Adrian Costello inherited a decimated Garforth Town squad in November 2015 after six players followed previous manager Graham Nicholas to Ossett Town. In the latest ‘My Greatest Game’, Costello re-lives the seven days between taking the job and the 5-0 West Riding County Cup triumph over Armthorpe Welfare with just 11 eligible players – one being a player who had left Garforth one month earlier and had to be persuaded to help out.
The Cup tie remains a hugely significant part of Garforth’s history. The club were under extreme pressure to raise a team, but the sun was shining on Garforth and those 11 heroes produced one of the club’s greatest victories.
Garforth Town (Curtly Martin-Wyatt 30, 73, Spencer Lund 54, Danny Harris 70, Jassim Alali 83) 5-0 Armthorpe Welfare – 10th November 2015
Garforth Town: Hunter, Scott, Robertson, Smith, Alali (captain), McCarthy, Oyebanji, Preece, Martin-Wyatt, Lund, Harris.
Armthorpe Welfare: Overton, Taylor, Tunney (Collins 63), Bunn, Gibbons, Dargan, Mirfin (Handley 56), Aspinall, Mansaram, Walker (Walters 69), Braithwaite. Sub unused: Muirhead.
“The Armthorpe game is probably at the top of my achievements in this country. Overall it is in the top three, with getting into the play-off in Sweden last year and winning the Manager of the Year in Sweden. The Armthorpe game was just about winning a game, the other two are honours – one being getting team from a village with 530 people to a final. But it was a special night. To win 5-0 in your first game in management with just eleven players, plus me, Samuel Bannister and Paul Cavell in the dugout is unbelievable.
“Joining Garforth all came about after I saw that Graham had gone and at the time I wanted to get into open age football. I was doing the under 16s at York City and I was the youth development phase lead coach. I knew Darren Kelly who obviously played for Garforth and was friends with the chairman so I had a conversation with Darren and said ‘I quite fancy it, what do you think’? He said it was a great club, well managed and the board do a really good job. So I said I’m going to apply and do us a favour by putting a good word in for me.
“I was probably a bit late in the process because Graham Nicholas had been gone nearly a week and I think people had been interviewed. I think they had interviewed a couple of people before me. It was a Tuesday night when I went to meet the club. We talked about ambitions, the state of the club and that Graham had taken a lot of the players and would it be a problem?
“I always knew I was an outside shot for the job. That’s why I asked Darren to put a good word in for me. I got it right in the end by surrounding myself with Rob Hunter. I know I can coach and manage, but what I didn’t know was the League, certainly no recent knowledge. I had faith in my coaching and managerial ability. Managing a football team is no different to managing in the Police or the Military. Management is management. I think appointing me was a gamble for Brian (Close) and Craig (Bannister). What maybe swayed it was that it wasn’t all about money for me. It wasn’t you need me to keep you in the league so you need to triple my budget. I understand budgets and that money doesn’t grow on trees. I had good contacts in the professional game too from who I could get players from or use their names to get players. I always wanted to find someone who knew the Non League game to assist me. I waited because I wanted to find the right person, someone who really understood the Non League scene locally. When I look back I know I couldn’t have done it without Rob Hunter and Mark Ford.
“I was offered the job the next day and of course the Armthorpe game was the following week. At the time we were due to play Parkgate on the Saturday in the league and we only had a 11 on the books at the time. We actually had ten players because one of those, Joel Scott, had left a while ago, so what I had to do was get some new players. If we get could the players signed and play them against Parkgate they would be eligible to play against Armthorpe in the Cup. They had to had played in one fixture to be eligible That was the plan. I signed Harry McMillan, Raul Fletcher and Nathan Kilby. These were lads I knew from York. There was a lot of rushing about and I had to drive from Hull to York to drag Marshy (Paul Marshall) out of bed on the Friday morning to get Harry McMillan signed. I still remember that now.
