New manager Mark Fell says he’s relishing getting to work for a “football-mad town” as he takes the helm of Workington Reds.

Fell, Danny Grainger’s successor at Borough Park, is getting on with the challenge of piecing together a squad for next season.

And the former Lancaster City boss is enthusiastic about the task ahead at a club he believes is full of potential.

Fell said he jumped at the chance to take charge at Workington after Grainger announced the end of his second two-year spell.

The new boss, who is from Dalton-in-Furness, says he is no stranger to Workington or the area – and knows what a club like Reds is capable of.

“I've had a good awareness of the club for a long time. That actually goes back to when I was a kid, because I've got a link to the area,” he said.

“My family's a motorsport family and my dad was a rally driver for Peugeot. And they have a big involvement at the kart track at Rowrah.

“I was actually taken to a first Workington game when I was about 10 by John Jenkinson, who was involved at the kart track and involved at the club.

“So I've known it for a long time. And from a football perspective, you just look at the potential of the club.

“When you look at a lot of the Northern Premier League [Premier Division] clubs,  there's not many that are averaging between 800 and 1,200 supporters.

“So I think it's got a good reach in terms of supporter base.

“It's a football-mad town. I think it's a sports-mad town. Coming from Lancaster, where it's certainly not a sports-mad city – it's more of a university city and an arts city, and they really struggle to engage people – I think that's totally the opposite here.

“And that really excites me, that there is this opportunity that if you can bring some success, it's probably going to snowball and have that bit more momentum than you wouldn’t have at a lot of other clubs.

News and Star: Fell has replaced Danny Grainger at the Workington helmFell has replaced Danny Grainger at the Workington helm (Image: Paul Armstrong / Workington AFC)

“And the other part of the appeal is that it is a bit of a blank canvas. It's a great opportunity to put your stamp on straight away. It's nice to come in at the start of a season rather than during the season.

“So when you put all those things together, it was perfect.

“Location helps too, because I don’t think there are many Cumbrian managers and A Licence holders who would be available to the club.

“So I think it's just become this sort of perfect marriage, I hope.”

Fell has had the chance to take a long look at Workington, given that Grainger announced his impending departure earlier in the campaign and the Borough Park club were able to secure Fell’s signature in March, a month before the season ended.

He has had a watching brief during Grainger’s final games but can now get stuck in to the job of trying to take Workington further, the club having consolidated in NPL Premier last season after the previous term’s promotion.

The current period, he says, is the most challenging time – the no-man’s land between the end of one season, and the summer phase when recruitment ramps up before pre-season.

“There’s no question that there’s a challenging element to it,” Fell says, “because there's so much change and with anything like that, there's going to be a degree of hard work.

“This is probably the toughest part of the season for me. I think once you get players together and you get into a games programme, it just sort of runs and goes ahead.

“But this bit is the most complex in terms of trying to get deals done. And we're doing all that in the backdrop of learning how a club works, and building relationships with new people.

“It’s gone really well so far. The unique position that I was in [being appointed several weeks before starting the job] allowed me to have thoughts and gather information on both the club and the current players before I was in post, effectively.

“Which was obviously an advantage – and has allowed us to hit the ground running. And we've got this six or seven-week period to try and put all the pieces of the puzzle together. So when we start in pre-season, we know where we are.”

News and Star: Replacing the retiring trio of Scott Allison, Conor Tinnion and Sam Smith is among Fell's tasks at WorkingtonReplacing the retiring trio of Scott Allison, Conor Tinnion and Sam Smith is among Fell's tasks at Workington (Image: Ben Challis)

Fell’s challenges include replacing some key players who called it a day last season, and bringing in new faces to cover the loss of servants like Conor Tinnion, Scott Allison and Sam Smith will be no easy task.

Yet that, as well as the broader job of attracting players to west Cumbria, is something Fell is confident can be positively achieved.

Certainly, he is not one for wallowing in the geographical challenge.

