Celtic are hopeful of making an immediate return to the National League North, according to CEO Ian Milligan
Tuesday 27th June 2017 @ 13:45 by Mark Phillip
Football Sports

Stalybridge Celtic CEO Ian Milligan is confident that the club can return to the National League North at the first time of asking with Steve Burr and Keith Briggs in charge of the first team.

Although last season was one the club would rather forget, Ian believes the foundations are in place to kick on in the forthcoming campaign.

Speaking to Reporter Sport about the latest developments at the club, Ian said: “On a wider level, while last season wasn’t the best on a first team basis, we’re looking to bounce straight back from the Evo-Stik Premier Division, and we’re very confident that with Steve Burr and Keith Briggs in place we can have a real crack at it.

“There are going to be some new grounds to visit, but we want to be back in the National League North at the first time of asking.

“We’re very confident that the guys will give us a good shot at that.”

While Burr was unable to save Celtic from relegation last season, the 57-year-old has the knowledge to bring the good times back to Bower Fold.

During his previous stint at Celtic between 2007 and 2010, Burr became a fans favourite after leading the club to the Conference North play-off Final against Barrow, only to be beaten by a single goal.

Since departing the club in 2010, Burr has managed three clubs in the top tier of non-league football: Kidderminster Harriers; Chester and Southport.

However, next season will mark the first time that Burr has managed in step seven since his title success with Hucknall Town in 2004.

Whether he can replicate that success with Celtic remains to be seen, although given the quality of player signed in recent weeks you wouldn’t bet against it.

Goalkeeper Lewis King has returned to the club for a second spell and will provide stiff competition for Grant Shenton, who was arguably the standout player last season.

Further recruits include the returning Greg Wilkinson, who will act as a playmaker in midfield, while defender Lee Neville, midfielder Andrew Langford and striker Aaron Burns have joined from Trafford FC.

Gary Gee has opted to stay with the club for another season, while Paul Ennis returns to Bower Fold having spent last season with Curzon Ashton.

Although a number of other players have joined the ranks for the forthcoming season, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a few of the Academy players will make the step up as well.

Having claimed the league title under David Sullivan last season, Ian believes the academy players are in good hands to further their careers. “Dave has really led from the front, but I think what’s really good to see is Dave bringing his own first team experience to that role” said Ian.

“On the coaching side, Dany Jean-Yves, who supports him, is also involved in the first team setup next season.

“We’ve also got Keith Briggs back, who is involved on a day-to-day basis in the academy.

“Keith specialises in the Sheffield United Academy, so it’s very joined up across the first team and the reserves, which Danny manages, and we’ll be able to give those current and new recruits a first class product in terms of the football side.”

If the coaches and players did a sterling job on the pitch last season, then main sponsor, Smurfit Kappa, was equally impressive off it.

Ian believes the academy has blossomed, in no small part, to their financial contribution. He said: “We’ve brought on Smurfit Kappa as our main sponsor, so it’s been great to have a big local employer wanting to get involved with the club, but they’ve very much chosen to do that through the academy.

“All the senior guys over there have been class and really supportive in what we’re trying to do, so we’re really looking forward to the second year of that partnership.”

Ian continued: “They’ve put in real money; money we’ve probably not had before and so that’s enabled us to invest in some higher level coaches, including specialist goalkeeping coaches as well.

“Last year the lads all got new kits that mirrored the first team kits, whereas in the past they’ve been wearing hand-me-downs.

“It just means we can do a much more professional job.”

Part of the academy’s success is based on the long-term relationship with Tameside College.

Ian reiterated the importance the college will play over the next four years. He said: “It’s been good to get back into the borough,  as it’s the first time we’ve been with an education partner that’s been based in Tameside, so that’s been great.

“Jackie Moores, principal of the college, has a good affinity with the club, and they’ve been really robust with the academy students as well, working with Dave and making sure that they’re doing what needs to be done.

“It’s not just about the football side, though.

“The reality is that most of those lads will not go on to be professional and semi-professional footballers – it’s great if they do – but we have lads going off to university, one lad is working with the Manchester Giants, and some have gone into Tameside leisure services, so they’re going onto sports related jobs, and the college have been brilliant.”

After a turbulent few years at Bower Fold, Celtic fans will be hoping for an upturn in fortunes with Burr at the helm.

What’s more, the fans will also be hoping for some clarification on the ground move proposal, announced by Chairman Rob Gorski in February.

Commenting on the issue, Ian said: “Those developments are still very much a work in progress.

“We’ve got a plan A and plan B, one of which is a ground move into Stalybridge, and the other is some redevelopment of the site at Bower Fold.

“Those are live conversations that are going on with the council, so hopefully we’ll have some update on that in the next month, but the conversations are going very well and both parties are approaching it with a ‘can do’ attitude”.