In-Depth with COLIN HEATH: “My opinion is that it’s crazy, especially for the clubs. We rely on people through the gate and people like coming to watch!”

Since winning the NCEL Division One title at a canter last season, Knaresborough Town have gone from strength to strength in the NCEL top flight, currently sitting in third position, and TBG Editor caught up with player-coach Colin Heath for an intensive chat on Tuesday evening. (Expertly transcribed by Ellie Dalglish- thank you)

Firstly, Heath reflected on their epic 6-4 win away at Barton on Saturday, “Anyone paying money at the gate would certainly have had their money’s worth! From our point of view, the first half couldn’t have gone any better and, for large parts of the second half, it couldn’t have gone any worse! The positive thing for us is we’re scoring goals again: it’s 12 in the last 2. It was a rollercoaster game and we’re glad we came out on top but we certainly had a scare in the second half, that’s for sure.”

At 4-0 up, do you think you thought the game was already won?

“I think it’s very easy in football when it appears like that! At half-time we discussed everything and we discussed coming out and starting well again and they would be coming at us. The players knew and the management knew that that was going to happen but all the plans went out of the window when they scored after two minutes. I think in any game where you’re a few goals ahead, if you concede that goal very early in the second half, it can almost set the alarm bells ringing straight away.

You’ve weathered no storm, you’ve not had fifteen minutes where it’s still been 4-0 and we would have then been able again to get control of the game. They scored after two minutes. We weren’t complacent but we just couldn’t stop their momentum, basically.”

With eight minutes to go, they equalised. What were your thoughts when they scored? At half-time you looked set for all three points.

“If you’d have asked me at 4-2, did I think it’s going to happen, I’d probably have said yes because I could just see it! We could see it. We knew… we just felt it. The more they got into it and they got their second – especially when they got their third – it was just inevitable, if I’m being honest.

“We looked shell-shocked and, as I said to the guys on the bench and with Paul, momentum in football is so key, especially in the actual game. The momentum was with them and we could just see it happening but we couldn’t do anything about it. Fortunately we came up with something – albeit an own goal – to change the tide.

It was the second game in a row where you’ve scored six away from home. That must please you that your lads keep going all the way to the end?

“Yes. I think, a few days on now, that’s exactly it. You look at it and think it could have easily have gone the other way. At 4-all, they’d got the momentum and they could have got the next goal but I think the pleasing thing for us is that we actually did find something. I said afterwards to Josh Garbutt, who’d got a hat-trick by this point, what pleased me the most was, when we needed something at 4-4, he did a bit of trickery down the left wing. He gets us a corner then his delivery creates a bit of a panic in their box and they scored an own goal.

“That’s when you look at your players, your forward players, your skilful players to produce something. I know it’s an own goal but the bit before to get the corner and the actual delivery of the ball in the box are what’s created the goal. So that was pleasing.

You’ve now got 35 points from 18 games. It couldn’t have gone much better for the start of the season, could it?

“Yes! We know we’re in the group. We know we’re capable of what we’ve achieved but still it’s doing it and we have done it. We’ve been disappointed with the three losses in a row but, when we look back on that it’s by the odd goal. Actually against the top team, Yorkshire Amateur, I thought we were the better team. It’s easy to be critical when you lose three games but we lost by one goal. Two of the games could have been different and in one of them we weren’t at the races.

“If we’re taking stock at this stage of the season, if we can build a bit of momentum – we know we’ve got a hard game this weekend – and we hopefully keep winning before the end of the year, we will be happy with where we are but we will be looking to push on in the New Year.

You’ve got Hemsworth on Saturday. It doesn’t come much tougher than that.

“No. Every game, when you move up a league, is always a hard game. This is going to be no exception this weekend. We know what’s coming. We know we’re going to be up against a good team. We also know we’ve got good players going forward, we’ve got some players in form and we’re scoring goals. It should be a great game.
I think we’ve been involved in some really good games this season for neutrals, a lot of entertainment and let’s hope we come out on the right side this weekend. We’re looking forward to it.

By 19 January, you’ll have played one home league fixture in just over two months. How important are the travelling fans to the team?

“Sometimes we’ve notoriously been actually quite a good team away from home. It’s crazy really! I don’t know how fixtures are drawn out or how they’re done but it beggars belief! I’ve heard a few other teams talking about having so many games away. Last month we had so many games at home in a row and this month we’ve got a lot of games away in a row. It’s a bit strange but you’ve got to take it as it comes and we enjoy going away.
We get a good following in terms of the committee and some guys who come every week, week in week out. They certainly would have got their money’s worth the last two games! Hopefully we can take a few to Hemsworth and, as I said, we’re looking forward to it.”

Will Lenehan (Captain) and Paul Stansfield (Manager) of Knaresborough FC with the Emirates FA Cup Knaresborough Town AFC, Double Prize Money Activity, Knaresborough Town FC, Knaresborough, UK – 06 Sep 2018 Photo: Anna Gowthorpe for The FA

You’ve got 50 players registered to the club. Some of them will be dual-registered and yourself is registered but injured. Do you think sometimes that’s a bit of a negative, trying to please them all?

“In any competitive sport – team sports – you’re always going to find it hard but it’s a nice problem to have. It’s a problem you could look at the other way that we haven’t had a lot leave the club, which tells you how much people like being involved with the club and playing at the club.
We’ve got some lads that will be asked to go and play for the reserves and they go and play for the reserves and take their chance. They then get a chance to play in the first team.

