New manager Craig Rouse has promised an influx of old faces and the return of “heavy metal football” to Pontefract Collieries.
Rouse was named as Andy Monkhouse’s successor on Tuesday night and he is tasked with bringing back the kind of good times he helped create as Craig Parry’s assistant during the 2016 to 2019 glory days – the greatest period in the club’s history.
However, he cannot look too far ahead as he is in a difficult position as the Northern Premier League campaign could still be resurrected so he has to ensure he has a squad available to play when restrictions are relaxed.
“It is no secret that we made have one signing which will be announced tonight or tomorrow,” Rouse told Non League Yorkshire.
“Then we’ll be looking to bring back a few old faces and they’ll be done over the next few weeks.
“We’ll be looking to make a connection with the supporters by bringing back old faces.
“What we don’t want to do is make this a reunion and bring back players for the sake of it.
“We want to put our stamp on it and our own identity on the team.
“We have to plan that we are carrying on until we are told otherwise. Personally I think it will be null and void again.
“We’ve put certain approaches for players already and I’ve messaged each manager concerned personally and said ‘I understand football is the last thing on your mind and we’re expecting null and void, but I have to plan for eventuality and make sure our football club is ready to continue’.
“On the flip-side one-or-two player announcements will put some good news out there and give people something to look forward to.
“I’ll be speaking to the current players over the next couple of days.
“I’m not silly as I’ve been in football a long time so I know when a manager departs some players will go with them. Some players will be speaking to other clubs.
“They will be some players who will want to come back and news will be given when any player agrees to stay.”
Parry and Rouse delivered the impossible for Ponte. The Colls won back-to-back promotions to jump from NCEL Division One to the NPL Division One North – defying many of their critics.
One key aspect of their success was their swash-buckling style of play which helped make Beechnut Lane a fortress and Rouse is a planning a return to that philosophy.
“I was a forward myself and I had an input into that system and it was something we all put together,” he said.
“We want to score goals. I know you have to keep things tight at the other end, but if you score two or three goals each week you’re going to win more than you lose.
“It was a very popular system with the supporters and it is very hard to defend against so teams didn’t like playing against it.
“You had players with energy who would press and harrie. When they won the ball back in good areas nine times out of ten they punished teams. We also had Jack’s (Greenough’s) throw-in.
“I imagine for some teams it felt like the Alamo.
“Some call it heavy metal football and I’ve seen all sorts of descriptions for it. For us we want to put people on the pitch who know where the net is and who will score goals at this level.
“You will have days when teams cancel you out, but that’s part of the challenge.
“But we want to play attacking football and we want to play fast football.
“The style will be pretty similar although it will have our own stamp on it.”
A problem for many Non League managers during the pandemic has been the almost impossible task of “connecting” the players with the supporters.
Clubhouses effectively being shut has prevented that and Rouse admits re-establishing the link will be a priority when restrictions allow.
“We saw a similar thing at Worksop because you were trying to connect a team to the supporters but you couldn’t get in the bar and you couldn’t hold a fans forum,” he said.
“So trying to make that connection becomes difficult and it is what football is missing.
“A club like Pontefract thrives on the players being in the bar talking to the supporters and everyone being close knit.
“It is really hard to overhaul a whole squad and that’s where I have sympathy for the management team who have just gone.
“It is hard to overhaul a whole squad without having the chance to bond and socialise with each other.
“We now need to focus on the future and when the bars are back open we get that connection and bond back with the supporters.”
Rouse and his assistants Andy Seed and Jimmy Williams have that bond and in the case of the manager, it goes back a long way.
Rouse first drove through the gates in 2008 as a fearsome striker when a young Trevor Waddington had taken over as chairman and made young Simon Houghton the manager of a team which had just finished bottom of the NCEL Division One table without winning a game in the whole season.
Rouse helped Houghton perform miracles in the early days. The new Colls boss then went off to manage Kinsley Boys for a few years before returning for the promotion season under Duncan Bray and Nick Handley in 2014/15. When Parry became manager in November 2015 he became his assistant.
So he is well-placed to comment on the evolution of the Colls since the turning point year of 2008.
“The club has evolved massively (since 2008),” he said.
“First and foremost, the people, the volunteers. Because Simon was having to lift the club out of the doldrums along with (chairman) Trevor (Waddington), you almost felt like you didn’t know who was going to be there week to week.
“It was tough at first, but Simon did a really good job to lift the club up and get it recognised as sort of a power in the Northern Counties East League Division One.
“That attracted attention of players and he made the club more attractive prospect for them.
“Where the club is now to where it was is not even comparable. It is a totally different club with bigger infrastructure and it is now an established Northern Premier League club.
“That would been a pipe dream in 2008, but those sort of dreams are the ones you have to chase. Trev’s ambition was always to establish the club as a Northern Premier League club and we were able to do that.”
Mr Waddington’s dream came true in 2018 after Parry and Rouse led Ponte to the unthinkable of consecutive promotions.
The club had been relegated from the NCEL Premier Division during their first six months at the helm so few expected them to achieve such a feat.
“I think there is a few clubs who have done similar and will lay claim to it being one of the best achievements there has been at this level,” he said.
“For me; to do it with almost the same team, barring two or three players and in the manner we did it was a massive achievement. I think we scored five goals in every game during one month.
“We also bounced back from a relegation to gain two promotions so that’s why I think it has to rank as the best achievement.
“In the first year it took a bit of time for the players to get used to the system.
“In some games it almost felt like we score, they score, we score. Games were wide open and in the end we went up on goals difference which shows you that the style got us up with the amount of goals we scored.
“I remember speaking to yourself away at Knaresborough when we had won on the (NCEL) GroundHop day. People were just waiting for us to lose that day and then it would have been a play-off scenario.
“That game almost catapulted us up as it left us one game to negotiate – which wasn’t straight-forward!
“So we were written off all that season and I think in the following season it was only in the changing room that we talked about promotion.
“We signed good players like Vaughan Redford, Eli (Hey), Cody (Cromack) and we wanted to be a bit more ambitious and retain the ball a little better.
“That made games less wide open and we were written off all the way through. It was a case of ‘when will they blow up’? Then we got to a scenario where we had all those games-in-hand and then it was ‘they can’t win all those games-in-hand, they’re going to lose at some point’.
“We never did. We kept winning and keeping clean sheets. Momentum pushed us over-the-line. Being written off can drive changing rooms and we had a bunch of players driven to prove people wrong.”
There is no doubt either that the success between 2016 and 2019 was a catalyst in Ponte’s decision to persuade Rouse to leave Worksop Town and end his long partnership with Parry.
“The two promotions are fresh in the mind of the club,” he said.
“They made an approach to Worksop to speak to me. We know management is a tough gig and things haven’t worked out for the previous management team for one reason or another.
“It was a really tough decision because we (myself and Craig) have had a lot of good times together.
“As a management team we have had over five years together and achieved a lot. I leave him and Worksop with all my best wishes and I wish them all the best in the future.
“It all came about pretty suddenly towards the weekend and I spoke to the club on Monday and the decision was made from there.
“In the end the pull of being a number one and to work with Trev (Waddington) again was too much of a pull. It was too good an opportunity to turn down. I have a connection with the club from two spells as a player and obviously the success we had as part of the management.
“Pontefract would have been the only club I would have left Worksop for.”
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