“Managing wasn’t what I wanted to do” – Meet the man leading Longlevens into FA Cup history

This weekend sees Longlevens head to Meadow Park to take on Gloucester City in the Second Qualifying Round of the FA Cup in what is the club’s biggest game in it’s history and the man who will be leading his side into the tie is Co-Manager Craig Martin.

Martin started his love affair with Longlevens whilst coming through into the Gala Wilton team and through family ties found himself joining the Longford Lane outfit soon enough.

“My brother Mickey was at Longlevens and my mum and dad started getting involved, helping out behind the bar here at the club – so I started coming here in about 2000, as a 16 year old.

I went back to Gala for two seasons whilst Ben Symons and went back to play for him for a couple of seasons in about 08/09 but been back here since,” Martin told us as he recounted the early days at Longlevens.

Father of four, Martin, has lived and breathed Longlevens since returning to the club. His fiancé Rachael plays for the Ladies side and their eldest son Charlie plays in the club’s youth section. His brothers have all played for Longlevens and his mum Sharon, sister Tara and eldest son Rhys, all volunteer at the club at both Saw Mills and Longford Lane.

Martin with brothers Brad (top left) and Lee (bottom left) have all played for Longlevens, along with mum Sharon and sister Tara, who volunteer for the club on matchdays

Martin was there for Longlevens’ promotion into the Gloucestershire County League and after their first season at the level, seasons two and three saw the club win back to back league titles, but which one was most satisfying?

“The first one was the best really because of the situation around the club. It was the season that Mark Moore had his cardiac arrest. I was helping out the seconds at the time and Rach was pregnant with our eldest son, Charlie, so I wanted to take a step back that season really.

When what happened to Mark happened me and Frenchy [James French] had a chat and it was decided I would help the firsts out from the October, just after Charlie was born and we were second bottom and it was like someone was looking down on Mark that day to keep him alive and they followed us all season and we were just doing it for Mark Moore.

It [doing it for Mark Moore] was something that we didn’t really talk about. Nobody thought when we started playing again that we could possibly win the County League, you know we were second bottom.

But as we kept winning we knew we were doing it for Mark and if we could we wanted to see Mark back on the pitch and we pushed and pushed for him and to make it happen with him getting 6 minutes against Frampton was very special.

If you look at the second season we recruited well with the likes of Jack Overthrow and Adam Hemming in and it was always going to be tough as champions, because everyone will always want to beat you and knock you off your perch, but the lads were in the zone at the time and we had a solid core through.

The season before we didn’t apply to go up as we were second bottom and as I said it never crossed any of our minds that we would be anywhere near winning the league, but the second season we felt that the players deserved to go up if the defended the title.” Martin said.

Martin with his late father Steve who Martin says had a major influence on him during his early playing days

Since the 2014/15 season Longlevens’ Saw Mills ground in Barnwood has been the home of Hellenic League football for the club and after winning the Division One West title at the very first time of asking, the club have looked to establish themselves in the Premier Division and even now the players from that squad are still involved with the club today.

“When we were in the County League we were told if you win the league you should be good enough to go straight through into the Hellenic Prem and you just listen to it thinking ‘yeah sure, you’re just saying that’ but it was just that. We were in our golden years as players.

We had Brad and Shaun coming through along with the likes of Ed Smyllie, Ryan Dunn and Dave Merrick – all of which still are apart of the club and help out as and when they can for any of the sides we have as they understand the importance of developing the younger players and they have been great doing that.

Walking around Saw Mills with Martin as we were talking and you get to see just how much he does for the club, with the Manager making sure the pitch was being well watered and any rubbish was being cleared up.

But the story of Martin making the transition from player to Assistant Manager then onto Manager is a dramatic one, an emotional and one that Martin admits brought the worst out of him, with self doubt, regret and pressure and it all started with James French stepping down as Manager and Mark Moore taking the position.

Martin was part of the Longlevens side who lifted the County League title two seasons in a row between 2012 and 2014

Then during the 2018/19 season a training ground incident which ended up with Mark Moore ending up in hospital and ultimately having to leave the club as manager, meaning Martin had to make a decision that has gone on to shape the recent history of the club.

“When Frenchy stepped away it was decided that Mark was going to be taking over and Mark asked me to help him by being his assistant. I agreed straight away but I still had that hunger and desire to play.

Sometimes I felt a bit greedy that I wanted to keep playing whilst we were trying to get others back playing and back through into the first team and ahead of the night the incident happened, we had Tommy Callinan back in the fold and along with Tim Hall and I was playing again a bit more regularly.

Anyway it was training night and Mark wanted me to help with the session, but where I still had that hunger I said that I wanted to join in with this training session and I joined in, the session was buzzing, we were all buzzing, Mark was buzzing and then he suddenly just dropped to the floor.

