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Steve Hill on tour with Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley

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Steve Hill

Steve Hill joins Chester FC joint managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley at their pre-season training camp in Newquay…

NLP: Here we are in Newquay, the first ever pre-season tour for Chester FC as a reformed club. Is
this something you pushed for?

ANTHONY JOHNSON: This was vitally important for us, not just in terms of the camp and on the pitch, but building relationships with the travelling support, building relationships with the local journos, building relationships with the directors, integrating with the players, creating a culture of one-in, all-in.

We’ve been massive on that for ten years, the integration, but if you do it away from home, you’ve got the sun out, it just tends to be much easier.

NLP: The whole fan engagement thing, is that just your personalities? I wouldn’t call it a PR exercise, but is it now harder for these people to hurl abuse at you from the stands?

AJ: A big sense of pride that we take from what we’ve done at Rammy and Salford is we create a culture of family atmosphere, sort of integration if you will. And it’s not about a PR exercise, it’s what we do, it’s what we’ve always been.

We immerse ourselves in the football club, we’re massive on it. We don’t travel from Bury up to Chester and just have an hour there and then go home. We believe having sustained success comes from us buying into Chester and Chester buying into us.

NLP: How did you end up at Newquay? I believe you looked at a few places. The Isle Of Man was mentioned, as was Dublin and Scotland.

BERNARD MORLEY: Jonno just touched on it, it’s that togetherness, living in each other’s pockets for five days, getting to know lads that have just come in, and ultimately giving ourselves the best opportunity to do well next season.

NLP: Do you have a set of key objectives coming here? Is it fitness, getting a feel for the team, the first XI even?

BM: Yeah, it’s a combination. A lot of people have the perception you’re going to come down, go on the beach, have a laugh and drink. But it’s a massive year for me and Jonno, that’s why we’ve got to do everything right. That’s why we pushed the club to finance this sort of trip.

In terms of fitness, you’ve seen this morning how hard we’ve worked, eight hours on a coach yesterday, did a bit of activation yesterday, worked hard this morning, got a game tonight where lads will play a minimum of 45 minutes.

Tomorrow’s session’s an absolute grueller and then they’ll get a bit of downtime Wednesday night, double session Thursday, a session Friday morning, six or seven hours back to a game. So the mentality is work. Everybody understands why we’ve come down here, it’s that siege mentality, working hard and hopefully reaping the rewards.

NLP: It’s not a holiday by any means, it just happens to be a nice place..

BM: It’s a holiday for me and Jonno. But no it’s not, and I can’t stress enough, it’s so important that we give the lads five or six hours downtime because we’ve always had this sort of mentality, this environment where if we work hard we play hard.

We’ll have a bit of fun, have a couple of beers. It’s important you see that different side to players because if you just work them in a football environment you don’t really see what the other side is. If you take them out socially, they open up a bit, they become a little bit more confident.

It’s that five days together, see how we react to it. I’ll do his head in for the next five days, and he’ll do my head in, but that’s how it is. We’re used to each other, been together ten years. As for the players, it’s rooming with someone you don’t know, and it’s eating next to someone you’ve not spoke to. It’s everything, it’s togetherness.

NLP: Is it more about man management than tactics?

BM: People expect these players to be good players. They need coaching, we’ve seen that over the last couple of years. Ex-pros like Gary Roberts, Kevin Roberts, Simon Grand and Danny Livesey, they’re set in their own ways.

We have a way we want to play next season and it’s important that we affect that out there on the grass in terms of understanding, passing information on. And ultimately if it doesn’t come to fruition, it’s down to me and the gaffer.

NLP: Last season you came within two wins of the play-offs despite a series of disasters. You could write a book on that season alone, the ground flooding, losing 8-1.

AJ: Eleven Saturdays off. I don’t think at this standard that can ever have happened. We don’t shirk anything, there were no excuses losing 8-1 at Blyth, we had a fully fit squad. But we got beat 8-1 coming off the back of not conceding for two.

Everything seemed to be so exaggerated last season. It was unfathomable. We’ve gone through stuff last season we’ve never gone through in ten years. We’ve learnt about ourselves, we’ve learnt about the club, we’ve learnt about the supporters. The people at the club, the fans, the press, are desperate for success… they’re desperate.

NLP: I’m always surprised Chester fans demand success having never historically had any… [Ed – this was Steve’s question, not the NLP’s…]

AJ: Yeah! It is mad, isn’t it? But I think because of the level of football we’re at, because of the passionate fanbase we have, and because they’ve seen what Stockport County did last season, that should be us. But Stockport spent the last six years at this level of football.

Darlington did what Chester did: bang, bang, bang, three or four promotions, they found their level at National North, can’t get out. We’ve got to understand as a football club that we’ve got to put our roots down and it will take time. It’s massive for us this year. It’s massive in the sense we’ve got to progress as a club, and we’ve got to do better than we did last year. That doesn’t mean finishing one place above, missing out on the play-offs and patting ourselves on the back.


Read Steve’s piece on his pre-season trip here

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