As the lifelong Oldham Athletic supporter overseeing an FA Cup ‘giant-killing’ as caretaker boss seven months ago, Pete Wild found himself thrust into the spotlight. Far from merely a fan in the dugout, it had been numerous years in the making for an experienced coach now set on confounding any naysayers as he leads FC Halifax Town in the Vanarama National League.
With the 2019/20 season edging ever nearer, Jamie Fullarton’s mid-July departure as FC Halifax Town boss – the timing if nothing else – served as an eyebrow-raiser for some. The former Crystal Palace midfielder and Notts County manager left by mutual consent, with his 17-month tenure having seen the Shaymen pull clear of National League relegation trouble and finish 16th in 2017/18, before ending his solitary full season a place higher and four points better off.
A number of names were linked, with Rotherham United legend Ronnie Moore revealing he had applied, but it was a man some 32 years his junior who was announced nine days after Fullarton left. Pete Wild had sprung to wider attention as he led League Two Oldham to a 2-1 FA Cup third round win at top-flight Fulham back in January, knocking out a team three divisions and 59 places higher, with Premier League-winning Claudio Ranieri also at the helm.
That came during his caretaker stint in charge, with Paul Scholes later appointed and ultimately resigning in March following 31 days in charge, citing unworkable board interference. Academy chief amongst his years with the Latics, the Royton native would take over as head coach before opting to leave at the end of the season despite wishes for him to stay from owner Abdallah Lemsagam.
His decision ushered in some much-needed close-season respite, and the 34-year-old took the FC Halifax Town reins with renewed energy and a humble bullishness (contradictory as that may seem) that he says has long been a characteristic of his.
“I’ve always had a desire to work at the top end of the game, and the desire’s always been made better by people saying ‘there’s no chance you’ll ever make it to the top.’ That sort of drove me forward in the fact that if I want to do something, I’ll do it.
“People say ‘you won’t get that opportunity, that doesn’t happen to people like you’ – that has always drove me forward.”
The West Yorkshire side shot out of the blocks impressively this month, running amok (4-1) at Ebbsfleet before home wins over Hartlepool United (2-0) and Dagenham & Redbridge (1-0). A 1-0 loss at Wrexham then preceded Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Aldershot, as defender Jerome Binnom-Williams headed home in front of the travelling supporters to salvage a late point.
Binnom-Williams’ defensive counterpart Nathan Clarke had previously held the fort as caretaker boss this summer, alongside head of youth development Steve Nichol. Far from a young manager unsettled by the presence of established players and yearning to stamp his authority, Pete was eager to extend the contract of club captain Matty Brown after arriving, with a new deal duly signed.
“I think football’s taught me that you can’t just walk in and start ripping things up, because people will become worried, people will think that there’s a problem, and ‘where do I fit in that?’ So you’ve got to try and take all that nervous energy away quickly.
“That team, that back four kept 19 clean sheets last year, so the last thing I need to be doing is ripping up what was actually one of the cornerstones of the team last year. With Matty Brown, Matt’s excellent at what he does, and getting him nailed down on a long-term contract – and there was other clubs trying to fish around for him – that needed to be done quickly.
“I said that to the chairman straight away – ‘we need to get the skipper on a long-term contract.’ We’ve done that, the club have backed me, and that’s pleasing, because he’s a massive part of what I want to build at Halifax.”
✍️ | NEW CONTRACT
We’re delighted to announce that Skipper Matty Brown has signed a new deal with the club
— FC Halifax Town (@FCHTOnline) August 11, 2019
Joining him as assistant is Chris Millington, a one-time Manchester City youngster who was a midfielder at the likes of York City and Crewe Alexandra. He would later coach alongside Pete in Oldham’s academy and with the first team last season.
While a certain degree of authoritative distance will inevitably come into play, Pete explains how he wants anything but a huge dividing line between staff and players at the club.
“I want them to feel part of what we’re doing. I want to know about them, I want to know about them as people, so I’m not standoffish at all.
“The manager’s door remains completely wide open at our training ground. Come in, sit down and have a brew.
“In the hotel, if we’re staying overnight, come and sit with us, come and sit with the staff, come and have a chat with us. I’ve placed a massive emphasis on trust, and you can’t trust people if you don’t know people, so you’ve got to really get amongst them to know them and know if you can trust them.
“If you can get players you trust you’ve always got a chance.”
