By Steve Gibbs,
Anthony Millerick,one half of the managerial duo which have taken Hampshire village club Hartley Wintney to its highest ever league position, certainly knows the value of a little bit of luck – and the folly of trying to predict the future after success that has been anything but accidental.
About to begin their first season at Step 3 in the Evo-Stik Premier South, after East Division play-off final victory earned a second consecutive promotion, Millerick remains somewhat bemused by their meteoric rise to parity with local rivals Farnborough and Basingstoke Town, and the thought of where the dream might take them.
“Oh, I have no idea,” he laughs wistfully. “This time last year I didn’t think we’d be about to go into Step 3. When I started four years ago I didn’t expect to be here, so I don’t rule anything out. You’ve just got to have faith in what you do, a bit of belief, conviction, a bit of luck.”
Into the fantasy, however, has been injected a sobering dose of reality as The Row come to terms with their exalted status.
“This pre-season has been an eye-opener for me, personally,” admits Millerick, who will be joined in the hotseat this year by Dan Turkington after previous co-boss Dan Brownlee took on a coaching role at Basingstoke this summer.
“I have really seen a shift with the players we’re trying to attract, their mentality and their approach to pre-season – that’s something I haven’t been used to. Previously, getting players in was quite easy, and I haven’t had to deal with agents or players that move for fees.”
Promotion has in some ways made Hartley unwitting victims of their own success, with 32-goal top scorer Paul Hodges snapped up by Woking and several players, including influential winger Steven Duff, unable to commit to the additional rigours of a division which requires journeys to Tiverton, Merthy and Banbury.
“I don’t mind. They’re honest reasons,” is the assessment of the ebullient but constantly phlegmatic Millerick. “You’re always going to have these issues. Every club has them, so it’s up to the management to find solutions.
“We’ll get there – there’s never a panic at Hartley Wintney. We’ve got good people and we know where we want to go, and that’s half the battle.”
The club has also found a happy knack of replacing the seemingly irreplaceable, and Hodges – like star strikers Sam Argent and Rowan Vine before him – leaves with Millerick’s blessing.
“A little bit was luck,” he again concedes, on the success of their recruitment policy. “Some of it is just knowing enough people. It really helps to have a good reputation as a club, and that for the last couple of years we’ve been a winning club, a club that is always moving forward. You gain momentum by victories.
“I love my players, but I don’t fear losing anybody and I never have. As long as you’re doing your job properly and your network is correct, there’s always another player out there.”
As he prepares to face Poole Town on Saturday, Millerick believes The Row “are not a million miles off” in terms of squad rebuilding, and by the time the first whistle blows on the season he hopes to have recruited a few “diamonds in the rough that we’ve seen on our journey”.
“We’ve still got some business to do, but we’re happy. Our aim is to be competitive in every game we play,” he stresses before reasserting his belief that a club should never limit themselves in their ambitions.
Hartley beat both Farnborough and Basingstoke last season, as they added cup exploits to league glory, and Millerick maintains: “They’re both bigger clubs, and historically are way ahead of what we’ve done, but we’re on a par now, so there is no inferiority complex.
“I’m not putting a measure or setting a bar on what can be achieved. We don’t talk about promotions or winning leagues. Last season, we didn’t set any targets – if I’d said ‘let’s shoot for mid-table security’, then ultimately that’s probably where we’d have ended up.”
“We know how to win games with beautiful football or by playing ugly, and we’ll need both this season.
“There’s no reason why we can’t be competitive in every game, and we’ll need a little bit of luck, but if we’re competitive we’ll certainly win more games than we lose.”