While it took longer than they wanted to find their stride, Altrincham have surged into promotion contention in this season's National League North, with an especially impressive Christmas/New Year period that yielded five wins in a row for the Robins. In a league high on noteworthy clubs, the competition to reach the fifth tier is as fierce as ever, with teams on the outer picture snapping at those in the coveted top seven positions.
There was a 3-2 loss earlier this week at Spennymoor, after one of those ever-enjoyable, big midweek trips for a non-league side, though it was only last Tuesday they were celebrating a 5-2 over AFC Telford United. It's all to play for indeed, with another North East away day this weekend, in the shape of relegation-battling Blyth Spartans.
Skipper Jake Moult has been there through cup runs, dramatic play-off final glory, National League consolidation and consecutive relegations. Then of course a Phil Parkinson-inspired revival that has come with tantalising promise of scaling greater heights yet.
The midfield man surpassed 350 games for the club earlier this season, with 39 goals in there along the way during his eight-year stint. He has Stoke City (and Port Vale...) roots, but there's no question it's the red-and-white of Alty that he's very definitely synonymous with now. The chairman, the CEO, Lord Mayor and life president of Moultrincham - here's what he had to say during a detailed one-on-one.
What do you think ultimately helped turn this season for you? When it wasn’t going as well, were you as a group in there saying ‘we’re doing the right things, it’s gonna turn’ or was there anything you specifically changed?
The start of the season, we had a few out injured – big players, important players – so it was a bit of a slow start in terms of that. We had new players coming in who were trying to integrate into the group. It was a difficult start, and then once we started to get ourselves on our feet in terms of playing some decent stuff and getting some good results, we went on a good cup run. What was happening really was we were playing in the cup, and then we were missing the league, getting draws in the league and playing every three weeks or what have you. It seemed like we were playing in and out of the league for a while, so it was difficult to move anywhere. Once the cup run was over we were able to really knuckle down in the league and climb up the table.
How have you enjoyed it so far personally? How are you feeling as we speak now?
Yeah, it’s been a really good season so far. I missed the first ten games or so through a hernia operation; I had to have that done in the summer and I didn’t recover in time to start the season. It was a bit of a slow start for myself, and then once I got going and got myself in the team, I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been great.
How do you like to approach being captain? Will there be a few individual conversations you have with players?
That probably isn’t really my style. We’ve got quite an experienced changing room, there’s quite a few lads who’ve been about and know what it’s all about. Obviously, there’s some younger lads in there that do need some help sometimes and some advice, which I do, but it’s quite an experienced group so it doesn’t just fall on myself. There’s players in there who are quite dominant and role-model-ish to help the younger lads, and to be honest with you, the changing room’s just a great group of lads, so it takes care of itself really.
There's the likes of Jordan Hulme and Tony Thompson, who might just fit the bill of being 'characters,' but what about overall? Are there a good few who weigh in with the jokes, are there some clear leaders etc.?
Yeah, them two obviously are top of the bunch. You’ve got Maxy Harrop who likes a bit of a laugh, Tom Peers, Sean Williams, so there’s quite a few that bounce off each other well. We all come together for quite a good amount of time each week, so it’s important that we all get on. We enjoy each other’s company and it’s a good laugh.
Speaking to Parky in a fair bit of detail at the end of last season, he’s someone who’s seemed for a while to be a different twist on perhaps the old 'non-league manager' stereotype, where there’s more thought and theory to what he’s asking from you, and certainly not a route-one playing style either. What has he been like to work with, as his captain?
Yeah, it’s great. There’s no complaints on my behalf really. Two-and-a-half years, we’ve been promoted once and got to the play-offs the other, and then going well in this season. So the time that we’ve been together, we’ve had quite a bit of success and it’s been great. His management style – I’m 30 now so I’ve had quite a few gaffers over the years – his management style is a little bit more relaxed, but he certainly gets his point across to everybody and makes known if he’s unhappy. He’s really methodical, really thinks about how we’re gonna set up and how we’re gonna play, and he’s great to work under.
On the club itself, the manager/the board met with fans just recently, and the culture of the club, the communication side etc. was discussed, amongst other things. In terms of the relationship and communication with fans, the community, does it feel like that has really changed or developed during your time at Alty?
Yeah, definitely. I think it’s come on loads under Parky, to be honest. He’s really took it to another level and really looked at the integration from youth into the first team, the fans being integrated into what we do, and really being together as one. I know that’s the sort of motto a lot of clubs are using now, but I think that’s what we really do try to achieve, and I think we are a team and everybody seems to be pulling in the right direction. We had a few turbulent years where the club wasn’t where we wanted it to be, but over recent times we’ve really come together. The fans have been excellent and I think we’ve repaid them as players, in terms of results, but it all works as one really, doesn't it?
2-0 | ⏱ 82’ MOULTRINCHAM. OOSH.
MatchCentre ➡️ https://t.co/l1iSPowxgQ pic.twitter.com/94DSmHzSvw
— Altrincham FC (@altrinchamfc) November 17, 2018
Were you and your brother (Preston North End forward Louis Moult) both Stoke fans growing up? What are the memories of players/games that stand out most from back then for you?
