After a year he described as “difficult” at Gateshead, goalkeeper Sam Russell is eager to make the most of his return to former club Forest Green Rovers.
The former Darlington keeper made the move back to his native North East twelve months ago, becoming one of then-Gateshead manager Malcolm Crosby’s first signings.
The move didn’t work out for Russell but now he is back at Forest Green Rovers, with his former Quakers manager Mark Cooper at the helm.
Ahead of their Vanarama National League opener at Boreham Wood, Russell described Rovers as a “good place to be”.
“It’s great to be back and the club is in a brilliant place at the minute.
“The way it is ran from top to bottom is very professional and I like living down here.
“It is strange being back but I have managed to fit back in easily.
“Mark Cooper has come in and changed things in a real positive way and it is very professional, it’s probably at League One standard the way things are done here and it’s a good place to be”
The thirty three year old was open and honest as he reflected on his time with Gateshead.
Signed by former Heed boss Malcolm Crosby, Russell admitted that he struggled to settle on the South bank of the Tyne, although he did stress that he wishes the Tynesiders “nothing but the best for the future”.
“It was tough to settle in and I signed a two-year deal with Gateshead thinking it would be great to be back close to home.
“I moved back into my own house and on paper everything seemed really appealing.
“Nothing against Gateshead but within a couple of weeks I realised that the club wasn’t really for me to be honest.
“These things happen in football and sometimes things just don’t work out. I didn’t really enjoy it and I thought it would be a lot different but it was difficult to find my feet.
“That said, there are some top people at Gateshead and I wish them nothing but the best for the future”
As mentioned earlier Russell’s move back to Rovers sees him reunited with his former Darlington manager Mark Cooper.
Cooper’s appointment as Rovers boss was announced during their National League play-off campaign at the end of last season and Russell believes the former Swindon Town manager has all of the qualities required to finally get the club into the Football League.
“I have worked with Mark before at Darlington and we had a bit of success there winning the FA Trophy.
“He is very knowledgeable, as are his staff like the fitness coaches and the physios.
“They like to play football the right way and pre-season has been set up to help us play the way they want.
“It’s a really positive environment to work in and we can wait to get the season underway now and get this club to where we want it to be”
And if the experts and bookmakers are to be believed, then Rovers are the favourites to get into the Football League for the first time in their history.
The club are as short-priced as 3/1 to win the National League title and an even shorter 9/4 to achieve promotion.
However Russell insists that any pressure of being favourites is being ignored by his team mates as they focus on the task in hand.
“The pressure is from the outside, we have a own goals and pressures but we just get on with it.
“We will be taking things game-by-game and looking to focus on ourselves.
“The club is ran really well, everybody is settled and we will look to get off to a good start this weekend”
It has been an impressive summer of recruitment for Cooper, as he looks to assemble a squad capable of securing promotion.
As well as bringing Russell back to the club, Cooper has also captured the signatures of Notts County midfielder Liam Noble, Dulwich Hamlet’s highly-rated centre back Ethan Pinnock and strike pairing Rhys Murphy (Oldham Athletic) and Matt Tubbs (Portsmouth).
Despite their strong squad Russell believes that Rovers will have to be at their best if they are to win what he called “a very tough league”.
He said “It is a very tough league this year and I think in the past it hasn’t been as strong.
“There is a lot of money around, there is more coverage and there is a lot of talent in there from the Football League.
“You look at the teams coming into the division like York City and Dagenham and Redbridge, then you have the established clubs in the league that are getting stronger every season.
“I don’t think it is seen as a drop down now, it is such a good league and we will have to be at our best if we want to achieve what we hope we can.
“When I was here before we wanted to get into the league.
“That hasn’t happened, although we have been close, but I think now it is all set up to achieve that”
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)