“There’s going to be a f***ing murder”. That’s what an assistant manager snarled at half-time during the early part of former midfielder Adam Fretwell’s Non League Journey at the turn of the century.
Fretwell, who won NCEL league titles on three occasions, played for clubs such as Alfreton Town, Ossett Albion, Parkgate and Handsworth under some of Non League’s loudest managers from Wilf Race to Eric Gilchrist to Russ Eagle before retiring in 2013. He even spent a brief time playing for Chris Wilder at Alfreton.
Fretwell, a jewel in the crown in many midfields, also played alongside some of the best, yet most brutal strikers of the last 20 years from Mick Norbury, Brian Cusworth to the The God Squad at Alfreton. The Jeremy Clarkson of Non League Football – goalkeeper Andy Carney – was a team-mate too, during the Ossett days.
Fretwell, who even had his own impersonator in Gary Duffty during his Ossett days, became a disciple of Eagle through following him to Parkgate and Handsworth. He could probably act as the prosecution’s top witness for any ‘trial’ concerning born again Eagle’s high voltage days.
This is Adam Fretwell’s Non League Journey:
“I had been at Sheffield Wednesday when I was younger, but I started playing Non League at Parkgate. Wilf Race was the manager and he’s a character. He could be quite aggressive in the dressing room and he told you what he thought. I would say I only had half-a-season with him, but he’s a good bloke and he’s well known where I live from the Saturday and Sunday football.
“I had a good season and then Alfreton Town came in for me. Jason Maybury was the manager and Russ Eagle was his assistant. That’s the first time I came across Russ. He’s a Maltby lad so I only live down the road from him. Once I got know to him I started travelling down to Alfreton with him quite a lot. He’s another character. Back then at Alfreton he was only the assistant so he had to take a backward step. It was more later when I saw the real Russ.”
Alfreton Town Memories
“I think I played 88 times for Alfreton and my best season was 2000/01 as I scored 16 goals from midfield which is quite good for me. I remember scoring a hat-trick. It was my first in Non League Football, I think it was against Armthorpe.
“We played Goole on the opening day at Alfreton and they had just come up and they had hardly lost a game for two years. It was a bit hostile and we came out of the tunnel and they were chucking cups of teas at us. I remember thinking ‘where have we come to here’? I had a really good game and I scored a 25-yarder and we won 3-1. It is one that sticks in my mind because they hardly lost and we beat them in their own yard.
“I enjoyed my time with Alfreton. I played with some good players like Ryan France who ended up at Hull City. Gary Thorpe is someone I should mention. He was a midfielder who was a work-horse and he got stuck in. I remember the Alfreton fans saying they had been waiting for a partnership like me and Gary had. He was the first person I struck up a good partnership with. We always seem to play well with each other. He got stuck in and it let me play.”
“Chris had come in as a player originally and I played with him with quite a few times. Maysey got sacked and Chris took over as manager (October 2001) and led Alfreton to four trophies including the league, but I missed that bit as I got a bad injury halfway through that season. I did my knee ligaments so I was gutted to miss out
“You could see then that Chris was going to be a good manager because how he coached, planned things and how he talked to people. His man-management was brilliant. Chris actually came to my house house to tell me he was releasing me. It shows you the measure of the man as he could have phoned me or text me that he was releasing me. Most managers would have done it like that. I’ve followed his career right through and what he has done at Alfreton, Halifax, Oxford, Northampton and Sheffield United is superb.”
The God Squad
“They were the best strike-partnership around at the time. Mick Goddard should have made it pro, he was a brilliant player. If you were a defender they were a nightmare to play against. Mick Godber was the hold-up player and a big lad and Mick Goddard, he was quick and aggressive. They were the perfect partnership.”
Wilder’s Assistant Dave Lloyd
“Dave was Scottish and he was a really good bloke, but he had a temper on him. He was an angry man at times. I always remember one game where we’d come in a half-time and he’s kicked the kettle over and shouted out in his Scottish accent ‘there’s going to be a f***ing murder’. He was only the assistant at Alfreton so you can imagine that Chris Wilder and him were different characters.”
