Craig Shipman joined Brentwood Town as manager in February and he guided the Blues to an eighth-placed finish in the Isthmian North Division. He replaced Rob Stringer at The Brentwood Centre Arena and there were lofty expectations after they reached the play-off final in the previous campaign.
Prior to joining Brentwood, Shipman was first-team coach at Vanarama National League South side Concord Rangers. He was part of the squad that reached the FA Trophy final, held at Wembley Stadium, but were eventually defeated by Harrogate Town.
I spoke to the Brentwood manager about his thoughts on last season, his experience at Wembley and more.
Brentwood Town finished in 8th place in the Isthmian North Division. How would you assess the 2022/23 campaign?
‘After the play-off final defeat on penalties to Canvey Island last season, anything other than playoffs or automatic promotion would be seen to be a failure. So when I was appointed at the club, when we were sitting in 12th place, we had very little chance of making the playoffs at all, which is such a shame after last season’s success.’
You arrived at the Brentwood Centre Arena in February. How much have you enjoyed your time with the Blues so far?
‘I have absolutely loved it! Everyone involved at the club from top to bottom have been so welcoming and the players have been top drawer as well. I have never taken over as a manager mid-season before – inheriting another managers squad so it was quite daunting but they’ve all bought into the project that we have set for them. Hopefully we can push in the right direction next season.’
You have already been in the dugout at Brentwood before, after a spell with the Blues a couple of years ago. What made you want to return to the club where you spent three years in charge?
‘For me and I think for the club too, we’ve got unfinished business together. I never really wanted to leave four years ago but I felt the club was sadly going around in circles and with a change of Chairman and a completely new infrastructure within the club. Now, it’s a completely new place to be, this club is home to me, the supporters, the committee they are all like friends to me and people I’ve always kept in contact with, even though I’ve been away for four years.’
Before your reign as manager of Brentwood, you spent 18 months at Vanarama National League South side Concord Rangers. How would you summarise your time with the Beach Boys?
‘Concord was amazing, I loved every minute of my time there, the management, the players, the club itself – it is a top club. I never knew before I went there how much of an achievement it was to just be in the National League South, and just the quality of opposition and management you come up against. I felt I had to really enhance my game to make sure we competed at the level.’
In 2021, you were a part of the Concord Rangers squad that made it to the FA Trophy Final. Despite the defeat to Harrogate Town, what was the experience like at Wembley Stadium?
‘Going to Wembley with Concord will be a day that lives with me forever. Just to be there and experience it all was unreal and what an achievement for a club like Concord to make it to Wembley.’
You also have had roles at fellow Essex non-league outfits Hullbridge Sports and Great Wakering Rovers. What was your time like at those two clubs?
‘Hullbridge was short and sweet after coming away from Brentwood. I helped them throughout pre-season and hope that my coaching set-up helped them throughout the season. Then, I went onto Great Wakering before the season started and they had a top group there at the time, and a group I felt could really implement a good and effective way of playing for us to compete in the division. However, the COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately ruined the season with us sitting in 7th – two points outside of the playoffs which hand on my heart, I felt we had the momentum and the belief to actually make the playoffs that season. How sweet that would have been for a little club like Wakering to achieve that, they are another club that I’m very close too.’
What are your ambitions for next season with Brentwood?
‘For us next season, it’s to build on what we’ve already started at the end of this season. We’ve had 13 games to implement our style and environment, next season is all about keeping those standards we’ve set and giving Brentwood Town hopefully a season to remember. As a group, we will go all in to achieve this.’