It’s become a little formulaic for me as the League Journalist when I do these feature articles. They’ll often consist of a conversation with a manager or a club official about the here and now of a particular NWCFL team, and how they plan for things to play out going forwards for the remainder of the campaign. Not this time.
Before the festive period for 2023, I had the privilege to speak to one of the joint managers for a team who have been something of a surprise package this season in the NWCFL Premier Division – Ben Greenidge, who, alongside Carl Taylor, currently holds the reins at Chadderton.
I asked him several questions for a feature article that never actually went live at the time of this interview, but, looking back at the answers that both he and Carl combined to give makes for very interesting reading. For the first time in one of these write-ups, we get to see what kind of statements the managers have made, with the benefit of hindsight. Fortunately for Greenidge, Taylor, and the club as a whole, absolutely none of it makes for damning reading.
For context, at the time of this conversation between myself and Ben Greenidge, Chadderton, who were playing Division One North football at this time last year, were 2nd in the NWCFL Premier Division, behind only the most well-backed club in the league, Bury FC. From 23 league games played by the end of November, the team from the Falcon Fire Stadium (I couldn’t do this article and not mention that incredible ground name) had managed an strong tally of 13 wins, 6 draws and 4 defeats. An already impressive return, but even better when you consider that, in the NWCFL Prem, Chaddy were new arrivals.
1. Talk to me about last season's play-off success - were you confident after pushing Pilkington all the way in the title race?
“Those playoffs were something else. They were a great way to end the season. Both the semifinal and the final ended in dramatic fashion with a penalty shootout, and our then-goalkeeper Joey Oldham was the hero in getting us through! We did push Pilkington to the very end, but they were worthy champions having topped the table throughout the entire season.”
To their credit, it would have been hard for this answer to age poorly – it’s not as though the club were going to have their promotion revoked halfway through the season. Promotion via play-offs and penalty shootouts is one of the greatest feelings a football fan can experience. And whilst I personally can’t speak to the feelings that the players experienced in that moment because I can’t relate; the fact that the teams’ own manager can hardly find the words because they might not exist to exemplify just how much it means, speaks for itself.
2. What were your/the boards realistic expectations for this season?
The management team wanted to finish top half of the table, that alone would have been a fantastic achievement! The board, of course, would have liked just to stay in the league and, given the noise outside of the football club was that we would struggle, that was probably a fair expectation.
Well now, it’s not often that a statement can age like milk but still be overwhelmingly positive! To just make the top 10 was the “this would be nice but is not a formality” goal going into the campaign; and here we are in February with Chadderton having played 29 league games so far, sitting more than pretty in 4th place, with a 7-point cushion on the teams outside of those newly-implemented play-off places, and with at least 1 game in hand on all 3 of the teams above them, and the next 7 teams directly below them! So much for that noise from outside of the club going into the season.
3. Have those expectations changed now to anything grander? Or were they always to push for the top of the table?
At the time of answering this, we’ve played 23 league games, and we’re at the halfway mark. So, we have reassessed the situation and aligned our expectations. All talk now is to fight for a top 5 finish - that would be an unbelievable achievement!
It has been a dark and dreary winter in terms of weather. Remember, this conversation took place in late November, and it’s now February, and Chadderton, in that time, have gone from having played 23 league games, to 29 league games. That is 6 league games in 9 weeks, which is not a great running total for a campaign of 46 games that is expected to come to a close in April. Unfortunately, it really can’t be helped when Mother Nature won’t cooperate. What this now means is that, in about 12 weeks, Chaddy will be involved in 17 league matches, not including any potential cup ties. From a totally objective, surface-level look at the league table and current forms, you might say that Chadderton are absolutely one of the favourites to be in those play-off places by the time the season ends. However, the added challenge of adjusting to these newer, tougher expectations; whilst on a time crunch; with every other team around them also feeling the pressure to perform under similar circumstances – that will pose a real threat to the clubs’ season. But, if they can rise to this challenge in the way they have risen to the challenge of the NWCFL Prem so far, then we might be looking at a soon-to-be NPL Division One West side.
4. You've not lost in all competitions since mid-late September - what's fuelled this purple patch for your players?
To be honest, this group of players are something else. Theirs is a bond like nothing we’ve ever seen before. An unbeaten run is not new to them - they went some 20+ games unbeaten last season. The team spirit is so, so good!
