Neal Ardley

Neal Ardley - “Support us when we struggle, enjoy us when we’re good”

The Appointment

Neal Ardley was appointed City’s manager on 6th September 2023, just over a week after the sacking of Mikey Morton. Rather surprisingly for City, his announcement came with the confirmation that he’d signed a 3 year contract.

It is understood that Matt Uggla, Darren Kelly and David Stockdale were prominent in the recruitment process, a change in approach from last year when Glen Henderson and the York City Supporters’ Trust appointed David Webb.

After City compiled a short list of possible candidates, it was David Stockdale who made the first contact. A Zoom interview followed with the Ugglas before a more formal face to face interview. He saw City’s games with Rochdale and Ebbsfleet live.

He acknowledged that he’d inherited a “hugely inflated squad” to which he needs to bring structure and standards. He noted a lack of cohesion with players thrown together who haven't yet understood each other, late recruitment and changing formations had all contributed to the start to the season. Don’t expect the development squad to be a primary focus.

Expect him to be “careful not to keep accumulating players”, but he noted a couple of positions where he thought City are short. Despite City‘s new found finances, expect him to spend money as if it is his own.

Matt Uggla tweeted, “First manager I’ve ever appointed. After getting to know the man I know the club is in very safe hands and he fits the vision and culture we are trying to build! Very exciting times. Thanks so much to Darren (Kelly) and David (Stockdale) for helping get this over the line and Lisa (Charlton) too!".

The appointment marked a switch in direction from David Webb and Mikey Morton, a manager with a solid managerial pedigree.

It is believed that Neal Ardley has signed a 3 year contract.

The Player

As a midfielder, he made 245 appearances for Wimbledon, making his debut in the 1991/2 season towards the end of the "Crazy Gang era". He went onto make a further 26 appearances during the following season, the first of the FA Premier League. In his early days, he won 10 England Under 21 caps. By the time he left Wimbledon in 2002, he’d played 245 games for them.

In the following 3 years at Watford, he played 111 games before joining Cardiff in March 2005. He was a regular during his time at Cardiff and moved to Millwall on a free transfer in time for the start of the 2006/7 season, his last season as a player.

During the 1996/7 season, he missed just 4 games and played in the semi finals of both the FA Cup and League Cup for the Dons. More semi final defeats (FA Cup (2003) and League Cup (2005)) followed at Watford.

The Manager

He announced his playing retirement on August 30th 2007 and on the same day he was appointed Academy Manager at Cardiff City having started taking his coaching badges 3 years earlier.

He held the post for 5 years before being appointed Wimbledon manager in October 2012. He left by mutual agreement in November 2018.

Neal Ardley picked up two Manager of the Month awards during his time down at Kingsmeadow, securing League Two Manager of the Month in December 2014 and April 2016.

Working under a tight budget, Ardley guided the Dons to League Two safety in each of his first 3 seasons. In 2016, he saw them promoted via the play offs.

A higher division saw renewed struggles with 15th and 18th place finishes. Come the 2018/9 season, more struggles ensured before he left the club in November.

He was back in management within 2 weeks at Notts County. That season, he couldn’t save them as they slipped out of the Football League. The following season, he guided County to the play off final and defeat to Harrogate in that covid hit season. With expectations high, he was sacked in March 2021 despite County being comfortably placed inside the play off places. At County, he picked up 3 Manager of the Month awards (December 2019, January 2021 and October 2021).

He was appointed Solihull Moors manager in June 2021 and picked up the manager of the month award in October. The season ended in a play off final defeat to Grimsby after finishing 3rd. Despite being amongst the pre season favourites, Moors could only finish mid table in 2023, City fans may remember Moors 3-2 win at LNER in David Webb’s last game in charge of City. He left Moors by mutual consent in June 2023.

To last 6 years in any managerial post must mean he was doing something right. It was painstakingly slow progress at Wimbledon. He oversaw slow but incremental progress. Taking Solihull Moors to a top 3 finish, given their tight budget must be considered a success whilst I imagine Notts County supporters, like City, want success straight away, a play off final and strong contenders for the play offs a season later suggested he was on the right tracks.

He developed 2 of his signings (Lyle Taylor and Kyle Hudlin) into potent goalscorers and it might appear at City that he has another striker who can flourish under his management.

Neal Ardley managed both Wimbledon and Solihull Moors to their highest ever league position whilst in 4 seasons in the National League, he averaged 76 points per season.

One worrying trend? Each of his managerial positions has lasted less time than the previous one. Footnote: The trend continued with City.

