Phil Burton has just celebrated his first anniversary with Cammell Lard 1907, but after a disappointing 2018-19 season which saw the Birkenhead based side finish 15th, Burton is confident his side can have a healthy campaign.
"Fifteenth was not somewhere near the aspirations we had at the start. I think we always knew it was going to be a difficult season with taking over and having to build from zero. With the scenario before we just had to go attract players and get them in quickly and we had a month window to do that. We knew the preparation wasn’t going to be ideal to do anything serious in the League, as we’d done previously so it was just about stability, getting some foundations in.
"With fifteenth, we were disappointed. Our home form was superb and I think we drew the most, it felt like in the history of the League. We drew so many games. We threw away fifteen points from leading positions and had we just converted fifty percent of that we would have been in a healthy League position where I would have expected us to be with where we’re at. We were disappointed with fifteenth, to be fair."
Chairman Lee Atherton has only been in the role for a short period after been the Vice-Chairman last season, "I was Vice Chairman last year but, because I played for the club, I’m quite well-involved so I speak with Phil all the time. At the start of the season, we didn’t have a Manager, we didn’t have a team because he’d left to move to Vauxhall so Phil came in. To get a settled team together was quite hard. In the end, finishing fifteenth was a really good place because at the start of the season we didn’t have anything. We got to the Cheshire Senior Cup Final; the lowest-ranked team. I keep in contact with Phil quite a lot because I like to know what’s going on in the football side of things."
With a full pre-season schedule planned, Burton is pleased, "It’s gone well. We’ve managed to bring in four or five players that we wanted to bring in. We wagered on them in April- and May-time. There’s one or two more we’ve got to bring in through the doors so we knew the areas we wanted to strengthen in.
"I think realistically for the season we have to have a League form to match the hard work that’s going in. In terms of bench set, we’re not in a position where we’re going sit here and say, “We’re going to challenge, we’re trying to win the League”. We’re not going to be challenging because we’re just not ready for that in terms of where we’re at. We just can’t compete, unfortunately.
"A healthy League position is something that we want to build on. Similarly in terms of Cup runs that we went on last year. If we can have a similar Cup campaign in all areas then that will be another solid season for us."
Atherton is also targeting a strong season and maybe even an FA Cup place, "That’s a tough question! I think knowing Phil, he’ll have set his sights on finishing probably in the top six. With watching the team last year towards the end of the season against the top teams, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t challenge for the top six if we just had a little bit more of a settled side.
"Probably with not paying the players it’s quite hard at times but probably all the lads have stayed so I’m hopeful and I don’t see why we can’t challenge for a top six. Top four might be just a little bit too much but I think one or two maybe, who’ll be paying decent money, might run away with it but I don’t see why we can’t challenge, to be fair. I’m quite hopeful and I’m sure Phil is anyway. "
Burton added, "I think financially that’s the most sponsored. I’ve spoken to the Chairman and the Board and that’s exactly what they’d want from a financial position. I think, for me, I don’t really have a season objective. I just don’t believe that personally. For me, we’ve always done it where we’ll build a three-month plan, which is getting off to a good start, then I and the management team will sit down, will re-asses then we’ll go from there.
"I’ll always commit to three months and the key is to build some momentum and get off to a better start than we did last year. We’ll then sit down, we’ll reflect and we’ll build again. I couldn’t say a top-six or a top ten. The aim for the three months is we know what we’re trying to do in terms of a points objective and to build momentum. We’ll build from there and we’ll just keep on doing it as a team, then we’ll address it with the lads and tell them what the three-month goals are. I’ve always done that in management."
Last term Laird has their best FA Vase run, but came unstuck in the First Round Proper against eventual Semi-FInalists Northwich Victoria, "The Cup is massive because it brings income in. The old team got to the semis before he rebranded us Cammell Laird 1907. You’ll know, in grasping football, that money coming in is massive so just to get into the first round proper for us, plus we’d love the publicity. Money is key and getting a good run gets all the players all up for it.
"I don’t see any reason why we can’t have a decent run in it this year. I know we missed out in the FA Cup because you’ve got to have a certain amount of points. The more rounds you get in that the more money you get so that’s another earner for non-league clubs and you’ve got every chance of progressing.
"Cup runs are great and I think we can have a good run in it. Northwich last year, they got to the semis so they probably earned a little bit of money for the club plus they put the League on the map as well."
Burton agreed, "I think last year was positive and successful. From all accounts that were the best run, we’ve had so if we can emulate that. We drew a bit of an unlucky tie with Northwich because they went on to the semi-finals. If we could get a little bit lucky and get one or two teams that we can compete with, then that would be superb for us."
With Atherton previously having a spell as Assistant Manager, we wanted to know how different Step 5/6 leagues compared, "I was Assistant Manager when we played Hemsworth [in 2015-16]. That was a couple of seasons ago and I thought they were decent because I remember playing against Goole and they had a lot of their players; I think their manager was there. The standard was pretty good, to be fair. I’d say five or six had just come down from the EvoStik with their manager.
"As for our league in the Northern Counties League, I think if you played against a couple of them you’ll know how good a standard that is compared to the North West Counties. I think the top half is probably decent and then from down they’re okay but some are just local teams where local lads play for them."
A big thank you to Ellie Dalglish for transcribing.