Just under a month on from stepping down as Buxton manager, Paul Phillips has linked up with Dave Wild’s Mossley as assistant. Reflecting on a 20-month stint as Bucks boss (initially as joint-manager alongside Steve Halford), he rues what he feels ultimately turned out to be a shift of dynamic in the side this season, following a Northern Premier Division Premier play-off appearance last time around.
While the Silverlands outfit have floundered significantly in 2019/20, the ex-Ashton United joint-gaffer believes the ability levels were comfortably raised over the close-season, as the 7-0 drubbing of Grantham Town in October, along with other performances, if not results, would indicate. With tweaks from incoming manager Gary Hayward and some winning momentum, he thinks his old side could yet crash the play-off party come the end of the campaign.
At Mossley, he joins a team looking to push up from their current berth of 14th in the BetVictor Northern Premier North West Division, and ‘Phillo’ is happy to pause for now from the pressure cooker of management while he lends a hand at the Lilywhites.
Coming in at Mossley, how do you and Dave (Wild) see it playing out in practice? Is it very much just an extra voice in the dressing room and an extra coach at training?
That’s all we want at the moment, to be honest. Dave’s the manager, he’s asked me to come in and give them a lift. It’s a good club, it’s on my doorstep. I think I can bring fresh ideas, as any manager or assistant manager can when they go in a football club. I know quite a few of the lads; a few of them have played for me. It’s not something that I looked at, but when it came forward it was one that I thought ‘it’s gonna be good for all parties,’ and hopefully we can get them out of a little rut they’re in, climb that table and have a go at trying to get them in the play-offs.
What are the feelings you’ve taken away from Buxton and where has it left you, enthusiasm-wise, in terms of being a manager in the immediate term?
It’s educated me, to be honest. Like I said to the chairman the day I put my resignation in, I’ve learned more in the short space of this season, in 14 games, than I did in the past two years about how to get the best out of lads, and how not to get the best out of them. My feeling is you can have the utmost ability in a changing room, but if you don’t put the right characters in who’ve got the right grit and the right mentality, and that winning streak in them, then you lose a lot. We lost Scott Sephton, Tom Dean, Kayde Coppin, Gaz Gee from the season before, and no disrespect to them, but the lads we brought in this season, the ability is probably ten/20 percent better. But if you’d played the team that we had at the end of last season against the team that we started this season with, I know which team I’d rather be managing, and that’s no slight on the lads I left, it’s no sour grapes. I felt like – and it’s down to myself, don’t get me wrong – we brought better players in, without the winning mentality that we instilled the year before. I’ve learned the way we need to go. Some people are money-motivated, other people are motivated about pushing on in their careers, but you’ve got to get the right balance in the dressing room. You’ve got to get the right people around you to get the best out of them. Motivation to get back in? At this moment in time I’m quite happy to have a little bit less pressure. I went from Ashton straight to Stalybridge, which was a bit of a cauldron, then Glossop, and straight on to Buxton. We’ve been in jobs – myself and Steve (Halford), and then myself this season – with quite a lot of pressure on us. I’m happy with taking a backseat for now and I’ve made it clear to Dave, if anything does come up that I want to have a go at, and someone fancies taking me, then I would be willing to speak with them and I would be open and honest with Dave.
Alongside the personnel, do you pinpoint anything else in particular from this season at Buxton as ‘that killed us there’, or ‘I wouldn’t do that again’?
I lost my captain, brought Warren Clarke in, I lost him, lost Liam Hardy for a few games, I lost other key players. I just feel that I brought players in that were good, good footballers, but probably didn’t have the same steel and the same mettle that we brought in the year before, and didn’t have the same ethos to work hard and win matches. We played some good football this year, against York, South Shields, against other teams, and we scored some good goals, but when it comes to rolling your sleeves up and having a fight and having a tussle, and teams put it on your toes, 60 percent of that team I brought in – and again, that’s down to myself – wasn’t up for that fight. At that level, you can’t have passengers.
Did any of the criticism from fans hurt, or did you disagree with anything that was levelled at you? What was the overall sense that you got from the supporters, because obviously social media can skew things?
I think when you don’t win games, fans pay their money, so they can have their opinions. That goes right across the board. Social media these days, they’re quite quick to praise you, so you’ve got to take the other side of the coin as well. What I would say – and the chairman and the people at the football club that matter know – the chairman never wanted me to leave the club, but I felt on the Sunday after the Stalybridge game that I’d give my all. It had affected my whole life, because I wasn’t happy, and I’m never happy when I don’t win football games, but I just felt that it needed a new freshness.
I think a lot of it as well was I was getting comments off people that had never been to a game, or had been to one game in six months, and it’s quite easy to do that. I think they look at you and you’re on social media, and think ‘I’ll just give them a bit of grief.’ We had a group of old men that had been supporting Buxton for 40/50 years, and whether we won, lost or draw – we got beat off FC United heavily – I went in the bar and spoke to them. To me, keyboard warriors can give you as much grief as they want, the real proof is when you go and speak to these lads that have seen Buxton through thick and thin. Most times this season they said they hadn’t seen better football, but we weren’t getting the end results. Sometimes that’s football, and you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, but you’ve also got to learn from your mistakes, which I’ve made. I’m only 40, and hopefully I’m still young in the management game!
Reaching the play-offs of course, but what gives you most cause for pride overall from the time at Buxton?
I think people forget that when we came in the first season, we were third-bottom of the league; we finished 7th and we only missed out on the play-offs by two points. That was with only bringing in two players, in (Callum) Chippendale and Jude Oyibo. I think that was a proud moment, and I think it showed what good managers we were. We motivated them to get up the league, we played in the right way.
Obviously getting into the play-offs; I’ve got into the play-offs every year that I’ve been a manager, to be honest. Again, we didn’t get the luck, we got Tom Dean sent off (in the divisional semi-final at South Shields) and we lost the game on that decision in my eyes. The academy side of it at Buxton, we put a lot of time and effort into that, so that’s up-and-coming and I can always look back on my time with that, with Nigel (Keogh) in charge and what we put in as a whole. Looking at some of the players left there, the likes of Connor O’Grady, Warren Clarke, Callum Chippendale, 20-odd-year-olds. I think when we came in, the average age of the team was 28/29; now it’s probably 22/23. We put a freshness in there as well and it’s a great platform for the new manager. I think if he brings some of his own players and some of that lion spirit back, I think he’s got a team there that can really push to still get in the play-offs.
Finally, was there a specific game (or more than one) that stands out in terms of typifying what you wanted your Buxton team to be?
To be honest, it wasn’t even a win. What typified us, we went to South Shields last season and we only drew 1-1, and we had to defend like Trojans. They were flying, no one gave us a chance going up there, (on-loan Chester goalkeeper) Theo (Roberts) had a really good game. As a defensive unit, probably what we’ve missed this year; Ash Young sat in there, Scott Sephton, putting their bodies on the line. For me, that typified what we were. Again, not having a go at certain individuals, but that’s probably what we got away from this year. Even though we didn’t win the game, we did everything in our power and gave a good account of ourselves, and that typified how we got in the play-offs last year. We didn’t play the greatest of football last year, but what we did, we had a knack of winning, and a knack of grinding teams down.
Interview by @chris_brookes