Dale with co-manager Craig Dickson, left.Picture: STEWART DICKSON.

In the second of a new series, Gavin Caney shines the spotlight on Downham Town joint manager DALE STOKES

How did your love of football begin?

I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. My father loves football, which obviously played a big part. He had to retire at a young age so was regularly watching Downham games and I’d be up there having a kick about. 

If it wasn’t there, it would be in the garden with my dad or brother. I even had several 1v1s with my mum back in the day. 

I had my first match when I was six. I remember bagging five in a 9-0 win and thinking how brilliant it felt. It’s been a massive part of my life since then and that feeling never changes.

What position did you play and what type of player were you?

Several positions. I started out as a forward and left midfielder. Being left footed it doesn’t tend to take too long until you’re shifted into a left-sided position. I had a few years at left back before finding my way into centre midfield when I was at Uni and I’ve played there ever since. I’m not someone who will do tricks and flicks, I’m very much a recycler and like to pass the ball as much as possible.

Did you always fancy a crack at management?

It’s always been something that interested me. I think every young lad who had spells on Championship Manager fancies it at some point. 

I did take over for a game back in 2014 when Reevo (Mark Reeve) left us, as player-manager, and thoroughly enjoyed it but not enough to do it on a permanent basis. 

When working at Cambridge United, and having my own team there, (even though they were u12) I enjoyed it and felt it could be something I would do later in life. It’s definitely come sooner than I expected though.

What factors helped you decide to hang up your boots?

I haven’t officially hung them up yet. I am still signed on at Downham, however, am nowhere near fit enough. I should probably address that pretty soon as there’s always a chance of a cameo towards the end of this campaign. 

The last four years I’ve not had a pre-season. I’ve been coming into it unfit and playing catch-up. If I’m honest, it was a bit of laziness in thinking I’d rather do the management than get fit enough to play.

Talk us through how the opportunity of stepping into management came.

It’s been mentioned to me a few times in the past but I never really fancied it. However, this time, I was away in Bali when I got a message from a couple of the players just gauging my interest. 

When I came back I went to have a chat with Craig Dickson (co-manager) and then spent a few weeks toying with the idea as I knew essentially it meant I wouldn’t be playing any more. 

As soon as I got involved in the first game at March I’ve been obsessed.

It’s fair to say you’re learning on the job. What’s been the biggest lesson(s) you’ve learned so far? 

I think it would be the man management side of it. Even though I’ve always been aware of that from coaching in the past and obviously seeing my own managers do it, it’s completely different when it’s with adults and in this case with friends. 

The diverse range of personalities and how people react to situations is something you constantly need to be aware of and I’m continuously learning with regards to that. 

Sometimes it’s pretty much impossible not to upset someone and I’m not the best at having to do that. It doesn’t help either that I’ve been mates with some of the players for years and you worry about how decisions might affect that side of it. 

But they all seem to understand and appreciate I’m learning on the job.

You joint manage with Craig Dickson. How do you work as a pair?

We tend to agree on pretty much everything when it comes to team selection and tactics. There are obviously occasions where we might offer up contrasting views, but we just present our cases, see who has the strongest argument and then go with that, which has worked well up to now. 

When we were both playing, we would discuss things after the game and often we shared the same opinion so we were fairly confident it would work as joint managers. 

I do the majority of the coaching/training sessions and then on matchdays we both give the team talk and Craig provides the sterner words and motivational side. He likes shouting at folk more than me!

Dale Stokes with some of his fellow coaches and pupils in the USA.

How does the buzz of success as a manager compare to that of playing?

I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. It’s unreal as a player when you’ve grabbed a vital result and everyone is buzzing in the changing rooms. I do miss that. 

When you’re managing and you pick up that same result, it’s class seeing reactions when the whistle goes. 

What are your aims for the rest of the season and as a manager in the future?

I would love for us to finish in the top six. That would be the club’s best finish for years. 

We are lucky to have an unbelievable group of players who don’t receive a penny to play for us. 

If we could achieve that aim it would be a superb season and nothing short of what the lads deserve. 

I don’t particularly have any future aims. Next season could potentially be a big one for us so that’s as far as I’m looking ahead right now.

  The facts are…  

Name: Dale Stokes

Date of birth: 04/10/1986

Birth place: King’s Lynn

Grew up in: Downham Market

Secondary School: Downham

Higher education: COWA, Manchester Met University

Clubs played for: Downham Town, Gayton, FC Christos (USA)

Clubs managed: Downham

Sporting hero: Paul Scholes

Twitter: @DStokes1986

Instagram: @dalestokes66

  • Dale spent nine months in 2014 coaching in the USA, living in Washington DC and Baltimore
  • He enjoys scouting when he gets the time and has had the chance to do so for a few Football League clubs 
  • Dale loves a good trip away. He travelled to the USA for three months and last year spent time in Malaysia, Singapore and Bali
  • He enjoys photography and editing, mainly when travelling
  • Dale is a big fan of American sports. He supports Baltimore Orioles (baseball), Baltimore Ravens (NFL) and Washington Wizards (NBA)

Quickfire questions

Restaurant or takeaway?

Night in or night out?

Bath or shower?

Tea or coffee? 

Sweet or savoury? 

Summer or winter? 

Day or night? 

Cinema or theatre?

Favourite food: Steak

Least favourite: Tuna 

Favourite TV programme: The Office

Least favourite: Miranda

Favourite band/musician: 90s hip hop, garage, grime, 80s funk and soul

Least favourite: Anything gothic or hardcore 

Favourite film: Green Mile, Top Gun, Shawshank Redemption

Least favourite:
Disaster Movie

Answers in italics