Yeah, well I started as Vale, because I was at Vale until 18/19, and I was always a Vale fan until about 14. We lived right next to the old Stoke ground (The Victoria Ground), so we were there most match days. It's more players than games I remember; Peter Thorne, Mark Stein, James O’Connor. My nan actually lived directly across the road from the ground, she had a hairdressers, and we used to go to the majority of games and go on the pitch at half-time, through someone she knew. It was a big part of our lives, to be honest. We loved it and football was massive from day one.
Has there been a happiest spell you've felt in football so far, in terms of a season or slightly longer period?
I’ve been here for about nine years now, so the majority of my adult football career has been at Altrincham, which has been great. It’s a tricky one because once you leave school and you realise that your job’s playing football, I managed to do that for only three years but obviously it was a huge achievement to be able to do that. Getting into non-league football, we’ve had some great times at Altrincham over the years; the FA Cup runs, promotion. There’s been loads, but probably the one that sticks out the most is the promotion final, where we got promoted to the Conference. I think it was the 119th minute or something crazy, where we managed to get the winner (through Greg Wilkinson to beat Guiseley in May 2014). You can imagine what the scenes were like at the end of that.
What about your own favourite goal? There was the one against Torquay, the Colchester one as well.
It’s between them two, yeah. I don’t score many – I’ve scored a few this season, which is a bit of a shock to everyone – but in terms of good goals, that’s probably the two. My personal favourite was the Colchester one (the opener in a stoppage-time, 3-2 away loss in the FA Cup second round in December 2015). The Torquay one was great obviously, just caught the ball sweetly and it went in the top corner, but the Colchester one was my favourite.
Obviously the relegations here, but has there been a time in football overall where the enjoyment’s ever been lost quite a bit for you?
Yeah, definitely. I think everybody gets to that stage at some point; if someone says they’ve never been there through football I think they’d be lying. It is a difficult industry. When I left Port Vale at 18, I managed to get a year’s pro at Plymouth, so I was there for a year. Once I got released from there, that really hit me hard, and I considered calling it a day, just through the pure disappointment of thinking I couldn’t get back into it and make something of it. It wasn’t until probably five games into the next season that you start missing it, and I got back involved, and built my way back up through the non-league pyramid. I played at Leek Town, went to Stafford, Alfreton, and then I’ve been at Altrincham since.
What kind of approach do you personally feel gets the best out of you from a manager, and other than Parky, who from your previous managers stands out for having the best understanding of that?
Everybody’s different, so what would work for Jordan Hulme or players who like to get fired-up wouldn’t work for others. I’m quite a calm player really; go about my business and kind of get it done that way. The previous Altrincham manager Lee Sinnott, he was superb; he understood players, he listened to players, and he was very understanding as a manager really. He had a lot of success, got good players in, who all wanted to play for each other, and helped everybody in that way really.
There's been John Johnston at Alty, James Poole was another, but which players you've played alongside come to mind for having ability alone - taking other factors out of it and just focusing on sheer ability - that belonged at a higher level perhaps?
You mention two there. I think JJ can play higher, if he really, really wanted to knuckle down, I think he’s got all the attributes. Obviously Pooley was a magnificent technician, superb on the ball. You’ve got Duncan Watmore who did go on to do big things; bar his injuries, I think he’d still be playing in the Premier League. When he came into training, still a young boy and never really involved with men’s football, you could see straight away his ability to run with the ball was something you don’t see very often. There’s players I’ve played against, like Marcus Maddison at Peterborough. There’s quite a few you’ve played against at some point who’ve gone up and done different things; you do see that bit extra with them. A lot of the time it’s athleticism, I think, where they’re a little bit quicker or stronger.
Have we got an official team DJ at Alty?
Yeah, Tony Thompson. He doesn’t let anyone get hold of that.
It helps that you've been at the same club for so long, but have you ever had any singing initiations to perform anywhere?
Yeah at Altrincham, everybody does an initiation. We’ll have a few soon, because we just signed the likes of (Dan) Mooney and Mahony (Craig Mahon), and Josh Lundstram. To be honest with you, Parky made me do it again, six years into my Altrincham stay! I can’t remember the song, but I had to do it the first time and the second time, I remember that.
How does a typical week tend to go for you, with training, playing and any other work outside football?
I’ve got my own property business, so I buy houses, sell houses, rent houses, everything really. I’m busy during the week; it’s difficult when you’ve got long away trips, like we’ve got Spennymoor on Tuesday. They’re difficult weeks, but with being self-employed, I can work around it, which is great.
Lastly, work aside, what else takes your interest away from football?
To be honest with you, my passion is the property side. I really enjoy it, I’ve been doing it for a little while now; since I was about 19/20. I really enjoy all the different aspects of that, but I’ve got a wife and two kids, so trying to split football and my job as well, it doesn’t really give me much time to go and play golf or anything like that!
Interview by @chris_brookes