Footy Accumulators discuss life at a non-league level with City of Liverpool FC Chairman Paul Manning
City of Liverpool FC won the Hallmark Security League to play in the BetVictor North West Division next season
Football continues to become more competitive at every possible level, and it's left non-league football as the ultimate test. Unlike the other end of the spectrum, success at a non-league level can often mean the continued existence of specific football teams, the harmony of the surrounding community, and the livelihood of everyone involved at each team from the groundsmen to the players.
Last season saw a rampant display from City of Liverpool FC in the Hallmark Security League, as they won their respective division by two points, boosting them to the recently-renamed BetVictor Northern Premier League North West Division.
All sporting successes are down to a number of different people who played their part, and it's the same with City of Liverpool FC's promotion to the tier above. We recently interviewed club chairman Paul Manning, who spoke frankly about the last twelve months, where he touched upon the intensity of football at this level, how it compares to the Premier League, the pressure around the chase for success, hopes for the future, and who inspired them along the way.
Footy Accumulators sit down with City of Liverpool FC Chairman Paul Manning
Q: This is your first league title. What is the atmosphere around City of Liverpool FC like? is it a sign of more things to come?
A: We can’t promise more title wins - that would be an extremely foolish outlook to have in football - but we are a very strategically driven club and are very focused on success on the football field; we try to limit that focus to simply 'the next 3 points'.
Our goal at the start of each season is to win promotion, and in many ways, that is why the title win last season was so important, as only the champions have been getting promoted across all the Step 5 Divisions over the last decade or so, and it has become a very severe bottleneck for the National League Pyramid.
We put all of our efforts into getting through the bottleneck, only to discover that next season, three teams will be promoted out of the NWCFL, so there is a much improved chance of promotion next season. Nevertheless, we are glad to have gone out and won the title and proven our metal.
Our entire club is looking forward to a new adventure next season.
Q: City of Liverpool FC resulted two points clear at the top of the North West Counties League Premier Division. How competitive a league would you say it is? and what are your thoughts on finishing top?
A: We found the league to be extremely competitive last season. Over thirty-eight league matches, I cannot recall a single game where we could afford to take our foot off the gas and cruise home. Every single game was highly competitive, which is a testament to the standard of football at this level in the North West.
We led the league from the end of September until the end of April, when after a 1-0 defeat at our landlords Bootle, we dropped into second place with just one game to play. Bootle had then won twenty games on the bounce, but perhaps the pressure of going top and no longer being the 'chaser' took its toll or perhaps they celebrated too heavily, because they drew their last game 1-1, and we went away to Irlam and won 2-0 to clinch the title.
Winning the Premier Division title is an exceptionally proud moment for everyone associated with the club and it was our first title win. Having been a very good cup team up to that point, we won a cup treble in our first season and enjoyed good runs in the FA Cup and FA Vase.
Q: Runcorn Linnets won the North West Counties League Premier Division last season, only to reach sixth in the Northern Premier League, missing out on the play-offs by goal difference alone. Are you hoping for a similar introduction to the league above?
A: We’d certainly like to reach the play-offs this coming season, but I think everyone would recognise that the re-structure of the Evostik Divisions has made the North & West Division much more difficult this coming season.
In addition to Marine and Workington dropping down, the division has also obtained the clubs that finished second, third, fifth, sixth and tenth in the East league last season, including Brighouse Town, who actually won the play-offs but weren’t allowed to be promoted.
Simultaneously, the clubs finishing thirteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth in the West Division have been sent across to the newly formed South & East division.
Add to that the promoted clubs such as ourselves and Dunston UTS, and it all adds up to a very difficult proposition for all in the North and West division next season.
Q: Would you say it was more impressive to achieve success in football at this level compared to the far more money-fuelled professional level?
A: It is certainly more rewarding watching a club that you have literally created out of the back of your head go on and win games and win trophies and titles. The week after winning the league at Irlam has to be one of the best of my life at aged fifty-one; it was pure, unadulterated joy, and it was shared with everybody else who loves the club too, which made it all the better.
Watching Liverpool FC win its sixth European Cup in Madrid with my son was equally as joyous, and I think that at whatever level of football your club is playing at, you still have approximately the same challenges to overcome. The scale might be different but Jurgen Klopp has to choose and motivate a team to win a game of football, and Craig Robinson has to do exactly the same.
John W Henry has to fund the operations of his football club, and we have to likewise at our football club. As I say - it’s a different scale, but the challenges are approximately the same.
Q: How do players typically balance their working / family life alongside their duties playing for City of Liverpool FC?
A: I can imagine its hard as most if not all have full-time jobs and families, so maintaining fitness, focus and desire to go out and win games every week must be difficult, but they are being paid to do something they love.
Our club is wholly voluntary other than the football staff, so our 30-50 volunteers also have a difficult work/life balance to maintain, without the second income, meaning that all non-players solely focus on winning the next three points.
Gaining promotion to the BetVictor North & West league for next season has significantly increased the travel for everyone concerned, and we have lost a couple of players because of it too, most notably star centre forward Craig Cairns. We aren't complaining though as it's the nature of the pyramid – if you are successful you travel further – so we embrace that fact and look forward to new adventures
Are you expecting to keep hold of manager Craig Robinson and most of the players that played a key part in the last twelve months?
A: Football at this level is a moveable feast and things can change very quickly. When a manager leaves a club, players can quickly follow, but we certainly hope to keep Craig and the core of the squad that won us the league.
Craig has had a dream start to his managerial career, and all credit to him for winning the title. We realise that he will be a target for other clubs. However, he is aware that we are building something here, so I wouldn’t think Craig would want to go anywhere just yet, but we are still only a Step 4 club and if for example a Step 1 or Step 2 club approached him or even a professional club then it would be very difficult for him to turn them down, and we certainly wouldn’t stand in his way, just as we wouldn’t stand in the way of any player who has the opportunity of a move to a club much higher up the pyramid.
When Robbo took up the managerial role last season, he had ample opportunity to bring in 'his' players, but instead he chose to trust the players already at the club largely and, now that they are title-winning players, he is looking to extend that trust again, but obviously it’s a two-way street. Players have got to want to play for the club in front of big, passionate crowds each week and deliver results.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of City of Liverpool FC?
A: I hope that we can continue to be a well-supported and well ran club, and that we continue to win the next three points more often than not.
We are putting in place the foundations and structures that can take the club as far up the pyramid - or beyond - that the City wants.
If the City wants a step 4 club then that’s what we’ll be, if the City wants a Step 1 club, for example - and in a personal sense that’s where I’d like us to be eventually - then that’s where we will be.
If the City wanted a 3rd professional club then we can be that too, but we do not set any long-term goals. We will simply find our level and then re-assess, but until that time, we will just be looking for the next three points.
A major factor in our continued growth is building our own ground. A groundshare agreement can only take a club so far, and at some point, we will hit a glass ceiling revenue-wise, so that’s a major focus for myself and my colleague Peter Furmedge now – to get a piece of land secured and get the Purpledome built!
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