New manager Alun Armstrong was shocked when he was asked to take over from Tom Wade at Blyth Spartans, but he admits that it’s a “great start” to his managerial career and he can’t wait to get going.
Former boss Wade stepped down last Thursday – after he felt that he could take the club as far as he could. However, Armstrong’s commitments to Middlesbrough Academy meant that he was unable to take charge for Blyth’s 3-4 defeat at Corby Town, which saw Wade take to the touchline one last time to help out assistant manager Neal Hooks.
Wade’s successor will be in the home dugout for the first time during Tuesday’s Evo-Stik Premier League clash with Spennymoor Town, but Armstrong admits that the whole situation has come as a total surprise to him.
Armstrong explained: “It’s strange, to be honest. It came as a total shock, but it’s something I’m looking forward to – as I didn’t expect to be in this position.
“I don’t mind the coaching side of it, that’s what I love. I’ve been involved in that for a long time and it’s great, so I hope that carries across to the management side too.
“I’ve been involved with football for 25 years now, so I think I’ve seen everything I need to by now.”
If the offer of the managerial hot-seat at Blyth had not surprised him enough, Armstrong was put into even more of a surreal situation – as it was his predecessor that got in touch with him first to ask if he was interested.
He added: “It was Tom that rang me. I’d never thought anything about it.
“Tom got in touch and asked if I was interested. Anyone involved in football in the North East would be interested, because everyone knows what Blyth is like.
“It’s a great start for me in this kind of career. I’ve been in coaching since I retired at the age of 33, so I’ve been involved for eight or nine years now and it’s time for me to move on to the next level to ply my trade there.
“Honestly, it was a massive shock. Blyth have been doing really well and, yes, there was three dodgy results last week, but the result against Frickley was a freak result and then Corby has nicked one right at the end.
“We’re still in a strong position, but we really should be top of the table by some way. There’s pressure with the role, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
A lot has been made about the abuse of Wade from some sections of the Spartans support for allegedly showing favouritism by playing his son Matthew. However, Armstrong – who is the father of Blyth forward Luke Armstrong – insists that everyone will get their chance to impress, whether they’re related to the manager or not.
Armstrong explained: “I’ll treat Luke the same as anyone else. I spoke to him before I took the job and said that I wouldn’t take the job if I thought I it was going to jeopardise him.
“Luke’s his own person though. If he deserves to play, he’ll play, and – if he’s had a bad run, he won’t.
“There’ll be times when people will think he should be playing and there’ll be times when people think he shouldn’t be playing.
“I’ll pick the team to suit, depending on the opposition. There’s not going to be a favoured 11, because I want to use the whole squad – as we have a good squad of players.
“As the old saying goes, it’s horses for courses really.Everyone’s a part of the squad and that’s how I’m going to treat them.
“Everyone’s going to get their chance, so they can all try to push on from there.”
In the announcement of his arrival, Armstrong insisted that his goals for this season were to get Spartans promoted – after the club agonisingly missed out last season, claiming 99 points before bowing out in the playoffs. While the new boss is not shy in declaring that he is gunning for the league title, he also admits that he would be willing to try and do better in the playoffs than the club’s last attempt – as long as Blyth ended up promoted at the end of it.
Armstrong stated: “Obviously, you have to win the league to guarantee going up. That’s the ultimate aim – as everyone wants to win the league.
“However, if we have to do it through the playoffs then we’ll do it through the playoffs. My main aim is to win as points as I can and let’s just see where that gets us.
“We don’t want to concentrate on anyone else, we just want to concentrate on ourselves. The more games we win, the more chance we have of getting promoted.
“Whatever way we go up, the lads have got to be ready for a battle, because there’s a lot of games left to go this season. There’ll be plenty of twists and turns, I’m sure.
“I’ll take whatever though. If someone said that we would go up through the playoffs then I’d take it – as my main aim is to win as many games as possible and gain promotion.”
To come in and go on record saying you want to be promoted would be a bold statement for even the most decorated of managers, but Armstrong doesn’t think his lack of managerial experience will get in the way of him achieving his aims – as he has praised the “refreshing” decision the Executive Committee have made by appointing him.