He prefers a 433 or 442 formation and would be happy to change formation during a game, working on different formations in training allows an in game switch if circumstances dictate it. He noted 352 is a “grey area” and "needs a lot of work". He likes to play football from the back, his teams are usually high in possession stats and he likes his sides to play good football.

The Philosophy

It could be said that Neal Ardley’s Wimbledon and Solihull Moors sides were solid, difficult to break down and possibly over achieved.

In various interviews he referenced how even National League clubs must embrace the digital era and puts his faith in Wyscout and statistics.

In a 2021 article, a foreward in Moorad Choudhry's The Principles Of Banking (published 2021), Neal Ardley outlined his philosophy. He believes that being the boss is all about inspiring all around him and managing from the bottom up, creating a good team spirit, gaining employee buy in, cohesiveness, culture and rewarding work ethic.

He noted his keys to success are:

  • Clear vision
  • genuine buy in from staff
  • sticking together
  • bottom up leadership
  • no blame culture
  • taking responsibility
  • building relationships and trust
  • inspiring people.

Others say, “trust the process”, Neal Ardley says “its all in the script” and if you stick to it, then you’ll achieve what you want to achieve.

With just 2 days before his first City game, his philosophy was evident in his first words and actions. His first aim was to put together a cohesive team that knows how to get results, how to win a game of football (and start to re-build confidence). He was looking to bring clarity onto the pitch with a focus on how City play with the ball and the need for top draw mentality off the ball. Arriving 7 games into the season, he understood the extra challenges that come with getting his messages across to his players without the benefit of a pre-season.

For his players, he was looking for everyone to take on board what he was saying and on the pitch for every player to understand and pass on key messages, delivered in training, to each other during the game.

For the first game, he wanted his players to try to implement the ideas that ,i>"we’ve worked on during the 2 days and to show mentality without the ball". Essentially to do what was practiced in training and he is looking for players “who get it”. During those 2 days, he spent a good 40 minutes practicing how to defend long throws, a Boreham Wood speciality. His first interviews came with a subliminal message, "Don’t let the result affect the performance, hit the stats we‘ve got to hit", indicating do what we've practiced and don't get upset if despite doing that, occasionally a result doesn't go your way, it can happen as game factors like a fluke deflection or poor refereeing decision can affect the outcome.

He spent the evening of his appointment visiting the training ground so he was familiar with the layout and prepared for training and then spent the rest of the evening swotting up on his players so that he could address them by name during training.

Also: Neal Ardley in the Non League Paper (20/August/2023).

Meet The Manager - January 2024

York City South have a long history of meet the manager meetings. These take place on the eve of a southern based match in the team hotel and we restrict our meeting to paid up members only. In previous years, Martin Foyle, Gary Mills, Nigel Worthington, Russ Wilcox and John Askey have spoken to us, all have brought their assistant along with them. The event was a regular before the NLN and covid years whil st the 2023 proposed event fell victim to managerial changes.

Organisation is often difficult and we don’t get to know the hotel until City confirm their booking a couple of days before the match. Before the Boreham Wood match we met Neal Ardley. He spent a full 90 minutes talking to us. Uniquely, this time, solo, without his assistant.

Every manager has spoken in an open and frank manner, invariably asking for one or 2 comments to remain off the record, but never has a manager outright refused to answer a question.

Neal Ardley

  • He is living in a house in York with his wife (and dog) and thought “York is a mini London” with its tourists and tourist attractions. His adult daughters remain down south living in the family home in Surrey. Previously, his wife and dog had stayed in the family home when he was at Notts County and Solihull Moors, so he is able to enjoy quality time with his wife and long walks (and thinking time) with his dog.
  • On a recent walk, he passed Bootham Crescent and recalled playing there and the leaking roof in the players’ tunnel.

Training Ground

  • “People don’t realise the importance of the training ground, it is where the players spend most of their working week”.
  • Ardley was pretty scathing on some of the standards and hygiene practices at the training ground when he first arrived. He spoke with passion about how he is improving standards and facilities at the training ground. When he arrived, the 20 year old portakabins were in a poor state of repair. Some issues have already been addressed. For example, there is no more sitting in dirty and sweaty training kit on the table tennis table to eat lunch (Ed - and that might mean fewer cases of illness and diarrhoea than when he first arrived).
  • As well as hygiene arrangements, he has sought to improve food intake, both at the training ground and on overnight trips, looking to source higher quality food, the likes of artesian bread and pasta pots (Ed – no doubt replacing Doritos).
  • Meanwhile a well equipped gym has been installed at Wiggington Road.
  • It just remains for Ardley to solve the ongoing issue of flooded pitches, that might take longer for a mere mortal to solve. Flooding, especially outside normal “college days / hours” causes issues when alternative training grounds need to be sourced at short notice.
  • However, at the moment, the “training ground is not good enough for a reserve team” in terms of size and facilities.
  • Ardley openly recognised that many of the issues were similar to those that he inherited when he arrived at Wimbledon 2012 and one of our members later recalled that Martin Foyle made similar observations at our 2009 meet the manager meeting. (Ed - I wonder whether such practices were allowed to happen again due to the more hands off approach of previous regimes and I do hope that the role of Darren Kelly will encompass such areas so that high standards can be maintained across all areas of the club regardless of who is our manager).

