An Interview With Halifax Town Manager, Pete Wild
Updated: Mar 18
If you've ever seen E4's smash hit comedy The Inbetweeners, you'll know exactly what I mean when I say "Completed it mate."
Just in case you've never seen it, that's a snippet of a conversation between Jay Cartwright and Neil Sutherland, friends and two of the show's four main characters. When dim Neil asks compulsive liar Jay if he wants to buy a copy of football simulation game Championship Manager, Jay replies with those three words.
Neil, surprised, retorts "You can't complete it!" yet Jay proceeds to dig himself a deeper hole and explains that while he hasn't actually completed the game, he has in fact played it so well that "the FA offered me a role in the England setup."
It's entirely made up, of course, but what it does do is reveal Jay's dream, and by extension, the dream of nearly every football fan in the world, young and old. To be a manager, and more than that, to manage the club they support.
How wonderful, then, that for this week's post I had the chance to sit down with a man who knows exactly what it's like to do that. Pete Wild has held the post of first-team manager at my local club, National League FC Halifax Town, for a little under 18 months. However, he's Oldham born and bred, and between December 2018 and May 2019, he had two separate spells in charge at his beloved Boundary Park.
Our chat covered all manner of topics, including transfer strategies, giant-killings, and working alongside another son of Oldham, a certain Paul Scholes, but we started by discussing where the first sparks of his love for football were ignited.
"The 1990 World Cup was big for me; that's when I first started to really like football. The really big moment, though, came when I had a chance meeting with the Tottenham squad on New Year's Eve 1991 in a hotel that my family and I were staying in, so I got to meet the likes of Gazza and Gary Lineker! That really cemented my passion for football.
Meeting a single football superstar is a memorable moment at any age, so it's hardly surprising meeting an entire team of them had such an effect on a young Pete. He remembers his first game, which was around the same time: "My dad took me down to watch Oldham, when I was probably five or six years old, and I've been obsessed with football ever since!"
For some football fans, that obsession doesn't extend beyond following their team outside of their normal 9-5 job. For Pete, it went even further, and at 18 years old, he made the choice to pursue a coaching career. What was it about coaching that tempted him?
"I absolutely loved football, and I was just desperate to be involved in it really! How was the interesting question; I knew I wasn't good enough to be a pro - that was quite simple, so I had to consider other options. I'd always thought of myself as having an 'old head on young shoulders' so I started doing my coaching badges at college, and found that I really enjoyed it.
"I did all sorts for a living at that time in my life - I was an apprentice mechanic, I dug holes, I cut trees down, and I also had my landlord's licence. The wage wasn't good enough to go full time in coaching, so all those jobs were so I could go and coach football in the evening! I thought at that point, though, that I was really determined to get as far as I could with coaching, so I decided I was going to knuckle down and really get myself into it full time. Luckily, 15,16 years later - I'm still involved in football!"
Of that timespan, a sizeable chunk of it was spent working in Oldham's academy: "I started out in 2008 as the assistant under-12s coach, before moving to the FA and coaching the academy part-time in the evenings. I carried on with that part-time arrangement for around eight years, before I was invited back to Oldham full time to lead the 12 to 16-year-old age groups and co-coach the under-18s.
"When I started with the under-18s, that was the closest I'd been to the professional game and that was the point when you realise that you don't really know that much! You think you do, but that was a massive learning curve for me! The biggest piece of advice I can give to up and coming managers is to not assume that you know everything. Trust those around you, and listen to them."
As any manager will tell you, that learning curve and that experience all adds up to make you better at the job. When Pete was handed the biggest challenge of his coaching career to date shortly after Christmas 2018 by being named Oldham caretaker manager following the departure of Frankie Bunn, he had the added benefit that his learning curve had come at the same club.
Perhaps it was the fact he was so familiar with everyone that afforded him the ability to inspire his side to one of the biggest results in Oldham's recent history. Arriving at Premier League Fulham in the FA Cup's third round just three games into Pete's spell as boss, the Latics walked away with a 2-1 giant-killing win. How did he prepare his players mentally for facing a side three tiers above them?