It was Frankie Bunn’s dismissal as Oldham boss in late-December that saw Pete take interim charge for the first time, and the impact appeared instant. Buoyed by League Two victories at Port Vale (4-1) and at home to Notts County (2-0), then came the ‘Roy of the Rovers’ accomplishment at Fulham in the FA Cup, as Pete himself put it.
Falling behind to a 52nd-minute Denis Odoi goal, the tiny glimmer of an Oldham win seemed to have ridden out of town, but Ryan Sessegnon’s foul on Peter Clarke paved the way for Sam Surridge to level with 14 minutes to go. In the closing minutes at Craven Cottage, the Latics must have thought it really was curtains when Aleksandar Mitrović, scorer of 11 Premier League goals that season, stood over his penalty.
Leicester City loanee Daniel Iversen had other ideas, saving the Serbia star’s effort in front of the travelling support from the North West. Four minutes later, at the opposite end, on-loan Wigan Athletic forward Callum Lang headed home Gevaro Nepomuceno’s cross.
— Oldham Athletic AFC (@OfficialOAFC) January 6, 2019
The national press – the overflowing hordes of generic football accounts on social media, too – understandably lapped it up. As he recalls the result that made him a trending Twitter topic – an overnight sensation…after 12 years – Pete also paints the picture of how his subsequent voyage to National League waters came via a Greater Manchester goldfish bowl.
“It was great, because being at that game and having all my mates at that game and all my family, it’s obviously a lifelong dream to manage the club you’ve supported all that time. 28 years to the day my dad took me to Oldham for the first time and then I’m walking out as the manager.
“So it was a great time, it was a really great learning curve, but the problem that comes with that is I live in Oldham, and I’m walking around Oldham every day! There’s no break; you literally can’t go for your morning paper without somebody having an opinion on the game on the Saturday.
“It was kind of like ‘this is relentless,’ and for me personally, because I was just a lad from Oldham, a lad who liked to enjoy himself in Oldham, then now being told the shackles are on a bit and you have to watch your every move, I found that difficult to get my head around early doors, if I’m honest. It’s something now, though, if I want to stay in this profession, I’ll have to get my head around quickly.”
Serendipity stipulated that his first Halifax game in pre-season was, of course, Oldham away. 45 years since the Shaymen were last at Boundary Park – football eh?
The result may have been inconsequential, but it was a 1-0 victory for the now-visiting gaffer, who could very easily not have had a pre-season to concern himself with at all this time around. Leaving Oldham was every bit a leap of faith, as he describes when asked how the two months before his Halifax appointment were spent.
“First thing was a really nervous time. Leaving school at 16, until now, I’d never been out of a job and not knowing where my next tenner was coming from.
“I was lucky that I had a couple of good friends with coaching companies that gave me some work, get my bills paid. I went away a couple of times, spent some time with my friends and my family, and looking back now, I probably needed it.
“When you’re in a job, you’re always at home thinking ‘I need to do that tomorrow,’ and I didn’t have that. Looking back at it now, I feel more refreshed, but it was a nervous time, a weird time.
“Managers talk about when they’re out of work, ‘what do I do?’ and I found that out in abundance. I went to Portugal with my pals; I’m big on my mates and things like that.
“Then I went away with my family to Turkey, which was great to spend some time with my lad; he’s only three.”
Setting to work with nine days to go before the National League season, the new management were quick to get across how they want to play, and Halifax sit 4th after the first five games. Reformed in 2008 after the dissolution of the 97-year-old Halifax Town AFC that was a Football League name for over seven decades, the club’s current incarnation has seen four promotions and a relegation, with Jamie Vardy, Lee Gregory and company wearing the shirt along the way.
The club are now in their third season in the fifth tier, having won the National League North play-offs in Billy Heath’s only full season in charge (2016/17). Their name is instantly recognisable, but has anything surprised Pete in any way since he arrived at the club?
“The one thing that’s massively surprised me is how good the dressing room is. What I mean by that is how together, how much the young lads wanna learn and drive forward the dressing room.
“It rivals any dressing room I’ve ever known, in terms of lads wanting to work hard, lads wanting to be successful. All good teams have good dressing rooms, and for me, that’s been so important for us going forward.
“That’s been the biggest surprise to me. Sometimes you go into these clubs and with the manager leaving nine days before the season, you’re expecting a car crash, and the club’s far from that; it’s actually in a really good, stable position.”