“We also had a meeting with the existing players on the Thursday night and it was incredibly important. One thing I said to Brian was that we needed to get organised really quickly. My biggest doubt was Curtly because he was apparently undecided as to whether to stay or go. Ash Preece and Danny Harris were happy to stay, as were a few others. I think Curtly had reservations and I think he had reservations before everything because he was a regular under Graham and then he wasn’t a regular. I sat down with Curtly one-to-one and I just said to him that one thing I am is totally honest and he would know where he stood. We were hugging by the end of the meeting and from that first meeting with him, it has been a friend ever since. I still keep in contact with him now. Curtly will give you absolutely 100%. It might not be good enough on that day, but it will be 100%. He won’t hold back and I really like him.
“I came away from the meeting quite positive to say there were only ten players there. If it had gone wrong, we would have had absolutely no-one for the Parkgate or Armthorpe game. It was one of the scariest weeks in Garforth’s history. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the chairman. Ultimately the manager’s job was easy because if all the players had walked out because I had happened previously then it would have been ‘that ain’t my fault’.
“When Saturday morning came I thought we would be on, but there was heavy rain and the Parkgate game was off. All I could think on Friday night was let’s play, make sure the lads who need to play get some minutes so when I woke up and found out the game was off, I was sat there thinking ‘that’s it, I’ve got ten players’. I couldn’t believe it, you couldn’t write it.
“I considered speaking to the guys who had left to go to Ossett to see if they would play, but we left it. We didn’t apply for dispensation either from the West Riding as we had 11 eligible players. Technically we had ten, but Joel Scott who had left ages before was still registered so I got his number and rang him on the Monday. I said ‘please help us out and play in this one game. If you want to play afterwards that’s great, but if you don’t that’s not a problem’. So he said ‘yeah I’ll play’. He was quite happy to play. It was a 25-minute phone call still.
“That meant we had 11 so when it came to the day of the game. I was just hoping no-one pulled out. When your phone rings, your heart sinks and I remember getting an unknown number ringing me and I was like ‘please don’t tell me someone had fallen off a ladder at work’. It was actually Safe Style or someone trying to sell me double-glazed windows. I was at work at York and was pacing around worrying all day.
“Luckily no-one pulled out and I sat down with Brian and asked him ‘what’s the ideal formation’ with the players we have got? We came up with 4-3-3 and we had players playing out of position.
“One thing people who know me know is that I’m always well prepared. I had prepared what I was going to say and I even had prepared as to how we were going to attack corners and defend corners. My final words to the players were ‘just go and enjoy yourself tonight, there’s eleven of us so there’s no substitutions, no-one is going to criticise you. People in the crowd know the state of the Football Club. I’m not going to criticise, the board isn’t so go out and enjoy yourself’. There was absolutely no pressure on anyone.
“I was stood in amazement that we had turned out a make-shift team with players playing in make-shift positions and won 5-0. It was a massive reward for everyone at the club.
“Jassim Alali scored a good goal. Curtly should have had a hat-trick. Spencer scored one and he could have another one. Even I had wanted to, I couldn’t make changes because we had no subs, had no training sessions and we had players playing out of positions. You can’t start criticising. Because it was my first game, I was more reflecting on what I needed to do, who do I need to bring, which positions need more strength?
“When the final whistle went there was euphoria. The supporters, instead of rushing off to the bar, all stayed to clap the players off. That was nice, but when people understand what is happening at the club they appreciate seeing a performance like that and seeing everyone apply themselves for 90 minutes.
“I was bouncing when I left the ground that night. It wasn’t so much the hour drive home to Hull, but it was trying to get to sleep that night was the problem. I was still euphoric when I got home and it was about midnight. I was probably still awake at 1.30am with my mind working over-time and had to be up at 6.30am for work in York.
“It was a struggle for us in the league after the Armthorpe game. The thing with what happened between November and the end of the season we were constantly fielding a make-shift team. We never had a steady eleven. People came, people left. Mark Simpson came back.
