Liam Watson, who took charge at Bower Fold at the end of March, is the most successful manager in the division’s 11-year history. He has claimed three championships, two of them with Southport whom he also took to the play-off semi-finals in 2009. In 2012 he was named non-league manager of the year.
While proud of his record, Watson knows it is adding to the expectation among supporters that he will immediately revive the fortunes of a club that has spent too long in the doldrums. However, he is happy to accept these demands.
“There’s pressure on me, of course there is. I put pressure on myself because of what I’ve achieved in the past” he commented.
“But we’re not there just to make the numbers up. My assistant Dominic Morley and I want Stalybridge Celtic to be among the clubs looking for promotion. Our sides will be giving 100 per cent in every game.
“My teams tend to start slowly, but if we’re there and thereabouts in January we’ll be in with a chance.
“I see the division as wide open this season and if that’s the case then all the clubs are going to be taking points off one another. I can see the title being won with a relatively low total.
“A lot of times one club dominates but I don’t think that will happen this time. I see the division as very competitive.”
Watson rates Fylde and Chorley, and sees Stockport County, with their large fan base, as a particular threat now they are under the management of Neil Young. Harrogate Town, Brackley, Gainsborough and Solihull have all been spending heavily, and he also sees Tamworth, Telford and FC United as more than capable of challenging for promotion to Vanarama National.
“FC United have known nothing but success since they were formed ten years ago. They are used to winning and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to keep that up,” Watson explained.
To get his own team used to winning, Watson has torn apart the squad he inherited and brought in lots of new talent, many of them players who have served him well in the past.
Signings include centre-half Jack Higgins from Ashton United, striker Adam Farrell (Telford), former Lincoln City and Accrington centre-back Bohan Dixon, goalkeeper Tony McMillan (Barrow), midfielder Ryan Wade (Airbus UK), striker Alex Johnson (Guiseley), left-back Danny Wisdom (Skelmersdale), and striker Steve Tames who started last season at Hyde.
Watson said: “Stalybridge have been struggling at the wrong end of the table over the last couple of years and have gone back to part-time from full time. Change was needed and we have brought in players of experience and stature. We’ve also got Chris Simms and Peter Wylie who are like new signings because they joined us right at the end of last season.”
Bridge begin their new campaign on Saturday, away to Hednesford, and then welcome Bradford Park Avenue to Bower Fold on Tuesday. Watson already has two men on the injured list: Alex Mudimu, who broke a metatarsal in the friendlies, and Danny Wisdom who has a groin strain.
He concluded: “I never enjoy pre-season because of the risk of injuries, but I am looking forward to the real season starting.
“The chairman (Rob Gorski) has discussed things with me and said he wants us to be doing as well as possible. He wants to get Stalybridge Celtic promoted to the national division. Whether that happens this year or next year we’ll have to see.
“It’s always difficult to put so many players together and make it happen. There’s a lot of luck involved too. You need to steer clear of injuries and get them to gel. But I’ve done it before and I’m not afraid. One to 11 we’ll be a strong side.”