It’s no surprise that Darren Williams has made a splash as manager of ‘The Catch’. Now four years into his tenure as Whitby Town boss, the friendly and genuine Teessider has seen it all during more than two decades in the game. In a storied career, Williams has played in the Premier League, every division of the Football League, and earnt his stripes as a veteran defensive rock and acute manager in Non-League football.
Discussing everything from playing in York City’s famous 3-0 triumph over Manchester United, to scoring his first goals for Sunderland, his respect for the hardworking professionals of the Northern Premier League and much more, Darren talks me through his fascinating journey, with honesty and heart.
DB: Hi Darren. You grew up in Middlesbrough during the ’80s, which was a difficult period throughout the North East with the pit closures & unemployment. What was life like as a kid in ‘Boro at that time?
DW: I think it was difficult for the town at that time, and that was reflected in Middlesbrough F.C.. For the club, it was more a case of survival than anything else. From a financial point of view, obviously clubs like that have academies now, but the youth policy at Boro then was very different.
As young footballers, we were training in a gymnasium – about 30 or 40 kids at a time. It resulted in too many players with ability being overlooked.
DB: You joined York City’s youth setup in 1993 and made your debut for the club in December 1994 after superb performances for City’s ‘intermediate’ side. What do you remember about your early time at Bootham Crescent and making your professional debut in a 4-0 win over Blackpool?
DW: I joined as a YTS, and had to do everything from cleaning the stands to scrubbing hallways and toilets. It was a proper YTS experience, and a lot of the players who went through that came out the other end as better people. I still think young players should have those duties; I never saw a reason why it should have changed.
Leading up to my first-team debut, I played for the youth team in the morning and then dashed back to the ground to be on the bench against Blackpool, and I came on as a sub. I played two games in one day, but thankfully we were at home, so I didn’t have to travel too far!
DB: On 20th September 1995, you played in arguably York City’s most famous victory of all time. The Minstermen won 3-0 away at Manchester United (City eventually went through 4-3 on aggregate). Were you confident before the first-leg that you could overcome a footballing power like United? And what was the atmosphere like at Bootham Crescent for the return?
DW: No, we weren’t confident going there that we could beat Man United. At that time, they had some fantastic players and a massive squad. We just went to enjoy the occasion. Most of the lads hadn’t played at Old Trafford before, and it was a big occasion for us. York had a great support at the time who travelled down to Manchester, and we played really well for them on the night and managed to come away with a 3-0 victory.
Bootham Crescent was packed to the rafters for the second-leg, and Man United had included some of their top players. Fortunately, we got a goal just before half-time and it was enough to take us through.
DB: Despite that famous cup win and York City narrowly avoiding the drop to Division Three, you left to join Sunderland in Summer 1996. Why did you decide to leave Bootham Crescent? And did you get other offers as well as Sunderland’s?
DW: Yeah, there were a couple of offers. However, my Youth Team manager at York, Ricky Sbragia had gone to Sunderland, and he recommended me to Peter Reid. At the time, it was an offer to jump from Division Three to the Premiership, so from a career point of view it was a no-brainer really.
DB: Did you find the transition of moving up to a bigger club like Sunderland quite easy, or was it a difficult one?
DW: I think I adapted quite quickly to be fair. I didn’t expect myself to, I thought it would take quite a bit of time to settle in there and to appear in the first team. I didn’t have to wait too long to play, actually, and the whole transition was quite smooth.
DB: In your first season at Sunderland, the club were sadly relegated from the Premier League. However, on a personal note, you scored your first professional goal in a 1-1 draw with Leicester and scored the winner away at your hometown club Middlesbrough. Tell me about those moments.
DW: The one at Leicester came out of the blue! Martin Smith got to the byline, pulled the ball back and fortunately enough I arrived at the right time to volley it into the bottom corner. Being my first goal, in the Premiership, was special. I wasn’t a natural goalscorer, I’ve always been more of a defensive player, but at Sunderland they played me in a slightly more advanced position [than York had], so it allowed me to get forward a bit more.