Player Scouting

  • “If you want a successful club, you need to get the recruitment right”.
  • “We haven’t got time to develop players”.
  • He re-iterated his recruitment process which is initially based on statistical analysis. He is able to for example to ask “for a left footed winger who is dominant in one to one situations” and the stats crunch the numbers. After crunching the numbers to produce a short list, he looks at the player’s character and footballing intelligence, he has 2 questions, “Does the player want to come?” and then “Can we afford him?" He noted taking players out of the Football League often comes at a premium.
  • In early January, he knew his January and summer targets to shape his squad. Moving on, he noted how previously he’s taken his players to places like Celtic Manor (South Wales) and Mottram Hall (Manchester) for pre season camps, preferring training / bonding sessions rather than playing games when away.
        George Sykes - Kenworthy
      • In the summer, whilst still at Solihull Moors, Ardley sought a keeper, 2 names stood out, George Sykes - Kenworthy and another keeper who both had far superior stats. When he came to York, he ran the stats again and the same 2 names came up. After checking GSK’s character, he sent David Stockdale to watch him, his report backed up the stats. Ardley went ahead and did the deal.
      • The other keeper highlighted seems to be steering his new team to a much higher league position than last season despite them struggling to score so it could be said the keeper is making the difference. (Ed - Not saying he’s in that class, but it is not a dissimilar situation to Nick Pope’s time with City).
      • Ardley likes a sweeper keeper telling GSK "you will affect the game before you make a save with your starting position and your voice commands."
        Will Davies
      • “He (Will Davies) had several full and part time offers but liked York” where Neal Ardley sees him as a first team player and not a “project” player.
      • Other options would have been financially more beneficial, including part time when combined with his London insurance career, but he just wanted to play.
      • The Truro manager said that he was head and shoulders above any other NLS player that he’d seen this season during one of their regular catch ups to check on Sam Sanders progress.
        Billy Chadwick
      • ”The most gifted player by a mile, can see a pass”.
      • Ardley spoke about the signing of Billy Chadwick and a potentially difficult meeting before Chadwick joined City when after the Gateshead game on New Year’s Day, Chadwick came looking for his manager (Rob Elliott, Gateshead) and found him talking to Neal Ardley. He went into Ardley’s office and said his farewells to Elliott in front of Ardley.
      • After he signed, Chadwick told Ardley that in the week before Christmas, Gateshead spent all week practising crosses as they felt that was the best way to break down City (Ed – obviously it hadn’t worked).

Match Preparation

  • Ardley went onto explain his match preparations and how he works on team set up.
  • For Boreham Wood:
    • On the coach down the players had had breakfast on the coach and they stopped at Rugby for a training session. On the coach, they ate breakfast and pasta pots after training with “loads of water”. At the hotel, the players all arrived in the dining room together at 6:30 and left in 2 distinct groups, it all seemed very organised with no stragglers. Ardley had overseen the introduction of better food for the players.
    • For a normal overnight away game, the players would eat breakfast at 09:00, then split into 3 groups to do their stretching before having a walk and then a video meeting.
    • Ardley’s words to us were exactly how the game went. Boreham Wood played as he outlined that they would. He highlighted the long throw of Chris Bush (you saw City practice defending long throws in the warm up) and City didn’t concede a long throw during the game (Ed - Let’s hope next time, Ardley also highlights Bush’s long range shooting to his defence).
    • Finlay Barnes had trained all week and had travelled in a 19 man squad including 3 keepers (David Stockdale had his thumb in a big bandage).
    • Cedric Main had been ill and had only returned to training on Friday so didn’t travel.
  • With 9 days before the Dorking game, he hopes for a good training week to get both Barnes and Main fully integrated back into the squad.

