UNITED KINGDOM – The Cheshire League Division One rarely attracts managers with European experience. However, Halebank FC have broken the mould in appointing a boss who has taken on Europe’s elite. Readers may remember Daz Sampson for representing the UK at Eurovision 2006, where he placed 19th in Athens with ‘Teenage Life’ – which later climbed to number 8 in the UK charts. His career path has now brought him to Halebank FC, where he will step into the dugout with the aim of taking them into the North West Counties League.
Sampson, 43, spoke to the ECHO on the afternoon of his appointment about his life in football, and his ambitions for managing a side who last season won the Widnes Cup. Sampson started as a footballer at Stockport County, his local team, before injury forced him to turn his attention to music. On the back of his Eurovision fame he was offered places on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! and Celebrity Big Brother. But his fame proved to be a hindrance when he came to try and return to the sport.
“I wasn’t taken seriously in this country, I was just seen as that guy off the telly. I spent time in the third tier in Poland, spent another four years in Guam managing in their top league, and then went to the USA managing Tampa. I came back to this country in 2016, coaching Ashton Town, but I still wasn’t taken seriously. But go to Guam or Tampa, they’ll not know me as a musician, they’ll know me as a bloody good football manager.”
Sampson has spent the last few years scouting for professional sides and coaching Northwich Victoria. Prior to his announcement as Halebank manager, Sampson was offered the role of manager at an Evo-Stik league club, but business interests would not allow him to commit to four or five nights a week training. The Halebank job proved to be perfect – he lives a five minute drive away from the ground having married his wife, who is from Halton, and he wants his new club, the highest ranked amateur team in the borough, to become a team the community can take pride in.
“I want to provide a platform for local players to perform at a high level, and that means that I want to be in the North West Counties League in two seasons. But we’re not going to alienate the community spirit. I could bring 12 Manchester based players in, I’ve got contacts coming through my nose. But I’d rather have a Widnes lad play with pride in front of his mum, dad and mates and put it in for his community club. If a 16-year-old comes to me and he’s good enough, he plays. There’s a bit of unrest in the team, and I need to stabilise that so I won’t be bringing in any new players until I’ve seen and spoken to the current first team. There’s no point me bringing in three centre halves and then finding out I’ve already got two perfectly good ones already here. Everyone starts with a clean slate.”
The target of playing in the North West Counties League in two years time means that Sampson will have to achieve two promotions in two years – but Sampson exudes an infectious confidence.
“We’re going up this year, no two ways about it. Anything else would be a failure. I was rank outsider when I went on Eurovision, against the lad from Blue who everyone thought would win. But I knew I was going to win, and this is the same.”
The aim for Halebank is to become semi-professional in the future, but as far as Sampson is concerned the future starts now.
“We will run our team semi-pro, you don’t need money to train properly or have the right attitude. I’m not here to change everything overnight, the values stay the same.But the training regime will change, and we’ll be preparing two levels higher than what we are.”
Sampson is certainly focused on success on the pitch, and is keen to emphasise that his appointment is no publicity stunt – although he admits that the raised profile of the club is a bonus.
“I’ll never get away from that stigma of Eurovision etc., but I don’t want it to become a circus. Now I’ve joined there will be more media. There’s one man and his dog watching at the moment, but that’s why I’m here! 50 or 60 people through the gate would be brilliant for now, and we’re only one season away from people saying ‘this is different’ and coming in. For me, Halebank is the next Runcorn Town.”
Unsurprisingly for someone who has enjoyed success on the stage, Sampson is promising entertainment from his team, and urges football lovers to come and support his team when they get the opportunity.
“There will be goals going in, and more for us than against us. I don’t guarantee success – but if you want guarantees you buy a washing machine. I’m not going to reveal formations but we’ll be playing open, attacking football. Liverpool and Everton fans, when they’re not at home, come to watch us and see some goals.”