Further to our interviews with this Saturday’s protagonists we caught up with Joel Evans, Swallownest Assistant Manager who told us that he originally joined Swallownest last season around Christmas time as a player, under Lee Needham. It was just to help him out and for a bit of experience but within two weeks Lee was sacked, which happens in football.
Football is a results business at the end of the day! I think it probably mirrors the higher leagues. It cascades down and the fans want results straight away, no matter if you’ve got a thousand, twenty thousand or ten fans. It’s the same fate, even if you are the Chairman at the end of the day.
As Joel approaches 34 we asked about his varied career! “I was at Chesterfield as a youngster but when I broke into the team, I got an injury in my disc. I couldn’t regain my fitness at that level; they were in League Two at the time. I was there at the beginning of the next year but I couldn’t get back to it. I then flew out to play in the A-League with Perth Glory. My back wasn’t what it was like when I was younger, after I’d had that injury. I was in training when I had two slipped discs so it’s never been the same, pain-wise, to get back to that standard.
“I came back and had about three years out, trying to sort out the diagnosis of the problem. I was fortunate enough to do all of my coaching badges through Chesterfield. Also, through the FA I got my degree in Health & Sports so I’ve just taken it on from there. I’ve worked my way down, playing for various clubs from the Conference all the way down now. The older you get the lower you play so at my age I’ve ended up at Swallownest, because I knew Lee.”
“Lee asked if I could go down and be an older head, but my intention’s always been getting into coaching and the management side. Jordan then asked me to come and be his Assistant Manager this season after last season. Last season with Swallownest we over-achieved, finishing eleventh in our first season, particularly with the budget, which is non-existent compared to some! It’s the same again this year so he’s asked me to come and be a helping hand.”
“Am I missing football on the playing side? Yes, I am. The youngsters need to take control. I’m struggling what to say here, the reason being it’s been so frustrating over the last few weeks! They need to take more pride and be more professional because, at the minute, we’ve got a lack of mentality in terms of what it takes to actually win a league. They think they can just turn up and win, which is not the case.”
“We’re a very young side. This is the issue we’ve got. I’ve got players who are professional, just coming out. I cannot master them. I cannot offer them [the money]. The issue we’ve got is we’ve got Hallam local to us who are offering wages in their hundreds; there’s no one minimum getting less than £60 a game. We can’t compete. Just down the road we’ve got Bolsover offering £150 and money like that. We’re in an impossible situation but that’s what it is. That’s football. We need to play to our resources and so all we can attract is probably youngsters.”
“At the minute I do a bit of coaching at Sheffield United and I try and pick them off their conveyor belt, basically. We’ve got a few who have just been released from Sheffield United and trying to make their way in the game so it’s a good starting point. That’s the selling point that we give them: a good starting point and make your way up the pyramid.”
“Swallownest only has 31 registered players, which is probably the smallest or very near the lowest number of registered players in a Northern Counties side. That’s it. Now I’m not going to lie, we’ve had an issue over the last six weeks – probably from December – of clubs coming in for a few of our youngsters. The lads have promised us and, to be fair, they’ve stuck to their word and stayed, saying they’ll see out the season. Come the end of the season will we have a big team? Probably not, but we’re not ones to step back and say, “don’t go on, don’t move higher up.” They have said they’ll stick it out and see where it ends up.”
“Our overall target is to beat last year’s eleventh. If we do that again on our budget we’ve overachieved. Myself and Jordan are hoping we’ll come in the top eight; that’s our overall target, moving more than four places up from last season, which is a bonus.”
“We’ve got a couple of games in hand over most but it’s getting the points on the board. That’s where we’ve struggled of late: against the teams we’d expect to be getting some points off. It’s the mentality side where we’re a bit naïve and young. We haven’t got any old heads at the minute. When the going gets tough against the teams around us at the bottom, where they’re a bit more physical, we seem to lack that leadership. Whereas, when we’re going in as underdogs, we’re over-performing. We’re ridiculous sometimes with our game play. We’re inconsistent: that’s the best way to describe us at the minute.”
We put to him that at the beginning of the season against Grimsby Borough, the team did very well against them, although they came in as major underdogs you came away with a very good point.
“We did very well and it should have been more. We beat Selby, Winterton, Worsborough… It’s when we’re underdogs we perform. Against Campion, we went there the other week with ten men and got a point there. It’s the teams that are below us that are frustrating and we can’t pick up. We don’t seem to work as hard and we don’t seem to be as consistent with our fluidity and our passage of play. It seems to all just stop and we seem to get in a rut. What you tend to find is that the bottom sides are a bit more physical and a bit more adept in the league, with a bit more experience with their older heads and that’s what we’re struggling with at the minute.”
“We’ve heard that if we finish in the top eight, we might be on the cusp of an FA place, that’s why we want to be in the top eight. Across the country over the years, technically the NCEL has got higher points per game but it’s one of those. It’s so close. Anyone can beat anyone on the day; you see it in the results, week in, week out. That’s why it’s a good league to be involved in, as you just need to go on a good run basically.”
“With 22 points separating fourteenth from first in this league anyone can make up those points in sixteen games. There’s no one running away with it whereas last season you had Yorkshire Amateur, Knaresborough… Us, on a personal level, we’re over-achieving. The Chairman’s happy at the minute, in tenth position already, plus we’ve got a couple of games in hand on teams. It’s about getting the points out of them now, starting with Dronfield on Saturday.”
“Again, another team who I think are over-achieving. I’ve played under Milly before so I know how his team operates. He gets the team to play fixed, solid positions and everyone knows their position and they post results. He’s got a lot of experience in there as well as a lot of youth with a bit of pace so, again, I think they’re doing really well and over-achieving because their budget’s similar to ours. The manager’s two-year anniversary is just coming up at the club so he’s well-established and, like you say, it is an over-achievement with their budget. This is because he knows the League inside out. I went to him when he was at Clipstone, when we won the league about three or four years ago and he’s a terrific manager. Most of that Dronfield team now has come from that Clipstone team. The players have won the League before and he’s added a bit of youth in there with a bit of pace. They’re a dangerous team, which showed again on Saturday when they overturned Winterton 3-0, who are no mugs. Again, they’ve got a couple of games in hand so Dronfield could be the underdogs. At their place they are very, very tricky. A tough team to beat!”
Joel was forthright when asked what he was hoping for from the rest of his career and if he had ambitions to take it to a higher level?
“I’m not going to lie, I see this as a stepping stone. With my job it’s time constraints. I’ve spoken to a few lads who are managing and assistant managing a few higher clubs who have asked me to go on as a coach. At the minute this is the right club for me. Working with Jordan and the club’s been fantastic for me, giving me this opportunity so I want to repay them as much as I can. Yes, it’s a stepping stone on the career ladder and I’m working my way back up in terms of my coaching and management career.”
When asked if they might take Swallownest all the way up to the Premier League! He replied, “that would be a good one to have on the CV, wouldn’t it? It’s a great club to be at, but nothing’s easy here with the lack of resources and facilities. They’re trying to get in the right direction, but it’s a club new to the League and it’s not established yet. So, it’s been great for me in terms of all the background stuff that goes on and what needs to be done. It’s been ideal. I spoke to my mate who’s at a higher club and he’s said, take it on for the minute and see where it leads you to in the next couple of years.”