PHIL PARKINSON has an inkling what people were thinking about Nantwich Town coming into this season.
“Everyone was probably looking and wondering, ‘Are they going to be one-season wonders?’ in terms of players and the management,” the boss tells The NLP.
Perhaps even more so with the players who moved on during the summer. An FA Trophy run to the semi-finals has its downsides too.
Success meant other clubs were soon keen to flex their muscle and take talent off the Dabbers’ hands. Matt Kosylo stepped up to the National League North with the semi-final conqueror FC Halifax.
Talented attacker Elliot Osborne joined League One side Fleetwood Town, defender Jon Moran joined Forest Green Rovers, while Liam Shotton moved to Singapore with his family.
It meant a bit of a rebuild job, especially in a forward line that was shorn of 75 goals. But Parkinson, a legend at the club from his playing days, and his assistant Neil Sorvel, have demonstrated they’ve got an eye for a player.
A steady start has turned into a promotion push and they are 14 unbeaten and sit second in the Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division table. The club expects and Parkinson wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We came in and obviously stabilised, then we had that great season finishing higher than the club has since Steve Davis was here about ten years ago when I was playing,” says Parkinson.
“Nantwich had been dwindling in the lower regions of the table. We’re pushing for honours now. There’s been a big culture change at the club. The fans expect, the directors certainly expect now. But that’s what I wanted. I wanted that expectation on myself.
“I wanted to be able to say to the players that every game is a big game and not walk in there saying, ‘Come on boys, we’re playing for pride here,’ because we’re in mid-table.
“Whereas I’m turning up, ‘Right boys, another big game.’ They know they’ve got to be at it because they know that the squad is so good that somebody can come in and they might have to wait to get their place again.
“That sounds like an easy thing to do, but you’ve got to have the quality of player to make an impact coming off the bench and also put pressure on the starters. We’ve got that.”
Changing culture doesn’t just happen with a click of the fingers either. So how have they done that?
“It’s being positive in everything we do,” Parkinson says. “In training, in the community. I also massively promote progression from within. So youth team players are coming through like Troy Bourne, who we’ve really pushed this season. He’s played a number of first-team games.
“That’s what the local people want to see. It’s very much a community-based club and something people want to invest in and be a part of.
“A lot of people got very disillusioned with a number of poor years. Whether anybody likes it or not, people want to come to watch an entertaining but winning team.
“Because we’ve been successful, gates have been going up as they naturally do – not as much as I’d like – but there’s a real feelgood factor about the place. It’s not just the football. The kids teams are coming along to games now and getting on the pitch with the players. We had a community day where the kids were playing five-a-side on the pitch before the game.
“It’s all that stuff that makes you feel involved. Once you feel that way towards a club, you invest in it.
“When I say a culture change, that’s what’s happening. People are reinvesting their emotions into Nantwich Town. Whereas maybe it was, ‘I’ll catch a game if there’s nothing else to do’, now they want to come and watch a game. They want to see the team do well and watch these players.”
Parkinson now wants his players to secure their place in the play-offs.
“When we arrived we said in two years we should be up there challenging, if not going up,”?Parkinson said. “So we’re on track to achieve what we set out to do, without being premature about it.
“I’m not saying we will go up, but it was to be challenging and pushing, which we are.”