By Sam Elliott
PHIL PARKINSON feared the worst after agreeing to a Meet The Fans Q&A night in the bar at Altrincham’s Moss Lane having just taken over.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time but the closer it got, yes I did start to wonder why I agreed to it!” the Robins boss said, reminiscing about his first few days in the job.
Parkinson doesn’t do fear, there’s evidence aplenty in the way he talks. The very fact that he left a stable job he loved at Nantwich Town to take over at Alty, a famous club but one which has in recent years turned itself into a bit of a basketcase, tells you everything you need to know.
“I thought there would be ten, maybe 20 supporters to talk to but there were over a hundred,” he continued. “It totally threw me.
“You’ve got to remember that their club has just been relegated in back-to-back seasons. I expected it to be really negative, full of tough and difficult questions and to turn a bit political, but I was left in shock because it wasn’t like that at all.
“There wasn’t any negativity and they didn’t come across as angry or frustrated. Of course nobody likes to be relegated twice in two seasons but I didn’t need to worry, their reaction to us was first-class and both myself and Neil Sorvel, my assistant manager, have felt very comfortable.
“I did worry about negativity, but it’s been nothing but positive and looking forward and not back. It’s the only way the club can rebuild.
“Some players joined us on the night and I made the decision to get them down sitting with the supporters and talking one-on-one and building that relationship early.
“That evening gave me a good insight into things. There really was nothing to be scared of.”
When you speak to managers who have just taken over a club you often expect the predictable.
‘It will take time’ or ‘we need to gel’ often crop up. Then there’s the favourite ‘three-year plan’ to conveniently detach themselves from any sort of expectation level. Not Parkinson. That could be down to him being a Sports Science lecturer, where the power of positive thought is often king.
They begin their hopeful climb back through the divisions in the Evo-Stik NPL Premier with a home game against fancied Stafford Rangers before he makes an emotional return to the Dabbers’ Weaver Stadium three days later.
“It’s just not me, it’s not how I look at things,” said the 36-year-old. “I thrive on pressure. If I didn’t want pressure, I would have stayed at Nantwich Town. I mean that with all due respect of course, but the outlook is different at Altrincham.
“We don’t want a comfort zone. We don’t do this as a hobby, Neil and I. We need a promotion to put on our CV and we are ambitious. I’m not going to play anything down – we’ve brought in players we think can play in the National League North. We’re looking a year ahead, and if we don’t achieve that? Well, we’ll look at it then.
“Make no bones about it, I want to be up there this season. But we aren’t alone. We’re putting pressure on ourselves to a degree, but so are Warrington, so are Stafford and so are Buxton.
“In fact, there are five or six clubs who could be putting pressure on themselves!”
It’s possibly a measure of what Alty want to achieve that Parkinson gave his players a verbal and online grilling for daring to only win 4-0 in pre-season last week. That was their 20th goal scored already.
“I don’t regret it, we set the standards high and if the players don’t match them, then they’ll know about it – simple as that,” Parkinson added.
“They set the benchmark and they didn’t hit it. Maybe they were getting a bit familiar. People may look at it and say ‘well you won 4-0 stop moaning’ but with all due respect, you’re expected to beat Winsford United.”
It’s pointed out to the new manager that what goes down in Non-League very rarely comes back up at the first time of asking.
“I know the record of teams being relegated and promoted back up the first season isn’t great, so that’s why we decided to clear the decks and do things early.”
“We have been quick and we have been bullish about it. It’s all about backing your judgement and to make sure you have signed players who will buy into your mentality. I think we have managed that, I’m proud of the fact. Although we have made many changes, they have gelled quickly. We decided to only look at one or two triallists, while some clubs go with much more.
“We wanted our team bonding as quickly as possible and although I had a good grumble in midweek they have been superb. Now it’s about putting that positivity into practice.”