BRADFORD (Park Avenue) manager Mark Bower is perhaps one of my favorite interviewees.
Our basic Thursday phone call is always taken immediately or returned within the hour, even though the man has his hands full managing a National League North team and his own real estate agent, Hamilton Bower.
Open, honest and engaging, he doesn’t hold back if Avenue loses badly, or if a shocking tackle or refereeing decision has ruined the game, and he rarely avoids a question, no matter how difficult.
A theme that comes up regularly is Avenue’s lack of resources compared to some of the big names in the division.
Ahead of a recent match against rivals York City, he told the T&A that “virtually all York players are off our radar, given that they are full-time professionals”.
With a match against promotion favorites Fylde looming last week, he said: “The plan is to frustrate Fylde because their fans will expect them to come back to us.
“It will be difficult because it’s a full-time team that hasn’t played since Tuesday, while we are part-time and played on Wednesday.”
And just before a trip to second-placed Brackley Town a fortnight ago, he said: “We know, first and foremost, that our aim is to still be in this division next season, so there’s still work to be done. do on this front.
“But if we can string together a few more wins, maybe we can start to look towards the mid-table and get in and amongst teams we weren’t supposed to compete with at the start of the season.”
And that is, and always has been, Bower’s modus operandi. Keep Avenue on the sixth level, and everything else is a bonus.
But while he often downplays the club’s expectations, the manager is no fool.
He knows where Avenue’s strengths lie and said recently: “People are here for the right reasons.
“Our older players would probably make more money elsewhere, but they love the club and their teammates and want to help us move forward.
“We have those who are a bit younger trying to climb the pyramid, and generally everyone is pulling in the same direction.”
And that last sentence is revealing.
Avenue’s team spirit plays a big part in their success, helping them earn shock play-off places in the National League North in 2017/18 and 2018/19.
But boy, did Avenue develop talent under Bower.
Jake Beesley was something of an unknown quantity before the last of those two seasons, having struggled as a youngster at Chesterfield and Salford City.
Yet after teaming up with Bower, a spark was ignited and the striker plundered 21 league goals in 2018/19.
Soon after, he secured that coveted return to the Football League with Rochdale.
Three months ago he won the League Two Player of the Month award after scoring four goals in three games, earning him a January transfer and a three-and-a-half-year contract at Championship side Blackpool. .
Alex Hurst joined Avenue as a teenager in October 2018, and he was quick to move to Port Vale, before being sent back on loan to Avenue to hone his craft.
That extra time out of the league paid off and Hurst made 26 appearances for the League Two side last season.
Hurst knows how essential Bower and assistant manager Danny Boshell have been to his progress, telling the T&A in August: “They have helped my progress massively and they are two of the best coaches I have worked with.
“They brought me in when I had just come out of under-23 training.
“They really helped me train and stuff like that, build my confidence and get me into games at the right times, and not expect too much too soon.
“I couldn’t thank them enough for this first season and I think it helped me get started and get back into the professional game, so I have a lot of time for them.”
Lewis Knight has returned to Avenue on loan from Notts County, but the striker’s form at Horsfall had earned him a move to the former EFL heavyweights.
Injuries have hampered his progress there, but at 23 he still has plenty of time for a second crack at a higher level.
Isaac Marriott was transferred to National League side Altrincham on Christmas Eve, and just days before Bower had said: “He is producing quality upfield again, and his performance against Halifax the really put in the store the window.
“Obviously we don’t want to lose him, but we all want to give young players the platform to climb the ladder.”
Brad Dockerty is likely to be the next cab in the row, with the Avenue striker hired by Bower last month, saying: “We always knew Brad had real natural ability, but what he has done over the past two years is improving his all-round game and making better decisions.
“I think Brad can keep improving and in doing so he will score even more goals.”
They may not have the resources of others, but don’t pity Avenue too much.
The whole talent factory is forming in Horsfall, and for as long as there is in the years to come, expect Bower’s men to give many sixth-tier teams bloody noses.