Almost ten years to the day since taking on his first Non League Football managerial position, Craig Elliott is standing on the brink of taking Boston United back to the National League when his side face Altrincham in Saturday’s National North play off final.
Go back to the 23rd July 2010 and a very ambitious, yet fresh-faced Elliott, the new Glasshoughton Welfare manager, was gathering a side together at extremely short notice.
West Yorkshire-based Glasshoughton were in a pickle. Previous manager Stuart Waddington had done a moonlight flit a week earlier along with his nearly his whole squad to take over at Liversedge just weeks before the beginning of the NCEL Division One season.
A team was assembled and the 4-0 defeat the scratched Welfare side suffered to Handsworth in his first game was the only blot in his copybook as Elliott, who had briefly played for Welfare as a player, was like the Messiah for Glasshoughton.
With an eye on a successful career in football management, the future Ossett Town and Shaw Lane Aquaforce boss drove Welfare on a two-season long “magical journey”, driving them beyond their “wildest dreams”.
He took a club previously in genuine danger of folding to unprecedented heights, i.e. promotion to the NCEL Premier Division and a Wilkinson Sword Trophy final victory. The 2012 promotion from Division One was the first of his four Non League elevations.
Phil Riding was his first Non League chairman and he has been interviewed by Non League Yorkshire about Elliott’s unforgettable stint in charge of Glasshoughton.
Riding, the chairman of Welfare from 2009 to 2015, actually identified Elliott as a future star manager when the then-Kellingley boss applied for the vacant post in October 2009.
“He phoned me up and asked if he could to my house for a chat,” Riding tells Non League Yorkshire.
“He made it abundantly clear then that he had passion and drive to bring success to Glasshoughton Welfare and that stuck with me.
“I already sort of knew Craig from being involved in local football and I’d see him at games regularly, but I thought if someone is going to go out on a limb to come to my house and show that determination (to want the job), they really do have something about them.
“He sat on my sofa and he put it out there ‘I’ll bring you success’. That meeting always stuck with me because he was challenging me and telling me what he’s going to bring to my club.
“He was a man on a mission even then and he’s one of the most forward-thinking managers I’ve ever met. He knew where he wanted to go and he had his pathway mapped for himself and he knew every step he took would be a progression.
“I knew at that first meeting if we appointed him that we may get one season out of him because he seemed destined for to go higher.”
When the actual interview process ended, Riding and the committee decided the time was not right for Elliott, who will have been aged around the 29 at the time. Instead they appointed Waddington who had significant experience of managing and had previously enjoyed success with Halifax Irish.
“Craig had been at Pontefract Collieries as reserves manager and I’m not sure if it had gone well for whatever reason and he’d gone to Kellingley,” Riding says.
“No disrespect to the players at Kellingley because in hindsight a lot of them came to Glasshoughton and were big players for us, but at the time (October 2009) we felt because of the position we were in we needed someone with experience who could recruit players who had more experience and knowledge of what is required.
“Craig didn’t have that experience (at the time), but you could tell he would do well.”
Glasshoughton were a club on its knees back in October 2009. The club had few volunteers and Riding had been forced to be the club’s first team manager and under 19s after several had taken the top job on for very short stints. In the midst of all this, Welfare had gone 53 games without a win – dating back to February 2008.
Waddington ended that infamous run by beating Brighouse Town in his first game thanks a late James Flower goal. That was a small springboard and Waddington would guide Welfare to a 13th placed finish.
Away from Glasshoughton, Elliott had gained that “experience” and was talk of the local football scene around Castleford as he had led Kellingley to promotion to the West Yorkshire League Premier Division and to two cup triumphs.
So when Waddington walked out, although a quick appointment was vital, Elliott was in the driving seat – not only because of his success with Kellingley, but because he had lots of phone numbers for players, something Welfare were short of.
“When we went down the process of interviewing him the first time, he came with a book and it filled with names, it must have been 300 or 400 names, all Non League players,” Riding says.
