Adam Lakeland often thinks back to his first game as a manager, a Sunday afternoon in London in 2006.
Then just turned 22, the newly-appointed Blackburn Rovers Ladies manager took his side to big-hitters Charlton Athletic.
“I think back to that first game so many times,” Lakeland says. “At the time, Charlton were one of the full-time teams in the top flight of women’s football, along with the likes of Arsenal and Fulham.
“Keith Boanas was their manager, Eniola Aluko was one of their top players, Amanda Barr – they were a great team. We were just little Blackburn Rovers scrapping way above our level.
“We managed to get a 0-0 draw which was a great result. From that moment on I had confidence in the way I could set a team up and communicate with players.”
Now 36, Lakeland has a lot of experience and success on his CV. He’s had his UEFA A Licence for ten years, was first-team coach when John Flanagan’s Curzon Ashton won back-to-back promotions to reach Step 2, as well as the manager’s job at Northwich Victoria – beaten in the play-offs by Spennymoor Town despite woes off the pitch and a nine-point deduction.
Now he’s at Farsley Celtic, the club he guided to promotion to the National League North two years ago and are more than holding their own in their own in a tough division. In many ways, it reminds him of his first job at Rovers.
“It was probably similar in a way to what we are at Farsley,” he says. “We were a small club operating in a big league with clubs with bigger budgets, bigger resources and full-time.
“It’s similar at Farsley where we’ve still got to find a way to be competitive. We don’t use the fact we might not have what other clubs have got as excuses, we’ve just got to find solutions to make us competitive and get results.
“Certainly that experience I had in those younger years has helped me become the manager that I am today and I’m still striving to improve all the time.”
Lakeland is quietly pleased with his side’s 11th place in the table going into the current Step 2 suspension in what is a challenging season for so many reasons.
“It’s difficult when there is so much uncertainty around just trying to keep the players and staff motivated and focused,” Lakeland says. “It’s been challenging for all clubs. Now we’ve played pretty much half the season, we desperately want to continue. The last thing anyone wants is for another season to be null and void.
“But unless funding packages can be put in place in the form of grants and some form of testing on a regular basis for players and staff, then I don’t see a way the sea son is going to resume.
Then, on the flip side to that, it is so important to so many people up and down the country that football does continue. The mental health side was highly documented in the first lockdown and I think it’s even more prominent now.
“A lot of people look forward to watching their clubs via the streams and having that game at the weekend to enjoy. If you take that away from people it is going to have consequences on people’s general well-being.
“We all want it to continue. But it’s got to be one that is feasible for the clubs and safe for the players, staff and volunteers who are out there getting the games on.”
The volume of voices for testing is growing ever louder and Lakeland, while backing his club for the hard work they’ve put in to ensure protocols are strict, is forthright with his opinion.
“We’re operating under the elite banner,” he says. “The Premier League and EFL are getting tested regularly. I understand some of it is being funded by the PFA. If you went through the National League and North and South, you’ll probably have a massive percentage of players who are members of the PFA so I don’t understand why we’re going out there and not subject to some form of testing as well.
“Do the lives of the players, staff and volunteers participating in the Premier League and EFL mean more than my players’ and staff’s lives? People might frown when I say that but, ultimately, that’s the question you have to ask.
“If we’re all continuing to play under the elite bracket, why are all clubs not being tested in some capacity?” It’s hard to focus on football at present, but Lakeland is hugely ambitious both personally – he wants to manage full-time in the future – and also for his Celts.
“We put an unbelievable run together, lost two in 12 in the league, and that saw us go up to around the play-offs,” he says. “While other clubs had games in hand, that number has reduced and we’re still in a respectable position.
“But I’m not the type who is content with survival or accepting a mid-table finish. I want to be pushing, I want us to stay in contact with the play-offs – I always want my teams to be challenging for something come the latter stages of the season.”