“It is a competitive market, and especially at this time of year, it's a players' market, where they're all hedging their bets,” he said.

“None of them are in a rush to get signed, because they know there are probably going to be offers from left, right and centre. So I think, for me, it's about selling our ambition and selling where we want the club to go.

“As well as that, it’s about trying to just dispel some of the myths about the travel.

“We train at Penrith, so if you're based in Preston, for example, you've got an hour to travel. Well, Step Three footballers are used to travelling much more than that.

“So I think that because we have a bit more of a central location for training, it takes away a little bit of that stigma around it. And in my experience, the travel either from the south or from southern Scotland, or even from the north-east… you're basically dealing with one road.

“I think that if I can get players to this club, and I can get them to see what I've seen at this club, and the opportunity at this club, I don't think that's going to be an issue.

“I do accept that players are not daft. And one of the first questions they'll ask is from a wage perspective, taking into account the amount of travel they’ll have to factor in.

“I've got all my spreadsheets and all my information about how far it is for players,  how many miles and all that sort of thing. So I'm well-armed and well-researched.

“But I think players are more interested in playing for a progressive football club than they are concerned about doing a bit of travelling. And they all car-school anyway nowadays, don't they? They all jump in together, they all share the load.

“So I'm not saying it's not an issue, but I don't think it's as much of an issue as it could be.”

On the immediate job of retaining key players, Fell sounds confident, with conversations having already been held with potential recruits.

“I think the retention is fairly straightforward. The players that have been offered to stay, I've not heard anything on the contrary to that,” he said.

“The ones that will be re-engaged from a contract perspective, we can do that now. So, we're expecting to get Dav [Symington, captain and last season’s top scorer], for example, over the line and sorted in the next week.

News and Star: Fell soon expects to secure captain and top scorer Dav Symington's services for another seasonFell soon expects to secure captain and top scorer Dav Symington's services for another season (Image: Ben Challis)

“I'm not expecting any issues with the retained boys. It then becomes a little bit more focused on what we need.

“I've got eight or nine players there that are a foundation of a side, and I've got to fill the gaps.

“Undoubtedly we're looking at reconstructing a defence system, because we haven't got one at the moment. A lot of the defenders have moved on.

“Sam Smith I wasn't expecting to retire, but he has done, so I've got to fill those boots as well. That’s been number one priority – a couple of centre-halves and players that can play in a slightly different system.

“I think we're very close. I’ve probably had positive conversations with 15 or 20 players. The list is bigger than that, but we know that some of them will go and try and get something a bit higher and will maybe fall back towards us before the start of the season.

“I would hope that we have at least six or seven through the door, confirmed by pre-season, then probably another five or six trialists. Then we're looking at the ones that drop out of somewhere late on.

“So it's going to be a bit of a patient game, but I would like to get our number one, two and three targets over the line as quickly as possible. They're the ones that we're really engaged with at the moment.

“We've got a couple that have played in Scotland last season that we're quite well advanced with. We've also got a couple that played in the NPL at different clubs last season that we're quite well advanced with.

“Until you’ve got signatures on paper, you can’t take anything for granted. I prefer it when we’re a bit further on, and the emphasis switches back to us, and we have that little bit of power.”

The loss of those experienced figures leaves a void Fell admits must be filled.

“It is a gap,” he said. “We obviously want a team that's energetic and has lots of pace and enthusiasm to it, but we still want that [experience] too.

“The Northern Premier League is a big boys' league, and there are big, industrious sides. You look at Marine who've just gone up. They are a team of monsters.

“They are really well-equipped for this division, and we need to make sure that we can counter a bit of that when we go to certain places.

“You know when you go to Whitby, you're going to be in a scrap. You know when you go to Morpeth it's going to be similar. I wouldn't expect anything different from your Prescot Cables who have come into the league and people like that. 

“The job is to do everything we can to make sure we are ready.”

Tomorrow: Fell on his ambition for Reds, pre-season, Carlisle links and more…