Pete Wild’s managerial journey: from running pubs to promoting Halifax for the most unlikely promotion

He is the lifelong fan who had tickets to an FA Cup tie against Premier League opposition but ended up staging one of the big upsets in the away dugout.

Better still, Pete Wild, then caretaker manager of Oldham Athletic and aged just 34 at the time, spent the evening of that shock Fulham victory sitting in the Match of the Day studio after sharing a glass of wine red with former Premier League winner Claudio Ranieri in his Craven Cottage office.

As there are unlikely football stories, this unforgettable day in January 2019 seems impossible to top. Wild, however, could be on course to do just that with their city of Halifax three games away from one of the most unlikely promotions given what a club formed just 14 years ago have been up to. confronted with.

In what must be the most competitive National League ever, five of the top seven boasted average crowds of over 5,500 and equivalent buying power.

Wrexham, riding the wave of investment provided by Hollywood duo Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, led the way with a remarkable 8,636, but great champions Stockport County weren’t too far behind with 7,126.

Halifax’s average gate of 2,130 people ranked 11th to fifth. Despite this, Wild’s side did everything they could in a campaign that saw the Yorkshire club finish fourth after enjoying a spell at the top.

“There are so many ambitious clubs,” says Wild, who is in his third season at The Shay. “Even in my three years as a manager at this level – and I felt it was a very good league I was entering at the time – it exploded as a competition.

“A fantastic league with the champions getting 94 points this season. At the start of the last two weeks of the season, there was a chance that four teams could average two points per game. It’s phenomenal.

“The 84 points we managed to finish fourth this season would have been enough to win it last year. It shows how competitive the league has become. A lot of that is down to big finances, this season bringing in the two biggest spenders of all time in the National League.

“You have players who drop out of Ligue 1 – very good players who play for successful teams – to move into this division.”

Finding a way to compete with these deepest-pocketed clubs has become Wild’s specialist subject. Although he only got the job nine days before the 2019-20 campaign, he still led Halifax to the playoffs.

Last season they missed the final matchday, while this time around the club looked nailed to finish third until a late stumble. This means that two ties will have to be negotiated to reach the June 5 final at the London Stadium rather than just one.

Pete Wild celebrates after Oldham’s victory in their FA Cup third round tie against Fulham (Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Chesterfield travel to the Shay tonight for a playoff tie, with the winners then traveling to Solihull Moors, which propelled Halifax to third place on Sunday.

“The league is over now,” adds Wild, whose team has the National League’s best home record with 17 wins and just three losses. “Now it’s all about knockout football.

“People keep saying to me, ‘You’ve played well against Chesterfield this season’. But that doesn’t count for anything. It’s about the team that shows up at night, the team that puts the best implements his plan and makes the fewest mistakes.

“I hope the city will support us. There can be no excuses in terms of the type of football played and the strength we have at home.

“I did all kinds of jobs: I felled trees, I was an apprentice mechanic. My mum and dad drank, so I did the commercials for them. Then, in the evening, I would go out and coach.

Wild explains his unusual career in football management. For starters, he never played the game professionally. “I just wasn’t good enough,” says the 37-year-old.

What he did have, however, was a love of football – and for Oldham in particular, after he was first taken to Boundary Park by his father aged six.

“Like all 18-year-olds,” says Wild Athleticism, “I had a decision to make about what I wanted to do as a career. I loved football, so I started making my (coaching) badges.

He found a part-time position with Oldham Council, working in their sports department. Later, he became a development agent at the Manchester FA and later became manager of the men’s team at Oldham. “The headmaster’s boy from Oldham Academy was on that team and offered me a job,” says Wild.

Again, the job was part-time – meaning there was no way he could give up the day job, whether in his parents’ pub or his later role of ‘digging the roads”. It wasn’t until his big break came via an offer to coach the 12-16 age groups from Oldham that he was able to focus solely on football.

“I took a leap of faith to work at Oldham Academy and I’ve never looked back,” says Wild, who has taken a pay cut to join his boyhood club full-time.

Five years later – and with Abdallah Lemsagam, a former agent who bears responsibility for last month’s relegation from the EFL, now in charge – a behind-the-scenes upheaval has seen Wild appointed as interim academy manager.

