Millers challenge for Calum
Thu 2nd March 2017 | New Mills | By Carl Jones
This season, comedian and writer Carl Jones is following New Mills AFC, and is writing a book based on his experiences during the season.
Carl caught up with new Millers manager Calum Sykes to chat about his first couple of months in the job, and his targets for the rest of the season.
It’s been a busy start to the year at Church Lane. On December 17th, Manager Paul Williams left the Millers following a 1-0 defeat to AFC Darwen. The result against the side New Mills were chasing most pressingly in their bid to escape a second consecutive relegation marooned them seven points from safety and seemingly sinking fast.
The swift appointment of Stockport Town’s Calum Sykes and his coaching team as Williams’ replacement looked a positive one. Having guided the fledgling club to the First Division play-offs the previous season, the step up to the Premier League drop zone was a calculated risk for an ambitious young manager.
Since then, an upturn in performances, if not just yet in results, has provided hope in the fight to remain in the Hallmark Security Premier League. It’s a challenge that 30-year-old Sykes was ready for.
“I genuinely wouldn’t have taken the job on if I didn’t think I could get them out of it,” he says confidently. “It’s just too good to not be involved in a club that has such history, such experience. (Club Secretary) Sue and (Chairman) Ray are the exact sort of people I want to work for. The sort of people that, if you’re honest with them, they’ll be honest back with you.”
Calum has been boosted by recent performances that have seen his side show flashes of their potential, not least by going within a few minutes of a famous victory at league leaders Bootle. Two late goals, with the winner deep into added time, were heartbreakingly cruel on his improving side in their increasingly desperate search for points.
Since taking over in December there’s only been one major setback, with an inexplicable performance at fellow relegation candidates Nelson seeing the Millers on the wrong end of an 11-goal thriller. A 7-4 win for the home side told only half the story in a game New Mills were never in danger of getting a result from.
It saw them drop into the bottom two for the first time as the gap to safety stretched to a mountainous ten points. It was a result the Millers had hoped to avenge last weekend in the return fixture that eventually fell foul of the weather.
Calum says: “Following the Nelson game, we got the whole team together. We had a full team meeting which, considering we’d only had one when I’d first got the job, was quite quick to have another full team meeting.
“The performance against Nelson was unacceptable. The feeling I went away with was that I couldn’t have personally done any more as a manager, the staff couldn’t really have done more. It was down to them.”
With the air cleared, Calum’s long-awaited first home game as New Mills manager arrived two weeks later against promotion chasing Runcorn Linnets. With postponements due to the winter weather pummelling the Church Lane pitch, it had taken seven weeks for the new manager to meet the home faithful.
He says: “I’d spent all week coming up with how I would alter things leading into the game to make sure I’d made changes following the Nelson game. So as soon as they walk in, everything was up. All the set pieces were up, all the teamsheets were up, new motivational posters all around.
"I got to the Club at half twelve, they all arrive at half one and everything is magic for them. As the game starts, I couldn’t ask for any more from them really.”
Despite a promising start, Linnets went a goal up. Following a red card for Sam Scott just before half-time, it was beginning to have the makings of another long afternoon.
Calum says: “The feeling when we got in the dressing room was full of positivity. We go out in the second half, start reasonably well. Ten, fifteen minutes in we concede again from an error that comes from the pitch in that the ball should have bounced and it didn’t.
“So we’re two down but I still felt like they kept going, still felt like they kept believing that we could still do something. Part of the team talk was about it being the first home game and we wanted to show what characters we had.”
Things would get worse. A second red saw New Mills reduced to nine men and chasing a two-goal deficit. In six months following New Mills, I’ve discovered little can be predicted apart from one thing: never write them off.
The home side pulled one back, with winger Sam Marshall’s driving runs into the box winning a penalty. Nathan Neequaye’s conversion gave hope where there was none. And then:
“The second goal is possibly the best goal I’ve ever seen,” continues Calum. He’s referring to centre half Warren Gaskin’s equaliser.
He continues: “The way he’s gone in to intercept the ball, the way he’s took two men, the fact he does a spin, a bit of a Maradona turn, and then just unleashes it. And when it hits the bar, it’s so exciting to see bar, boom, in! Someone who has never scored a goal in open play for me and what a time to get your first one.”
The game finishes 2-2. To add to the drama, Linnets are also eventually reduced to nine men and New Mills come close to grabbing all three points with the last kick of the game. It’s that result and the fight shown that Calum believes is making the rest of the league take notice.
He goes on: “I think a lot of the teams are wondering how New Mills have done that. That’s what we want people to see. Alright, we’re in a difficult position but we’re gonna fight to get ourselves out of the position we’re in.
“My reputation as a manager, obviously because I’m so young, is based upon getting Stockport Town to the play-off semi-final last season in Division One and having a reasonably decent start to the season this year. I wouldn’t want to ruin what’s only a small reputation by getting New Mills relegated. So I do believe I can get them out of it and bring the fans back.
“When I see the crowd statistics for three years ago, there’s probably 190. Against Runcorn Linnets (where the attendance was 181), even if we split it down the middle, there were probably 80 or 90. But hopefully they’re gonna go tell Jim, Jane and Bob to come down ‘cos it was a great game!”
A busy start to the year at Church Lane. It’s rarely quiet in this corner of the High Peak. You can guarantee it will get a fair bit noisier if their ambitious new manager delivers on his objective.
Carl will release his book on a season following New Mills in the summer. You can find him on Twitter at @CarlDJones