He added: “I’ve been involved in football for 25 years and football’s football, it doesn’t change. I’ve got my own ideas about what I need to do and I’ve been doing that for the last six years at Middlesbrough.
“Yes, they may be academy kids, but it’s all the same. The levels might not be the same and each squad might be able to do things the others can’t, but if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work.
“If it does, then great.
“People might ask why the club hasn’t gone for someone with more experience, but the only people available with experience have just been sacked somewhere else. So, I don’t know what sort of experience that is.
“I think it’s refreshing that the club has took a chance on someone who hasn’t really had a manager’s job. At the end of the day, I want to get my point across with the way I want to coach, try and make the club as successful as I can and get the players playing for each other.
“The most important thing is the club. It’s not about me and it’s not about the players, it Blyth Spartans.”
After missing last Saturday’s loss at Corby due to coaching at Middlesbrough Academy for one last time, Armstrong will go into the club’s North East derby with fourth-placed Spennymoor having not met his squad or seen them play. However, the 41-year-old will call on the expertise of Hooks and Wade for the game, before taking the reins fully from there.
Armstrong said: “I’ll not be meeting the players until Tuesday, but I’ve spoke to Hooksy and Tom today. I’ve got a report of Saturday’s game and we were able to go through everything we needed to.
“We discussed the best way to approach things and I welcomed their input.
“I’ll have to trust Hooksy and Tom for Tuesday, as I’ll still be new to the players. For me to come in and just do something straight away is a little bit daft, so I’ll listen to Hooksy and speak to some of the senior players as well before the game.
“After that, we can start getting to work properly from Thursday.”
His appointment is not the first time his and Blyth’s paths has crossed – after he scored in Stockport County’s 2-0 win over the club in the Emirates FA Cup Second Round back in 1996. Armstrong’s memory of that tie is hazy but, even now, he’s glad that Stockport weren’t added to Spartans’ impressive list of cup scalps.
Armstrong admitted: “If I’m honest with you, I couldn’t even remember it until someone mentioned it to me last week – as it was a long time ago. I was just starting out at Stockport back then, so I was only 19 or 20 years old.
“Looking back at it, Blyth were always a team that could come and get a result and have another scalp in their hands. We knew it would be a tough game and it was a tough game, but we were able to get the win and it was great to avoid being added to that list.
“It’s disappointing that we’re out of the competition already this season and we don’t have that to concentrate on, because it would have good. It’s nice to have a little take away from the league and get your mind off it for a bit, but we’ve got the FA Trophy coming up so we’ll look to have a positive run in that.”
Armstrong’s illustrious playing career also saw him not only feature in the Premier League, but he was also able to score in two UEFA Cup games against Inter Milan for Ipswich Town back in 2001. By plying his trade at the top level of the game, Armstrong revealed that he is ready to pass on his knowledge to the players in Spartans’ squad to help their game.
Armstrong stated: “The biggest thing for me is that the lads have to help each other. If they don’t help each other, then we’ll not got anywhere.
“I’ve always said, everyone has their own job to do but – as a group of lads – they all have to work together and help each other out.
“At Ipswich, we had a team that worked for each other. You worked for everyone else and they worked for you.
“It was full of support and it was a great dressing room.
“You had lads in there that probably weren’t top level – as they’d been rejected by the top level clubs and worked their way back up. They ended up getting good moves because of that and made a career out of football again.
“So, the more you put yourself about and the more you help each other, the more chance you have of getting results and doing well for the club.”
Having already admitted to arriving at the club in surprising circumstances following Wade’s departure, Armstrong had nothing but praise for his predecessor and hopes that he will stay involved with the club in one form or another.
Armstrong said: “I did my UEFA B course while Tom was doing his refresher and that’s all I knew about him. When he got in touch, I just thought what a great, honest bloke.
‘He loves the club and, to be honest, I’ve heard stories that he’d received some abuse and I think it’s totally out of order – as I think what he’s done for the club is unbelievable.
“Hopefully, he’ll stay on board and help us get where we want to be at the end of the season.
“The club will always remember what he has done and you can’t take that away from him. He’s done fantastically and I think we have to give Tom Wade loads and loads of credit for what he’s done for Blyth Spartans.”