Credit: Marine AFC
Before we talk about the FA Cup run and what it means to you and the club, you’ve just signed a new long term contract at Marine. How much are you enjoying life at the club?
I have just signed a contract for the next three and a half years as I’m really loving my time at the club. Since the first day that I arrived at the club we’ve all worked hard behind the scenes to improve the club from a strategic point of view.
This is the first time since Chester that I have really enjoyed developing and implementing a strategy and structure from the start.
Obviously I have another job away from football and the skills from my day job are transferable to building a football club. As I said, it’s the first time since Chester that I’ve really enjoyed in that regard as building something in your image means a lot.
Before taking the job, I looked at where I was in my own career, what I’ve been and what I’ve done and I want to achieve even more. The club have confirmed what I needed them to confirm in terms of where we are going. We all sing from the same hymn sheet and we all want to take the club forward in the right direction.
You talked about your day job Neil, how do you find the balance of working day to day and managing a football club?
I work for Merseyrail and I’ve been there for twenty eight years in a variety of roles. Like any job you have in your life cycle, you learn different skills. I started at the bottom and worked my way up to a managerial position over the years. In my role outside of football, I have to work with key stakeholders, look at commercial opportunities, build relationships with staff and with people outside the organisation and all of those skills are transferable to football.
I’m learning all the time and gaining experience too. I’ve always been a sponge in the sense that from a young age I’ve always been told to learn as much as you can from other people. I know that I don’t know everything and that I can always learn.
You are clearly enjoying life at the club. On the current FA Cup run you’ve defeated three higher ranked clubs in Colchester United, Chester and Havant and Waterlooville. How proud are you of your players and what you’ve achieved so far?
I’m so proud of every one of my players. As a part time club we don’t have a great deal of time to work on things but we have a very young and hungry squad. Tactically, they took so much on board in each of these games and they’ve worked ever so hard as we ask a lot of them especially with how we set up in those games.
They surprise me in how well they’ve taken in the tactical information on board. At Colchester, we set up differently to the way many expected us to. The players probably thought ‘What’s he trying to do here?’ but they did it and at the end of it we came away victorious which was a great feeling for everyone.
That’s the great thing with football. When you plan something and it works, it gives the group great confidence in you. Of course, I have confidence in myself but it’s vital that the players have full confidence in the staff and what we are doing. Once you build that especially off the back of beating higher ranks sides it’s incredible as momentum is a great thing.
Momentum brings belief and both elements allow everyone to grow as a group and have full trust in each other and what we do together.
You are a legend at Chester Football Club, what was it like returning there as an opposition manager in such a key cup tie?
When the draw came out, it got to the last two sides in ourselves and Chorley. One of us would go through to the next round as Macclesfield weren’t playing in the cup anymore and the other would play Chester.
As soon as that was the case, I just knew that we’d be facing Chester as I’ve not played against the club in a competitive game since I left in 2014.
It’s well documented how much the football club means to me. The club, the volunteers within it and the fan base are special. So, going there in a cup tie was good in a way but it was shame that there weren’t any fans allowed in to the game.
They hammered us in pre season and could have scored more than four on the day but we learned a lot from that game.
I know you’ve spoken to Josh Hmami and I’m sure he and the other lads would tell you that we do a lot of work behind the scenes tactically to ensure the players have as much information as they possibly can to aid them in winning football matches.
If you look at all of our FA Cup matches so far, the one frustration for me is that many people have talked about how poor the higher ranked teams played on the day. They didn’t take into account how well we played and how well we had set up tactically in each game. We won though and that’s all that matters.
At Chester for example, we made some big decisions. I left Niall Cummins out as we played on the counter attack that day which played off for us.
Chester have a great team under Anthony and Bernard. I watched their goals from this weekend against Telford and some of the football they play is superb. So, looking back at our result, it meant a lot to beat a top side.
You are now preparing the side to face Josè Mourinho and Tottenham. How do you prepare for a game against such a highly rated side?
You go to sleep and hope you wake up on Sunday afternoon if I’m honest…
In all seriousness, we have done a lot of work particularly on the analytical side of Spurs. We look at them as they in the Premier League and in their European fixtures.
We’ve got to ensure we give ourselves the best chance possible to stay in the game and we will look at every avenue possible. For example, I’m looking at their game against Crystal Palace which they drew as Tottenham had the majority of the ball that day. As you know yourself, Tottenham play most of their football on the counter attack but let’s be honest there isn’t much use of me watching them on the counter as they won’t be on the counter attack against us from the start that’s for sure.
That’s the plan we have and it’s vital that we do our best to implement it. We have to give the lads as much information as we can without overloading them because we are part time.
We need to get the key points across so that they don’t freeze but let’s be realistic, we are playing a side expected to challenge for domestic and European honours this season but it’s football and you just never know.
From a person point of view, are you looking forward to picking the brains of Josè Mourinho if possible after the game?
It’s one of those things for me. I’m a sponge and I like to learn but I try not to look too far ahead. We had a game on Boxing Day that was important to us and we had to focus on each and every game like we are now doing with Tottenham.
I’m absolutely looking forward to it but as a manager it’s natural to have a little trepidation as you don’t want to let anyone down. Realistically, it’s Marine from the 8th tier against Tottenham Hotspur of the Premier League with unbelievable, world class footballers and a world class manager.
I know that the occasion will be phenomenal and the media attention has been great for the club. Jamie Carragher is the latest person to get involved by covering a sponsor that pulled out.
There are 162 places between our clubs but Tottenham Hotspur are coming to Crosby. That’s the reality and we won’t be lacking in effort or preparation.
The focus will be on myself as the Manager of Marine but I personally see this game as thank you to everyone who has helped me through the good and the bad times during my last 22 years of football management. They will all know who they are.