It’s a risk, all right. There can be no denying that the bold leap into the world of full-time professional football comes with an element of risk for a club like Altrincham.
By its very definition as an exposure to danger, a risk is not for the faint-hearted and not to be taken lightly, and there was thought aplenty about this one by Altrincham’s board of directors in consultation with manager Phil Parkinson.
Could we afford to was the question occupying most minds, but it soon gave way to another - could we afford not to?
After five years of solid and often spectacular progress under Phil and Neil Sorvel, could we really afford to carry on as part-timers and risk all that momentum coming to a standstill?
Particularly as standing still, in a football sense, is a misleading expression. One ambitious outfit after another fly past, and you actually end up going backwards.
The club weren’t having that, and so a new era dawned early on Tuesday morning, with the launch of a video featuring images, some grainy, that perfectly captured Alty’s proud history as giants of the non-League game, accompanied by a stirring commentary from Phil to usher in the switch to full-time status.
The voiceover included a principle that was more than just a throwaway soundbite. ‘Comfort is the enemy of progress’ warned Phil, and in that one short sentence, the Alty manager provided an insight into how this is all going to work, in the short-term, at least.
In the absence of any unforeseen financial windfall, cloth will have to be cut accordingly. Squad numbers may be reduced slightly, but as Phil alluded to in the video and expanded on in a subsequent interview after the Barnet game, he will ensure those pulling on the jersey will be 100 per cent committed to reflecting the club’s professional standing with their endeavours on the pitch.
Or 1,000,000 per cent, as he put it. There is, of course, no such thing as 1,000,000 per cent, but it would be advisable not to point that out to Alty's fiercely-ambitious boss, if you are interested in joining his new breed of professional players.
Speaking after the 1-1 draw with Barnet, Phil provided fans with a clear picture of what to expect from a plan of action he insists will be easier to implement after he became Alty’s first-ever full-time manager a year ago.
‘The process is already underway,’ he said. ‘Meetings have been held and decisions taken. The tough part will be retaining the players we want on the money we can afford, but one of the benefits of me being full-time is that I feel I’m absolutely on-point with who we would need to bring in to replace those who won’t be going full-time.
‘By no means will we be paupers, but we will be a smaller squad, and the key thing is making sure we get players who want to be here and want to be full-time.
‘Those who invest in us have got to want to be here one million per cent, because you’re not going to be doing it at Altrincham as a full-time footballer if you don’t really want to be a full-time footballer.
‘If you’re doing it just to have a go at it, to see what it’s like going full-time, forget it. Don’t bother. You’ve got to want it absolutely and unequivocally, and we will help you become a better player, as a consequence.
‘We have always had that sort of project. Just look at Isaac Marriott. We monitored him for 12 months before signing him, and it is paying off. He will only get better, so it will pay off even more. Kyle Ferguson is another. He was a massive unknown, but you back your judgement, and his attitude and character has been spot-on.
‘I would like to think we have a core group who can deliver, but whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, we are heading into a new era and will do it with a squad of players who will represent Altrincham and hopefully take us to the next level.’
Our relentlessly-driven manager has been proved right far more often than not in his five seasons at the helm, and when he insists going full-time was 'absolutely the right step to take at the right time', there surely won't be a single dissenting voice anywhere within earshot.
The 41-year old is up for the challenge, as are the board, and he has made it abundantly clear the players he brings in will be as well.
For any football fan, the summer months are spent counting the days to the start of a new campaign. For Alty's, the sense of anticipation has never been keener.
From the desk of John Edwards,
Chief Press Officer