It makes you realise just how much we take for granted and that there are much more important things in life. It was a horrible situation for us all. Seeing him having to go to hospital like that and I stayed with him all night, until me and his partner were told to go.

The job then fell to me and for the first 3-4 months it was very tough for me and us as a team.

I felt obliged to take it on to be honest. Managing wasn’t what I wanted to do. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a quite lad…until I’ve had a few pints in me and I’m on the piss, but when I was given the job I personally struggled the first 2 or 3 months.

Trying to get myself from the playing side, the friendships I had with all the players and I had to get out of that quickly. Brad had gone to Bishops Cleeve at the time and I had to pretty much beg him to come back to help us and me.

I said to Brad, ‘look you need to come back or I’m going to get Longlevens relegated and I don’t want that on my CV in my first management job.

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During the first season in charge Longlevens were one of three or four sides languishing at the bottom of the Hellenic Premier table and with relegation a serious threat to what the club had built in the six seasons prior and it was the introduction of youth prospects that rejuvenated the squad.

With striker James Campbell, who had been brought in to replace Craig’s brother Brad, now playing for Brimscombe & Thrupp, Longlevens added to the likes of Isaac Johns and Harry Emmett – who were impressing from the 3rds side, with Forest Green Rovers trio Jay Malshanskyj, Sam Hendy and Lewis Spurrier joining the club on loan.

Those three played crucial roles in Longlevens staying up at that season, especially when Brad returned from Cleeve to ensure the club wouldn’t be going down without a fight.

“The turning point was Abingdon away. We still didn’t have Brad but we had Jay, Sam and Lewis on loan from Forest Green there thanks to Tommy’s links to Forest Green and I have to mention him, Jonty Welch. Jonty does a lot for Forest Green and was very instrumental in getting the loans over the line.

These three young kids turn up and we had heard about how good Jay and Lewis were, but I was surprised at just how good Sam was. Sam Hendy just grew and grew in our side and was playing years above himself and you could see within a couple of games that he was going to be some player.

Those three along with Harry and Isaac, especially when James Campbell had just gone to Brimscombe & Thrupp to try and help them get promotion, but the boys, all of them got the job done and secured survival against Reading City, in front of a big crowd and in that season it was the bigger games where the boys let themselves down in really, but on that day they were superb.

Martin’s sons Charlie (left) and Toby (right) are regular spectators at Saw Mills with Charlie also playing in the club’s youth setup

After staying up in the Hellenic Premier and saying goodbye to the three loanees as well as midfielders Jonty Welch and Dave Merrick, Martin and Tommy Callinan looked to build the new look Longlevens side around a young core to the squad, being lead by now Captain Shaun O’Connor and prolific striker Brad Martin. Longlevens were then set to finish the 2019/20 season with their highest ever finish before the covid pandemic hit.

Martin told us that he knew that the young players coming in were able to lead the club onto great things and reserved special praise for now vice-captain Ollie Long.

“Brad in any Hellenic League side will score you goals and you end up building your team around that, but again in that second season the youngsters like Harry, Isaac, Kane [Winman], Ollie [Long], Will [Emery] and Tommy [Callinan Jr} they all had to step into main first team positions as we lost Jonty to Brimscombe and Dave Merrick stepped away and Dave Rich had gone to Tredworth.

But as I said Harry had come on another year by then and he was key to us as was Ollie Long. Ollie has grown so much since he first joined us and continues to improve year upon year. I feel for him for what happened over the summer.

He left to try and make the step up but felt he wasn’t given a fair chance to do that and really didn’t get a sniff at Cinderford. For me if you look at what they have in the defensive positions and they don’t have anyone who will be as committed as Ollie Long, he will never let you down.

As mentioned Craig has to manage a side with his younger brother Brad up front. Brad Martin is a striker who consistently scores 20+ goals in the Hellenic League and as Craig told us, he has seen his brother show more qualities than just goalscoring in the last couple of seasons and has now earmarked a summer signing as potential replacement if Brad goes through with his intended retirement in the next couple of seasons.

Everyone says Brad is your brother so that’s why he plays or Brad is there so what is the point of me coming to the club and at the end of the day if you are as good as or better than Brad Martin then you will play for this team.

I never clash with Brad. If he is doing shit I will tell him and I won’t beat around the bush. With Mikey [Co-Manager Michael Palmer] and Kacey [Johnstone] here they are probably harsher on him than I am. Kacey used to be a striker so he knows what to expect and has a high standard and Mikey will be on Brad’s back more than any other player in the team ae he is the focal point to how our team plays.

With Longlevens now and the players we have Brad won’t score as many goals this season, but if you watch him and his link up play so far this season in particular, then you will see just how important he is to how Longlevens play their football.

This season we have brought in Niall Priday and he has impressed me when he has played but he has picked up a few niggly injuries which is unfortunate. But I watch him and if he can get over those injuries I think Niall could be the ideal replacement for Brad if and when he decides to knock it on the head.

