MORPETH Town’s new manager is aiming to get his side back in the top tier of the Northern League.
And young players in the town and surrounding villages will be among those to benefit from Nick Gray’s community interest company.
The 40-year-old has initially signed up 33 players, including some of those who played for the club last year and members of the Seaton Delaval Amateurs squad – Gray’s previous managerial post – which finished joint third in the Northern Alliance Premier Division last season.
His first challenge is to get Morpeth back to winning ways as the club got relegated from Division One in 2009/10, then finished bottom of Division Two in 2010/11.
However, the priority last season was to get the Craik Park ground updated so the team could continue in the Northern League. This was done after its appeal for help found support from former players and local companies.
Gray said: “Some of these players will make it, some won’t, but they are all up for the challenge of playing at a higher level. Once things have settled down after the first few fixtures, I will have a final squad of about 22.
“Those who have returned from last year’s squad have shown a good attitude and are willing to take on board what I tell them.
“We obviously want to improve on last season and the aim is to be competitive in every match so we need to be a lot tighter at the back.
“The club’s facilities have improved a lot in the last two years, so now we have to improve the results on the pitch. Ideally, I would like us to be back in the first division sooner rather than later.
“All the committee members at the club have been very helpful and we are looking forward to having a decent season.”
As part of the pre-season programme, the players will spend the day together travelling to and from Scotland for a friendly against a Stirling University side to help with team bonding.
Gray has brought his Seaton Delaval assistant Jon McDonald with him. Both men hold the UEFA B Licence.
The manager said: “Like me, Jon is very passionate about coaching players and he was an important part of Seaton Delaval’s success last season.”
Other new arrivals include player/coach Michael Robinson, secretary Dave McMeekan, physio Miles Callum and kit man Stephen Anderson Snr.
Gray has been coaching young players for many years and five years ago he was recruited to help develop the skills of youngsters in the US city of Baltimore.
He sold his car wash business earlier this year to set up a community interest company called Funball United, which covers Northumberland and North Tyneside.
This involves him and other coaches of the same calibre going into schools to take sessions and it is also looking to hold camps at football grounds.
“The main aim of this company is to help kids who usually can’t afford coaching sessions to improve their football and social skills,” Gray said.
“We also do literacy and numeracy tasks based on football if bad weather forces us indoors and we can help 18 to 21-year-olds to start their coaching badges.
“We are looking to base the Northumberland side of things at Craik Park and hopefully some of the youngsters involved will one day go on to play for Morpeth Town.
“We’re hoping to run some sessions during the summer holidays if we can get the funding in time.”
The management team has been welcomed to the club by Chairman Jim Smith.
“In the four years Nick has been at Seaton Delaval the emphasis has been on youth and bringing through young players and that is exactly the model we want to follow at Morpeth Town FC,” he said.
“Over the last 15 years we have through hard work and the spend of cash to the tune of over £700,000 built up facilities that are the envy of many clubs in the North East of England.
“With this now in place we want to push forward with the help of Nick and his young coaching team to establish a name within the game that encourages the youth of the area to join our ranks. Indeed it should be the case that every youngster in Morpeth who plays football should aspire to pulling on a Morpeth Town FC shirt.
“We already have a good record with former players such as Jon Cullen, Kevin Henderson and John Campbell having gone on to make the grade at professional level, but we now want to take it to a higher stage with top class coaching for the youngsters of the area.
“To this end it is hoped that we can work closely with the junior teams of the area and specifically Morpeth Sporting Club to achieve our aim and more importantly to make our local youngsters feel they are part of a successful Northern League set up with the hope of pulling on that senior shirt one day.”
• Morpeth’s friendly against Ashington AFC, which was originally scheduled to take place in Ashington, will now be played at Craik Park on Wednesday – kick-off is 7pm.
The club has been drawn away to fellow Northern League Division Two side Esh Winning in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Vase. This tie will be played on Saturday, August 20.
If successful, Morpeth will have a home tie in the following round against Darlington Railway Athletic on Saturday, September 24.