The Supporters’ Trust recently had an email “Ask the Manager” forum recently and Trust members received Mark’s views a few days ago. Please find below a list of the questions posed and Mark’s answers.
Have you got a favourite memory of Tony Huckle?
I have many fond memories of ‘H’, especially, for ‘Huckleizing’ players, club officials, supporters and even players’ parents.
I particularly remember the ‘Huckleization’ of Tony Luff our former legendary goalkeeper, Alan Hunt a long-standing supporter and Steve Conroy’s dad Charlie all of whom went the same way into an inebriated sleep after a staggering walk onto the team coach.
However, my greatest memory of ‘H’ will be his tremendous generosity and I don’t just mean all of the beers he bought me and many players over the years. I mean the generosity he showed me and fellow team mates with his comments and encouragement when we had lost or played badly. RIP H you will be sorely missed.
Have you heard how other clubs at our level have been impacted by Covid, particularly the effect of playing budgets and players expectations?
I know many Club’s have been severely impacted by Covid which consequently effects their playing budget. Many rely on the income from their bars and social clubs to fund the playing budget and with them being closed down this obviously means reduced money available to finance players wages and travel expenses.
Whilst Hitchin has also been effected by Covid we are lucky that we have other income streams, as well as the Social Club, to help with our budget including the vital contributions made by the Supporters Trust Members.
I don’t think our players and staff have any expectations about this season just hope that we can continue and finish the current season. Even if it means we conclude this season over the 21-22 period.
Do you feel that our level is better or worse placed than those in the levels immediately above and below?
Before Lockdown 2 I think we were in the best position of all levels of football. We were the highest level of football being played that allowed fans into the stadium and we definitely benefitted from fans from Luton, Stevenage and Premiership teams coming to our matches and increasing our attendance. Obviously, with Lockdown 3 we are now in a worse position than those Clubs’s in levels above us.
Do you feel that you can keep a relatively young squad together to build a genuine promotion challenge over the next couple of seasons?
I said at the start of the season I was excited by the squad we had this year and they have certainly not disappointed me to date. I would love to retain them all and build that genuine promotion challenging squad as we have done in the past.
It is always difficult to retain young promising players but with the help of Trust contributions I am confident we can do this and build that squad.
We seem to be moving in the right direction but need to get a bit more physically tough and not get bullied out of games – a bit of a parallel to our play-off side’s rise over a 2-3 year period.
I agree we are definitely moving in the right direction. An important part of this young groups development is to gain resilience and I think this is a hard lesson we learnt from our defeat against Rushden earlier in the season and in the matches against Royston and Peterborough who both had squads containing a lot of experience.
I think we have started show signs of this resilience as proven when we put in an excellent performance against a tough Mickleover team, however we will need to keep building on this and that will only come with experience.
Who was the most skilful player you played with or against?
I have been very lucky to have played with both Ricky Hill and Mickey Hazzard at Hitchin and their skill was breath taking, however for longevity, over a number of seasons I would have to say Ian Scott was the most skilful player. We had a saying ‘When Scotty plays, Hitchin Play.’
Who was the hardest player you played with or against?
I have had many a tough battle against very good centre forwards over the years including Steve Clarke (St Albans), Martin Gittings (Stevenage), Phil Grainger (Dorking) and Simon Garner (Wycombe) but physically the hardest player I played against was Darren Lynch whilst at Bedford Town.
At Hitchin the most physical and bravest players I played with were Steve Miller, Paul Grant, Gary Williams, Steve Shea, Nigel ‘Mad Dog’ Hann, Terry ‘Physco’ Nightingale and Zema Abbey.
If we were offered the chance to go back across to the Isthmian League in a future season, would you prefer that, and take it?
I really enjoyed my time playing in the Isthmian League and we played some big Club’s in Non League football many who have gone onto bigger and greater things.