"When I took over, it wasn't really a big shock to the system, because having been around the club, I'd already built up a good rapport with the professionals. I quickly got myself in with the team by turning to the senior professionals - the ones I already had a good relationship with - and they made it easy as possible both for me and the team.
"I won my first two matches in charge, and the sure fire way to make yourself liked and respected by your players is to win football games, it's as simple as that! It all made it easier to look at Fulham just like any other game - we found their weaknesses, and how we could exploit them. In terms of my players executing a plan we'd come up with, that day was probably the best I've ever had in that regard. If I don't have another day like that in my career, then I'll take that all day long!"
As it turned out, Pete wouldn't actually have too much longer as caretaker manager, as despite that famous win, he was overlooked as Oldham's next permanent manager, and the man appointed instead was none other than Manchester United great Paul Scholes.
However, Scholes was rather a square peg in a round hole at Boundary Park, and lasted only seven games before leaving. Oldham needed another caretaker, and once again they turned to Pete, who had returned to his previous position of academy manager during Scholes' spell at the club. Did he feel any pressure at being asked to take over from a man with Scholes' credentials?
"Not really, because I knew Scholesy well - he's an Oldham lad and it's a small town. He actually asked me when he was in charge "why didn't you tell me what it's like?" and I replied "because you wouldn't have come if I'd told you!".
"Paul was fantastic. When I went back to being academy manager after he came in, we had regular conversations; he'd always call me after every youth game to find out how we'd got on and he was keen to have those young players around the first team. I was gutted when he went, because I could see a bright future for the club with Paul in charge, but unfortunately he decided it wasn't for him."
After that second short spell, Pete ended his long association with Oldham in the summer of 2019, and found himself dropping a division to take charge at FC Halifax.
He seized the initiative to force his way into chairman David Bosomworth's plans once he became aware of the vacancy at the Shay: "I rang [Bosomworth] up! I thought, let's make this as personal as possible as quickly as possible, and I had a chat with him about my experience at Oldham. I was told to get my CV in, and ten days and two interviews later, I had the job! With just nine days until the start of the season, I had a lot of work to do too!"
Despite the challenge he inherited, a very successful year was enjoyed by all during Pete's first season in charge, with the Shaymen making a run to the playoffs in what turned out to be a Covid-disrupted campaign.
Following that, somewhat in contrast to other clubs where the aforementioned virus has put a dampener on recruitment, there has been a huge influx of new arrivals at the Shay this summer. Something that has always interested me is how that recruitment is done at the non-league level. Luckily, I had a man sat in front of me who could tell me exactly how he goes about it.
"It varies massively at our level. Some clubs have scouts and heads of recruitment, we don't! We have me, we have Milly [Chris Millington, assistant manager], and that is it!
We start with a comprehensive database of players from the Championship all the way down to the Northern Premier League, and from then on we're both constantly in the car, observing players. When we're not in the car we're keeping tabs on players using a platform called Whiteout, which enables us to analyse how different players are doing.
"One thing that I am lucky to have is my network of contacts and pro clubs around the area - around the North West and around Yorkshire too, and I have two or three trusted agents that I can use to watch players for me as well. It's as much about building your network and trusting people as it is about doing the recruitment yourself.
"When it came to this summer specifically, Milly and I made a shortlist of 30 players, and we then drove the length of the country to meet every single one of them. That's important for me, because I want to know what these players are like as people. You could have the best players in the world, but if they're a nightmare in the dressing room, then it's pointless.
"We interrogate them and we try and judge their behaviour, their character. Do they seem interested? Are they looking at us when we're talking to them? That kind of thing. Once we're happy they're a good fit, we show them clips of what we're about. The aim of that is making them feel wanted by showing them where they'll fit in. Once we're happy that we feel they're buying into it, and they can show that they're a good fit, that goes a long way, and that's when we start talking money!"
Thank you very much to Pete for taking the time to speak to me. I was really interested to learn about what's involved in managing a team at Halifax's level, particularly so when we discussed the recruitment model that the Shaymen follow. Naturally, I will be supporting him and the team wholeheartedly as he continues his career at the Shay, so all the very best to you, your staff, and the players, Pete.
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