The last word on the weekend’s action, and rightly so, goes to Craig Denton and his Worksop Town side who were crowned champions of the NCEL Premier Division on Saturday with a thumping 4-0 victory away at Albion Sports. (Main photography by Mike Holmes)
A brace from Matthew Sykes (’26 pen, ’44), Steven McDonnell (’35) and a thunderbolt from Lee Hill (’37) secured all three points at Throstle Nest and secured the title much to the delight of Denton.
2018-19 Northern Counties Eastern League Premier Division Champions. How good does that sound?
“Sounds amazing! It’s probably not sunk in yet but obviously I’m delighted and so pleased with this amazing run. To not rely on anyone else – it’s in our hands – and executing that yesterday and winning it is just absolute quality. Everyone involved, all the players and the management team and staff, all working together really hard and everyone’s reaped their rewards.”
On 22 December you were eighth in the table, fourteen points behind Yorkshire Amateur. Now you’re champions. What’s been the turnaround?
“A lot of hard work, a lot of determination but a lot of belief that that we could play, like I’ve mentioned before, is quite special. We’ve got a really good mix of different qualities in the lads. When you go on a run of four, five, six winning games, the momentum and the belief is being built up. People would have probably written us off at that particular time but getting those games and getting that long winning streak, the momentum is just crazy, to be honest. We can look at where we were and what we’ve achieved with two remaining games left.”
Saturday there were 201 fans at the game, which is Albion Sports’ biggest ever NCEL attendance. How big an impact have the supporters had this season?
“They’ve had a huge impact. From the first game of the season all the way through to yesterday, their passion for their club and singing their hearts out, their backing of us through whatever happens, like being 2-0 down away at Bottesford at half-time. They’ll still be singing and cheering you on and I think that belief takes you over the line. I know that there were a large amount of Worksop Town fans who travelled yesterday and it was absolutely polished off with one of the nicest curries I’ve had this year! After the game their hospitality was spot on.”
When you took the job and the first few weeks into the role, you took quite a bit of criticism, especially online. What have you got to say to those people now?
“What I’d focus on really are the ones who did believe in what we wanted to achieve. Those ones who, after the game – win, lose or draw – they pat you on the back and a few are like my senior mentors who I catch up with and chat to over the phone. The ones who I focus all my energy on are the people who did believe in us.”
“Football is a mass of opinions. People see formations, tactics, player recruitment, decision-making from myself and everyone has an opinion. For those who doubted us or doubted the players or club, I just focus more on the ones who have backed us from the beginning, when it was going a little bit difficult for us. If we lost a couple of games or we drew a couple of games, it’s the ones who’d pat us on the back and encourage us, keep us going. They’re the ones I want to keep the focus on really.”
Now, looking forward, comes the EvoStik! How difficult is this going to be?
“We know this fantastic club’s team’s players were unbelievable. I’ve spent the last couple of months having a look in and around that League, trying to go to a couple of games – that’s the preparation I had to do. We’d not won the League a couple of months ago but I was down at the Coach and Horses ground watching Sheffield FC.”
“What we needed to do was make sure we were planning for both A and B. A, if we get promotion, we need to make sure we’re equipped and I’m knowledgeable to that League and also B, if we don’t make it, we’ll be staying in the Northern Counties next season. We’ve got A, where we’re going up so that’s the hard work that everyone’s put in.”
It’s possibly one of the hardest leagues to get out of, especially at Step 5 with only one promotion spot and especially this term. You’ve done really well and a big congratulations from everyone at The Bootiful Game! You’ve done a great job.
“It is an absolutely solid league because only one going up and it’s that sort of momentum: if you’re not really in and around the zone, there’s no second spot and only one team gets promoted. Until next season…”
Until next season. There then may be up to three go up!
“It’s unbelievable isn’t it, really! It literally is anyone on the day can beat anyone in that League. I know everyone says that but you can! So to be up there at the top… Commiserations to Penistone Church because their form would have won it any other year, but we’ve gone on this amazing run, which has just catapulted us into top spot and we’d to just hold it until we could win it.”