However, it has been good to switch Leagues and regions within those Leagues because I have been able to travel across the whole of the south of England and the majority of the Midlands experiencing playing against new Club’s, players and Managers. Therefore, I would stay in our current League.
As the season has been halted again after the initial late start due to Covid-19, there will be massive fixture congestion. Have you got a plan for organising/ resting/ rotating players for matches so that they can survive this season, especially as most of them have other jobs as well? The strain on them will be greater this season more than any other.
We have once again left the players to maintain their own personal fitness during Lockdown 3 but unfortunately, it would appear that, we will not be resuming the season when we come out of the restrictions.
The best option for me would be to suspend the current season now and restart it in August / September to finish in May 2022, effectively having a 2020 / 2022 season.
However, I would like to think we will be able to resume football again from April / May and in this time we would look to arrange fixtures in a mini tournament / competition against local teams just so we can enjoy some form of football.
Which Hitchin player going on to bigger and better things in higher leagues has given you the most satisfaction since being involved in the Hitchin management team?
I take a lot of pride in seeing all the players that have played for us going onto play in higher Leagues and I remain in contact with them all.
- Kane Smith (Boreham Wood)
- Matt Lench (Slough / Wealdstone)
- Will Wright (Colchester Utd / Dagenham)
- Michael Johnson (St Albans City)
- Jonny McNamara (Hemel Hempstead)
- Isacc Galliford (Hemel Hempstead / England C)
- Charlie Horlock (Eastbourne Borough)
- Lucas Kirkpatrick (Braintree)
- Trey Charles (Braintree)
- Josh Coley (Norwich City / Maidenhead Utd)
Although Jamal Lowe (Swansea City), Noah Chesmain (Maidstone Utd) and Jack James (Gloucester City) were all loan players with us I believe their time with us has stood them in good stead for continuing to play at a higher level.
Now we are into the season, have you altered our target in terms of final league position?
We currently sit in 10th position 3 points off, of a Play Off position and a game in hand on a lot of the teams above us. Therefore, I am happy with where we are and we remain on target.
Do you think the team needs strengthening in any particular areas?
I am constantly looking to improve and strengthen the squad as Royston and Peterborough have demonstrated it is the depth and quality of your squad that will see you become a successful Club.
Therefore, the donations made by the Trust are vital in giving me some additional funds to make improvements to the squad.
Who do you think was the best Hitchin striker you’ve ever seen play?
This is a tough one as there are 2 types of striker and you normally need them both if you are going to be successful.
The first type is the goal-scorer, the one who nets you between 25-30 goals a season and the second is the target man who is the foil to the goal-scorer but also weighs in with a healthy 15-18 goals a season.
These have been the best strike partnerships in my playing days.
- Gary Williams / Shaun Marshall
- Gary Williams / Steve Conroy
- Zema Abbey / Gary Dixon
Whilst, in my role in the backroom team the best striker we have ever had is John Frendo, he could be a target man and he also knew where the back of the net was. A great player only flawed by his indiscipline.
What’s happened to Jhai Dhillon?
Jhai has taken a sabbatical whilst he builds his business with his brother and at the moment it appears perfect timing. Jhai will return at some point.
Have you thought about training like Spurs by playing cricket in the gym?
We have not played cricket yet but I do believe in mixing things up and introducing something different for the players. In the past we have had a Pizza making night, trained at various local gyms, been swimming and gone on orienteering sessions.
Playing at their best, would you rather have been marking Parks or Digger?
I would have liked a battle with Digger and I wouldn’t have been worried about his pace in behind. As for Parks he is still in my pocket and can’t get out.
VAR – Keep it, scrap it or tweak it?
I would tweak it, so that it really did only make decision on very clear and obvious mistakes to avoid any travesties of justice.
If you need to draw lines on screens then just stick with the Referee’s original decision.
The Hitchin Town Supporters Trust is always on the lookout for new members and support. For further information, please click here.
BY RUPERT RUSSELL