Jason Bristow is back working with the first team at his beloved Basingstoke Town – and could not be happier as they prepare for life in the Evo-stik Southern Premier League.
He stepped down as manager last November – but retained his role as Academy boss – after his side slipped to the bottom of the National League South and relegation followed.
It was an emotional moment for Bristow whose stewardship had led to two play-offs in the space of four seasons following over 350 appearances for his hometown club.
Now, though, following the arrival of Terry Brown as manager and Kevin Braybrook as first team coach, the 36-year-old can be found in the morning at Alton Town, where the players train, and afternoon at Basingstoke running the Academy.
After dropping down a level, a radical decision was made for the club to go full-time and offer one-year contracts to young players, who had found themselves out in the cold. Only defender David Ray remains from last year’s squad.
Bristow said: “I am working alongside Terry, taking training with him and Kevin on a daily basis. I am heavily involved with the first team again, which I am really enjoying.
“I am also overseeing the Academy. We are looking to have nearly 70 students and players coming through the system next year. It is busy but exciting as well.
“We have had a good rate of players coming through in the last year or two. The goal now is to make sure the current players in the Academy and Under 21s (Chris Kirby is manager) see it as a progressive club and the opportunities are there.
“We are using a fantastic facility at Alton. We could not have asked for anything better and it is going well.
“The players have responded and that has been reflected in the results in pre-season. We know those results count for nothing.The performances and fitness levels do;
“And we have been encouraged on that basis with their energy and enthusiasm. They are living in each other pockets being full time.
They are learning a lot about each other.”
Among the newcomers are the Atkinson twins, defender Michael and midfielder Robert, who have just turned 18 and were previously with Met Police Youth.
Bristow said: “They came to a game we put on last season and impressed, so we invited them back for pre season.
“They are very young and got a lot of developing to do. It is important we manage their progress because always a danger of doing too much, too soon.”
Michael Atkinson scored in the victory against higher league Gosport Borough in midweek as Basingstoke maintained their unbeaten run in friendlies, which also included defeating Reading Under 21s.
Tomorrow they are in Guernsey for their final warm up game ahead of the opening fixture against newly-promoted Banbury United.
Interview: Ken Gaunt