This summer saw changes in the management of the club, with Darrell Long and Tommy Callinan stepping away and with Kacey Johnstone potentially having to reduce his workload with the club due to work, it left Martin with a quest of finding someone to join the club – leading to the then recently departed Tuffley Rovers manager Michael Palmer meeting with Martin and ultimately joining Longlevens.

I had a chat with Kacey to see if he wanted to stay before doing anything else and Luke Kavanagh. I asked both as they are on rota work jobs so I knew that they were never going to be available 100% of the time but I gave them first refusal as such.

Then I knew about Mike from following Severn Sport’s coverage of the Tuffley U18s side in the FA Youth Cup and had a chat with you [Ryan] as you had interviewed Mike where he said he was leaving Tuffley. I invited him round mine for a chat and we just got on straight away.

As soon as he came in he has brought decent players and a level of fearlessness that I’ve never seen before. I think ultimately wants to go up the pyramid as a manager, so if he is here for one season or two seasons or whatever then we will make the most of it.

We spoke about where we both see the club going and what he can bring to us, I told Mike that I felt we weren’t a million miles away from becoming an established top 10 Hellenic League side and he said that was ideal. We then had a chat about players he knew that he wanted to bring in and we got to work.

We knew that the Tuffley U18s and Development side Mike had helped put together were good so when he came here we trusted that the players he knew would be quality players and we were willing to give them chances with our first team. We saw that with Harry and Isaac who came from the thirds into the firsts and really if they are good enough then it doesn’t matter about their age, let’s play them!

But mainly as everyone knows, Longlevens is a drinking club. So Mike does the football and I do the drinking!

Martin has helped orchestrate a number of additions to the facilities at Saw Mills over the summer as the club continue to build on and off the pitch

During his time with Longlevens, Martin has seen tragedy with the Mark Moore incident and the passing of Steve Martin, Craig’s dad. It has seen the relationship between Martin and the club change after feeling like he had to take on the manager’s position, but on the pitch it has been a story that has seen the club go from strength to strength and now this weekend they play in the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round for the very first time.

Martin, one half of M&S Roofing along with former Gloucester City and current Bishops Cleeve defender Matt Sysum, told us that since the draw his phone hasn’t stopped. From messages of support from friends, players and managers within the county – as well as media enquiries, but of course Severn Sport is the only enquiry he has responded to!

So we asked Martin, how is he approaching the game? And has his preparations changed because of the magnitude of the tie and what is he expecting of his players on Sunday afternoon?

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m the most laid back person you’ll ever meet, so nothing changes for me. Where possible we are approaching it like any other game. The hardest part will be picking the players for the game.

We can only name 18 players in the squad but we have an overall squad of 23 or 24 players and ultimately there will be some players who will be upset that they won’t have made the matchday squad, but at the end of the day we will all back each other as players and managers and really it show me a lot about the players we have as to how they react if they are left out of the matchday squad on Sunday.

We are going to name the matchday squad when we are there at Meadow Park. We are travelling to the ground and I have invited all of them to come along as part of the overall squad and to take in the occasion.

For me it would be horrible if I named the squad before Sunday and players then didn’t turn up because they were too upset at not being selected, I would rather them be involved in the warm-up and of course I know they will be disappointed, but I would rather them be disappointed but there and speaking to us face to face if they have any issues.

It is so easy in this day and age to sit on messenger and just bitch and moan, but we want the players to be there in person supporting the players or talking to us if they have a problem.

As a club we are trying to do things more professionally and the way we can do that is by having competition for places and we want to players to back themselves, but support the squad each game.

Going into the game we know that Rudi McKinnon is cup-tied and it’s going to be Charlie Holliday’s last game before he is back from university at Christmas, so that gives us one question of do we play Charlie? He deserves to, he rightly won the Severn Sport Player of the Month, but he has to show me a bit more being honest.

It is quite obvious that there is one hell of a player in there, but he has to continue to perform if he is going to achieve what his potential suggests he is capable of.

You can never say never. At the end of the day it’s 11 men vs 11 men and it’s who turns up on the day. Longlevens are a very good, young side and really sometimes they don’t even know just how good they are and we are trying to get that across to them.

There is no reason why we cannot win the game on Sunday.

Martin will be gearing up for the game on Sunday by treating his fiancé Rachael to dinner on Friday night as it is her birthday, something not necessarily relevant to our chat but he has requested it is mentioned to earn him brownie points – so here we are.

Martin’s fiancé Rachael (front right) is an active player in the club’s Ladies team playing in the GCWFL

You will be able to listen to live radio commentary of Longlevens vs Gloucester City in the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round on Sunday 19th September on Severn Sport; kick off 15:00.

READ MORE: Check out the list of fixtures in and around Gloucestershire this Saturday right here