Frank Bunn’s subsequent dismissal in December 2018 resulted in a second caretaker role, this time as first-team manager. Wild played eight games at the helm, winning four including the Fulham Cup, before returning to the academy after Paul Scholes was given the job.

There was a second stint in temporary charge later in the season before Wild left after securing a 14th-place finish in Ligue 2, citing “personal reasons”.

“I was emotionally and physically pissed off at the time,” he says today. “I needed it to end. I was really happy when Paul arrived because with his story he would be fantastic for the youth department.

“So I was disgusted to see him go (Scholes quit after 31 days in charge). In the end I needed it to end for me. I live in Oldham, I had been thrust into the spotlight the ramp, so through it all every second of the day I wasn’t ready for what I was thrown into.

“Looking back, some of the things I did and the decisions I made weren’t the right ones. I think, ‘Why did you do that?’. I learned from that experience, don’t get me wrong. This era made me a better manager. But my approach to things and the way I handled situations where players weren’t what they should be.

Wild arrived at Shay two months after leaving Boundary Park. The road to the possible return of League football to Halifax has been equally circuitous since the city’s former club went bankrupt in 2008 with debts of £2.5m.

FC Halifax Town formed three tiers down in the Northern Premier League Division One (North), but things didn’t click right away. However, once Neil Aspin became manager, progress was rapid.

Three promotions in four years propelled FC Halifax into the Conference, where they reached the play-off semi-finals in 2014 only to be beaten in two legs by Cambridge United.

Stockport’s Antoni Sarcevic (left) escapes a challenge from Halifax’s Niall Maher. Sarcevic played for League One Bolton before joining Stockport (Picture: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)

Relegation two years later was tempered, first, by a trip to Wembley and victory over Grimsby Town in the FA Trophy final, then by Town making an immediate return to fifth tier 12 months later. Wild’s arrival in 2019 was preceded by 16th and 15th place finishes.

“The key was to go full time,” he says. “We were a hybrid model when I came to Halifax. Three quarters of time, if you will. After the first season, I said we had to go full time. We weren’t going to follow otherwise. Or attract the players we wanted to attract.

FC Halifax has proven to be a productive pool of talent. Jamie Vardy, who scored 28 goals after joining the club from Yorkshire in 2010 for just £15,000, remains a poster child for The Shay’s ability to propel players through the leagues.

But the former England international is far from the only one to enjoy his time in the city of Calderdale. Sheffield Wednesday striker Lee Gregory and Huddersfield Town defender Matty Pearson have both helped their respective sides qualify for this year’s EFL play-offs after being part of the Halifax squad that finished fifth in the Conference under Aspin. Marc Roberts, at Birmingham City for five years, is another Shay oldboy who has gone on to a fine career.

“I think as a club we have created a niche for ourselves,” says Wild. “Young players come here and the financial rewards might not be great. But the rewards of football outweigh that in the early part of their career.

“Then there are those higher up the ladder who have had a bump in the road in their careers and need to realign. Because our football is so strong and we know what we are doing, this allows us to offer players aged 25, 26 or 27 a chance to relaunch their careers.

Wild’s own career appears to be on the rise. Halifax’s ability to top its financial clout has not gone unnoticed elsewhere, hence the links this season with several EFL vacancies. The man himself is just focused on the job at hand and using the experience he has gained so far to hopefully propel Halifax into the Football League.

“I always thought that one day I would have a chance,” he says of this first glimpse of senior management at Oldham. “But I thought it would more than likely be through the non-League route and then I would progress.

“I never thought this chance would come at 34 either. But when it came, there was no way it was allowed to pass me by. Even though I wasn’t ready—and, let’s be honest, I wasn’t—I was going to pick it up, ride it, and hope for some luck along the way.

“Fortunately, I did. My first week was in Port Vale. Oldham had never won there but we won 4-1. On New Years Day, I walk around Boundary Park 28 years to the day since my dad first took me as a kid.

“Then Fulham a week later. There were 4,000 Oldham fans there and I probably knew 1,500 of them personally. At 5 p.m. I’m sitting there with Premier League winner Claudio Ranieri and drinking a glass of wine.

“Then later that night I’m in the Match of the Day studio. If there’s a crazier week in football than that, I can’t think of it.

(Top photo: Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

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