He’s had the captain’s armband of late and Tom Pratt recently signed a new deal at Hyde United to take him through to the end of next season. The 24-year-old, who had a taste of the professional game with a pair of League One appearances at Bury, is three seasons in at Ewen Fields, finishing top scorer in the Tigers’ promotion-winning 2017/18 campaign.
Reigning Supporters’ Player of the Year, and Goal of the Season winner (for his strike against Stalybridge Celtic), the forward still believes Dave McGurk’s side can be in the play-off conversation when the BetVictor Northern Premier campaign draws to a close. Fresh off a night shift, he found time to share some insight into life on and off the pitch, and behind the scenes at the Greater Manchester club.
What’s your outlook as we speak now on the season so far? For the team, and for you personally, what have you been happy with, and what could have been better?
I think we started really well, to be fair. We’ve had a couple of little blips and I think we’re in one now at the minute, so I just think if we can get ourselves out of this on Saturday and kick on again, I think we can be there or thereabouts for the play-offs, to be honest. For me personally, I think I need to be contributing more goals and assists again, like I was at the start.
What has the gaffer (former York City stalwart and ex-Hyde player/assistant David McGurk) been like to work with, since he stepped up this season?
The gaffer’s very, very good. I can’t speak highly enough of him, to be fair. He goes into a lot of detail; before games, we’ll have clips on people and we have information on every player that we’re gonna play against. So I think preparation-wise, it’s the best I’ve had.
You’re one of them of course, but in the dressing room, who leads it? That can be getting everyone going, or just who are the jokers?
We’ve got a bit of everything. Tonguey (Liam Tongue) is the joker; I’m sure everyone will tell you the same! Then you’ve got the likes of Jordan (Fagbola), and obviously Tom Dean’s come in; they’re more, I’d say, leaders. We’ve got a lot of young lads as well, so it’s more trying to help the young lads, I think. Like the Stalybridge game was quite a lot of people’s first derby game, and that might have got us in the first half, so I think it’s trying to help the younger lads with the experience we’ve got of playing non-league.
From what you’ve seen firsthand, what has the club got going for it, and why has it been somewhere that you’ve been able to be a big part of?
I think it’s a bit of everything. The fans are great; you can be winning, losing, no matter what they still sing, they still clap you off at the end. I think because they’ve been through quite a lot of hard times, I think the odd loss here and there’s not the end of the world for them. So the fans are great, and I think the club’s run, for the standard we’re at, it’s more closer to being a professional side. We’ve had the trackers for our running, we have a lot of video feedback that we get emailed to us for individuals and groups and stuff like that. Training is always very good; always based on something that’s relevant for the game coming up.
Whereabouts in (or near) Manchester are you from and which team have you grown up supporting?
I’ve lived in Droylsden all my life and I’m a Manchester City fan.
At Bury, you got to play a couple of times in League One under Kevin Blackwell. Did you sign professionally under Richie Barker, or after he’d gone?
I think it was Kevin Blackwell who was there when I got my professional contract.
Do you remember him saying anything to you, before you made your debut, or anything in training, for example?
To be fair, I think the situation we were in at the time was a difficult one, when he was the manager. I only spent probably six months with him, and so I spent most of my time with Richie Barker, to be fair, because when I was in the youth team, I trained a lot with the first team. So I probably got more from him than I did from any of the others there.
When you left Bury, was it straight to Mossley or was there a period where you’re not playing for anyone and wondering what’s next?
I was on loan at Mossley anyway, so when we decided to part ways with Bury, I just went straight back there. All I was interested in at the time really was playing football, and I’d not even been training at Bury for the two or three months before I left, I was just in the gym all the time. There was opportunities of trials and stuff like that, but it just didn’t appeal to me. I thought ‘I’d rather go somewhere I know I’m enjoying the football’, and from there I did well, and now I’ve ended up here.
What is a typical week like for you, with training and playing, but also the work you do?
I work nights, so I work from midnight until 8 in the morning, so it fits in quite well with training, and I finish on a Friday morning. Work fits in well but the difficulty is a Tuesday night game, so sometimes I can play an away game and I won’t make it back in time for work, so I’d have to use a holiday up to take the night off. I probably use a fair few of my holidays on playing the Tuesday night games, but in all, it works quite well really, because I can get my sleep in the day. Training’s not until 7, and if we’ve got a midweek match, we don’t meet until quarter past 6, so I’m not rushing to get to football – it’s usually rushing to get back to work! I work for Parcelforce so I work in a warehouse, sorting the parcels for the vans to take out in a morning. It’s a lot of heavy lifting, manual work, so it can be tough after a 90 minutes on a Tuesday night, going straight to work, but I’ve been doing it for three years now, so I’m used to it.
— Dan Walker (@mrdanwalker) November 3, 2017
In terms of getting the best out of you on the pitch, what sort of approach tends to work well? Which manager, other than the gaffer here now perhaps, has understood that most so far?
I don’t really lose confidence that much, so I’m not really an ‘arm around the shoulder’ kind of person. What I think I enjoy from a manager is, do you know, just the little things? So every week they’ll ask how the family is; just little stuff like that’s enough for me. I get things as well about where I can improve, but not in a criticising way, so it’s like positive feedback. That’s what the gaffer’s like now, he’ll tell you if you’re wrong, but it won’t be in a criticising or nasty way, it’ll just be to try and improve you. The gaffer before Dave, so Daz Kelly, he was good with that. He was a very good man-manager, I’d say.
So is Darren Kelly the one you’ve enjoyed it most under before now then?
Yeah, the promotion season was great. That was probably the best season I’ve had in football.
Were there any celebrations to mark that promotion? A little team trip away even?
We had our end-of-season awards, and then we all just went for a night out, basically. There was no trip away, it was just a celebratory night out.
In terms of you as a character, for anyone who doesn’t know you, what kind of personality would you say you are?
I’m quite laid-back. I’m not one of them who comes in when you’re getting beat and gives it. I don’t tend to come in and shout and bawl, because I don’t think it really works. For me really, I like to try and help the younger lads and the ones that are just coming through. Even the ones that come on loan, because I know they’re obviously coming from a higher standard, and this is different. Just try and lead by example, I suppose. Football-wise, working hard just gets you to where you need to be really, it doesn’t matter how good you are.
Is there a team DJ in the dressing room at Hyde?
Tongey does the music, but I think it’s more or less the same every week! I think it’s a set playlist. We all chipped in, so we’ve got a big speaker, and Tongey’s took over the music.
Outside of work and training/playing, what else do you enjoy, in terms of big interests, or just things to switch you off?
If I’m not working or I’m not at football, my missus has got a little lad, he’s four, so I usually just spend the time with them.
Finally, how are you looking at football as we speak now? Is it trying to map out a real future in it, or just enjoy it and see whatever comes after that?
Yeah, I think that’s more important. I think as long as I’m enjoying my football, I’m more than happy to keep doing it. At the end of the day, it’s not your main job, so you’re getting paid for a hobby anyway, something that you’d do for nothing. As long as you’re enjoying it, I don’t look too far into what could be. If something’s gonna happen, it’ll happen, at the end of the day. I’m happy where I am, I’m enjoying it, so it’s all good for me.
Interview by @chris_brookes