You’ve played for numerous prestigious non-league clubs, has there been a particular stand out moment for you in your career?
Yes, I have been lucky enough to play for some great clubs and in some big games. Looking back I’ve played in games against some pretty high profile players: Phil Jones, George Boyd and Paul Pogba just to name a few. We had a pretty good FA Cup run with Mossley a couple of years ago which stands out. We reached the 4th qualifying round where I scored and then unfortunately got sent off (wrongly of course) against, an at the time professional, Darlington side who beat us. I played for England Universities in 2002 and 2003 which was a massive achievement at the time and an experience that I look back on fondly.
You started out at Atherton LR. How did you end up there?
After attending university down south I came back up north and began just playing with my mates in a local league. We played against LR in a cup competition and after the game their manager, Tommy Foster, approached me and asked if I would like to play for them. I was there for a couple of seasons and played primarily as a right midfielder or right back.
You then moved on to Leigh RMI in 2006 where you earned, “cult status for your exciting attacking runs and hardworking attitude.” Made 66 appearances and scoring 9 goals. What are some of your favourite memories of that time?
That move came about after an Andy Nelson managed Leigh played against my mates’ team in an end of season cup. I had a really good game playing as a ‘ringer’ and Andy called and invited me to Leigh. At that point I seemed to be progressing every year so it didn’t seem like such a jump. I actually played in more than 100 games for Leigh over the next 3 seasons and enjoyed every minute of it. Playing with better players against better players at better grounds was a challenge I really enjoyed. Playing against Stevenage (Steve Morison and George Boyd) in front 3000 fans was brilliant as was avoiding relegation on the last day of the season.
In 2008 you moved to Witton Albion in the NPL for a short spell, what prompted the move?
I was all set to start the new season with Leigh and had agreed in principle a contract for a further year when I got a phone call from Nigel Deeley asking if I would meet him to talk about the clubs plans. I was suitably impressed by both Nigel and Witton’s facilities to sign a deal that very night. Witton is an exceptional non-league club with great facilities and great fans. After a decent start I picked up a hamstring injury away at Gateshead and that was followed by a groin injury and by Christmas I had only made about a dozen appearances. It was a very frustrating spell as injuries prevented me from showing what I was capable of.
You moved back to Leigh Genesis in November 2008; what was different about Leigh the second time around? Where there any noticeable differences between Leigh RMI and Genesis?
I went back to Leigh determined to pick up where I had left off and despite the rebranding, a lot of the lads were still there. Playing at the Leigh Sports Village was amazing and I remember captaining the team as we stuffed FC United 4-2 at Gigg Lane. I have known Gary Flitcroft for a long time as his brother Steven was in my junior team. He obviously has vast experience and knowledge after an excellent career in professional football and just being around him and listening to his views on football is a massive learning curve. It is no surprise to me that he has had and is continuing to have success with Chorley. I don’t think it will be long until Gary Flitcroft is managing in the professional game.
From Genesis you moved onto Mossley where you made 59 appearances over two seasons scoring 9 goals. How would you assess your time at Mossley?
I had missed preseason due to injury so when the new season started at Leigh I was 4 weeks behind the rest of the lads. Gary said they had had some interest from Mossley and asked would I like to go. Chris Wilcock was the manager there and he really helped me get fit in a short space of time. I really enjoyed my couple of seasons there as it’s a brilliant little club and I can’t speak highly enough of the officials and fans. We had a very good tea and we had great runs in the cups and we were unlucky to miss out on promotion as a fixture backlog towards the end cost us.
You signed from Curzon Ashton due to personal loyalty to manager John Flanagan. Had you worked with him previously? How did you fare at Curzon Ashton?
