Mynydd Isa Spartans manager James Hollyoak has big ambitions for their first Welsh National League campaign after gaining promotion to Division 1 from feeder the North East Wales Football League.
The Spartans spent a couple season in the feeder league starting off as Ewloe Spartans but adopted the Mynydd Isa name following Argoed folding from competition which meant Spartans could play at their own ground rather than sharing with now folded Sychdyn.
Hollyoak who is not only club manager but also chairman and secretary joined the club in 2015 following a stint at FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay Reserves during their inaugural season where he gained experience and won the WNL Reserves & Colts league.
James has proved his teams are very capable of success with impressive pre-season results but has made sure the squad has been given many solid tests throughout pre-season to prepare for the league.
“We played some tough friendly fixtures this pre season to try and put us in good physical and mental shape for the upcoming season. With Conwy Borough, FC Nomads and Saltney Town visiting us and we travelled to Lex and Ellesmere Port Town.”
Last season’s promotion-winning experience still remains in the memory of Hollyoak and believes experience from the North East Wales Football League will be useful too.
“I would say though the North East Wales league is a very competitive league as you seen last year with 4/5 teams battling it out until the final few games.”
Winning promtion from a lower division, James Hollyoak feels his players are more than capable of playing in a higher division but is calling on his players to prove themselves as he parades his new summer signings.
“We have added some much needed squad depth to ensure we can compete on all fronts throughout the season. We have also managed to keep the entire squad that gained us promotion last season which is brilliant as they have a chance to show what they can in the WNL.”
Myndd Isa themselves have a huge focus on developing local talent through both reserve and youth levels which could provide a pathway to the clubs first team as they look to boast a strong squad in each competition they are in.
“We have also started a reserve side this season so have recruited more numbers than last season but still looked to sign quality over quantity as we want both sides to be strong on match days. We are looking for this to provide a pathway for the U19’s (Mynydd Isa Galaxy) into senior football.”
“It’s (the U19s Pathway) been a good start as we have seen a few of U19’s feature in some friendlies with one player being just 16 and shown real quality and maturity for their age.”
Hollyoak has a lot of confidence in his whole team and struggled to choose the team’s key men and thinks the Spartans have danger men playing all over the park.
“As far as players playing a crucial role in the side I don’t feel we rely on any one or two individuals to win us games. I felt last season we gained promotion working together rather than just looking to one person to win us a game.
Throughout the season various players had brilliant runs of form which as a manager is what you need. You don’t want to go into a season needing to rely on a single player or two otherwise you come unstuck when they either get injured or potentially leave.”
Hollyoak not only gives the impression his team are an impressive group but he feels they can go all the way not once but twice!
“I would like us to win both league and cup doubles and gain promotion. It may seem very ambitious and unlikely to many but I feel every club should go into the season aiming to win their perspective leagues and cup. If us as managers don’t have that ambition to win how can you expect the players too.”
On top of his already evident confidence in the Spartans ability, he also added:
“I don’t fear any individual team or player we come up against I respect every team and player the same and would expect no different from my players. I see it as different challenge each week to overcome and if you don’t prepare and perform at a high level then you more than likely will get nothing out of the game.”
Each fixture holds the same importance going into the new season and Hollyoak is relishing the chance to play in the highest league he’s managed in as he helps get his team up to standard against sides who have played in the Welsh National League for some time.
“I am looking forward to every game as this is the highest league I have managed in and I get to pit my wits against some very experienced and established teams.”
He concluded with some advice to the 17 teams competing in this years North East Wales Football league and stressed the importance of having a squad that are all singing off the same hymn sheet.
“I never though I would be giving out tips on how to gain promotion. It’s a really tough league to get out of and you shouldn’t underestimate the quality of some of the teams.
I feel the most important thing is you have to build an environment where players want to come and play for you week in week out because you can’t offer them a financial reward for playing”.
“If you can get that right I think you have a real chance of a successful season as I think our team togetherness played a huge part throughout the season getting us some vital victories.”
The Spartans had a good start to competitive fixtures this season, defeating a young Bala Town side 3-2 in the NEWFA Cup, they’ll be hoping to carry this success into their first league fixture, in which they play highly-rated site Rhydymwyn away on Saturday 12th August.