📷| It’s Thursday!
— FC Halifax Town (@FCHTOnline) August 8, 2019
Stability and a club developing its own players for the first team seems to go hand in hand, and of course Pete’s football foundations as a long-time academy coach centre on exactly that. Has he always been content to work in the background on bettering players, or has a thirst to manage and be the number one long existed, too?
“I never thought this early in my career I’d get a chance, but I always thought I’d get a chance if I kept working hard and listening. In terms of developing players, I think that’s one of my big selling points.
“I’ve said it to a lot of the young players at our club, ‘let’s make you better and let’s move you on into the League,’ and then we’ll get the next player in and make them better and get them into the League. That gives me no end of pleasure, and I look at the players I’ve had some input in over the years: James Tarkowski at Burnley, George Edmundson who’s just been sold for £650,000 to Rangers, and that’s just to name a couple.
“That gives me as much pride as walking out there on a Saturday and winning.”
He is typically self-deprecating as he remembers his time as a left-back or central defender in the Manchester Football League’s (Step 7) Premier Division – “If you talk to all my pals they’ll say I was useless!”
Considering whether the experience of managing his boyhood club last season changed him in any way, he feels confident in the assertion that straightforward will always be a style to suit him down to the ground.
“I don’t know whether I take this as a compliment or a criticism: everybody just says how normal I am. I’ve tried not to change; I think if you lose your authenticity people will find you out straight away.
“I’ve tried to just carry on being me, conduct myself in the same way I’ve always conducted myself, and that’ll be different to the way other managers have conducted themselves, but who’s to say they’re right and I’m wrong, and vice versa? One thing that you’ll get from me is I am what I am, I do what I do, and I’m not trying to be something I’m not.”
Each manager in The Bosses’ Lounge also takes on a unique Q&A…
When did you want to start coaching/managing?
I always wanted to be involved in football and I sort of knew early doors I wasn’t good enough to play at any high standard, so I started doing my badges really early. By the time 22/23 came, I’d sort of given up on playing and was more bothered about coaching. Probably until this summer, I’ve never missed playing; I played a couple of charity games this summer and I sort of missed it a little bit.
Which training sessions do you enjoy leading the most?
Defending. Being horrible to play against! When the lads are going at each other 100 mile an hour in training and they’re trying to stop each other playing, that gives me ultimate satisfaction.
Will you ever take part in training (in terms of actually being in the sessions as an active part, like an extra player)?
Only when I can’t be tackled and I’ve got unlimited touches! I joined in 11v11 for 20 minutes at Oldham last year and thought ‘it can’t be that bad.’ I put myself left-hand side of midfield – I said to my mate ‘please don’t let me join in a session ever again when it’s competitive.’
Favourite ground (other than your own) that you’ve visited or would like to visit. Obviously Boundary Park, but any others?
I like the old-fashioned ones; a bit like The Shay really, where you’ve still got the terracing and it still has that authentic football feel about it. In terms of favourite grounds, nice ones I’ve been to, MK Dons, what a stadium that is. Craven Cottage has got to be up there for what happened on that day. There’s not really one that springs to mind but I’d love the old terracing to come back, because I think that’s proper football.
Favourite player to watch (past or present)
Gazza (Paul Gascoigne). I was lucky enough to meet him when I was about six years old in a hotel and I was just getting involved in liking football, and it just stuck with me. What a player.
And how would you sell the club to him, if you were trying to sign him for Halifax (in his prime)?!
Firstly, we go to the local and have a couple to soften him up a little bit. With Gazza it’d just be saying how much he could influence the team and you build your team around players like that. You need, in my eyes, a maverick, a game-changer in your side, and there’s no better than him.
Pre-season tour anywhere in the world
I’ve been with Oldham twice and I actually went with my mates in the summer – Browns, Vilamoura. That’s the complex, Browns. I love it.
Most challenging/frustrating part of your job
I think you’ve got to manage players every week and manage players to understand why you do things. A video analysis is great these days, because it backs up whether they’re doing it right or wrong. I think football’s sort of moved on and I firmly believe that your man-management is more important than your technical/tactical information in the modern game. It’s something that you really have to do, but I use last night (a 1-0 loss at Wrexham), you can play as well as you want, and then you don’t get a nailed-on penalty – that’s as frustrating as anything!
