In any field of work, it is rare that a long-term strategy is completed on time – rather than a realistic expectation, they are usually there to show ambition. Phil Parkinson and Neil Sorvel are very much the exception.
The management duo came to Altrincham FC in 2017 promising to get the club back into the National League from the Northern Premier League in three seasons; this would require a mammoth task of two promotions in three years. “When we came to Altrincham FC, we didn’t realise how difficult it would be,” stated Parkinson.
Many hurdles were put in the way of the Robins over the three years, including various opposition outfits who had strong financial support and an unprecedented pandemic which suspended the league for three months. After a four-year absence, Altrincham FC are back in the National League.
Although their plan was completed in perfect time, the last obstacle was far from seamless. “[The play-off final] was extremely tense. In the first half we weren’t at our best but managed to stay in the game,” said Parkinson.
Sorvel added: “It felt like we were rushing things… play-offs are usually tight. If you look back to last year, they were almost all won on penalties.”
Initially, Altrincham struggled to get into the game, where their usual fluid football felt more cautious; few team moves were completed and as a result hardly any significant opportunities were created. Boston, on the other hand, looked the stronger team, where they pressed high up the pitch and clearly looked invigorated from their 5-3 win against Gateshead in their play-off semi-final.
After the restart it was clear the management had provoked a reaction out of the Altrincham players, who looked more vibrant in the second half. The Robins created a few half-chances early on and their goal came from a mistake from the Boston goalkeeper, who fumbled a through ball into the path of Dan Mooney, who then pounced on the loose ball and scored from close range. “Dan stayed focused and took his opportunity. He did his research. Those are the fine margins in a final,” said Parkinson.
For the last 30 minutes, Altrincham managed to shut the game down well. The Robins limited Boston’s opportunities to a minimum and ran down the clock effectively. On the 93rd minute the final whistle blew: Altrincham were promoted to the National League.
The celebrations will deservedly continue for a while. But in the near future the focus will inevitably turn toward consolidating the Robins’ position in the National League. “We don’t want to stop and stand still now; we want to establish ourselves but we know it’s going to be difficult. We’re going to have to improve ourselves in every area” stated Parkinson.
Although this was cautious note, the management are ambitious about Altrincham’s future, and believe their team have every chance of succeeding in the league above. “As a management team you want to play at the highest level possible. It’s a massive challenge but we’ll attack how we’ve attacked the other two divisions whilst we’ve been here and win as many games as possible,” said Sorvel.
“[We] want to thank everyone for all their support over this period. We’ll continue what we’ve always done and give everything to give you [what you] want which is a great football team,” said Parkinson.
Historically, Altrincham have been synonymous with the National League. But no team has any given right to be in any division. So, for Parkinson and Sorvel to have achieved National League status in such a short period of time has given the fans and the town a football team to be proud of once again.