“Putting the ball in the net was one of our biggest problems. Our best games were against Tadcaster and I knew after playing them that we would stay up. They had a Champions League winner (Jonathan Greening) playing for them and we lost 1-0 both times. It sounds daft, but we left all the goals for the 6-1 win over Pontefract which is the game where we secured safety. It was a bizarre game. I was late coming out for the game and I heard muted cheering. I had gone to the loo and I came out and Mark Ford was stood at the door and he’s saying ‘we’re winning 1-0’. I didn’t believe him. We won 6-1 and that kept us up. From worrying about getting relegated, we finished six or seven places off the bottom.
“We went through a lot of players. Simmi Oyebanji didn’t finish the season, Jordan Outerbridge didn’t, Harry McMillan didn’t, but Mick Jones, Curtly, Danny Harris, Ash Preece, they were ever-constant and immense. They are still held in such high regard by the club and rightly so. It was a difficult season. Every single player was immense for us. Mick Jones for instance, I could put him as centre-back, number ten, striker and he’d have given 110%. When players weren’t and I always remember going to Staveley after Easter and we were 2-0 down at half-time, Mick Jones absolutely crucified the players. I didn’t need to go in the changing rooms. We still lost the game, but we were a completely different side in the second half.
“I went in there in November and we had ten players and one of the lowest budgets in the league, that’s no secret. Players are quite mercenary so when you are saying ‘come and play for us, I’ll give you £15’, it is like ‘oh no it will cost me £20 to get there with petrol’. We were always going to struggle and it was (a struggle). The main objective was simply to stay in the league so we could do a rebuild and we did and Rob went onto complete the rebuild.
“Of all the Non League clubs, and bearing in mind I live ten miles away from three in North Ferriby, East Hull and Hall Road, I still view Garforth as my Non League football team. Since coming back from Sweden at Christmas I have been to watch them four times and it is big commitment considering I live in Hull and I pass teams like Goole on the way. I look for Garforth’s results and I am still on good terms with Brian and Craig. I have so much time for them. They never mentioned ‘poor performance’ once, it was all about ‘go again’ and there was common belief that we would stay up.
“Garforth gave me my first big chance in management and if it wasn’t for Garforth, I wouldn’t have got the opportunity in the Sweden. In Sweden in my first season we were tipped for relegation. But when you go to an interview you can say ‘I’ve been at a club where we had ten players for the first game and we didn’t get relegated’.
“I left Sweden at the end of the year after two years with Ytterhogdal IK. The budget got cut and the club did not have the same ambition as me. We did so well and although I did it within budget and 12% under it, it does cost money to do well. I saved money, but because of the financial situation they offered me a 38% budget reduction so I said I can’t get promoted on that. They said ‘we’re not worried about that, just don’t get relegated’ so I thought that it wasn’t for me. I made the decision that I wasn’t going to go back and I thought it would be nice to spend a bit of time with the family in the UK. Within three weeks of saying that, a team who are the Sunderland of Swedish football got in touch. They used to play in Europe and were in the top league, but had two successive relegations. They have a massive stadium in the fourth biggest town in Sweden and they offered me a job as a manager, but I had already made the decision, despite how attractive financially and career-wise the proposition was.
“So I’m now the manager of Hull City Ladies, a club my friends run. They asked me to help out and I didn’t have anything else so I stepped in. It was the similar situation I was in at Garforth as we were bottom with one win and we needed players back in. We of course won a game, but then the season has been expunged. We didn’t get relegated and I always said I would keep them in the league!
“I wouldn’t rule out getting back into the NCEL if a club would have me. I would not discuss it because it is something that interests me. It would have to be a right fit. Garforth was good because it was an hour away. It can’t be an hour-and-half. It is not so much game-day, it is training. I would feel confident going into a club. Even though I was away in Sweden for two years, I still kept abreast of everything going on in Non League football. I read everything on Twitter, read the Non League Paper. The thing is if you’re not in it, the chances of getting back into it are quite slim. I have good pedigree from Garforth, and finishing third in the first year and second in the second year in Sweden as well as winning a cup and the team and managers of the year awards.”
Adrian Costello was interviewed by James Grayson