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Signings,Influence, Ambitions . . .minibus problems! - 17 August

Jon Palmer, Sports Editor for gloucestershirelive.co.uk, conducts an in-depth interview with Lydney Town Manager Mark Lee.

mark lee lydney town hellenic leagueLydney Town have taken four points from their first two Hellenic League Premier Division fixtures of the season, also progressing in the FA Cup with a 2-1 extra preliminary round win at AFC Hayes. After a 16th placed finish last term, boss Mark Lee (pictured right) is confident they can climb the table, lifted by the arrival of former Cheltenham Town defender John Brough as first team coach. Here the Lydney manager discusses the clubs Southern League ambitions, their start to 2018/19 and what it is like running a team at Uhlsport Hellenic League level.

How pleased are you with your start to the season?
Very pleased, especially after last season, when pre-season didn't go as well as expected and we stumbled a bit in the league for the first few games. To have this start has been a real bonus, with early points on the board in the league and a win in the FA Cup. It's been a positive start.

You have made two new signings in Ross Grimshaw and Lewis Thompson, how have they done so far?
Ross was a non-starter, unfortunately. Due to our match against Brackley Town Saints being postponed on the first day he has now gone back to Yate Town without playing for us yet, but he is signed on dual registration. Rich Thomas is still our number one, but he misses a game in a few weeks so Ross will be lined up to come in and he comes highly recommended by John Brough, who had him at North Leigh and he was a young player at Cheltenham Town until last season. Lewis is a player I have liked for a while and he is something different to what we've had in the past. He runs channels, works hard, holds the ball up and scores goals.

He struggled a little bit with fitness in pre-season, but as soon as the first league game arrived at Longlevens he was a different animal, scoring his goal and working so hard. He also scored the winner in the FA Cup and won a penalty against Brimscombe. There is more to come from him, but he's done well with Ross Gabriel, who has been exceptional. Declan Morley-Lyne is also back with us and we also have young Sam Wines, so there are four players for two places, which is something we haven't had in the past. We lost Declan last year and Ross was carrying all of our hopes really, but there is competition now.

We know we needed to be more organised from last season and improve on the coaching, which we have done with the arrival of John, which has been massive. We needed to have an identity, which we also have now. I was confident there was more to come from the players here last year and John is helping to bring that out. There has been a lot of information for them to take on, but they have soaked it up and are all willing to learn and it's reaping rewards so far.

What was it like on the opening day after all your pre-season work, breaking down on the minibus before reaching Gloucester on the way to Brackley Town Saints?
There have been a lot of roadworks around Over and we were queueing to get into Gloucester and the minibus started overheating. We pulled in at Over Farm at 12.30pm and the AA didn't reach us until 7pm. It was hugely frustrating and having to wait until the Wednesday to play our first game of the season meant it felt like everything needed refreshing. To then go and win at Longlevens and win was huge.

You have started with two Gloucestershire derby games, how pleased have you been with four points?
The Longlevens game was a typical derby and it was our first game of the season, while they had played on the Saturday. The first win is so important. Moving on to Brimscombe, for the first half an hour we struggled to get to grips with things. We made an early substitution and sacrificed Lewis Halford, matching them up. I thought we were the better side for an hour, missing a penalty and the boys came off disappointed to have drawn 2-2, which shows how far we've come. Brimscombe are a good side and the substitutions they were making showed the strength they have in their squad. We worked hard and the players have taken on John's ideas. We know we have quality in our side and it's coming to the surface, so we have something to build on.

You progressed in the FA Cup with a 2-1 extra preliminary round win at AFC Hayes, how pleased were you to get through and net the prize money?
To a club like ours, it's everything. It was £2,250. If we can get past Royal Wootton Bassett Town, it'll be £5,000 in total, which is huge and takes us so far as a club. We try and get some outside funding, but it's hard to find income which allows you to progress, so the FA Cup is vital.

You brought in Ross Gabriel from County League side Broadwell Amateurs, are you looking to give more local lads a chance?
We are always looking for local lads and there is plenty of talent in the Forest. Ross was friends with a couple of the boys and we had our eye on him. He worked hard, got his chance, Declan left and the responsibility was on Ross and he became our focal point and scored goals.

Liam Shepherd was wanted by Bishop's Cleeve. How pleased were you that he wanted to stay?
It was important to tie him down because he's an eight out of 10 every week and never misses a game. His durability is something we want to build on and we wish we had 11 of him to be honest. He was tempted by Cleeve and I can understand why, but I think John Brough coming in gave him that bit of hunger back and that was a big factor in him staying. He's come out of his shell a little bit, but he just gets on with his work, covers every blade of grass and his attitude is great. Two seasons ago he was ever present and last year he only missed one game, which is priceless. He looks after himself, doesn't drink and is a manager's dream really.

john brough hellenic leage footballHow much of a difference has John Brough made?
Huge. I have been at the club for eight years and although players come and go, they do get used to what you are saying and hearing the same voice. We needed a new coach and we are always looking to improve on and off the field. I spoke to John (left) after he left North Leigh, mainly just as a punt, but he said yes. It's moved from there and he's been fantastic. He is organised, one step ahead of me and it's a dream for a manager as training has been fantastic. There has been a lot of information to take on, but every base is covered with John. He's been a breath of fresh air. It's the same set of players as last year, but he's made a big difference already.

stuart liddington lydney town hellenic leagueStuart Liddington is your assistant, how important a role has he played?
He has been brilliant. He's been at the club pretty much all of his life. When Lydney won the Northern Senior League, County League and Division One West, Stuart (pictured right) was in charge. He has worked with the 16s and the 18s and is chairman of the youth section, so he knows all the players coming through. He is part of the fabric and on match days with John coming in, we can speak to the players more. Stuart is great with substitutions and we are on the phone every day. He is extremely valuable to the club.