Match Tactics

  • “Set pieces are so complicated” and need to have players in a routine so that they don’t forget.
  • “93% of all goals scored inside the (penalty) area“ so would encourage players to get into the box before shooting, but accepting if players shoot from further they need to be ready and not off balance.
  • Likes to defend with a full team and puts his best 2 headers in the 6 – 12 yard "box" with clear instructions to just clear the ball and ranking his other players by heading ability to man mark specific opponents, but noted the challenges when substitutions are made with having to quickly rank players again.
  • Ardley was shouting that the keeper was coming up, but team had no time to react in the last minute against Ebbsfleet
  • “Put it in the corner”, Ardley’s instruction to Dan Batty at the end of the D&R game, he meant the corner flag not the car park.


  • Naturally, discussion touched on the squad size, and given what was earlier said about the training ground and need to improve the club’s whole infrastructure, a development / reserve side isn’t high up on his agenda. Instead, he’ll be looking to work with a 22 – 25 man squad next season.
  • That in itself may present challenges, but he’s already looking to slim down his squad size and is formulating plans. For some players whose contracts end this summer, those plans may are already being enacted, whilst for those players who have contracts through to summer 2025 and don’t figure in his plans, the main action might come this summer. Actions include loan deals and / or terminating contracts. Maybe more about that on another day.
  • With the current squad size, Ardley is always thinking about what he needs to tell individual players on a daily basis to keep them onside, rather like a father and son chat, an arm around the shoulder chat.
  • Before the Nantwich game, some squad players were knocking on his door asking for a game, but they didn’t take their chance. He felt the side he fielded that day should have been capable of winning the game and would never send out a team to lose.
  • Neal Ardley had previously learned that “young players don’t know they didn’t perform”.
  • Not seen the best of Dipo Akinyemi or Dan Batty yet as neither had a proper pre-season.


  • Ardley was asked for his recollections of the Wimbledon / City game in March 2016 and the Lyle Taylor / Scott Flinders (LINK) incident. He had a clear recall, in that Lyle Taylor was visibly upset after the game, Ardley asked did he want to take the matter further, he said yes and the referee took a statement from Taylor a few minutes later. Ardley said “I didn’t want to get Scott (he used his first name, not surname) into trouble”, Ardley repeated the word that Scott Flinders used and there followed a discussion on banter, the use of language, the awareness of culture, and how language might be appropriate in one situation but not another and that “one language is one language”.
  • He noted Joe Kinnear as one of the best managers (although not a great technician) he has worked for and Terry Burton as a great coach.
  • Another ex Wimbledon player, Ben Thatcher is one of his best friends in football as well as his agent. He named Neil Sullivan (now living in Yorkshire) and Neil Cox (who he’s known since their Watford and England Under 21 days) as other good friends.
  • Every year, Ardley attends the ex Wimbledon players Christmas meal.

... and Finally

  • Of all the YCS meet the managers, Neal Ardley came across as the one who has the best interests of the whole club, not just the team, at heart. Given Neal Ardley’s commitment to improving all aspects of the club, it is not surprising that he has barely had a day off since coming to City.
  • During the evening, a few comments suggested that going forward Neal Ardley will put his faith in a smaller, but more experienced squad with new signings being largely “first team ready”.
  • Ardley has regular mentioned the use of statistics, both player recruitment and match analysis. He backed that up with the improvements he saw in his first season at Solihull Moors. In first half of his first season, they scored 34 in 25 games with 1.5 clear cut chances per game whilst in the second half, clear cut chances doubled and XG increased by 0.7, improvements came about by training the players to take an extra pass and get into the box more often resulting in a play off final appearance. So hopefully, we can expect better results going forward.
  • Before 8am on the Monday morning after our meeting, in response to an email we sent the club offering our thanks for making the arrangements, the club replied, “No problem at all, the York City South meetings was always an enjoyable one for some of our past managers”.

The End

On February 26 2024, City confirmed the immediate departure of Neal Ardley, the initial statement didn’t make clear whether it was a sacking or by mutual consent, although it went onto say “he will work with the owners on a smooth transition and Tony McMahon will be appointed interim manager”. It is understood that it was a sacking rather than by mutual consent. Neil Cox left at the same time. Given, the stats based approach implemented at City, it is not unreasonable to believe that stats will play a big part in the recruitment of the next manager. Given Ardley lost his mother in January and his father had been at a recent LNER game, perhaps, family ties were playing heavily on his mind during his last few weeks. Equally, he had placed high hopes on a big "January transfer window", for whatever reason, City's only signing was Billy Chadwick, expectations of re-inforcements at left back and central midfield didn't materialise despite Matt Uggla indicating that big signings were expected. Given some of Ardley's concerns over his squad, it is possible that he was left feeling deflated by the lack of new arrivals.

Despite rumblings amongst some of the fan base, the news came as a surprise to many supporters.

