the midst of a sum­mer heat wave. It meant the Blues could not play any home games through­out Au­gust. With train­ing af­fected too, they ar­rived at high­fly­ing Telford two weeks later cold and short of con­fi­dence. The re­sult: a 3-1 de­feat that left even more soul-search­ing.

“The flood killed us!” he says. “These aren’t things that come out at the time be­cause it looks like you are mak­ing ex­cuses. For two or three weeks we were just scratch­ing about and then we played Telford away and they smelt blood. Se­ri­ously, they just tested us to see what we were about; killing any con­fi­dence we had by go­ing at us!”

The Blyth game and its af­ter­math re­mains a con­stant theme through­out the 22 min­utes I spend on the phone with John­son. Even when I high­light the cur­rent run of re­sults with Ch­ester slip­ping al­most seam­lessly into the play-off spots – a 4-1 win against Ash­ton United on Tues­day night that made it eight games un­beaten be­fore yes­ter­day’s trip to Brack­ley…

“It’s nine!” John­son barks. “Don’t you go tak­ing one away. When you get beat 8-1 I can’t be hav­ing peo­ple tak­ing one off us!”

So nine it is; a stretch that has seen Ch­ester rein­vent them­selves as can­di­dates for a pro­mo­tion push. Key to that has been shoring up the leaky

de­fence that cost them so dearly in Au­gust, with only eight goals con­ceded along the way (with three of those in a 5-3 vic­tory over Bradford Park Av­enue). And with games to make up due to the clo­sure of The Deva, John­son main­tains his and Mor­ley’s re­mit is to build points month to month, with spe­cific tar­gets in mind that will keep them in the play-off mix come Christ­mas and be­yond.

Plan­ning

“What Bern and I have al­ways done is block games off. So we looked at the fol­low­ing games and thought ‘what do we want?’ We want to be hard to beat, so that was the vi­sion we had and we wanted to come through the month of Septem­ber un­beaten.

“We would have taken three draws and a win just to stop the rot. That’s what we are do­ing now; we block things off and set tar­gets… start again, if you like.”

For many ca­sual Non­League ob­servers, John­son’s foot­balling iden­tity will long be as­so­ci­ated with his time at Sal­ford. From chang­ing room dust-ups to wran­gling over a full-time con­tract with Gary Neville, that fly-on­the-wall doc­u­men­tary has painted a pic­ture of a man that some peo­ple won’t let go. But Ch­ester is his and Mor­ley’s new home, and it is where they are deter­mined to thrive in a divi­sion they know and un­der­stand like the back of their hands.

“On a per­sonal level we couldn’t win at Sal­ford,” he says. “If we won the league it was be­cause we had the money to spend, and if we lost the league it was be­cause we were rub­bish man­agers.

“But Ch­ester have given us the op­por­tu­nity to go and do it again. We did it at Rammy, we did it at Sal­ford, and now we have the op­por­tu­nity to go and do a job on our own two feet.

“It’s a fanowned club. We haven’t been in­volved in a club like this and the work that goes on be­hind the scenes is un­real.

“We can feel that mo­men­tum build­ing and if we can stay around the top seven at Christ­mas then the club and city will start to get be­hind it a bit more.

“I think we could be a bit of an un­stop­pable mon­ster if we get go­ing!”

PIC­TURE: PA Im­ages

CHANG­ING TIMES: Ch­ester co-man­ager An­thony John­son has seen his side rise up the ta­ble af­ter guid­ing Sal­ford to Na­tional North glory with Bernard Mor­ley last sea­son, inset top, andThe NLP’s front page fol­low­ing Ch­ester’s 8-1 de­feat to Blyth Spar­tans in Au­gust

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