The goal against Boro was vital at the time, as we were scrapping for points – and the fact they were my hometown club made it extra special. The funny thing is that I was supposed to be marking Juninho, but I ended up with a free role in the first-half because they’d left him on the bench!
DB: In 1999, Sunderland won the old Division One to return to the Premier League. The year before you’d played in that incredible, heartbreaking play-off final where Charlton won on penalties after a 4-4 draw. Do you think the hurt of losing that final spurred yourself and the whole squad on for the following season?
DW: I don’t think it was the hurt of losing that season. It was the experience of that [1997-98] season, where we should have gone up automatically. There was one night at the Stadium of Light where we were 2-0 up against QPR, and ended up drawing 2-2, which effectively knocked us out of second place.
We learnt from that experience, and took that whole season on board. In the following campaign we pushed on and dominated the league from start to finish.
DB: You left Sunderland in 2004, but after a brief stint at Cardiff City, you headed back North to Hartlepool United. In your second season, the club were promoted to League One with Danny Wilson in charge. Danny’s perceived as a tough, no-nonsense manager. How did you find playing for him?
DW: I got on okay with Danny. We fell out on the odd occasion, but I found Danny to be a nice bloke and a decent manager, to be fair. We didn’t argue over anything personal, it was just football-related stuff, and we always got on fine again after any disagreement.
That’s how it is in football, you have your run-ins and then once the matter’s done and dusted, it’s forgotten about. You’re always likely to clash at some point in your career, with somebody – and unfortunately I’ve experienced that on a couple of occasions myself!
DB: Shortly before making the transition into playing Non-League football, you joined Dundee, pairing up with your old Sunderland teammate Alex Rae, who was then player-manager at Dens Park. Did you enjoy your experience of Scottish football? And was it tough to have a manager who you’d previously played with instead of for?
DW: No, it wasn’t tough to have a manager that I’d previously played with, because I respected Alex and we’d got on really well when we were at Sunderland. He called me and asked me to go up and play at Dens Park, and it was a decision I wasn’t too sure about – but I went up there.
I enjoyed the football side of things, but not life there. No disrespect, but Dundee isn’t the greatest of places and that area is quite remote. That was hard, and unfortunately Alex got the sack shortly after, and another guy I’d worked with, Jocky Scott took over. I got on okay with Jocky, but I’d moved up there to play for Alex, really.
DB: You joined Gateshead, in the Conference Premier in 2009. I believe that deal took a while to happen, because you were still hoping for a professional club to come in. So was it tough to accept that you were playing at a lower level than you had been earlier in your career?
DW: It wasn’t tough to accept, but I was looking around for a while, hoping that I’d get an offer from a League club. Obviously though, the longer you wait the harder it gets to find a club. Joining Gateshead was a decision I should have made a little bit earlier. I enjoyed playing for them, and being at a local club, but I just didn’t see eye-to-eye with Ian Bogie, the manager.
I was a senior pro and I had a view of how things should be done, and I thought some of the decisions he made were just not right.
DB: Whitby Town, where you arrived in 2011, was your first foray into management; as player manager. You’ve done a superb job, establishing a pretty small club as Northern Premier League mainstays. How would you describe your man-management style and the way you want your teams to play?
DW: We’re an attractive footballing side and we have players with good footballing pedigree. That’s how I’ve always wanted us to play. In terms of man-management, dealing with players is something I think I do really well. I’ve had positive feedback from players I’ve previously coached, as well. Dealing with individuals is all part-and-parcel of management and I consider it one of my strengths.
DB: At Whitby Town, you have players in your squad like Lee Bullock – who you played with at Hartlepool – and Mark Robinson – who you played with at Gateshead and Gainsborough Trinity. Why do you think it’s so important to have former teammates at the club with you?
DW: It’s good to have people you know around you, because that mutual respect is already there. You know their character, and that they are honest lads. If they have a problem, or you make decisions that they don’t agree with, then those guys will come out and say so. What I wouldn’t like are players who didn’t agree with something I did, and then talked behind my back about it.
