What’s more, Watson’s done something that would once have been considered unthinkable. He’s struck up an informal arrangement over players with the man the Bower Fold fans love to hate — Droylsden boss Dave Pace.
Before the Bloods’ well-documented financial problems, Pace was known for his criticisms of Stalybridge, most famously that they would be relegated before Christmas. The barbs were delivered in pantomime villain style, but they stung sections of the Celtic support and matches between the two clubs were always fiery affairs, which is exactly what Dave Pace wanted.
None of that bothers Watson, who commented: “There’ll be players who do the whole pre-season but don’t get a shirt. The deal with Dave means that they’ll be able to get a game at Droylsden. It’s a common arrangement in the Liverpool area but for some reason it doesn’t happen in Manchester. I can’t understand why that should be.
“I’ve always got on great with Dave Pace. He’s a man for whom I have immense respect and I’ve been locked in a few promotion battles with him over the years. I believe he never received the recognition he deserved for taking Droylsden to the Conference North title.
“People say it was all down to cash. He might have had a few quid but nothing like the money that’s knocking about now. And certainly not the £2 million budget that Forest Green have had for the last two seasons — without winning the championship.”
Watson has made five signings so far, and another four will be announced within the next day or so. Central defender Nick Ryan has moved to Bower Fold from Burscough, and striker Andy Owens comes in from Marine, having played for Watson at Southport and Telford.
Winger Danny Pilkington has been signed from Barrow, and midfielders Liam Hynes and Callum Bagshaw have moved from the Everton Academy and Formartine United of the Highland League respectively.
Highly-rated striker Darius Osei has been sold to Oldham Athletic. It’s a transfer that pleases Watson greatly although he doubts he will get to spend any of the proceeds.
“He’s put a lot of money in the bank for the club but I don’t think any of it will see its way into my budget,” said the Bridge boss.
“But that’s okay. The academy was set up to bring players through and make money for the club, and Darius has done that. He really deserves the move to Boundary Park because he’s a proper smashing kid.”
Turning to the league, Watson added: “It’s going to be a tough year because, going off the budgets, it’s got to be the strongest National League North there has been. But on the flip side there will be a lot of clubs under pressure because considering what’s being spent they know they will have to be there or thereabouts.
“I just hope we can be really competitive throughout. I definitely think the squad is stronger than it was last year. There’s more pace and we’ll probably change the style a little bit while keeping the good parts from last season.
“We haven’t been in a position to bring in any names so a lot of our signings have come in under the radar. That means people won’t know who they are, which is good.
“Pre-season has gone really well and I feel optimistic. I’m looking forward to getting things under way at Boston on Saturday.”