Pre-season chat: James Hollyoak (Mynydd Isa Spartans)

James Hollyoak (back row – furthest left) lines up with Mynydd Isa Spartans in 2018

James Hollyoak began his managerial career at FC Nomads Reserves in 2013-14 before taking over North East Wales League club Ewloe Spartans with Lee Silvester in 2015-16.

The following season the pair took charge at Mynydd Isa Spartans and won promotion to the Welsh National League, where the club had three steady seasons in Division One.

James now looks forward to leading Spartans in the tier 4 North East Wales League Premier Division in the 2020-21 campaign.

Grassroots North Wales caught up with James to see how things are going at the Argoed Sports and Social ground this summer.

Grassroots North Wales

Overall, what shape are you in as a first team and club ahead of the 2020-21 season?

James Hollyoak

The management team are very pleased with the shape of the squad.

We have had more ins and outs this pre-season than we have in the last three put together which is different.

We have always looked to promote from our youth as much as possible with great success but with a few players taking up new challenges this season we felt we needed to add a touch more senior experience to the squad.

We would like to go on record thanking all the lads who have taken up a new challenge; they always gave 100% for the club and we wish the all the best for the season.

Grassroots North Wales

You’ve made a few signings, tell us about one or two of your players to look out for this season

Jack Aitken is an exciting new signing for Spartans

James Hollyoak

We are very pleased with the lads who have come in for the upcoming season.

Each player brings us something different which is brilliant for us as a management team. They have also had a positive impact on the entire squad with competition for places stronger than ever.

Every player has been working extremely hard throughout this longer than normal pre-season and we are looking in great shape.

I wouldn’t like to single out any individual players too look out for but I know each one of them will be giving 100% this season to make it a successful one.

Grassroots North Wales

Who do you see as the strongest teams in your division?

James Hollyoak

I think this is the strongest league we’ve been in.

Queen’s Park and Greenfield have been strong Tier 3 clubs for a sustained period and it is great to have them in the league.

It’s a shame they did not make the new ground criteria but I have no doubt they will be looking to bounce straight back up.

Hawarden, who deservedly won the league (Welsh National Division One) last year, will be looking to do them same again.

Chirk Town were North East Wales League champions last season

They were a very strong and organised outfit last season and this one will be no different I am sure.

I have not encountered many of the promoted sides but previous champions of the division below have always done well at this level (tier 4), so Chirk Town will be another strong team.

It should be a really competitive season and one we are looking forward too.

James with former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland star John Aldridge

Grassroots North Wales

How difficult has it been to keep your squad motivated during the Covid-19 crisis? What challenges have you had to overcome?

James Hollyoak

In terms of squad motivation as a management team I think we have excelled in this area.

Each session we have had 30+ lads with each one being different.

This has ensured the lads have constantly been challenged and by the feedback we have had they have really enjoyed this pre season.

With our squad being very young overall training 2/3 times a week is not a problem for them.

We hope this will stand us in good stead when the season finally gets up and running.

The main challenge that we have had to overcome in this crisis is we have not been able to give the players any indication of when they can play games as the communication from the FAW has been very poor.

I look at the way the Cheshire FA conducted themselves over this period; they had regular Twitter updates for all the teams and had a set plan of when their friendlies and leagues could start. I think the FAW have really let themselves down is this aspect.

A lot of it is out of their control due to the government guidelines, I understand that, but I still think they should being communicating more with the clubs.

Every club in Wales pays a lot of money to enter all the leagues and cups and we in turn need to ask players for fees to cover these expenses and to be able to tell them nothing is hard and frustrating.

I hope going forward this is something the FAW will address.

Grassroots North Wales

What are your ambitions for the season ahead?

James Hollyoak

Same as every season….to win every game and win every competition we enter.

Last year we had great cup runs, taking some big scalps along the way but our league form was in and out and we want to address that this season.

We want to be competing on all fronts and with the squad we have we are very confident we can achieve that.

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