Credit: Osset United FC
You started your managerial career at Ossett Albion as player-manager. Did that experience enable you to see management as a future career for you?
The opportunity came up in a strange way. I retired from the game a few years prior to going in at Ossett. I started my coaching journey at Scunthorpe while I was still playing the game.
After football I set up a football academy and I also completed my psychology degree which is a big part of my management now as I work hard to ensure that my players have a positive mindset at all times.
The opportunity at Ossett came around via the academy that I helped set up. I initially went into the club as player-assistant manager then I was asked to take over. I brought in Mark Roberts to assist me and we took the side from second bottom to moving up the league week on week which led to us ensuring that we kept the side up comfortably.
Ossett Albion amalgamated with Ossett Town to form a new club called Ossett United. What was it like taking charge of a newly formed club?
Two clubs becoming one made it a unique situation with true two clubs being only one mile apart. You’ve got two sets of supporters, two boards and two sets of players and it was such a learning experience for me. Despite the change around the club, we took the club to the play offs and averaged 500 fans at every game.
At the end of my first season, things changed at the club in terms of ownership. That led to players leaving and I felt that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to build the same level of momentum so I felt it was best to move on and I resigned. I loved my time at the club and sometimes you can’t control things off the field but it was a great learning experience as I say.
You became the first manager in the history of Bury AFC in 2020. An incredible 750 applicants applied for the job. How did it feel to be the successful candidate given the level of interest in the role?
I came to the party late to be honest. I am not someone who wants to just be at a club to make up the numbers. I’m attracted to projects within football that are run by genuine people and that was Bury AFC.
The club were starting from a blank canvas and I had experience of that at Ossett so during the interview process I made it clear that even though this project would be a new one for everyone that results would be what we would be judged by.
You can talk about philosophies as a manager but at the level of football that we are at then it’s all about winning football matches and getting people excited about Bury again.
People want to feel that they are a part of the football club and I want to always give the fans something to cheer about on a Saturday. If that means winning a game 5-4 then that’s what it’s all about for me. Winning football is attractive football.
How did you go about recruiting players because you came into a club that didn’t have any players signed up?
I only had three weeks before the first game as well so it was a bit of a whirlwind. We had nothing in place but I was confident that players would want to come and play for us because the club’s ambition is clear to see.
I was getting lots of players calling me desperate to play for the club. For our level, it’s vital that they are the right characters and fit the ethos of the club and the community so I went and got my former captain at Ossett Albion, Scott Metcalfe, and I built it from there.
As you start to build you can then make adjustments as necessary. Our first game was in the FA vase and seven or eight of the players who played that day aren’t with the club anymore so it shows you how quick our turnaround had to be.
After that match we then had a few weeks before the league started properly. Those few weeks were vital for me to ensure that the players we recruited bought into the professional that we strive for at Bury AFC.
The first ever league game was very dramatic. You were 2-1 down to Steeton with 89 minutes gone but turned it around to win 3-2. Was that the perfect start to the league campaign?
It was one of my proudest moments in football. I’ve won the Championship at Sunderland and played in the Premier League against my boyhood heroes Man Utd but managing the club that day is up there.
It was brilliant. People look at the scoreline after 89 minutes but we had 32 shots that day and their keeper was superb. You think to yourself is it one of those days but I always ensure my teams have a strong level of fitness and that was shown in the Steeton game and many other games since.
We make sure our players know a game is never done even with a couple of minutes to go because anything is possible and we’ve scored a few late goals this season.
How do you reflect on the season so far and the current situation that sees football for Bury AFC and many non league clubs suspended?
It’s so bizzare. It feels like we are in a bit of a dream world as we aren’t in control of any of it. If you can’t control it then sometimes it’s best not to worry about it all too much.
Our football club have spent a lot of money ensuring our ground is covid compliant. The frustrating element is the fact that it’s been so too start. I would personally argue that non league football has to start a lot earlier each year. I think we should start in July to help clubs because in winter even without Covid so many games are called off due to the weather as we know.
It’s our first ever season and we’d love to be able to finish it off on the park. I feel for clubs who missed out on promotion last season due to null and void and if it happens again it’ll be very difficult for them. I just hope a decision is made soon and it’s communicated to all clubs as soon as possible because the uncertainty makes it difficult.