“When we eventually appointed Craig we remembered his book with 400 names and our first objective was making sure we turned up each week with a side and by him having that book that was an objective achieved.
“He was very meticulous and that’s one thing I’d say about Craig, he is very meticulous and very professional. We challenged him with some difficult questions because it is alright saying you have numbers for players, but are they going to travel to Louth on a Tuesday evening?
“These were things we had struggled with previously because we didn’t really have a budget.
“Craig just said don’t worry about that, ‘people will want to play for Glasshoughton’ and in the end he was proven right because the quality players Craig signed brought success to Glasshoughton.
“He made a bold statement and he backed it up when we eventually appointed him.”
Whilst painting a picture of how stricken Glasshoughton were before Elliott’s arrival as manager, Riding agrees the Boston boss was almost Messiah-like for the Leeds Road club as he changed the mindset of everyone involved at Glasshoughton in a very positive way.
“Before Craig took over there were dark times,” he admits, “I don’t think it is an understatement to say there was talk of folding.
“We couldn’t get the players and we were turning up and getting beat 7-1 every week.
“We were having to put in 16-year-old kids from the under 19s who were learning their trade and it was like ‘is this worthwhile’? We never spoke about it (folding), but we were depressed and there was nothing good to look forward to until Craig came.
“Stuart Waddington raised us off the floor, but Craig took us completely out of the doldrums and on a magical journey which was beyond our wildest dreams.
“Those two years were amazing. The club has had some good times, but you had to go back 20 years or more for them.
“There were no expectations when we gave him (Craig) the job, we just needed stability and he did more than. We never gave him a target.
“Like we said to all the managers we had, we said ‘all we want you to be is competitive and we’ll see how we go’. We never thought he’d get us promoted within two years.
“We also won a trophy (in the first season), but it wasn’t just about that. He started out with a group of players from Kellingley and the local area and every player he brought in took the standard up. That’s hard to do in Non League with very little money.
“We also didn’t have any team spirit (prior to Craig’s appointment) and he reignited the passion for football at Glasshoughton.
“He made sure I put the seats in the stand. He made sure the pitch was cut and rolled each week and I took that on myself because I wanted to support Craig. I wanted to give him the tools so all he had to worry about was the playing side and he did that extremely well.
“He was challenged me and the committee to make sure we did everything professionally which was a good thing. He challenged me every week and we had some ding-dong battles, but that was good because he cared and I cared.
“We were a club in the doldrums and he just lifted us (the committee) and the club and put the pride back into the badge. He challenged me and brought the best out of me and I can’t speak highly enough of what he did for Glasshoughton.”
One of the cornerstones to Elliott’s success throughout his managerial career, even during his spells at Ossett Town and Shaw Lane Aquaforce, is his willingness to watch matches.
It is well known that Elliott used to watch games nearly every night and day of the week and Riding agrees it has paid dividends.
“He was watching games every day and I know because I used to see him,” he said.
“That’s in the early days. He’d watch Sunday morning games and he’d be always making notes and they’d always be useful.
“He might catch a player a year on and he would already have started a profile on that person. That’s why he was very successful in the early days.
“He set a benchmark for himself and he knew if he did the hard work he’d reap the rewards.”
Over the course of his first season, Elliott brought in quality bodies from higher up the pyramid, whilst raiding the local Step 7 leagues and below for untapped talent.
Key players such as Jack Nodder, Andy Seed, Paul Sykes, Josh Corbett, Andy Catton, Darrell Young, Alex Booth and Liam Radford joined and formed the nucleus of the 2012 promotion-winning side.
They were also part of the club’s Wilkinson Sword Trophy triumph when they beat Rossington Main 2-0 in the (2011) final. Catton and Radford scored the goals in the final.
Many of his ex-players have previously spoken about his ruthlessness and Riding says he saw it in his first season.
