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IN-DEPTH with Chris Millington: “We don’t have any playing or expenses budgets so the lads that we’ve got are here because they want to play for the football club.”

Down to earth, honest and open. That is how we would describe Dronfield Town Manager, Chris Millington as he took time out on Tuesday night to have an in-dept chat with our Editor, Craig Kendall, who is on his whistle-stop tour of S18 and S26.

Never one to shy away from asking difficult or probing questions, Craig opened the interview asking if Dronfield, up to 8th in the standings, are punching above their weight.

“Yes, I think so. We finished fourteenth last season, which was a good season for us. This season we set our sights on the top half, and if that top half could result in an FA Cup place then, for the club and for the resources we’ve got, it would be a great season for us.”

“We’ve managed to put a couple of consistent performances together recently and that’s put us in a really strong position. We had good wins against Skegness and Winterton which put us in a position where we’re closing the gap on the top six now, which is unbelievable for us really.”

RETFORD, ENGLAND – RETFORD UNITED 2-4 DRONFIELD TOWN 28th October 2017: Dronfield Town Manager – Chris Millington. Northern Counties East League Division One clash between Retford United and Dronfield Town at Cannon Park, Retford, England. (Photo by Jon Knight)

A decent December and start to January has seen Millington’s side within touching distance of a top 8 place which would be (probably, but not guaranteed) an FA Cup place. “It’s been positive. As I’ve said to The Bootiful Game before, it’s the consistency that’s been an issue and sometimes when you play your Campions and other top sides and don’t play well, but it’s a closely run game – which Nostell and Campion were – I think it disguises the performance in a way. I think we were a little below par in both of those and then we went to Parkgate and got well beaten, to be fair. It was a bit of a reality check against Skegness, just to get back to basics and hopefully keep the consistent wins going.”

After finishing 19th at the end of his first time in charge, then 14th last season, Millington believes they are heading in the right direction. “Absolutely! I’m a Dronfield lad and, other than the league position, there were other things that we needed to do when we got to the club. We needed to get more local people down at the games. Our attendance has improved year on year and is the highest it has been. We’ve got the biggest aggregate increase in the league, which is great for us. We needed to get more local players playing so the people watching had more of an affinity with the team and gave their support.”

Millington contemplating…

“Looking at the team we had out on Saturday, we had eight local lads playing that were born in Dronfield and have played through the junior ranks at Dronfield Town. That’s where we need to be pitching it. We’ve got boys and girls playing for us from six and seven years old up to the men’s team, the ladies’ team, over-35s… We’ve got a good catchment and it’s important we keep this pathway for the junior teams.”

Off the field, Dronfield have been working hard, and with a 60% increase on attendances from last term, they are delighted with this. “Yes, we’re really pleased as a club and it’s reflective on what we put on the pitch. We try to put a good product on there for people to come down and watch. I’m delighted with the last two home wins that we’ve had because we’ve put on good shows and it helps you when you’re trying to get people down and trying to get people to understand what we’re about in the local community. It’s really good that we’re getting these kind of numbers in.”

“And the wider club sides come into it now. We get a lot of junior players coming down to watch. We get a lot of junior managers and coaches coming down to watch. It puts us in a strong foothold moving forward because they feel affinity with the teams when their lads are playing for the reserves or the nineteens or our first team. We’ve got a really good thing at the moment.”

Dronfield have a couple of games in hand over sides above them, but with second place currently not getting promoted due to the points-per-game system, we quizzed Chris about the standard of the NCEL. “You see some of the results coming through and I think everybody’s capable of beating anybody in this league. You released a points-per-game table last week and it’s only Hallam who are looking at going up as they’ve had a tremendous season so far.”

Millington likes to tactically switch his side, if things don’t go to plan.

Dronfield Town were only formed in 1998, having had teams in the late 1800’s and during the 1900’s but the modern-day side is making strides in Non-League. “It used to be Dronfield Sports, then we got renamed as Dronfield Town, so it’s our twentieth year this year. As long as we can make steady progress each year, getting in the FA Cup for a club like us and the community and the wider club that we fall under, it will be massive for us.”

“Again, it’s just about telling people what we’re doing because the amount of times I go round Dronfield and speak to people and I tell them that we’re in the same league as Hallam, people still don’t really understand the level that we’re operating at. But it’s slowly growing, as we’ve discussed with the attendances, so it’s been a really positive season this season. We just want to make sure that we finish it off strongly and become a little bit more consistent.I think that’s the key: when you’re breaking into the top eight you need to put consistent runs together. When you draw one, your next one needs to be a win so you’re taking four points from two games.”

“That’s our task now, moving forward, and it starts with a really tough game on Saturday against Swallownest. When I’ve watched them and when we’ve played against them, they’re based on the same kind of morals that we are – hard work, organised, a bunch of lads that are really close-knit – so we’re really looking forward to it.”

Checking how long until they face Swallownest…

Saturday see’s Dronfield host Swallownest, and with a similar ethos, Millington anticipates a difficult encounter. “We don’t have any playing or expenses budgets so the lads that we’ve got are here because they want to play for the football club. We get a minibus to away games and that’s where it ends. I know Swallownest are probably something like that – they might have a little bit of a budget – but you get people who want to be there for the right reasons then. You get people who actually want to play together and they want to be in a group where they’re enjoying their football. They’re looked after, from when they walk into the ground until they leave. It’ll be a really good game on Saturday and we know we’re going to be in for a really tough ninety minutes.”

With only 36 registered players, Dronfield have one of the lowest pool of players to chose from, but Millington is seeing the positives from this. “One hundred percent. Those 36 players also include 10 or 11 who play regularly for our reserves. Our reserves play at Step 7 and at a competitive level so that helps. It allows us to operate with a first team squad of about 22, which takes the pressure off as a manager. I’ve always been a big believer that if you make it about the money, you leave for the money so, if people come for £20, they’re more likely to leave for £25 when someone knocks on the door because they’ve got no affinity!”

“We try and do right by people and everybody knows, walking into the changing room on a Saturday, if you’re on the bench, I’ve spoken to you before the game and I’ve been honest with why you are on the bench. It’s just about being right with people. We try and do that with all the players because we understand that sometimes it’s a big commitment to come on a Saturday and not get on the football pitch and not pick any money up for it. Hopefully that’s why we’ve not had anybody leave us. We’ve had quite a few players who have had seven days put in for them from teams in this league and teams in the league above, where they’ve offered them really good money and they’ve decided to stay with us.”

“That’s an indication that the club’s going the right way.”

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