“My best mate Darren Bland was down at Ossett so he said to come down in pre-season (2002) and that’s the first time I met Eric (Gilchrist). I had three good seasons with Ossett and Eric was a really good manager. A lot of managers in the NPL and NCEL back then set their teams to play back to front quite quickly. Eric was different as he wanted to play out from the back and it really suited my play as a centre-midfielder who liked to pass it about. I was the one who got us going in the middle of the park. I was a good passer and I had good vision.
“We had Danny Toronczak and Mick Norbury upfront and they clicked. That helped my play as Norbury used to come in and I’d play it to his feet or I’d play it to Danny who at the time was scoring for fun. Winning the (NCEL Premier Division) league (in 2004) is up there with my achievements. We had a brilliant team and it is a shame it got broke up. When we went into the NPL we started losing a few players, but if we had kept the team together I think we would have done really well.”
Andy Carney turns into Jeremy Clarkson
“We were playing Altrincham away in the FA Trophy and me and Andy Carney were travelling there in the car. He was renowned for his fast cars and he was 45 minutes late picking me up. I said to him ‘we’re not going to make it today’ and he went ‘yeah we will’. Honestly, I’ve never seen someone drive as fast down the M1. It was like he was doing 140mph. We were a bit late and Eric had a right go at us. We started the game quite well as Danny scored, but we ended up getting beat 6-1.
“Andy was a character and I remember his lad Jacob as I used to go round to his Andy’s house as we became friends. It is great to hear that Jacob doing so well at Manchester United.”
‘Gary Duffty’ Throws Punch and gets Sent Off
“I’ve got a brilliant story about Gary Duffty. Me and Gary used to look quite alike because he’s got a bald head and I had a skinhead. We were playing away somewhere in midweek and I think we were losing at half-time. Eric had given us a bit of a b******ing and all of us were thinking ‘come on now’. I went in for a tackle and it was a bad one. The kid has jumped up and we’ve got into a scuffle. Gary has come behind me and I’ve thrown a punch at this kid and I’ve hit him. But because me and Gary look similar, Gary got sent off instead of me. Obviously he was a nice guy so he didn’t want to get me into trouble so he took it on the chin and just walked off. Gary’s never let me live it down though.”
“Norbs, on the pitch he was a nutter who would look after you. Off-the-pitch he was a brilliant kid. I remember one game when we played Ossett Town and this centre-half had been giving him some stick all game. I turned round and this centre-half was laid on the floor and Mick is grinning at me. He’d elbowed him. But the assistant had seen it so he got sent off!”
“Craig was a good lad and I played in the midfield together with Gary Duffty who was a good player. Marshy was a character to be honest. He used to p*ss on you in the showers and he used to do stuff on a night out that you can’t repeat. He also got sent off a few times on the field as his challenges were a bit naughty sometimes.”
Fretwell faces £1000 Bill after Hotel Room ‘Trashed’ after Ossett Night Out…
“We had played Hallam away and I had scored from the halfway line after Danny Spooner’s kick from a back-pass came to me. I took a touch and drilled into the top corner.
“I’d organised the night out for after the game and I booked the hotel rooms for us under my name. The day after I got a phone call from someone saying they were manager at the Grosvenor Hotel and that one of rooms had been trashed and I’d have to pay the bill for the damage. I rung most of lads asking what had gone off, none had a answer for me. Then the day after had another call again saying it was manager and £1000 needed to be paid. I put the phone down to then get another call with someone chuckling on the other end. I’d been pranked good style by Asa Ingall. He had been him pretending to be the hotel manager!”
Coach Rage on way to Mossley
“We played Mossley away and it is really tight up there for the coach. The coach must have hit about ten cars on the way down. The driver didn’t stop, he just carried on. Eric probably said to the driver ‘you’ll never drive for this club again’!”