“Even at the early stage he brought quality players in and he was very ruthless,” he said.
“I can’t remember which game it was, but 25 minutes into it, he brought off Jack Nodder, who had just left Doncaster, and Paul Banton, who was captain at the time. They weren’t doing what Craig wanted them to do so he brought them off and we won the game.
“Craig had no hesitation in making ruthless decisions. He was single-minded and he knew his objectives and at any club he has been at his motto has been; you need to do a job for me and if not, you won’t be here long and I’ll get someone to replace you.
“That’s what he has done to a very successful level. For every player he’s moved on, he’s always brought in a better standard of player.”
Elliott made one particular clever move in the summer of 2011 by recruiting the old, but successful Pontefract Collieries management duo of Simon Houghton and Darren Smith as his assistants.
The trio were arguably the most formidable management team in the NCEL and Glasshoughton were in and around the top two for nearly the whole season.
The squad was strengthened further, with the likes of Lee Bennett, Anthony Lloyd, Steve Bennett, Luke Smith and Carl Fothergill among the new signings. Even then, Glasshoughton were not expected to seriously challenge as clubs around them were spending far more money.
However, Welfare set off like a train and helped by the FA Cup victory at Maltby Main, excitement levels were raised.
Three defeats in late March and early April de-railed their promotions hopes with four games to go. Led by a call to arms by Elliott, a grandstand finish was set up.
Glasshoughton toppled eventual champions Handsworth 3-1 in the first match before disembowelling Grimsby Borough with a 9-1 thrashing.
That changed the ball game as their goals-difference was now neck-and-neck with the other remaining rider Worksop Parramore.
Josh Corbett’s spectacular last minute free kick wrecked Handsworth’s party plan in the penultimate game and that set up the thrilling climax at Emley.
With Handsworth playing Worksop, all Welfare had to do was beat Emley. That didn’t quite go to plan as Emley were leading 2-0 on the hour mark.
Ultimately an own goal and striker Steve Bennett’s double in the last five minutes secured Glasshoughton the runners-up spot and Elliott his first promotion.
“The second season, you couldn’t write it,” Riding says.
“Even for the high standards and ambition Craig had and still has, he probably thought he overachieved.
“As a chairman I did. We had gone from the doldrums and from going through the motions to having teams coming and being respectful and knowing they were in for a game and knowing they had to be on their game to get anything out of it.
“We went 11 games unbeaten at the start of the season in the league and we won an FA Cup game for the first time in years.
“It was because Craig, Simon and Daz put a team together made up of steel and determination. We could also play football and when we did it was a pleasure to watch.
“Every single game stands out which might sound really stupid, but when you go back to the previous few years we hardly won a game.
“Every weekend was now an exciting challenge and one we looked forward to rather than having to travel to Lincoln Moorlands with ten players and struggling to get points.
“The philosophy of the club changed because we were going and competing, and not only competing, we were beating good teams.
“The Handsworth game (the second to last game of the season) was an amazing night. They had a party planned because they would have won the league if they had beaten us and Craig just said ‘let’s go win the game’.
“It was a great game of football, but that strike from Josh Corbett to win it and the look on their (Handsworth’s) faces was just memorable. That was one of my happiest days in football because it showed we weren’t there just to be walked over.
“That was a big win because we had to win (to stay in the promotion race), but you couldn’t write the day we won promotion at Emley either. We were 2-0 down and we came back to win 3-2 at Steve Bennett scored in the last minute. Steve’s a character, but I liked him.
“As the game was unfolding you could sense that something special was going to happen. We’d gone from being sat in the crowd listening to people saying ‘its only Glasshoughton’ to now being the team everyone needed to beat and they couldn’t. When Steve scored the winner (in the last minute) it was an amazing feeling.
“I can’t remember speaking to Craig afterwards, but I will have done and I probably jumped on him. I remember being in the bar and hugging Steve because he scored the winner.”
