When Paul McNally took over at Skelmersdale United in November 2018 the club was in decline, now however, they are the lowest ranked side remaining in the FA cup first-round.
After a nervy first 80 minutes on Saturday against Stafford Rangers, a team two divisions above them, McNally’s men turned on the style and finished the game 4-1 winners to the dismay of the 400 strong crowd at Marston Road.
The scenes in Staffordshire were remarkable as McNally was embraced by his players and staff, but celebrations would have been made greater for Skem had away supporters been allowed into the ground.
Unfortunately for the West Lancashire club supporters were not allowed to travel due to the area being placed in Tier 3 of Covid-19 restrictions meaning that non-essential travel in and out of the area is prohibited.
This however did not seem to hold back United as they became the first Northwest counties club to reach the first-round since 1996.
Manager Paul McNally said after the game: “Hearing number 50 Skelmersdale United will play… will be a dream.”
At 42-years-old, McNally is still in the infancy of his managerial career but had already boasted an impressive record at this level before taking the job at Skem almost two years ago.
Two promotions with two different teams, Cammell Laird FC and Litherland REMYCA FC caught the attention of Skem and despite McNally not being able to prevent the clubs relegation in the 2018/19 season, their fortunes could be changing if this run in the FA cup is a sign for the future.
Since his appointment there has been almost an entire squad overhaul with only around three players remaining from the team that McNally inherited.
He has said that when he took over the squad two years ago they just ‘simply weren’t at the level that they should have been’ but now that he has stamped his mark on the team he can really see a ‘clear vision for the future of the club’.
He added, “When I took the job, I was thinking long-term and I just knew that if we got it right, we could really go places. I mean Skem is a massive club and now we have the potential to really do something this season.”
Looking ahead to the draw, McNally said how much he is craving a massive tie against professional opposition, he said “Look to get to this stage is an acheivement in itself, it would be a lie to say I dont want to go as far as we can but to pull a Portsmouth or a Sunderland would be a brilliant occasion.”
A centre-back in his playing days, McNally has said that after his transition into management, he has aspirations of plying his trade at the top level of the game. “There’s no point in being in it if I haven’t got any aspirations to go anywhere.”
He added: “My aspirations are to be full-time, to be up there and you’d be silly if you said that wasn’t your goal.”
The Liverpool born man hung up his boots when he was 35, he said, “Watching my son play when he was just getting into it was the sign for me, i just knew that i needed to watch him, I’d had my time i wanted to see him progress.”
McNally hammered home how important it is for sporting managers to have a supportive partner when going through times of struggle in their careers.
He said, “I’ve been with my wife 17 years and she’s brilliant with it. If you look through football, a lot of managers if they don’t have a supportive wife or partner which I do then it can impact them but i’m incredibly lucky in that respect.”
He continued saying “She’s seen me at my lowest. At one point asked me if it was worth it. All I could say was yes. The football has always been 100 percent with me and I’m glad I’ve stuck with it to see where we are heading now.”
Despite the support of his family, McNally has said that football can take its toll on your personal and family life and said how tough it must be for the family seeing him with his ‘mood swings from game to game’.
He continued: “One minute you can be so high and the next you can be so low, its just a difficult job to be in particularly at this level where the money isn’t what it is for the top jobs.”
With every cup run a certain amount of expectation carries into the league. However, with the start of the North West Counties league season having been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Blueboys have so far only played one game in the league, a 3-0 away win at Runcorn Town.
Despite the clubs run in the cup, McNally has said that there has been no additional pressure on him to carry this form into the league. He said: “I put myself under pressure they don’t put me under pressure.”
He did however go on to say: “We could create a monster from this.” If their league form does not follow on from their successes in the cup.
McNally says that his own ambitions outweigh those of the Chairman and that he really believes that the club can make top five this season and maybe even challenge for promotion.
He heaped praise on his squad saying, “This squad I’ve got is perfectly capeable of finishing third or even push for second or first, but the season is long so we’ll have to have another look in a couple of months.”
For now though, all eyes will be on that first round draw on Monday 26 to see who will stand in the way of United making the second round for the first time in their 138-year history.
McNally hopes the game will be televised saying: “When you’re a club our size, any publicity can help and this is great for the town and the club.”
Everybody loves an underdog story and football fans from around the globe will have their eyes firmly fixed on this as the small town club from the Northwest looks to make history.
The magic of the FA Cup is plain to see once more.