“If you’re one of those who aren’t playing then of course you want to be playing. Competition within your squad, I’ve always felt and will always believe, is good for the team. You want to be looking over your shoulder at the players coming up behind you as much as you want to be in the team playing ahead of you.

“It’s competition for places but I think it’s also testament to the club and the management for keeping the players. It shows that everyone enjoys being there and wants to be part of it so I see it as a positive.”

Last season you won the league at a canter. Do you think that Yorkshire Amateur or yourselves or Penistone will do the same this season or do you think it’s going to be too tight?

“I’d be very surprised if someone did because I think it’s hard to do that. You’ve got to get on a real momentum; you’ve got to be on that winning streak. We had it last season. If they continued to do that, possibly one of them could do that but I just see the weather changing, pitches changing.
I think the teams that like to play football always find it a bit harder as the seasons change and the pitches get heavier.

“It’s very hard at this level to continue to play football throughout and you’ve got to grind out the wins. You’ve occasionally got to not play well but get a win and it’s very different. They’re both good teams. We’re a good team.

“There are teams with a lot of games in hand still but, speaking from experience with us last year, we got in that position and it’s always better having the points than having games in hand because, if the weather turns even more, you start getting five or six games adrift and you’ve then got to play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday consistently. It gets harder.

Last season you would have played lots of games like that. For instance, you played eight games in April, which isn’t ideal. How difficult is it to get the players and yourself mentally prepared for this?

“It’s not easy. Everyone knows that, at this standard, we’ve all got jobs, we all work and it’s very hard. At the same time, it depends on what position you’re in. If you’re like us last season, we were flying and knew we were going to win the league, it’s very easy. If you’re mid-table and you’re in that position it’s very hard but you’ve got to find that motivation for any game. If you’re not up for any game at any standard when it’s very competitive, then you’re in the wrong game, in my opinion.

“It’s competitive and we want to win every game that we play in, whether it’s a Cup game or a League game. It’s very easy in my opinion to be up for it but I can see that it might be hard in certain situations, especially as there are no play-offs this season. I think that might make it tougher for some teams.

“Division One has no play-offs and second place isn’t actually guaranteed. Second place would be there or thereabouts but it’s going to be difficult and it might make the standard after Christmas in Division One a lot different when teams are several points adrift already. You can’t get that second place in the Premier Division: only the winner goes up.

“My opinion is that it’s crazy, especially for the clubs. We rely on people through the gate and people like coming to watch. They want to see some competitive football and they’re playing for something. I think after Christmas, if you get in that position where you’re normally getting 100-150 through the gate and that’s your life blood of your club but you’re not going to win the league, if you get 30-40 less on the gate that’s quite a lot of money at this standard of football.

“I think it makes it harder for them so we’re obviously going to be doing everything we can to try and be up there, still competing towards the end and hopefully up there to win the league. I can see it causing a few issues but we’ll see!”

You’ve got nearly a 200-fan average at home, which is the second-best in the league. It’s an increase once again, 15.57% on last year, which means more revenue for the club. It’s a great club, the standards are good and the ground’s good but the fans are coming because you’re playing a better standard of football as well. How proud are you of that?

“I’m one of the fortunate – or unfortunate – ones that, towards the end of playing in the West Yorkshire, I then started out in the NCEL with Knaresborough and we’ve come so far. It’s been built on local players, local lads. We’re not going out paying loads of money; we’ve never done that. We’ve built the squad and we’ve got players who want to be there. I think from that, with the last two or three years, it all culminating with Paul being in charge.

“We had Paul Clayton; we’ve got Ando and myself and what we’ve then created is a winning culture. We’ve gone up last season, winning the league. Now we’re doing well in this league. It’s amazing that we’ve done that and, off the back of that, we’re getting some really loyal supporters who, when you chat to them in the clubhouse, they’ve given up on watching league football because they want to come and watch local football. It’s nice to share that with them, speak with them and have that sense of community.

“I’m very, very proud of the club. For that to have happened and we’re trying to create even more! It’s amazing we’re averaging over 200! It’s quite frightening but we keep trying to let them enjoy it and hopefully keep the good times there!”

You mentioned longevity. Paul’s been there for over three years now, which is quite rare in modern-day football, where you lose three or four games and your head’s for the chop! Do you think that’s something that’s been instilled from the Chairman downwards? You’ve got lots of players as well so is that the whole club mentality: to stick around, improve and do your best?

“Yes, I think it is. That’s where it’s come from. We’ve never let anyone get too carried away, whether it be the players or anyone else. We’ve always maintained that we are a local club with local players and we enjoy having the same group.

“Having the same Manager now for three years massively helps. The players become used to having the same philosophy of what we want to do and how we’re going to do it. We’ve had Gregg come in for the last two years as well with a lot of experience of the leagues above us. I think definitely continuity helps at a football club. You’ve got to make sure you’re on board with it – and I think everyone is – then it makes for a good atmosphere but you want it to be competitive. You want the lads who aren’t playing to try and show, when they get the chance, that they should be playing. That breeds good personality traits and a good atmosphere.

“I think it is good and hopefully we’ve got better times to come as well!”

All photographs by Craig Dinsdale.

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