Big Interview: Chorley assistant manager Jonathan Smith looks ahead to the play-off final against Spennymoor Town
Craig Salmon talks to Chorley assistant manager Jonathan Smith ahead of this weekend’s National League North play-off final against Spennymoor Town
The good, the bad – but most definitely also the glory – Jonathan Smith has pretty much experienced it all during his time with Chorley Football Club.
As a former player, first-team coach and now assistant manager to current boss Jamie Vermiglio, Smith has devoted the past decade of his life to the Magpies’ cause.
With a stellar non-league career behind him – which included a trophy-laden stint with Accrington Stanley – Smith brought his playing days to an end wearing Chorley’s black and white stripes.
Back then was certainly a ‘bad’ period in the club’s history as they languished in the bottom reaches of the Northern Premier League’s First Division North.
But the arrival of former Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City midfielder Garry Flitcroft as manager in 2010 signalled an upturn in the Magpies’ fortunes.
With his extensive knowledge of the non-league game and his obvious leadership skills, Smith was invited onto Flitcroft’s backroom team. Over the past 10 years there have been plenty of good times, quite a few bad moments – as three failed play-off campaigns will testify – but also there’s been the glory of two promotions – particularly winning the NPL Premier Division title in 2014.
But in terms of a rollercoaster of emotions, this season has probably topped the lot for Smith.
Watching the Magpies lead the National League North for the majority of the season was certainly a good time for everybody concerned.
But, unfortunately, just when it mattered the Magpies blinked and were agonisingly pipped to arguably a deserved automatic promotion by Stockport County.
A last-gasp 1-0 defeat to Spennymoor Town in their penultimate game – for all intents and purpose – handed the title to the Hatters.
The Magpies’ dressing room at Brewery Field once the final whistle had sounded was both a bad and ugly place to be.
But last weekend’s play-off semi-final penalty shoot-out victory over Altrincham means Chorley have a shot at redemption as they ironically welcome Spennymoor to Victory Park for the winner-takes-all showpiece match on Sunday.
And it’s a chance to sign the season off in glorious fashion by winning promotion back to the National League.
“It was a huge blow to miss out on automatic promotion,” said Smith, who also served under previous boss Matt Jansen.
“We had been there or thereabouts at the top for most of the season.
“Let’s just say, it was a tough week that one after the Spennymoor game.
“It was a tough one to take psychologically for the boys.
“If we were to go up, it would be a massive achievement for the lads especially after picking themselves up after what happened at Spennymoor.
“But looking back over the years, we have been involved in some huge games both good and bad.
“This is the third time we have been in the National League North play-off final.
“We can’t forget the one against Guiseley in 2015 when Garry was manager.
“We were so close; we were 2-0 up but around the 60th minute we had a five-minute spell when we lost our goalkeeper, our captain and left-back to injury.
“Those three changes unfortunately gave Guiseley a bit of an edge and they came back to beat us 3-2.
“That was our first season in the National League North and we did fantastic just to get to the play-offs.
“That was probably the closest call but we’ve had a few close calls.
“We had the tough one at Halifax a couple of years ago under Matt. I think there was 10,000 on that game.
“We have had some big games – some which have gone in our favour, some which haven’t.
“But we have got that big game experience and hopefully we can put this one to bed by winning on Sunday.”
Smith can draw parallels with Chorley rise up the football pyramid to the one he experienced as a player with Accrington Stanley.
Under John Coleman, the Reds rose from the NPL First Division North to the Football League.
“I’ve been on a similar journey as a player when Stanley came up through the leagues and ultimately got promoted to the Football League,” said Smith.
“It’s been so nice to see a similar journey taking place here at Chorley.
“The similarities are frightening – the way it has happened.
“The way the playing squad has stayed together.
“We pride ourselves on having a togetherness and a changing room where we don’t really change too many players.
“That’s a good sign in itself when you’re playing squad doesn’t change too much.
“It tells you that the squad you’ve got is good and we keep making the right signings and then are able to get the best out of those players. We squeeze every last drop out of what we have got.
“We have had that from Garry’s time through to Matt and now with Jamie as manager.
“This is his first season in charge and he has taken to it like a duck to water.
“It’s a great club to be around – we all love being around the place.
“From us the coaching staff, the players, the board of directors – everybody is pulling in the right direction.
“When you speak to other people at other clubs, you don’t always get that togetherness.
“Clicks seem to form, but we have never had that at Chorley in 10 years I’ve been here.”
Smith admits the word revenge is unlikely to be used by Vermiglio when he delivers his pre-match team talk ahead of the Spennymoor clash.
However, the first-team coach can’t deny that the Magpies certainly have a feeling that they have something to avenge this weekend.
“What we have to remember from the Spennymoor game a couple of weeks ago is that it was a tough fixture,” said Smith.
“Everybody was looking at the Stockport County game two days before as the key one, which it was with them being at the top.
“But Spennymoor were fourth in the table and they were fortunate that they got to play Friday-Monday over that Easter weekend, where as we had to play Saturday-Monday.
“We only had one day’s rest and coming so soon after our win over Stockport, it was tough for us to get the lads ready.
“Overall we were disappointed with our performance during that game, but even with us not playing too well, we till had opportunities to win the game.
“We will be looking to put a few demons to bed.
“We cant deny it was tough getting over that loss to Spennymoor, but I think it’s quite poetic really that we have a fixture like this so soon after to put things right.”