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Tongue keen to taste success at Stalybridge

Credit: Stalybridge Celtic

New Stalybridge Celtic midfielder Liam Tongue has spoken of his excitement at rejoining the Northern Premier League West club, after signing from Guiseley.

“It’s always nice to get sorted early,” he told the Reporter. “I actually work with the Stalybridge gaffer James Kinsey at Stockport County. He runs the coaching at their education program, so when the chance came it was dead easy.

“It was nice to see all the kind comments when it was announced, even from the Hyde fans. I know it was probably a bit of a surprise for them, given our relationship and the rivalry [with Stalybridge].”

Hattersley-born Tongue is a cult figure at Hyde United, where he made 128 appearances in all competitions over four seasons, scoring 29 goals, most of them cannoned in from 20-plus yards.

“I pride myself on scoring from outside the box,” he said. “Hopefully I can score a few more from inside it, but I feel as though I’m better from outside.”

The 26-year-old says Celtic has changed beyond all recognition since his previous two spells at Bower Fold between 2017 and 2019.

“Everyone in the area can see how much the club is trying to progress and get back to where it should be. Last time, I was my own worst enemy. As daft as it sounds, I was reliable at playing in different positions when there was an injury, or we needed to change shape, it was always ‘oh, Tonguey’ll do it’.

“I got pushed to left-back, right-back. The same happened when I moved to Marine, and I’ve even done a stint in goal – I kept a non-League clean sheet. But that’s the type of person I am, I’m an honest lad and I put the team first.”

As well as playing for Guiseley last season, he also had two stints as caretaker manager, briefly taking the reins from former Stalybridge and Ashton United boss Paul Phillips, and latterly ex-Bury manager Andy Welsh.

“As daft as it sounds, I came off after 90 minutes as a manager more tired than I did as a player.

“I had a massively up-and-down season last year at Guiseley, with being the gaffer, being club captain, and I was out injured for about three months as well. I missed a lot of games with that, and I said to myself that wherever I end up this season, I just want to enjoy my football again.

“People probably expected me to stay at Guiseley, but sometimes when a new manager comes in, you might not be part of their plans. We had an open and honest conversation about it, and I wasn’t guaranteed the amount of game time I’d want. Sometimes you don’t fit the criteria and I completely understand that.

“I feel like I’ve made the right decision.”

Tongue is one of nine summer signings at Bower Fold so far, including his former Hyde teammate Kyle Brownhill.

“Kyle’s probably the fittest footballer I’ve ever played with. A, from his job [Brownhill is a personal trainer], but B, from the all the stuff he does off the pitch. He’s a freak of nature. But, in non-League football, you can play upwards of 60 games if you get a good cup run, so the more you do in the off-season, it’s only going to benefit you during the season.”

As well as Brownhill, Liam has huge praise for another pair of ex-Hyde players, Iliman Ndiaye – a Senegalese international who signed for Marseille in an £18m deal last year – and Paddy Lane, who came through the academy at Ewen Fields, has been capped by Northern Ireland, and has just won League One with Portsmouth.

“It’s frightening to think that a lad who played in the 10 role at Matlock away [Ndiaye], he’s now playing in the Champions League and played in the Premier League. Iliman came in from Sheffield United, and in training you could just see his feet. He’d put people on their backside, and he’s gone on to have a career that most of us can only dream of.

“It’s the same with Paddy. As a fan, you probably only see what’s going on from kick-off, you don’t see all the work that’s put in behind it. The endless amount of work you put in as a player prior to kick-off is about 80% of what you do. What you don’t see is the hardest bit. Paddy would get a bag of balls after a match or training and just practice constantly.”

It isn’t just Tongue’s illustrious former teammates who have international honours, with him captaining the England Universities side.

“I did three years at Liverpool John Moores. I’d never really heard of the England Uni side at the time, but you get a chance to represent your country or nation of study. In the first year, I was elected to be the captain, and I did it for three years in a row.

“It sounds a bit cheesy, but the average university has four or five teams, and to be selected in the 24-man squad was good enough for me. But, to captain it and win the Home Nations was even better.

“I’m still involved now as one of the coaches, and it’s as close to professional football as I might ever get.”

The new-look Stalybridge begin their new Northern Premier League West campaign on August 10th.

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