Unfortunately, this fantastic unbeaten run that is being referred to, which did span a whopping 15 games in all competitions, has since been put to the sword by Glossop North End in the first week of the new year. That’s a run that also stretched across 5 consecutive months, and, whilst I’m sure that the result stung quite a bit on the day, it doesn’t seem to have caused a domino effect of any kind. Since that defeat, Chadderton’s results in all competitions read as follows – 5 played, 4 won, 1 lost. That one defeat, which will be addressed further in the next paragraph, came in the Manchester Premier Cup. Those 4 wins were all in the league, and saw Chaddy bag 16 goals whilst only conceding 2. It’s clear to me that the drive and the team spirit that the managers are referring to are still very much alive and well, even if there are now one or two blots on the copy book.
5. How do you feel about your Manchester Premier Cup run? You've already eliminated the holders.
It was a great night beating Radcliffe. Yes, they clearly fielded a weakened side, but that takes nothing away from our performance and attitude to continue playing how we’ve set out all season. It was a great game! We go into the quarter final against another team a couple of steps up in Ashton United, this time with home advantage, so let’s see what we can do. We’ll give it a go!
For a little more context, this interview was conducted right around the time that Chadderton had just dumped Manchester Premier Cup holders Radcliffe out of the competition - a Radcliffe side that, this season, are absolutely storming to the NPL title. Their reward for such an upset was being given another NPL side in the quarters, that being Ashton United, which meant another fixture as the underdogs. Despite second-half goals from Jordan Jones and Connor Hughes, a 4-2 defeat spelled the end of Chaddy’s run in the competition. Regardless of how things go from here on in, Ben and Carl will be able to take a run to the quarterfinals at least in both the Manchester Premier and Macron Cups, as well as an eventual (highly likely) top 10 league table finish from their first season in the NWCFL Prem, with a very good chance at a play-off appearance still up for grabs.
6. Looking ahead to the rest of the season, what do you think your toughest test is going to be?
I think the toughest test moving into the second half of the season will be that teams now know what we’re about. Maybe teams underestimated us earlier on. We’ve seen in recent weeks, teams trying very hard to nullify our threats and our patterns of play. They’ve done their homework. So, the test is for us to counteract this and ensure we keep developing/learning on the training pitch, so we continue to be unpredictable to our opponents.
As mentioned, this Chadderton team have only lost once in the league since September, and that loss came relatively recently, being this side of New Year. But, aside from that stumble, there hasn’t been much to suggest that teams will welcome Chaddy in games knowing exactly how to stop everything they have up their sleeves. In the league matches between the beginning of that 15-game unbeaten run and this interview, during a time where the management team felt that they were being underestimated, Chadderton won 5 games from 9, drawing 4, and scoring 20. Between this interview and the current day, Chadderton have won 5 games from 7, drawing 1 and losing 1, whilst scoring 21. If anything, the stats suggest that teams are less-equipped now against Chaddy than they were closer to the start of proceedings, which is a testament to how well Ben Greenidge and Carl Taylor have adapted the club to life in the Premier Division.
7. How do you keep this brilliant run going all the way through to April?
We’ll just continue applying ourselves correctly and respecting each and every opponent. We know every team we play in this league are capable of beating us. We go into every game knowing that. No egos, no arrogance! This is what drives us and ensures we’re mentally prepared. The squad is fit, strong, and hungry for more success.
Way to end the interview with a dose of humility. It’s absolutely true that anyone can beat anyone at this level of the game, and Chaddy themselves are a great example of that fact. The Radcliffe match this time out is one instance of this, and the fact that Chaddy have beaten both Ramsbottom United and Skelmersdale United in the league this season – two teams that were both 2 divisions above Chadderton in the English football Pyramid in 2022/23 – is another. The team have absolutely proven they can go this season – they’ve edged out Litherland REMYCA 4-3 on two separate occasions, put 6 past Barnoldswick Town this past weekend, and put 7 past Maine Road in the Isuzu FA Vase very early on in the season, but they’re also determined not to just ride their luck or let these glamourous wins get to their heads. With the physical test that fixture cramming brings, a fit, strong and hungry squad is required to maintain a promotion push like Chadderton’s, and, as proven this season, doubting that this team can exceed their expectations is a pretty foolish move.
Image credti: Twitter, @ChaddertonFC, 03/02/2024