Arriving with a stats based mantra and with the desire to uplift many areas of the club, especially the training ground, not just the first team, his tenure turned out much shorter than many people had hoped.

At times, his philosophy of taking 18 months to turn club around and the need for a pre season to embed his ideas resonated with some, but grated with others. Once again, City got no immediate “new manager bounce”, he often noted the players weren’t capable of playing the way he liked his teams to play, something that might be argued wasn't conducive to improving player morale. Despite extensive scouting, new recruits were slow in signing, about 6 left backs were identified before Luke Daley joined in late November.

His first 2 signings, George Sykes-Kenworthy and Will Davies, both plucked from lower league regional football, fitted seamlessly into the first team.

January 2024 saw 4 new managers appointed in the National League. Kevin Phillips arrived at Hartlepool, immediately signed two no nonsense defenders, two out and out wingers and had imprinted a style of play on them within a week. Not expansive but it was effective and played to the strength of their best player as they went on a winning run. Phil Brown released some of Kidderminster's more ‘flair’ style players, bought in some physical players and went very much route one but immediately got them winning. Fylde developed a counter attacking style around some of their best players whilst Eastleigh, similar to Hartlepool, made it their mission just to play as many balls in the box towards McCallum as possible.

Arriving with 37 contracted players, it can’t have been easy to assess them all, or to keep them all happy. A deepening injury crisis and heavy fixture list hampered his plan to streamline the squad and to get them playing to his vision.

That said, with just a couple of days training before his first match, City looked much more organised in his first game.

He said everyone would get a chance, Scott Burgess was one who took that chance and made an immediate impact after a long time in the wilderness. Some other senior players struggled to make their mark. Tyler Cordner was dropped and didn’t play for Ardley after mid December whilst Dipo Akinyemi suffered a couple of injuries and was often called out by Ardley in his press interviews, at times it seemed that Ardley was struggling to get him to show his explosive early season form.

Another criticism of Ardley was his formation, both the regular changes between back 5 and back 4 and often to match up with the opposition, many of who appeared to be near world beaters in Ardley’s mind. Having stated a preference for a back 4 on his arrival, for whatever reason (squad limitations and leaky defence included), his go to line up was a back 5. Meanwhile, he often noted the opposition as being near world beaters.

February arrived with 4 home games, 3 eminently winnable, they yielded just 3 points.

In Ardley’s penultimate performance, he reverted to a back 4, a 1-1 draw with Oldham when the pace and width of Charlie Allen, Billy Chadwick and Finlay Barnes caused Oldham plenty of problems, some suggested the best performance of his reign. None of the 3 were in the starting side 4 days later at Barnet as Ardley went back to 532. It resulted in a poor first half with things improving as the team went 442 after the break. Post match, he noted that the players hadn't done what they had been working on in training during the week. Ardley tended to “big up” the opposition and frequently referenced that City didn’t have the players who could play in his style, noting that we’d see a better Billy Chadwick next season when the team was playing his way and criticising Dipo Akinyemi’s work rate on several occasions. Under Ardley, City had become much more defensively minded, not that interesting to watch and with sides set up to combat the opposition, often making changes to formation and personnel. He seemed to make game more difficult than it needed to be, by the time he left, City couldn't see the wood for the trees. Players were rejuvenated, including Dipo Akinyemi (moved back more central), Maz Kouhyar and Alex Hunt.

Neal Ardley often spoke a lot of common sense about the need to improve overall standards at the club. His press interviews ("recovery pants", over loading players, double / light and individual training schedules and training ground improvements) were often insightful as he sought to improve York City.

Unfortunately, on field performances contributed to his early departure. With 8 wins and 12 draws from 28 league games, he averaged over 1.28 points per game, taken over the season, more than enough to achieve a comfortable mid table position. However, with form tailing off and a high number of drawn games, his overall record does not compare well with many other "failed" City managers. Indeed, relegation was a real threat. Later, severe doubts about his man management skills emerged, including when Scott Barrow spoke to YCS and a well informed RnB poster who said, "His man management skills didn't 'leave a lot to be desired'. They simply didn't exist at all with most of the players".

It is doubtful that Neal Ardley will have such supportive owners at his next club.

The appointment of Neal Ardley’s successor is key. Get it right and the club could be set for a bright future, get it wrong, relegation and the Uggla honeymoon is over.

Matt Uggla speaks, noting his dissatisfaction with Ardley's style of play just as his points per game record started to decline. Read more.

Footnote: It was noticeable the Ardley's departure was met by a virtual silence from City's players on social media. Like his departures from Notts County and Solihull Moors, there were few, if any, player postings. By comparison many departing managers, City and other clubs, receive lavish words from their ex-players.