Chris Wilder looks back at his managerial debut at Alfreton Town with gratitude, as he believes it set him up for the future.
The Northampton Town boss, who has led the Cobblers to the top of League Two this season, took over at Alfreton in October 2001.
His tenure lasted just seven months, but yielded four trophies, and kick started a charge up the non-league pyramid for the Reds.
Wilder calls it a ‘brilliant’ time, and admits he still keeps an eye on the club’s progress.
Recalling his leap from helping out with a Sunday League side to becoming Alfreton manager, he said: “I had designs on stepping in, I had a bit of a dabble with my pals in Sunday League.
“People look at that in a negative way, but it was my first step in terms of dealing with players and matches. People like Alan Pardew were involved with a Sunday team.
Wilder was brought in by Reds manager Jason Maybury, and when chairman Wayne Bradley decided a change was necessary, it was the full-back he turned to.
“I had finished my full-time playing career and it came about, I didn’t chase it,” he said.
“I had been brought in by Jason, but the chairman was ambitious and results weren’t great.
“He asked me and I deicded to give it a go, and I worked with (assistant) David Lloyd. We worked really well together.
“He was a great help because I was still playing.”
Bradley backed Wilder’s first moves, which were to bring in goalkeeper Ross Turner and strikers Micky Goddard and Mick Godber.
That front pairing would go on to become a deadly partnership in front of goal, and they were supported by a star cast.
But the success they enjoyed in that season, winning the Northern Counties East Premier, League Cup, Derbyshire Senior Cup and President’s Cup, wasn’t all based on talent.
Wilder said: “We had some good players and a really good team spirit.
“That’s one of the things I’ve based every team I’ve tried to assemble around, off the pitch.
“We had a great group and that was a big part of the success.
“They were good players and easy to work with.
“It’s a lot easier when you’re winning, but after the games we always used to go and have a drink together, it was good.”
He speaks highly of the likes of Goddard and Godber, and the players who helped them score so many goals.
“They were as good as gold,” he said of the ‘God Squad.’
“Ryan France was there when I first started, he was a good kid to work with, a young player that we moved about. We played him in a couple of different positions, and in the middle. We played him on the right and in a three.
“We had Chris Dolby, and a lot of talent at the top end of the pitch.
“People that could create, who liked to play football and get after teams.
“Good talented players who could open teams up.
“It’s the hardest job on the pitch scoring goals but we had people who could find the net.”
Alfreton were a frightening attacking force, scoring 94 times in the league that season.
Wilder said: “It was a brilliant seven months. We just dismantled everyone in front of us.
“We got spoilt really.
“When you go into your next job you sometimes think it might be just as easy.
“Our record with the players we had was phenomenal, in terms of wins and goals, the football we played and the trophies we won.”
At the end of a glorious season, Wilder departed the club to take over at Halifax, and his number two David Lloyd took over.
Both parties went from strength to strength, Wilder moving to Oxford United and then Northampton, in League Two.
Alfreton continued climbing the pyramid, and now under the charge of Nicky Law reside in the National League North.
Wilder says his time at North Street put him on a good footing for his managerial career.
“It set me up and I have fond memories,” he said.
“I had a great time, I loved it there, it was a really good taste to kick on.
“It gave me the chance to get to know a few people around the scene, like my first deadlings with Nigel Clough, it was a great grounding.”
“I was delighted to start something off, and then after me it was David, Gary Mills and then Nicky (Law) who has gone a great job, they’ve overachieved really from where they were.”
Club chairman Bradley is still held in high regard by the manager that repaid his faith in full in 2001/02, and Wilder retains a fondness for the Reds.
“The chairman, I’ve worked with quite a lot of them now and he was up there for the level.
“I will always be grateful to everyone at the club – the chairman, and people behind the scenes, and the supporters.
“I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity the chairman gave me there.”
“I always look out for them, we all do, and hope they continue to do well.”