Les Nelson wants to awaken “sleeping giant” Goole

Les Nelson is Goole AFC’s joint manager with Lutel James

Goole AFC are a sleeping giant with massive potential, according to joint manager Les Nelson.

The old club Goole Town was one of the biggest Non League clubs in Yorkshire with crowds regularly in their high hundreds and early thousands, until its fall from grace in the early nineties.

Goole AFC was formed in 1997 to replace the old club and success was instant with the legendary John Reed leading them to the NCEL from the Central Midlands League at the turn of the millennium.

The momentum eventually stalled and in recent years the Vikings have been besieged by problems on-and-off-the-field. Nelson and Lutel James, the former Accrington Stanley and Bury striker, are the club’s 13th managerial appointment since 2013.

“Looking at where the club was (when we took over) and where it is now, we have done a lot to stabilise the club,” Nelson told Non League Yorkshire.

“When we first took over I think we had eight players available for selection for the first game. It was a massive task to get a decent squad together just for the first game.

“Because of the break, we have had a lot of time to work on things such as ‘what are our plans for the next three years’. We want to stop Goole slipping down the leagues and get some form of stability in this league and then build on it. 

“Myself and Lutel, the management team and the chairman and vice-chairman have chatted and we have laid out where we want to see Goole in three years’ time.

“We have a plan in place, but first and foremost it is about making sure we get a good solid squad together which can compete in the league and stay in it. We then look to build off-the-field and we are looking at whether we can link in an academy to Goole and really get the club back to where it should be.

“Goole is a massive club and the catchment area is very good. You look at where they were and where they are now, there is massive potential to get them back there. Everyone is working together and working well behind the scenes and we all have this one vision and one goal.

“I’ve always worked with sleeping giants before and I do see Goole as one of them. But we have to get things right, off-the-pitch and on it to be able to get that excitement back to encourage local people to come back and watch Goole.”

But whilst optimistic about the future, Nelson is not outlandish targets for the next campaign in the Toolstation NCEL Premier Division.

“The three year is plan is about getting stability back to Goole,” he said.

“When I have looked back (at the seven years) it has been a struggle and when you’ve looked at Goole’s position (in the league), it hasn’t been the best.

“First and foremost we want to consolidate Goole in the league and then work our way up the league. There are some really strong clubs in there who we want to be competing with. We feel we can build a squad this year to certainly do that.

“The structure has to be right and the foundations have to be right for us to be able to move Goole forwards. Who knows, maybe in three years we might be in the Northern Premier (NPL D1), but our initial plan is: stabilise Goole, get the foundations and structure right and then we build and keep building.”

Nelson are James are leading a management team consisting of six members. Simon Portrey is the assistant manager, with Sean Burton and former Carlton Athletic manager Mark Pitts acting as coaches. Steve Gilmore is the club’s scout.

Goole have started training in small groups to abide by the Government’s rules on social-distancing and large gatherings, but they have yet to announce any signings.

Although he does want some experience, Nelson is concentrating on recruiting fresh young players who want to showcase themselves.

“I think in football there is far too many players who might have had a bad experience with a professional club and got released at 17 and you never hear of them again,” he said.

“They just feel let down by football. For me, they are the players who clubs like us in this league and the one below need to be saying to ‘you know what, come to us and we’ll give you an opportunity. You might not play professional again, but there’s nothing to say you can’t go play as high as the National League’. 

“We want to be saying ‘don’t drop out of football because there’s still plenty of opportunities out there’. I always believe you will get one or two hidden gems that have been released by academies.

“The are the kind of people we want. People who want to prove themselves and who are ambitious and want to play as high as they can. So for those players, opportunities are there with us.

“The League needs fresh blood. It becomes a cycle where it is the same players in the same leagues so the opportunities for young, hungry players is limited. That’s how I feel it is. 

“There’s a realisation element as well as you need some good proven players to bring the young lads through. The break has given us the opportunity to do some homework on players we want and players we are looking at.

“We have made a couple of offers to players which are still pending, but the squad at the minute is where it needs to be. I’m quite happy with the business done so far.”

Nelson and James previously managed Whitkirk Wanderers in the West Yorkshire League to a degree of success. Burton succeeded them in the position, while Pitts won the Premier Division numerous times.

Their extremely extensive knowledge of untapped players in the WYL is clear to see and Nelson has not ruled out recruiting from Step 7.

“I wouldn’t limit (our recruitment) to one league,” he said.

“I know there is talent within the West Yorkshire League Premier as an example and players who are more than capable of stepping up into the NCEL Premier and One.

“I’ve seen it many times and I’ve seen players do really well. Some players don’t have the confidence to think they can step up, but they really can.

“It is about identifying those people and having chats with them and instilling that confidence and giving them the opportunity. Yeah there is definitely some hidden gems in the lower leagues. But saying that, there’s hidden gems sitting on benches higher up, players who haven’t been given opportunities.

“The scouting side of it is massive as we want to make sure we are putting the right side together. We could bring 11 superstars together, but who’s to say they will gel as a team. There is a lot of different factors to think about when putting a team together.”

Although he expects other NCEL clubs to follow a similar player recruitment strategy when football returns because of tight finances, Nelson believes some clubs will still spend money.

“You’re always going to get clubs in any leagues who have bigger budgets to go and get the players they want,” he said.

“I hear a lot of negatively around that, but if they have the budget, they are going to get the best squad they possibly can.

“I think ‘fair play to them’. All clubs are the same, they want to get out of that league and progress as much as they can.

“There are a lot of clubs similar to ourselves where the budgets may not be as big and we have to be smarter in terms of giving opportunities to the youth, whilst having some experienced heads in the team.”

If you have enjoyed this interview, please consider making a donation to the not-for-profit organisation NLY Community Sport which provides sport for children and adults with disabilities and learning difficulties. CLICK HERE to visit the JustGiving page.

There is a video at the bottom of the page showing our work.

NLY Community Sport, run by James Grayson and Connor Rollinson, has always had combatting social isolation at the top of our objectives when running our Disability Football teams so when the green light to return is given, our work will play an important role in reintroducing our players, who have disabilities and learning difficulties, back into society.

We have six teams, a mixture of Junior and Adult teams – Nostell MW DFC, Pontefract Pirates, Selby Disability Football Club and the South Yorkshire Superheroes (Barnsley) – across Yorkshire.

Like most organisations, we have been affected financially by the Coronavirus and we have incurred losses which we cannot recover. We have not been hit as badly as other organisations, but we do need raise £2000 to put us back at the level we were at in mid-March and enable us to make a difference once again to our players’ lives in the future, without having financial worries. As each day goes on, a substantial number of our players become further isolated so we need to be ‘ready for action’ when restrictions are lifted.

Any amount raised above £2000 will be put towards new projects (when the world returns to normal) designed to further benefit people with disabilities and learning difficulties. You can learn more about the organisation HERE and on our Facebook page.

Watch the video below to see highlights from our three years as an organisation. The video was produced for our players at the end of March to remind them of good memories from the last three years.

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