FC Halifax Town: “I think we’ve progressed in most areas of the football club”

Jamie Fullarton and Phil Hughes at the Leeds University Sports Centre
Jamie Fullarton and Phil Hughes at the Leeds University Sports Centre

As management team Jamie Fullarton and Phil Hughes approach a year in charge at FC Halifax Town, Tom Scargill sat down with the duo for a wide-ranging interview. In part one, they discuss progress on and off the pitch, challenges and the art of management.

There isn’t a rugby ball in sight as Jamie Fullarton and Phil Hughes reflect on their 12 months at the helm of FC Halifax Town.

While The Shaymen’s league position is remarkably similar to a year ago, it’s a measure of how far the club has come off the pitch that their base is now the impressive setting of the Leeds University Sports Centre.

Rugby balls can be spotted there too, but there’s much less of a scrum for space than at Calderdale College, where they were previously based.

“I think we’ve progressed in most areas of the football club,” said Fullarton.

“We’re in a transitional season, which means we went from part-time, two nights a week, half a football pitch, sharing with a rugby club with rugby balls bouncing off your head as you’re trying to coach, to now having a facility where it feels like a professional football club, with a structure and a weekly programme that lends itself to having a platform to progress.

“I think we’ve made greater strides in certain areas than others, but there’s constraints we have to work within.

“There’s lots of positives whilst lots of areas where we still have to improve.”

Halifax adopted a full-time model over the summer, meaning training switched from two nights a week to three mornings a week, as well as a squad overhaul.

Fullarton says what occurs on the pitch is a result of what takes place off it.

“You’ve got to provide an environment for players. It’s setting up a system, a process of how you work on a daily basis, consistency in how you deal with things.

“It’s the manager who has to implement and impose everything.

“Some managers aren’t involved in every aspect of the club, some clubs have a staff infrastructure that means the manager only deals with what happens on the training ground and a Saturday.

“The circumstances at the club means that’s not the case, which suits my personality and character as I want to be involved in every aspect of this football club.

“I’ve worked closely with the chairman to pull the club forward and we will continue to do so.

“A lot of stuff goes on behind the scenes that doesn’t feature in the snapshot of the Saturday that our fans see.

“But if you get those things behind the scenes right, over a longer period of time then they become more apparent, and there’s signs of that.

“On the field we’ve had a huge change in approach, I think it’s pretty evident the way we try to play is a manner different from before, with some really positive signs.”

Town are understood to have one of the lowest budgets in the National League, and Fullarton admits that makes it difficult to compete.

“The biggest challenge is recruitment, and the constraints you work within at this level, such as facilities, the location, the perception of the National League and finance are factors that impact who you can attract.

“There’s many boxes that need to be ticked.

“The most important thing at any club is the standard of players you get.

“But certain things impact a players’ decision to sign - location, manager, their personal motivational drivers but ultimately finances.

“If you have the finance you can blow everybody else out of the water, which we’ve seen in our division.

“We’re having to work harder in different areas to get the best (players) we can.

“Players might buy into style, philosophy of play, the opportunity to develop. Location plays a part, but ultimately finance dictates.

“And in this division, there’s a huge disparity between top and bottom financially, and that’s a real challenge, while still looking to improve your facilities or make things as professional as possible with preparation for Saturday which includes multiple overnights stays due to the league being very much a southern league with the teams that are in the division.

“As the manager, I understand and respect the constraints but I don’t accept them, I keep pushing the boundaries.”

“How the club’s been developed from when we first came in to where we are now, it’s a structure that’s been put in place and it doesn’t come easy,” says assistant manager Hughes, who also doubles as goalkeeping coach.

“I think the manager understates how he goes about getting players into the club.

“There’s a lot of hard work goes into it, and the manager goes about his business very well with that.”

When asked if he had learned a lot as a manager over the last 12 months, Fullarton said: “I think you’re learning every day. If you’re not, you don’t stay in football long.

“A great tool for me is self-awareness. Knowing what you are and knowing what you’re not, and not being frightened of that.

“Is that a vulnerability? Yeah, possibly, but I see it as a strength.

“The quote I use regularly with the players is ‘I’m not always right, but it’s always for the right reasons’.

“If you can justify and explain your reasoning, then we can disagree, but you have to accept and respect it.

“I wouldn’t say just over the year I’ve learned a lot as a manager. Every day of the 20 months I was out of the game I was learning, developing to be better.

“It’s identifying when you do things well, remembering the process and repeating it, and when you don’t do things well or gain the outcome you want, having the self-awareness of being able to do it differently next time.

“Every day there’s a surprise, good and bad. Things never cease to amaze you.

“Phil’s got experience of working with different managers at different levels, and it’s important that, as I’m developing, that I build coping strategies and a skill set to deal with what is thrown at you on a daily basis.

“Every day you get upset, frustrated, disappointed. The highs are a Saturday when you’ve played well and won, and then the lows are everything else to a degree!

“It’s extremes, but you know the rules when you start the job, and you know what’s involved.

“You just try to stay on an even keel, wherever you are in the league, whatever else is going on, in order to have clarity in your mind to make good decisions under pressure.

“That’s what management is, making good decisions under pressure, whilst working away doing everything else that’s required at a football club.”