It was difficult to leave Mossley, John Flanagan was the Assistant Manager and then the Manager at Mossley in my first year there but he stepped down at the end of it. I have a lot of time for John, he is very knowledgeable and personable and someone I consider a big friend in the game. I think his Curzon team, as we saw in pre-season, are very good and will be challenging for the title this year. For me, however, it was a frustrating year at Curzon, I wasn’t really fit and spent much of the year on the bench but I chipped in here and there with a couple of goals.
You then moved onto Bamber Bridge in 2011. What resulted in your moving to Bamber Bridge?
I’d had a couple of good games for Curzon and Mossley against Bamber and I live round the corner so when manager Neil Reynolds rang me it was a ‘no-brainer’. I had started off last season quite well and scored half a dozen goals in the first couple of months but my form dipped a little and I found myself out of the team towards the end of October. At this time I kind of fell out with football, little knocks take longer to heal when you’re the wrong side of 30 and with a young family my priorities had changed.
You came to West last season with the goal of learning the ropes from the boot room upwards with the view of becoming a manager. What has that experience been like?
It’s been excellent. I’m really lucky to have worked with some excellent coaches and managers. For me Andy is at the top of that list. For me the experience has been a great learning curve and being around the club and the lads has been very rewarding. The club has a coaching structure and facilities that would be the envy of clubs 2 or 3 steps up the ladder and we try to do things the right way. We have some very talented footballers in the first team squad and some exciting prospects in the reserves. I’m really sold on what we are trying to achieve as a club and look forward to the youth development underpinning our progress on the pitch over the next couple of seasons.
How has combining the role of playing and being the assistant manager worked for you?
Last season my arrival coincided with the lads going on a great run which meant that as a player my input was limited. It was great to finish the season so well by getting promoted and, of course, winning the divisional cup. It’s the first real time I have been able to see the game from a managers perspective rather than a playing perspective and I really enjoy thinking about the team as a whole rather than my individual role on the pitch.
Have you set yourself any targets in your managerial career?
Naturally I’m ambitious and would like to manage at the highest possible level but I am conscious of the fact that good managers have learned their trade prior to progressing.
What is like to learn from someone with Andy Nelson’s experience?
Working with Andy has been invaluable as his knowledge of the non-league game is unparalleled and his contacts list is a very big ‘little black book’! In the emotive world of football it is brilliant to be around someone as rational as Andy. He doesn’t really lose his temper with the boys and his focus is always on improving and progressing. It’s a big part of why we have such a talented group of lads with great team spirit.
You’ve played in multiple positions at West, centre back, wing back, winger, centre midfield and centre forward from what I can recall, and are currently making right full back your own. What has been your favourite position to play? Do you enjoy playing in different roles?
At Leigh I played in every position except goal keeper and I seem to be a ‘jack of all trades master of none type of player’, think the nice term is ‘utility’. I enjoy playing full back as in the modern game you are encouraged to get forward and support the attack whenever possible.
Has there been any particular stand out moments in your time at the club?
Callum Jones’ last minute winner in the final league game of last season to get us promoted was unbelievable! And obviously winning the cup was brilliant as well.
Wherever you go your Dad isn’t far behind you, what kind of influence has he had on your footballing career?
When I was younger my Dad used to take me all around the North West almost every night of the week playing football. Without that support and encouragement from such an early age I don’t think I would have played for the teams I have played for.
Finally, the Isle of Man, have you any rebuttal from Anthony Potts re: your walk to the airport through the IOM countryside?
I’m sure my good friend Anthony Potts (did you know he’s a model by the way?) will concede that our route to the airport was enjoyable, eventful and time efficient!
Do you have your own favourite Isle of Man story?
I promised my roommate Mike Kennedy and the rest of the lads ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’ but a particular favourite memory is stood in a bar called ‘Quid’s inn’ ‘The Bull’ Tommy Walsh turns to ‘Housewives Favourite’ Lee Shillito and I and asks “Setts, what are your opinions on religion and do you believe in God?” My response was short and left him in no way uncertain as to the inappropriateness of his comments on a lad’s football tour night out!