By Scott Lanza
In the summer of 2017, Stansted dipped into the Essex Olympian League and offered Paul Pittuck, who had steered Hannakins Farm into one of the stronger teams in that league, their management position. Stansted had once before given an opportunity to a manager that had managed in this league; they appointed Terry Spillane, who came via Frenford, and that ended up with the Airportmen winning the Essex Senior League in 2009/10.
Pittuck, who lives local, jumped at the chance to manage at Step 5 and his team made an inconsistent start to the 2017/18 campaign, winning four of their opening ten league games, one of which was an 8-0 demolition over Wadham Lodge. But from October going into the Christmas period, the wins dried up and suddenly Stansted were down in the lower regions of the table.
All of a sudden, Pittuck was embroiled in a relegation battle. He told me what he experienced during those tough times:
“I think for me, the biggest thing about my first season in Step 5 was that it was a big jump from Step 7; not so much in terms of ability, there has to be a commitment needed from the players. It’s not just about turning up and playing well on the day; at the higher level it’s about commitment to also playing midweek games, as well as training.”
Pittuck admits that he needed a season to experience it all and that he did make mistakes along the way.
“The group of players I have now know what it is about at this level, looking after their bodies in between training and by adding Marc Benterman on board I now have someone working with me who has loads of experience and knowledge on Step 5 players, or the levels a player needs to reach if he wants to make the step up to the Essex Senior League.”
In the times of hire ’n’ fire football management, which has sadly started to rear its head at non-league level, one could say that perhaps Pittuck was lucky to still be in the Stansted hot seat come the start of the season. The club were initially relegated into the new Step 6 Eastern Senior League South. When the reprieve came through, Stansted could have decided to announce a management vacancy at Hargraves Park. Instead, the committee remained behind Pittuck and the Stansted gaffer was quick to say that having the committee backing him and wanting him to succeed has been a big help. Allowing their manager time to set his stall has certainly paid dividends as Pittuck was quick to adapt to Step 5 football for the 2018/19 season as he got down to business in the middle of June.
“In pre-season, we had a lot of players to choose from. We went for committed players who were either stepping down to Step 5 or could play up.
“We worked them hard in pre-season as the Essex Senior League is tough, with loads of games, but we also mixed in man management and banter,” explained Pittuck, with one of the most noticeable signings being Callum Ibe, who has notched 22 goals in all competitions.
James Peagram, a proven goal scorer at this level, joined as the season went on as Pittuck and Benterman continued adding quality to their squad, with goals also coming throughout the team. Charlie Turner has kept seven clean sheets this term, meaning that Pittuck has firepower upfront as well as a solid backline at his disposal. It has contributed to his team having a goal difference of +38, far superior to most of their title challengers, except Saffron Walden Town, who sit slightly further back in 4th. Stansted have spent most of the season in pole position and are looking good to make a title challenge as we enter the business-end of the season.
Having put in this amount of planning, I had to ask Paul what his objectives were when the season kicked off back in August?
Pittuck explained his main target this time around was to make Stansted competitive, be tough to beat and to finish in the top half of the table. The current ESL table shows that target more than being met.
“No one was tipping us at the start of the season and rightly so. But even though we lost early games to Takeley and Hullbridge, I felt we weren’t too far away from top six. Then we went on a couple of winning runs, went top four and since then have been either second or top,” is how he sums up their season so far.
It is clear Pittuck is certainly enjoying his time managing Stansted. He says he gets a thrill playing in the FA Cup and FA Vase, as winning games in those competitions helps put some money into the club. Asked about what his ambitions for managing at semi-pro level are, he says that it is still too early to say.
“I just wanted to make the step up, have a crack at managing a Step 5 and building a team that could give anyone a game. I never thought in a million years that I would be challenging for the ESL title.”
Stansted’s committee’s bold decision to pluck a manager from Intermediate football and then backing him to the hilt as he adapts to the higher tier could be repaid most handsomely come April.
Interview/article by @lanzasport