Vince Bartram is counting down the days to a reunion on the touchline with Paul Cook as he continues to thrive in his new role with National League club Eastleigh.
It is a year next week since the 55-year-old was made redundant by Southampton following 12 and a half seasons’ service there but life is busy once more with not one but two jobs.
“I was brought in here over the summer as goalkeeper coach by Lee Bradbury, who I have known for many years and who was manager at the time,” Bartram told us.
“I have been very impressed by the standard of the National League and it’s full-on at present. We have beaten Boreham Wood this week for the second time in November, then we have Chesterfield away on Saturday, Reading at home in a sell-out FA Cup tie the weekend after and then the FA Trophy.
“It will be great to see Cooky again. He was one of the main voices in the dressing room when I was at Wolves and I don’t think I have seen him for about ten years.
“I was scouting at a game, possibly at Portsmouth, when I last caught sight of him but we didn’t get chance to speak. He has done really well in management and now has Chesterfield absolutely flying, so it’s a big challenge for us.”
Eastleigh, nicknamed The Spitfires, are two points below the play-off line in the Vanarama National League while their weekend hosts are eight clear at the top, with a game in hand, following their Tuesday-night win at Woking.
Chesterfield’s outstanding form over almost half a season has won them 50 points from 20 matches and represents a brilliant response to their crushing disappointment of losing last season’s play-off final.
Their Wembley conquerors, Notts County, are now third in League Two, level on points with Wrexham, the club who beat them to automatic promotion six months ago. The incentives for going up are clear….
“I think a good number of National League clubs could go into League Two and be more than comfortable,” Bartram added. “The hard part, with only one automatic promotion place on offer, is getting up there. Chesterfield found that out when they lost the final on penalties to Notts County last season after leading with a few minutes of normal time to go.
“I have been impressed with this league and enjoyed my first few months in it. It is packed with clubs who have spent many years in the Football League, such as Oldham, Rochdale, Southend and Hartlepool, as well as Chesterfield.
“I’m so wrapped up in it already that I went off to one of our matches a month ago and only realised much later in the day that Wolves had been down here at the same time playing at Bournemouth, whose ground is only a few minutes from where we live.
“I previously worked for Bournemouth for about 18 months and also had a spell at Portsmouth but the down-side to having a lovely drive to work through the New Forest every day is knowing that there aren’t too many clubs round here. It’s nothing like as well connected as living back in the West Midlands, from where you can probably reach 20 clubs within an hour.”
Bartram’s work is virtually full-time but he also does some scouting for Manchester City – an arrangement established through knowing former Wolves under-21 keeper coach Andy Mulliner.
“I got to know Andy when I was at Southampton and he was at Wolves and, on City’s behalf, I now watch promising young keepers aged 13, 14 and 15,” he added. “He has six or seven goalkeeper scouts going to games for him and I spend time on Sundays and maybe in the week seeing lads around the south coast.”
Bartram’s professional playing career started in the mid-1980s with a ten-game stay at Wolves that was dominated by reserve football.
He later played around 150 games for Bournemouth, some of them under Harry Redknapp, and went on to serve George Graham and Arsene Wenger during a four-year spell as back-up keeper at Arsenal.
His name isn’t one that immediately springs to mind from that late-1980s Molineux dressing room that spawned so many later managers and coaches.
But, like Rob Kelly, Keith Downing, Mark Venus, Phil Robinson and Mike Stowell, Bartram has proved an enduring, as well as popular, member of the backroom fraternity and is now approaching the 40-year mark in pro football.