DB: In Non-League, players and managers move between clubs a lot, more frequently than in the higher echelons of the game. What is it that you’ve enjoyed so much about Whitby Town to keep you at the club for 4 years (and counting)?
DW: I’ve enjoyed working with the players that I’ve had. What I think a lot of people forget is that these lads have jobs, they’re working day-in, day-out and then the club may train on a Tuesday night or a Thursday night, and we often have a midweek game. That might be away at King’s Lynn or Colwyn Bay.
The players will finish work, jump on a bus, get there, compete for 90 minutes and sometimes won’t get back until 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock the next morning. Then most of them have to be up again for work a few hours later. I have massive respect for the lads at this level. They don’t get paid the fortunes that the Premier League players do, but they still show such commitment to the game.
DB: Last season Town finished 13th and you’ve had a tough start to this season. Realistically, what are The Catch aiming to achieve in this campaign?
DW: We’re hoping to achieve a play-off place. We’ve had a difficult start, losing six defenders in the first seven games! The team has had to be shuffled around a lot, because of that. We’ve also lost our regular goalkeeper [Shane Bland] so we’ve had to get a replacement in for him, as well. Despite all this disruption at the start of the season, we still have high hopes of a play-off spot.
DB: You’re still only 38, so a young manager. Do you have a long-term plan for where you want to be in management in 5 or 10 years, or are you just focused on the here and now with Whitby?
DW: I’m focusing on the present with Whitby, but obviously one day I want to be coaching in the Football League. I want to move up and progress. As a player I started at the bottom and worked my way up, which is how I see my managerial career going. Working at this level [Northern Premier League] is a great grounding. You learn to deal with awkward situations like players who can’t get off work or having to shuffle about a small squad.
I want a gradual progression as a manager, and the learning curve here at Whitby will stand me in good stead for that.
DB: Finally, what do you enjoy doing outside of football? And is there ever a career you considered aside from the beautiful game?
DW: Outside of football, I enjoy time with my family. I coach quite a lot, and that’s an area I think I’ll stay in. It’s what I know. I coach with Evolution, and at East Durham College, and I’ll always enjoy the coaching side of the game!
With the new season drawing ever nearer, episode 75 of the Non League Podcast is now available to download.
There’s only one item on the agenda for the show: predictions. That’s right, Kristan, Rob and myself lay down our choices for who we think will win each of the twelve divisions from Steps one to four.
We would love to hear your thoughts on our predictions, aswell as hearing who you think will be top of the various piles in ten months time. Get involved by leaving a comment below, or get in touch with any of us and the show on Twitter (links below). Alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are looking forward to the coming season, it’s going to be an absolute cracker in every division!
To listen to the latest episode, just head over to the podcast’s website, where you can also download the show. You can also subscribe to us on iTunes. If that’s your preferred medium, please leave us a rating and review, as it helps us find new listeners.
Contact us on Twitter:
The show: @NonLeaguePod
The latest podcast is out now to stream or download. Read the rest of this entry
Upwardly mobile FC United of Manchester United have never had a better opportunity to seal that much needed promotion to Step Two, a promotion which would be good for non league in general. Read the rest of this entry
The Northern Premier League Division One North club have been docked three points for fielding an ineligible player, but the club say they have been treated unfairly. Read the rest of this entry
After thirty two games in which your team haven’t won, and you have seen only two draws, you could be forgiven for getting excited as that elusive three points edges ever nearer. However, for Droylsden FC, that excitement bubbled over into an embarassing twitter mishap.
Winning 2-1 at Barwell in the Northern Premier League Premier Division deep into stoppage time, the official twitter declared the full time result as a 2-1 win, which sparked mass celebrations among their followers. Dozens of retweets on the club’s account show just how much the result meant to supporters. Except for one rather important fact:
The game hadn’t finished!