Last Win Secures NCEL Premier Division Title (2004)
“It was a dramatic title race and I do remember the Borrowash. I don’t know if this is right, but I got told that the league took the trophy down to Eastwood? It was a really hot day and we were drawing 0-0 at half-time and Eric just said ‘keep playing, it will come’. Sean Hazelden got two and Mick got the other as we won 3-0 and we found out that we had won the league on goals scored – three more than Eastwood. We all went round Wakefield to celebrate. I’m not sure who babysat Craig Marsh.”
Reunion with Russ Eagle
“I played a season and half in the NPL for Ossett before I went back to Parkgate for family reasons. Russ Eagle was in charge and he’d put a really good team together and we won the league (2006/2007). We had Matt Outram on the wing, Brian Cusworth upfront, Caine Cheetham, Richard Patterson.”
“Because of his post round he used to turn up a 2pm and he’d still have his bags with him. Brian was a character. He wasn’t a lunatic, but he used to be funny because of the way he talked. He was 6ft and brilliant in the air and could score and we played Retford away. Retford had a centre-forward who was a big lad and him and Brian had been at it all game. There was a corner and they squared up and the kid hit Brian. Brian stood there and in his Rotherham accent said, ‘is that all tha got’? The kid got sent off as the referee saw it.
“Brian was a similar to Mick Norbury. Mick Norbury, for me, had everything, but Brian won everything in the air. You couldn’t beat him in the air. His touch wasn’t brilliant, but he knew where the net was. Brian was a good player to play with him and if you were in trouble he’d look after you.”
Russ Eagle’s Nutritional Pre-Match Meals
“We played Colwyn Bay away and the coach was late setting off because we were waiting for someone. The chairman (Albert Dudill) had said he was going to buy us breakfast on the way down, but because we were late we thought that had gone out of the window. Russ wanted something to eat so he told the driver to stop at this services and we all got off and we all have had eggs, bacon, sausages, bean an hour or two before the game! We got to game and during the warm-up, half of the lads were spewing up because of the breakfast. That was Russ all over and he obviously loved a drink on the way back from games. He was always clowning about.”
The (Old) Russ Eagle Way
“All my managers could get carried away on the touchline. But with Russ, he’d swear a lot, take the p*ss out of people and loved a rant. He’d tell people what he thought. But now he says he’s a changed man, I was reading that the other day. He was a win-or-nothing man and that was one of his motto’s. He had a few motto’s as he also had ‘we’re all in’ as if there was ever a brawl on the field, everybody was in, especially him. That used to happen quite a lot at Parkgate.”
“I got sent off three times across three consecutive games. I had a bit of a bad run. One of them, I can’t remember who we played, it might have been Bridlington? I went over the ball and this caused a brawl when the kid went down. Russ, as he does, came running on and getting involved. It wasn’t just now and then, he was always like that! Russ wasn’t happy about me getting sent off mind, he told me afterwards what he thought and said I had to calm down.
“My disciplinary record wasn’t too bad. I got red cards now and then. I picked up a few yellows mind. There was a red card at Nostell which was a bit stupid as I went in for a tackle and when I got up I booted the hand. We were losing at the time. I went in and got showered and at half-time as the referee was walking in, I let him know what I thought. Russ joined in, but he and other people were trying to hold me back. We actually won the game so maybe me getting sent off did us a favour, but that ended up with a hefty fine and ban.”
Worksop Town (January 2008)
“I was always loyal to Russ as I had some good offers when I was playing for Parkgate. I could have gone to Stocksbridge when Peter Rinkcavage was there and Sheffield Club when Dave McCarthy. Russ is a friend so I was loyal, but I kind of regret not going to Stocksbridge as they have a nice playing surface.
“The money that we were been paid to play for Parkgate got stopped during the season after we won the league and when Russ rang to tell me, I said I couldn’t play for nothing as having a young family my football money helped me out.
