The Bootiful Game is continuing it’s series of interviews with the key people around the clubs who have reached the Buildbase FA Trophy and Buildbase FA Vase competitions and have this week caught up with Michael Dunwell, Manager of Northern League side Stockton Town, writes Gary Langley.
Michael joined Stockton in 2014 having previously been player coach at Billingham Synphonia and guided the club to promotion from Division Two last season and this season guided the Anchors’ to a top ten league finish and an FA Vase Final. He spoke with us about his time at the club and what has been a decent campaign for them following their promotion.
“It’s been a good season, and quite exiting when you consider how it started and to finish it strong in the league and with a Wembley appearance that’s not too bad at all. Ideally we would like a top eight finish but top ten will be just fine.
“We have been affected with the backlog of games and whilst other clubs have been hit worse than we have we have been playing every few days of late which is not ideal when you are trying to finish strong as well as win a League Cup and an FA Vase.
“The feeling around the club is one of excitement, the whole town have got behind us including the Council, The Mayor and businesses have got scarves up in windows and people are walking around in Stockton Town shirts which is actually quite surreal and we have also opened up our club shop this week. We are staging a media day this week as well and getting the Media together with support from the FA and it is great for a club like ours to be involved in a process like this, even more so when you think it is only our second campaign in the Vase.
Overall the club has come on massively this season, our gates are up on last season (26%) and we have tried to develop the club the right way with sponsors getting on board and people behind the scenes really building the foundations for the future of the club.
“We are going down to try and win the Vase as well, whilst the celebrations of the Wembley day are going on around the place, we have not lost sight of the fact the trophy is there to be won. We have had Thatcham Town watched and they are a good side, their record this season is superb. We will have them watched again and I believe they have been up to watch us recently as well so both sides will be prepared but it’s how we play on the day. You can watch a team as many times as you like but it is how the occasion hits you, that atmosphere and the stage, some players may freeze, some may really take to it and play a blinder but you can’t plan too much for the aesthetic of the day. We will play our own game, and hopefully it will see us through.
“Our style of play is to go and score goals, we have scored plenty in my time here and we always try and lead from the front, we have the likes of Jamie Owens who is on form for us and bagged nearly 40 goals for us this campaign. It is very difficult at our level to keep clean sheets but if you can get that defensive mix right then you can do well. Anyone in our league can beat anyone and if we can get some consistency going next season I expect us to challenge on all fronts again, perhaps doing better in the league than this season as we started off poorly and didn’t really have a back four.
“The Northern League Clubs have done well in this competition over the years, I think this is the 44th time the competition has been played. A lot of players who could play higher have not wanted to travel or have work commitments. With the FA bringing in the compulsory promotion thing now with the likes of Morpeth and Maske going up this year, the stronger teams will have to progress and they will probably do very well. Also, the mentality of the people in the North is strong, we all take the Vase very seriously and some clubs don’t like travelling up here but when we go away it’s a day out for the team and the supporters and we embrace it. I’m not saying that clubs down South don’t take it seriously but it can be a hostile place to come to on a wet Tuesday in January.
“Thatcham are good solid side, they have been on a great run and knocked out some really strong sides on their way to the final so we are expecting a tough game, however they’ll be expecting the same from us, we have also knocked out some really big clubs on our way so it has the makings of a fairly even game.
“The lads are a great bunch, the lads have been together now for five or six years and ten or eleven of them have come through the youth side together so they know how to play and know how to win but they do it as a group of mates. I’m immensely proud to take the club to Wembley for the biggest day in the club’s history. “