Indeed, Barwell went on to ruin Droylsden’s day by scoring in the fourth minute of stoppage time to cause acute embarassment to the twitterer who had declared full time. In fairness, the person responsible (who is probably glad that they are anonymous right now!) wasn’t at the game, and was relaying match events on twitter that they were receiving via text message, including the incorrect final score.
And it wasn’t only the club that tweeted the mistaken win. FC United of Manchester, along with their FCUM Radio account, and The NPL Group all sent out messages relaying the result, leading to the awful realisation that the late equaliser had been scored, and an embarassing climbdown:
In terms of the result, it will be a heartbreaking one for the team. Leading 2-0 until the final seven minutes, a penalty and that stoppage time leveller mean that it is now thriry three games since Droylsden last won, a run that stretches back to April 2013 and a victory at Colwyn Bay.
On a slightly happier note, Droylsden received many messages of support from fans of all clubs, and even gained lots of new followers.
Here’s hoping that next time they tweet that they’ve won, they actually have!
Halesowen claimed another win for their tally and started to put the pressure on league leaders Leek, as they held on to beat Lincoln United 2-1, in what turned out to be a close encounter.
The first chance of the game came from Halesowen as Iyseden Christie managed to get some space in the box, and he hit a shot from a tight angle, but he blasted the ball over the bar. But after fifteen minutes of play, Halesowen broke the deadlock. A cross came in from new signing Kyle Patterson, and Aaron Griffiths managed to leap into the air and head the ball over the keeper and into the net to give Halesowen an early lead.
The game fell into a ‘quiet stage’ as the next chance came eighteen minutes after the goal, as Christie had another chance at goal as he hit a shot from distance that was on target, but keeper Craig Turner was easily able to gather the ball on the line. Jean-Michel Gueyes was proving to be a handful as he cut into the Lincoln penalty area and hit a shot that was blocked and the ball flew over the bar.
Kyle Patterson was showing his ability as he attempted to chip the keeper from twenty five yards out and the ball dipped towards goal. It would have gone in if it wasn’t for Craig Turner making a great save. Griffiths nearly got his second of the game as a cross from Gueyes flew towards goal and Griffith’s looping header flew towards goal, but he was denied by another great save by Turner.
Patterson was incredibly unlucky not to get a goal on his debut, as he ran towards goal and slotted the ball under the keeper. It looked as if the ball was rolling into the net until it rebounded off the post and Gueyes then looked to have tapped the ball into the net, but it was blocked by a defender on the line.
Lincoln had their first proper chance at goal, as the corner kick flew into the box and Bruno Holden headed the ball just wide of the left hand post.
Christle then missed a sitter for the Yeltz, as the ball flew into the box and landed by his feet. However, he hit the ball, from point-blank range, straight over the bar.
Griffiths then grabbed his second goal of the game with an absolute stunner from eighteen yards, hitting a curling finesse shot from the right hand side of the penalty area. It flew into the top left hand corner to claim a comfortable lead for the Yeltz.
Then a minute later, the Halesowen defence switched off and after much consideration, it looked that the ball had been knocked in by a Halesowen player as a confusion in the Yeltz box allowed the ball to bounce into the net and Lincoln had got themselves back into the game almost instantly.
The referee blew his whistle for full time and the Yeltz held 2nd place for another game, and were starting to put pressure on Leek Town, who were only 4 points clear at the top after their unbeaten start.
HALESOWEN: Matt Sargeant, Kristian Green, Asa Charlton, Neil Mackenzie, Joseph Hull, Curtis Tilt, Jean-Michel Gueyes, Tom Tonks, Iyseden Christie, Kyle Patterson, Aaron Griffiths.
LINCOLN: Craig Turner, Ian Wilkins, Benjamin Brown, Stuart Reddington, Thomas Batchelor, Andrew Toyne, Sean Cann, Brendan McDaid, Matthew Langham, Bruno Holden, Joshua Bowden.
