Chorley manager Jamie Vermiglio celebrates promotion to the National League, after his team beat Spennymoor Town on penalties in the play-off final, 12 May 2019 Photo: Danny Hardman

In the mid-2000s, Jamie Vermiglio was a promising youngster in a Chorley team struggling in the fourth tier of non-league football. On Saturday, he will manage the Magpies in their first match at National League level since 1990. Jack Hepworth met Chorley’s manager ahead of the big kick-off.

Nearly 16 years have passed since Jamie Vermiglio first wore the black and white stripes of Chorley FC, the Magpies, in a first-team league fixture: a 2-1 home win over Kidsgrove Athletic on 1 November 2003, in front of 238 hardy spectators. Then aged 21, the central midfielder scored one and won a penalty for a side sliding towards the fourth tier of non-league football. On Saturday, three promotions later, Vermiglio will manage his team in their first match in the National League since 1990.

With several injuries to first-team players, it has been a challenging pre-season, but Vermiglio is upbeat and eager for battle to commence.

“It’s a squad that’s probably not quite full strength because of injuries and lads not getting minutes in pre-season. It will be difficult, very difficult – ours is a small squad, and we’re going to need all the lads.

“It’s a tough test, especially with the travelling. But that doesn’t mean to say I’m not positive and excited.”

Across three spells at Chorley, Vermiglio has served as player, coach, assistant manager, and now manager. He captained the first team aged 22, and won players’ and supporters’ player of the year awards in a side playing in front of 200 people and battling relegation to the North West Counties League. Since re-joining the club when Garry Flitcroft took over as manager in the summer of 2010, Vermiglio has been a permanent fixture as the Magpies have enjoyed three promotions in 2011, 2014, and 2019.

His wide-ranging experience at Chorley and beyond – his playing career also took him to Scarborough, AFC Telford United, and, briefly, Northwich Victoria, and he combines his managerial role with his work as a headteacher at Locking Stumps Community Primary School in Warrington – have enriched a wisdom which has regularly been tested in the cut and thrust of non-league football. In 2009, a back injury seemed to have brought the midfield dynamo’s playing days to a premature end. Despite playing an important part in a successful Telford team in the Conference North, repeated niggles were causing concern.

“My back was playing up a bit, I was playing about 25 or 30 games with this injury and in the end I just went to the physio and said ‘I’m struggling with it now’.

“I couldn’t really lift my legs up properly away from football. I could get through games with painkillers, I was doing okay, but I knew inside I wasn’t the player I knew I was. I went to get it checked out.”

Jamie Vermiglio in his playing days for Chorley, 2005

The prognosis was not good. Vermiglio had fractured a spine vertebrae, with two discs protruding. The medical recommendation was devastating clear: ‘That’s it, pack it in, don’t play football again, it’s only going to get worse’. So desperate was he to play in the upcoming FA Trophy quarter-final against Southport, Vermiglio signed a waiver to enable him to start the match.

“It was quite an emotional moment for me to be honest, because I remember the ball was on the centre spot and I was taking the kick-off, and I looked over and my back was in a lot of pain this game, and my family were all there, and I was thinking ‘this is probably the last game I’m going to play.’ I was just crying taking the kick-off.”

After re-joining Chorley in 2010, Vermiglio continued playing until 2014, enjoying promotions from the Evo-Stik First Division North and Premier Division in 2011 and 2014, respectively. Since then, his coaching roles at Chorley – where he has been manager since Matt Jansen resigned in June 2018 – have presented fresh challenges. His first season in charge reached a thrilling conclusion, with the Magpies in pole position for the National League North’s sole automatic promotion spot ahead of Stockport County going into the penultimate league game of the season in April. Even a point at Spennymoor would keep the title run-in in Chorley’s hands – until disaster struck in County Durham. The Magpies survived repeated assaults on their goal, and even contrived to miss a penalty on a rare foray forward, before Spennymoor’s ace marksman Glen Taylor headed home the winning goal from a corner in the final minute of added time. Control of their promotion hopes had slipped from Chorley’s hands in the dying seconds of their forty-first league match of the season.

“When that goal’s gone in, I’m thinking about the team talk, because there was some terrible performances in that game. The lads were fatigued though, so I think as a manager, I’m very capable of giving a roasting if I feel the players need a roasting, but I can also take a step back and have a think about it, just to see what’s best

“Sometimes I get it wrong, sometimes I get it right. I could have been down, but what sort of a leader does that?

“I did go out and I literally did pick a few of the players up off the floor, and said ‘what are you doing? What a season we’re having, we’ve got another chance: one life gone, we’ve got another life left – let’s go.'”

When Stockport County won the league title the following weekend, Chorley were consigned to the play-offs, in which they had lost agonisingly in three of the previous four seasons. In the semi-final against Altrincham, Vermiglio’s men required enormous character to find a late equaliser to take the game to extra-time, before winning a penalty shootout to progress to the final against none other than Spennymoor.

Vermiglio and his staff reconfigured the heartache of missing out at Spennymoor as a motivational tool. ‘That spurred us on. A hundred percent it spurred us on’. A nail-biting play-off final finished 1-1 after two hours of football, before Chorley goalkeeper Matt Urwin performed shootout heroics again to propel the Magpies to the National League. The play-off anguish was over, and Chorley could look forward to their first season in the fifth tier of English football for three decades.

This season, Chorley’s Victory Park will host National League football for the first time since 1990 Photo: Jack Hepworth

Over more than 15 years, Jamie Vermiglio has seen it all at Victory Park. Reflecting on last year’s remarkable campaign, he is modest.

“A lot last season just happened, and a lot just landed in our lap. I personally got a lot of well dones and thanks and pats on the back, and I appreciate all them, but a lot of it just evolved and happened.”

Vermiglio’s down-to-earth manner, honesty, and rapport have always underpinned his immense popularity around this famous old club, from the dark days of the mid-2000s to this exciting new era. His experience and leadership qualities will be vital as the Magpies face their first season in non-league’s top division since 1990.

“We’ve recruited well. I’m excited, I’m really looking forward to the season.

“We’ve got aspirations, we’re not just here for one season, we’re not just here to sit near the bottom of the table; we’re here to consolidate, to build, to push Chorley Football Club to the next level.”

@jhep94

© Jack Hepworth

July 2019

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