That afternoon was the final chapter of Elliott’s Glasshoughton reign. Within a few weeks, he was appointed as the manager of Ossett Town in the Northern Premier League – not that it was a shock to Riding or Glasshoughton.
“I wasn’t surprised when I got the call from him to say he had got the Ossett Town job because you always knew he was going to go further,” Riding says.
“He was a fantastic young manager who had done a fantastic job at Kellingley and had now done a fantastic job at Glasshoughton so the opportunity to go higher was always going to come.”
Elliott managed Ossett for 18 months and did an excellent job, turning a club struggling for wins into a very competitive outfit.
He then dropped down two Divisions – back to where he started with Glasshoughton – to take charge of ambitious Shaw Lane Aquaforce in February 2014.
It was the perfect move as he delivered three promotions in four seasons, alongside a Sheffield Senior Cup and televised FA Cup first round appearance.
That success earned him his move to National North side Boston in November 2017. If Boston beat Altrincham, Elliott will complete the fairytale journey from Step 7 (West Yorkshire League Division One) to the top flight in the space of ten years and Riding is rooting for him.
“I’ll be proud (if Boston get promoted),” he says.
“He has made some difficult career choices which have worked out and it is testament to him and he has always known when the right time to leave a club is.
“If he gets Boston up, and whilst it is a tough challenge against Altrincham, he must be confident; but if he wins, you never know who might start ringing.
“I’m more proud that the dream and ambition that I saw in Craig is now coming to fruition. But that’s down to Craig and only he can take the plaudits for that.
“You get out of it what you put into it and he puts so many hours in and he’s now reaping the rewards. Good luck to the guy.
“He’s backed himself and he’s followed his dream and at this moment in time he’s probably the most successful Non League manager of the last ten years.
“He’s gone from grassroots and he’s won multiple trophies and multiple promotions and his record will stand up there against anybody.
“If he goes on to be a Football League manager which he undoubtably will, I will take great pleasure in playing a part in his early development as a manager.”
Similar achievements to Elliott’s are few and far between. Danny Cowley and his brother Nicky have gone from Step 5 to the Championship (until their recent exit from Huddersfield Town), while Chris Wilder has gone from the NCEL Premier Division to the Premier League, but he had a professional career.
Elliott was a Non League footballer throughout his playing career which began at Hatfield Main in 1996 under John Reed before taking in spells with Glasshoughton, Harrogate Town, Farsley Celtic and North Ferriby before injury curtailed it.
Steve Kittrick is probably the most recent and nearest local example as he managed Glasshoughton and Pontefract in the NCEL before managing Guiseley in the National North and briefly AFC Telford United in the National League.
Riding thinks the potential of further managers rising from the West Yorkshire League in a similar way as Elliott is unlikely.
“I don’t think you’ll see another Craig Elliott come from the bottom of the pyramid,” he said.
“Craig’s a huge role model for young and up-and-coming managers, but the only one I can see it potentially happening to is Craig Ogilvie. He’s just further up the chain from the guys starting out now.
“He’s a good coach, he’s done some coaching at Glasshoughton (in 2013) and now he’s stepped up and doing well in management at Yorkshire Amateur.
“The league structure is getting condensed because there are less teams and it is losing credibility.
“It is a terribly difficult job in today’s society to get players travelling every Saturday and Tuesday all over the county when we don’t have regimented shifts anymore and people are working until six.
“They don’t work Monday to Friday now, it is all continental shifts and then you’re making people travel from Leeds to wherever. Where do they get the time to get there for kick off?
“Then they get home for 11.30pm and they have to be up for five. Money is really restricted now so they can’t afford to get a knock as their boss at work won’t be happy if they have to take time off.
“There are a lot of issues that need resolving and I think we need to have rethink of the leagues.”
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.
We have enjoyed great success over the past three years. Several of our players have represented Mencap GB in Geneva, including Billy Hobson from Selby and Greg Smith, whose story is quite inspiring.
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 by, 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.