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Kevin Nicholson column: What Hartlepool and Chester players might be thinking amid the financial problems

By ex-Torquay United manager Kevin Nicholson

It’s never nice to see clubs going through the financial difficulties Hartlepool United and Chester are experiencing now.

While the long-term is a big concern, the impact it can have on the players here and now can’t be underestimated.

It’s a horrible situation to be in as a fan, a player and a manager as I know from first-hand experience both as a player and when I was manager at Torquay United under some very challenging circumstances.

At Torquay we had a theory of ‘Next Practice’. By that we meant you’d only ever concentrate on the next thing you could affect. If you could live by it, then it’s a fantastic way of doing things. It makes the situation so much easier to handle.

You’d be naïve to think that players who are going home wondering if they’re going to get paid at the end of the month can just stick to it, so it’s a tough balance.

As manager you can make sure you give them the information they need that they’re going to be paid and their families are going to be fine, but the only way they’re only ever going to get through it is to win games and come out the other side.

I had players who would directly approach me and say, ‘I am genuinely worried, I can’t afford to not get paid this month’. We’re not talking about guys who have thousands stored away in the bank. They are Non-League players who, like many people, are hand to mouth.

I would give them all the information I had but always said to them, ‘The only thing you can worry about is your performance, how you prepare, how you keep your standards up’.

In these situations it’s inevitable the vultures will start circling for the players. If he can keep his standards up and keep winning games, he’s not going to have a problem finding his next employment.

At Torquay last season administration was a realistic possibility. You could pick up on the mood, hear the players talking forward.

Times like that can define you as a manager and a player. If you can get through it and keep your standards high then your reputation will grow as someone who can deal with that pressure.

Unfortunately I experienced it lots as a player. I signed for Notts County when big investment was supposed to be coming in. They were going to put £8million in, we were going to get a new training ground and we went away to Italy for a pre-season tour, which was unheard of. Everything looked great. A month later we were in administration and stayed in it pretty much the entire time I was there for the next two-and-a-half seasons.

We didn’t get paid at times, we certainly didn’t get appearance money or bonuses until way down the line. We managed to stay up a couple of seasons running but eventually it caught up with the club and they got relegated down to League Two.

I left there and went to Scarborough. For the first year everything was pretty solid. They’d just had Chelsea in the FA Cup and things were well run and organised.

The following year they were liquidated. Now they are a phoenix club on the way back up the Pyramid. Steve Kittrick is doing an excellent job as manager, they are right up there in the EVO-STIK North, they’ve got a new stadium with 3G pitch – in a place like Scarborough that’s fantastic for the community and it will give the team a solid foundation – and some of the old players like Michael Coulson have come back.

He was a youngster coming through when I was there. He went on and had a fantastic career and now he’s returned, which is a fantastic story.

But, at the time, it was tough. I was in my early 20s worrying about getting paid. I didn’t have the coping skills I have now. You’re 23, desperately trying to get back into the League and all of a sudden the club you play for goes out of business.

Fortunately, because I’d worked so hard on my game, I was lucky enough to get picked up by Forest Green Rovers. A year there and all of a sudden I was at Torquay and getting promoted back into the Football League.

Those experiences give you an incredible strength to fall back on. You’re not a guy who’s had it easy throughout his career and you appreciate the good times.

I know my experiences have improved me as a manager and when I get my next opportunity I will be able to pour what I’ve learned into an exciting challenge.

Understanding the rush of Deadline Day

Transfer Deadline Day has come and gone for another season for the clubs in the Premier League and EFL.

I always used to watch deadline day on Sky Sports and wonder what it was all about. I could never figure out why everybody left everything so late. You’ve got the whole of January, why are these people working until midnight to get deals done when they’ve had the whole month?

Then on my first January deadline day I realised. We’d been trying to get a winger in. At 7pm I got a phone call about a player called Iffy Allen. I didn’t know much about him but my chairman and CEO, at the time, had seen him play a few times and they were telling me what fantastic ability he had.

We did a bit of research, I spoke to Darren Way at Yeovil for the first time – a quick introduction and then, right, what’s happening? I couldn’t have foreseen I was going to get this phone call saying Iffy was available. We were desperate for his type of player but we couldn’t find one we could afford.

He was in the right price bracket, he’d got good reports and, although I didn’t know much about him, it became a gamble.

He really contributed to us staying up with some particularly dynamic performances coming off the bench and being an exciting player that got the fans going. He created a few goals, scored some important ones too so it worked out. I got home that night at 10pm and understood what it was all about.

The National League doesn’t have a transfer window now and I think that’s important. Most clubs can’t carry a 25-man squad. You’re probably working with 18-20 players and if you pick up four or five injuries then you need to be able to go out and get that loan player to galvanise what you’ve got otherwise you’re going into a crucial part of the season low on numbers.

Really happy for my former captain Angus MacDonald who moved to Hull City yesterday.

Barnsley are a fantastic club and he took the step up to them from Torquay and his performances have landed him a great move.

Hull have been in the Premier League and a really looking to get there again. Hopefully he can be a part of getting them there – and then keeping them there.

It just shows if you work hard, do your individual extras, live, eat and prepare right what can happen. He did all that.

Two years ago he was struggling to pay his bills in Non-League football, losing his head on the football pitch because things weren’t quite going his way and now he’s at one of the biggest clubs in the Championship.

If you’re a Non-League player at the moment you’ve got to look at players like Gus and Kieffer Moore, who we also had at Torquay, and the many other examples.


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