ENTERTAINMENT RATING – 3/5
MAN OF THE MATCH: AARON GRIFFITHS (Halesowen Town)
HALESOWEN TOWN FC 2-1 MICKLEOVER SPORTS FC
Halesowen bounced back to winning ways after defeating promotion rivals Mickleover Sports in a crazy game that saw the referee issue six yellow cards and two penalties.
The first chance of the game came twenty minutes in, as Halesowen were given a free-kick on the half-way line. Neil Mackenzie smashed the ball upfield and Nigel Penney was able to knock the ball onto Iyseden Christie who headed goalward, but Chris Martin made a last-gasp save as he knocked the ball onto the post and back into play.
Christie broke through the Mickleover defence ten minutes later as he ran into the right side of the box and hit a shot at goal that would have ripped the top of the net if it wasn’t for a fantastic reaction save from visiting keeper Chris Martin.
Halesowen were then awarded a penalty as a Mickleover defender handled the ball in the penalty area. Iyseden Christie stood up to take it and he placed the ball over the outstretching Chris Martin and into the right hand corner to claim the lead for the Yeltz in the 35th minute.
Mickleover started to crumble as they conceded a second just three minutes later. Joe Hull managed to get his head to the ball, and his well aimed effort from around twelve yards flew past everyone in the box into the net to give Halesowen a comfortable lead.
The second half kicked off with Mickleover having their first real chance of the game as Kevin Grocott gathered the ball from the outside of the box and he hit a shot, but the ball flew miles over the bar. Christie nearly got his second of the game as he ran past Liam Walshe and down the right hand side of the box beforee hitting a low shot that went past keeper Chris Martin, but just rolled inches wide of the left hand post.
Mickleover got themselves back into the game with twenty minutes left as Asa Charlton pushed Karl Demidh away from play to give Sports a penalty. Demidh stood up to take the penalty and he blasted the ball out of Matt Sargeant’s reach and into the bottom right hand corner of the net.
Mickleover nearly snatched a point late on as a scramble in the Yeltz box eventually gave the ball to Karl Demidh and he had an empty net to place the ball into the net, but Curtis Tilt saved the day as he managed to clear the ball off the line and to give Halesowen all three points.
HALESOWEN: Matthew Sargeant, Kristian Green, Asa Charlton, Neil Mackenzie (Shane Grainger 90’), Joe Hull, Curtis Tilt, Avun Jephcott, Thomas Tonks (Jean-Michel Gueyes 41’), Iyseden Christie, Nigel Penney (Matt Martin 68’), Aaron Griffiths. Unused Subs: Sam Pearson, Brendan Kelly.
MAN OF THE MATCH: IYSEDEN CHRISTIE (HALESOWEN TOWN)
ENTERTAINMENT RATING: 3/5
After seventeen games, Halesowen sit in fourth place with only two points separating them between 2nd place and 7th place and so with only a couple of slip-ups needed to slide down the table, will the Yeltz grab promotion to the Evo-Stik Northern Premier Division? Or will they miss out on the play-off spots once again?
After quite a disappointing defeat to Scarborough on the weekend, the Yeltz did slip down 2 places in the league as Coalville and Belper were victorious at Lincoln and Bedworth. With Lincoln visiting The Grove on Saturday, the Yeltz have a chance to pick up another three points to keep themselves in contention, but there will be some worried supporters if the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ form continues at home.
Ben Haseley is still out for a few more weeks and the star striker who has scored 22 goals this season is sorely missed, after Halesowen have only won one of the last four games. Iyseden Christie is grabbing a few goals and is showing his years of experience but is struggling to keep up with the ‘goal pace’ of Haseley.
But with a strong home league record, having won their last six league games at home, The Grove is becoming a fortress as they have only conceded six goals in the eight home league games played so far this season. If the Yeltz could keep that record going for a few more months, then promotion could be in reaching distance.
But, with still over twenty five games left to play of this season, there is still a long way to go before that belief becomes reality, so the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ performances need to be disposed of, and the consistency needs to take its place if Halesowen are to be successful and celebrating in 5 months time.
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