“Jay Maybury rang me, he was the assistant at Worksop Town with Peter Rinkcavage and they put seven days in on me. I thought I would struggle as they had some really good Non League players. I went training and a kid called Steve Hawes was either injured or suspended. It got to the game on the Saturday and it was Buxton at home and I started. That’s a good memory. We drew 2-2 and I got man of the match. That was a good start for me at Worksop and had good half a season.
“The fans were brilliant. The first game against Buxton, there was 500 there. They always took buses of away supporters and I remember playing Whitby away and they took two buses there. It was the first time I had come across a fanatical fan-base. I had gone from playing in front of 40 or 50 people at Parkgate to 400 or 500 at Worksop.
“In pre-season I broke three metatarsals in my foot so I was out for a good four or five months. Worksop had moved to Hucknall’s ground by then and I played a couple of times, but I couldn’t get my foot right. I then went out on loan to Sheffield FC to play for Chris Dolby.”
Final Hurrahs (2009 to 2011)
“After Worksop and Sheff Club, I played for Thackley and Goole. I quite enjoyed it at Goole. I was there for half-a-season during Karl Rose’s first season in charge. Eric had put me in touch with him. But I wasn’t with Goole long as Russ got the Parkgate job again and he rang me to say he needed some experience. I didn’t really want to drop leagues, but again I enjoyed it and had a good time.
“Russ then got the Handsworth job so I followed him there. I played just the one season there (2010/11). We should have the league and we should have won the League Cup semi-final at Farsley Celtic too. We were winning 2-1 until Farsley equalised in the last minute and then won it in the second half.
“Russ had a decent young side because Handsworth have a great structure up to the first team. I remember them all like Sam Smith, Archie Sneath, Danny Patterson, Richard Tootle. Richard Tootle stood out to me. He was a good left-footed left-back and a really good player and he should have been playing far higher for me. I played alongside Danny Patterson in midfield and we suited each other as he had a good engine and got up and down whereas I was a sitting in player. I didn’t teach him about yellow cards though. He’s worse than me. He gets his yellow cards for his gob though, not tackles like me. He used to get himself into trouble for nought.
“I had been about a bit so Russ made me captain and I had a good season. I also won the player of the year trophy and that’s one of my highlights as I was probably the oldest player in the team.”
“I’ve had another kid and I packed playing in after that one season (with Handsworth). The missus said ‘come on now, you’ve done it for years’. I hung my boots up and not long later my best mate Darren Bland got the Worksop Parramore job (pre-merger). I was his best man and he was my best man. So I had a good season with them, playing with people like Lee Whittington, Lee Holmes, Will McGhie, Jordan Hatton. I remember us drawing 3-3 with Scarborough Athletic and we had some good results. It was a nice way to round off my career.”
“I enjoyed the away trips the most and that’s what I miss the most. On the way back you’d stop at the off license and Russ used to go in and get ten crates of something to drink on the way back. We used to be bladdered by the time we got back. The Ossett Albion days used to be similar and you always gutted when it was your turn to drive as you couldn’t have a drink.
“I always look and see how some of my old clubs are going on, but I’ve not really been to watch matches. Mind you, I came out of retirement a couple of years ago and scored the winner in a charity match at Ossett Albion! That was a good day as I saw some of the lads I hadn’t seen for years.
“I’m still friends with a lot of my old team-mates and managers. I still get texts from Eric now and then and I still talk to Russ. I used to see Pete Rinkcavage quite a lot as I’ve got a son who is now at Sheffield Wednesday’s academy. His lad was down there. Jay Maybury is a coach now there so I see him quite a lot.
“I play for Wickersley’s over 35s and I’d love to get into Non League coaching or managing in the NCEL or NPL. I started coaching my lads’ team for three years until I had to pack in when he went to Wednesday. When Russ got the Handsworth job last year, I text him saying I’d be his assistant in a few years!”
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.