Maidenhead United: National League debutants ready to make step up
Maidenhead United will kick-off their first season in non-league's top tier on Saturday and for the club's players, staff and officials it will see them combine work with play.
The Magpies, managed by former West Ham FA Cup-winning midfielder Alan Devonshire, secured promotion to the National League in May during a goal-filled run to the National League South title.
Despite the step up, the club has taken the decision to stay semi-professional in a predominantly professional division.
Former English Football League sides Wrexham, Hartlepool United and Leyton Orient feature as opponents in the first month of the campaign.
Players like midfielder Sam Barratt will juggle work with travelling as far afield as Barrow and Torquay for away games.
"It's going to be mentally tough playing against full-time clubs," the 22-year-old self-employed artist told BBC Radio Berkshire.
"But, there's a lot of us in the squad who take football very seriously and want to progress."
Barratt splits his time between playing for Maidenhead and running his own custom-design shoes and clothing business from a spare room of his parents' house in Woodley near Reading.
"I love football more than anything, but this season will be tough. I might have to do some work on the coach to away games and some of the other lads will be in the same position.
"But, we're all ready and looking forward to it."
Also combining work with play will be centre-back Dean Inman. The 23-year-old says he is fortunate to have "a very flexible boss" at his securities company, who will be happy to let him leave at lunch to catch the team coach to a midweek away game.
"A lot of the other lads in the squad are personal trainers, who can organise their clients around football," he said.
"The long away trips might take their toll and take it out of the body a bit more, but I'd probably have to give you a better answer in six months' time.
"We've actually been training four times a week already in pre-season compared to the two days a week we did last season to build up the extra sharpness and minutes in the tank."
'Some will fail'
Devonshire, a noticeable presence on the touchline in his flat cap, previously managed Braintree Town as a part-time club in the National League and knows how to combine the demands of players' jobs with their training.
"The players are really excited as a group," he said. "I've built this team for two years now and we're looking forward to the challenge.
"Some will fail and others will find it easy. That's the way it works and it's up to me to move it around as I see fit.
"It's a massive step up because the quality of players will punish you if you make a mistake.
"It's about being good players and my ambition for some of them is to help them go pro and go up the leagues."
Interviews by BBC Radio Berkshire's Adam Whitty.