Has a move to the Western League ever been discussed?
We did apply and ask the question four or five years ago. It was then down to the FA, but they blocked it. You get used to the travelling, with four hour round trips. I don't think the other sides enjoy visiting Lydney, but it's a good division and we just get on with it.

There are six Gloucestershire clubs now, so plenty of local games to look forward to.
Yes I am looking forward to going to Cleeve and we have Fairford, Brimscombe, Longlevens and Tuffley Rovers so I am all for it. The more Gloucestershire sides the better.

It's been a great achievement for the club to reach this level, what is the aim now?
I am not sure we can challenge for promotion this year as we are a little bit light. I am not really one for setting big targets as you can set yourself up for a fall. But I believe with the size of the club and the town, we can get into the Southern League. It's difficult attracting players at times because of where we are located. Cinderford are the league above and if we can get there it'd make us a lot more appealing, opening up a few doors. It's always been a long term aim and I don't think we are too far off. It's a competitive league, even with Highworth, Bracknell and Thatcham going up. One team get promoted this year, so it's difficult.

Is the ground ready for the Southern League?
There are one or two things we need, including a turnstile and an outside toilet, but it's minimal stuff and won't be a problem. We are prepared to do it.

You have been at the club for eight years, have you enjoyed it throughout?
You have highs and lows and I've had both. I must either enjoy it, or I am crazy! I have a burning ambition of getting Southern League football and that's what drives me on and it also drives Stuart on too. I still enjoy it and with any loss, you want to improve. We had a disappointing season last year and I was never going to finish after a season like that. I must be bonkers, but I am driven to do better!

Do you have a good relationship with Cinderford Town?
Yes, we try to work with them and have done since Steve Peters was manager there before John Brough took over. I have been in touch with Paul Michael and he's helped us out with players, including Lewis Bamford last year and Alex Harris had a couple of games for us. We have that relationship there and Paul is a good guy.

Lydney is traditionally a rugby town. Do you feel you are battling against that?
It's always been a rugby town and we are overshadowed by them at times. At home games you can hear how many people are there supporting them. They were relegated last year and have ambitions to go back up. With the houses and the infrastructure in Lydney now, with people moving in all the time, it's a big enough town to be able to support both clubs. We have to make sure people know we are there, offering a decent standard of football, and try to get as many as we can through the turnstiles. When we don't have a game, myself and Stuart try to go and support the rugby and hopefully a few people are interested in both clubs.

How did you end up taking over as Lydney Town manager?
I joined as a player and I knew the manager at the time, Neil Hook, is who is now vice chairman. Stuart took us into the Premier Division in 2007, but we were demoted to Division One West for not having floodlights and the side broke up. Neil approached me and asked if I'd like to take on the job. I had always wanted to get into that side and been interested in management, but I didn't realise what a big job it was going to be. The club had been on a rise and then it had broken up, so it took me two years to get what I wanted. Rich Kear played a big part in that as a player and a coach, with Stuart being involved too. Jamie Addis as captain was a big one and it snowballed from there, but that's where the hard work started. We then had to get floodlights installed to get back into the Premier Division in 2015. I had managed Whitecroft for a year, playing too, but this was my first focused management role really.

Can you talk me through your playing days?
I started at Whitecroft as a 14-year-old. At 16 I played for the youth team at Gloucester City and Tim Harris picked me up for Cinderford Town. I had a back back injury, which kept me out for a while. I went back to Cinderford for pre-season and that was the year of the FA Cup run, reaching the second round proper. I played in the Tuffley and Forest Green games and came on as a sub against Gloucester City. The year before they had won the treble, with the Hellenic Premier title and two cups. They were a tight knit group and it was great to be a part of that season. Brian Godfrey was there as assistant and I learned a lot from him. I remember Chris Price walking into the dressing room and he always had time for the younger players, passing on his knowledge. It was a really good time, but some players came back from injuries and I drifted away from there and I was asked to go to Carterton on loan, but it seemed a world away. I ended up at Viney and Ellwood in the County League and at 32 I went to Lydney. I had three years as a player before taking over as manager.

How does football management fit in with your day job?
I run my own decorating business and it's a lot to juggle, but it allows me to get to midweek games, but I've just bought a house in Lydney and my partner is from Lydney. If I had a 9 to 5 job, I am not sure I could make it work with football. It is a lot of work and I try to get on with it. It's all or nothing and I couldn't do it half heartedly, it's got to be 100 per cent.

You have the FA Cup, FA Vase, GFA Trophy, Hellenic League and various Hellenic cups. Do you have to prioritise certain competitions?
Well, we are not going to win the FA Cup! For Thatcham to win the Vase last year was incredible, but having seen them they were basically a Southern League side playing in the Hellenic. You want to go as far as you can in both, but the league is always the priority. The other Hellenic cups we have traditionally done well in, winning three in the last four years. We beat Flackwell Heath in the Floodlit Cup and if you can do well in a couple of cups and finish in a decent league position you've had a good season. Everything is competitive. I don't think there is as much money around as there is with the Oxfordshire sides and the likes of Reading City. We can't compete with some of the budgets, but we just keep trying to improve.

jon palmer gloucester sports journalist

 

 

Jon Palmer's article published on www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk 16 August 2018

 

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