Funniest player/coach you’ve worked with, or just one of the funniest
There’s a few. Callum Lang last year (at Oldham on loan from Wigan), every time he’d be messing about, doing something. I remember Exeter away, I’ve come out my hotel room, and he’s got the bin full of water under his arm, and I said to him ‘let me get past here and out the way, and we’ll pretend I never saw it.’ So people like Callum Lang. For cold, hard banter, Jose Baxter, people like that; if you let them they’ll tear you a new one in terms of the banter stakes.
Most embarrassing moment as a manager/coach
There’s one. First time around when I’d been announced as caretaker at Oldham, I’ve had all the players in, we’ve done training, and I’ve gone up for my lunch in the dining area bit we had. I’ve gone in the kitchen, decided I didn’t need to be in the kitchen, starting turning around and absolutely floored it in front of all the players. I don’t know how I hadn’t broke my kneecap, I’ve twisted that quick. Within half an hour of meeting them, I’ve absolutely floored it in the kitchen area, but the day after, we won 4-1, so it can’t be that bad!
Your routine on a match day
On a Saturday if we’re at home, I’ll always go to my lad’s football with him in the morning and go and do his football session, a toddlers’ session. Just something to go and do that’s got nothing to do with the afternoon game. I always like to be at the ground for about half 12. I always drive the same way, but on match days, my job’s done come Friday afternoon. We’ll do all the team tactics, we’ll do everything, and on a match day it’s a flip chart with the summary of them defensively and us attacking, and I’ll just recap that. That’ll take me two minutes and then that’s the end of me on a Saturday. When they go out for the warm-up, I’ll go and take the back four, just to be involved in it, because otherwise I end up walking around for walking around’s sake and I get pretty bored. Then we’ll have a little huddle near the fans, quarter to 3, I’ll do a little bit of a gee-up. So basically on match days, it’s very little input from me, because they need time to digest what they’re gonna do; they don’t need me in their ear.
One singer/band or song you would sneak on to the team playlist, assuming that you don’t run it already…
I don’t run the playlist; I wish I did with some of the stuff that goes on it. Anything by the Stone Roses would get me going. Something like ‘She Bangs the Drums’; an upbeat Stone Roses number would get me going. Whether it’d get the lads going I’ve no idea!
Advice you remember getting that’s stuck with you
Advice would be to be myself, don’t try and be other people. Early parts of my career, I tried to be other coaches that I’d worked with, so be yourself. I was with a manager on Monday who gave me a bit of advice last year after a game, and he’d said ‘forget about the budget, forget about how many fans they get, look the chairman in the eye and if you think you can work with him, do it.’
If you could have some time with any manager, past or present
Sir Alex (Ferguson) would have to be in there, because of what he’s achieved in the game and how he’s gone about his business. If you could get a mixture of Fergie and (Pep) Guardiola – Fergie for how he managed and Guardiola tactically – you’re not wasting your time with them two, are you?
Any misconceptions about you as a manager/personality, myths you’d like to dispel, or something you wish people could understand a bit more?
No, I think I’m unknown. I know for a fact people did it at Oldham and people have done it at Halifax – ‘who is it? What’s he about?’ All I am is a normal bloke who’s been given a chance to do what he’s worked his whole career to do, and my teams will work as hard as they can, they’ll be as organised as they can be. When you say hard-working and organised, people think that’s just you being defensively-minded, but what I like players to do is take the shackles off, trust them and go and express themselves. People might think at times I’m a little bit fluffy when I say I trust them, I don’t really go off the handle much, but that’s because if you build up a level of trust and you take the shackles off and let them go and express themselves, things’ll happen for them. So people might think ‘oh he’s not a shouter and bawler,’ but you don’t need to be.
And finally, what’s the best thing about having this life around football? When you wake up and football’s your focus for the day, do you still get that same buzz as you always did?
I, weirdly, love the pressure. Thursday night when you go home and you know your team, and you don’t go to sleep because the pressure’s just smashing you in the face – no better feeling. Winning, and especially winning away, at 5 o’clock – I’ll be careful here that our lass doesn’t read this – but the best feeling in life is winning away at 5 o’clock! I’ve not experienced anything that’s better than that. Knowing all the pressure you’re under, everything just goes to 5 o’clock on a Saturday. Winning at home’s unbelievable, but winning away, it’s crème de la crème, especially when their fans have give you a load through the game as well!
Interview/article by @chris_brookes