It's not all to often we get to speak to the actual manager of a team Bolton Wanderers are about to face, but the manager of Bolton XI's Saturday opponents Atherton Collieries, Michael Clegg, has kindly agreed to do so ahead of this weekend's big fixture.
Just for the sake of context, Colls absolutely smashed the NWCFL First Division last season, finishing on 96 points. Seven points ahead of second place, a massive 28 points ahead of third. In 36 league games last season they won 31, drew three and lost only a mere two. Finishing with a blistering goal difference of 103. They also reached three cup finals, winning one, at The Macron Stadium no less, in emphatic fashion with a 7-2 scoreline.
What stage of pre-season training are the team currently at?
We will have had eight sessions by the time the game on Saturday kicks off. This is our first friendly and one we have been gearing up towards!
How will you be approaching the game with BWFC; just a warm up or will you be going for it?
Although it's a bit cliché, it is just the first game in the process of getting the lads fit and ready for the new season. However, I feel it's more of a celebration of last season's success; to welcome BWFC and let the lads express themselves in front of a huge crowd. We only lost six games out of sixty last year and we have created a winning mentality, so hopefully that carries on on Saturday.
What was the secret to last season's brilliant campaign?
I think the secret behind last season's success was down to a few things really. We have a really talented team for our level of football, but their enthusiasm, their willingness to work hard and their togetherness is just unbelievable. We used the lowest amount of players in the league and we really believe in the lads and give them an environment they can work in, where they aren't afraid to make mistakes. It brings out the best in them.
What do you feel you brought to the club that was previous absent?
A few people have asked me: "whats changed so much since I came in?" I just feel that we created a family within the club, the bond between committee members, players, staff and fans became really close. I feel it helps that 80% of the club are actually from Atherton. It galvanised the community and obviously that improved week on week with the results we were getting. But the players take all the credit, they all train, all work hard and all love the social aspect after the game. So there's been a few wild nights to bring everyone that bit closer!
Which Colls players should Bolton fans keep an eye on and why?
We have a talented squad, you could single out loads of lads for you to keep your eye on, but if I have to single out three then:
Nathan Battersbey - Ex BWFC u21s, great player.
Mark Battersbey - Another who spent time in bwfc academy, scored 66 last year.
Danny Tabener - 21-year old goalkeeper, Rochdale's youngest ever FA Cup player.
Are you at all worried that if some of your players really impress in the fixture, that they'll be stolen away from you?
We have a really talented bunch, I hope they perform and show that. In regards to losing players to higher clubs, I think you have FC utd, Salford City, Stockport County and they are the big clubs now, but I believe if you left Colls to go anywhere else it would be a sideways move, as this club is growing and we could be as big as most if we stick to our three year plan.
How do you feel Colls will do next season in a higher division?
Next year is a hard one to predict, so many good sides, only one promotion place, so we know its going to be extremely difficult. But if we have a good start, who knows? We are certainly setting high targets collectively and individually.
With a big crowd expected for the game, how are you hoping that this fixture will help the club and non-league football in terms of attracting new fans?
I hope the crowd see that we try to play the right way and leave nothing on the pitch. Even if we keep 10-30 fans out of the game that would be a great acheivment for us. It's about creating exposure and pushing the brand now. So Saturday is a great starting point. Our crowds do tend to rise when Wanderers play away or have no fixture.
Why do you think people should go and watch their local, non-league side more?
I think every club should appeal to locals but I do think this starts by attracting the local talent. I know in days gone by at Colls they have had a side split of Mancs and Scousers, and the Atherton public have never really got behind that. It's different now, there supporting there local club, with a local manager, local captain and local team. Its fantastic.
As a manager yourself, what do you think of Neil Lennon at Bolton, and how do you think the Whites will do next season?
What I love about Neil Lennon is his will to win as a player and I do think he transfers that to his players. From the outside looking in, he looks like he creates a real work ethic and expects high standards. I think with a bit of money to spend he could do a great job at Bolton. He can attrat players, that's proven, so hopefully we can both have a great season and gain promotions.
Here's hoping! Finally, what is your score prediction for the game?
Score prediction... You cant ask me that!!!! I'm going for a goal fest, 3-2 Colls, Battersbey hat-trick!!
We thank Mike massively for his time and wish him the best of luck for Saturday and the season to come. You can follow him on Twitter @clegg_mc.
I'd also massively implore you to get yourselves down to Alder House on Saturday! It's going to be a capacity crowd and no doubt a cracking afternoon. Follow the club on Twitter @ACFC1916 for more information. I'll be there!
Photo credit of Joe Gibbons.