Phillips sets the record straight about Stalybridge Celtic dismissal
Monday 13th February 2017 @ 12:57 by Mark Phillip
Football Sports

Former Stalybridge Celtic joint-manager Paul Phillips has expressed his shock and sadness after being dismissed from the role along with co-boss Steve Halford last week.

Paul Phillips

Steve Halford

The managerial duo were relieved of their duties last Wednesday and were immediately replaced with the returning Steve Burr, who previously managed the club from 2007-2010 before moving onto Kidderminster Harriers, Chester and most recently Southport.

The 57-year-old has recruited Andy Fearn and Neil Tolson as his backroom assistants for the remainder of the season.

Steve Burr with chairman Rob Gorksi in 2007

The decision to replace Phillips and Halford has been met with mixed responses, although Burr is highly regarded by the Celtic faithful after guiding the club to the Conference North play-off final in 2008.

Speaking to Reporter Sport following the decision, Phillips said he was disappointed at the manner in which the sacking had been conducted. He said: “We got a phone call yesterday morning (Wednesday) informing us that the football club was dispensing of mine and Steve’s services, which came as a bit of a shock, but that’s football.

“I don’t want to elaborate too much, but all I’d say is whenever we’ve moved about in football, or gone into managing roles, we’ve always approached the people that are taking over and we’ve always tried to be as upfront as possible with people.

“Football is football, and everyone knows what goes on behind the scenes with players and managers – we can take that – but I think in some cases, and this being one of those cases, the respect shown for myself and Steve has been Zero.”

Phillips in goal for previous club, Ashton United

Having taken control of the club in September following Liam Watson’s departure, Phillips and Halford inherited a squad which had lost seven of their opening eight league fixtures.

Former boss Liam Watson

So in a bid to reverse the clubs fortunes, the duo shed a number of players recruited by the previous regime, and also signed a number of new players including eight from previous club Ashton United.

“There were a lot of players that were on a lot of money, and were just happy to sit on their contracts” said Phillips.

“It didn’t matter to them whether they went down or didn’t turn up on a Saturday, and that made it hard to shift some of them about and get players in who recognised the way me and Steve wanted to play football and the way in which we wanted to take the club forward.”

While there were rumblings of discontent at Hurst Cross, Phillips believes there was a ‘massive overegging’ in terms of who they brought in from the Robins. He said: “If a successful manager goes to another club, whether it be in the Premier League or non-league, you always find that he takes a nucleus of good players that he knows.

“At the end of the day when we went to Celtic a lot of the budget was already tied up with contracted players who, at the time, weren’t exactly pulling up trees, so we had a very limited budget for what we could get and where we could go for players that had been successful in this area.

“One of the teams that was lucky enough to be successful was Ashton United.

“A lot of the players that we knew who were capable of helping us at Celtic were situated there.

“It was no disrespect to them – it was just a footballing matter.”

Prior to the 3-1 defeat at Stockport County in their last league outing, Celtic had embarked on a four game unbeaten run.

But despite evidence of improvement on the pitch, the duo were sacked just four days later.

Phillips insinuated that the decision was short-sighted, telling us: “In football you always need to plan ahead, and some people didn’t really recognise that at the club.

“We wanted to sit down with the directors and say to them, ‘plan A is to stay in this division and have a good go next year.

“We’ll sprinkle the squad with probably two, three or four players maximum, and tie the players down who we think can cope in this league.

“If not, we’ll go down and have a lesser budget as you’d expect, but let’s get the players who can help us push on and get us back up at the first attempt.

“That wasn’t forthcoming and that’s when the alarm bells started to ring.”

Although Celtic were once regarded as a fairly big club in what was then known as the Conference North, the introduction of teams like Salford City, Darlington 1883 and Kidderminster Harriers have reduced that size considerably.

In fact, Phillips believes it’s incredibly difficult to put a stamp on a club in the National League North – especially halfway through the season. He said: “To put that stamp on a football club which – and no disrespect again – has been in decline for four or five years, when teams like Kidderminster, Salford, Darlington and Halifax have come into this league with big money is a hard, hard task.

“It’s a small club now compared to some of the other clubs in the league – not just on the pitch, but off the pitch financially – but we think that given the right time and patience of certain people, we could have done something.

“People could see improvements, and we’ve both had messages off lots of people saying how much they’re surprised by this.

“It was a real shock, but I think if I’m honest and the people at the club are honest, then this was a done deal a few weeks ago – that’s my biggest bug bear.”

Although aggrieved at the manner in which the sacking took place, Phillips placed on record his thanks to the fans. He said: “It’s a brilliant football club with some great people involved with the running of it, but we probably would have had to go down to return to where we wanted to be.

“As a manager I’ve tried to conduct myself in the best way I can.

“I’ve probably lost my rag a couple of times but that’s my will to win, and they’ll never take that away from me because that’s part of mine and Steve’s makeup.

“It’s what has made us – and hopefully will make us -successful in the future.”

As for the future itself, will we be seeing the duo back in the dugout soon? “I haven’t got a clue” said Phillips.

“It’s going to have to be the right job going forward, although there’s not a lot of jobs out there at the moment.

“We’ve both been involved in football since a young age, so hopefully there’s something out there that will be able to push us forward.

“I know that we’ve got a lot to give and we’ve both learnt a lot of lessons over the last four months that will stand us both in good stead.”