For those that follow my UCL Facebook page, you’ll know that on Saturday night Desborough Town’s Chris Bradshaw became the 41st managerial change in the United Counties League since pre-season.
I had this subject in mind for this week’s column before Chris’ resignation, but it has further highlighted the worrying statistic in the UCL.
Some managers have been sacked, some resign due to poor results, and some quit due to ‘work commitments’ (it’s funny how that is always after a bad run, and not a manager of a side in good form).
Firstly, I think it is harsh to sack a manager at this level if they aren’t being paid and have a small budget or don’t have one at all.
It is very hard to turn water into wine, where the best players demand the finest vintage.
Managers in Northamptonshire for example have to compete for players with 15 other UCL clubs in the county, not to mention the other clubs just outside of the border such as Harborough Town, Olney Town and Newport Pagnell Town.
Raunds Town and Thrapston Town, for example, have clubs in the Peterborough area just up the road, and the likes of Desborough and Rothwell have the Leicestershire teams near to them.
Sileby Rangers have gone through several managers this season – some sacked, some quit, but has it really done them any favours?
They are currently 21st out of 22 teams, with a goal difference of -91, compared to St Andrews just above them with a GD of -50.
Their current management are UEFA A qualified, but under their stewardship they have shipped more goals than ever before!
It is massively difficult for a team to compete, especially in the Prem, without a Reserve and Under-18 team to help them out when they are short.
Sileby fall into this category and Chris Bradshaw found it increasingly difficult when Desborough were forced to fold their reserves.
For a club to succeed at this level, you either need a large budget at a club that is very much first-team focused, or a club that works together with four links in the ‘chain of success’.
For me those four links in the chain are: committee, first team, reserves and under-18s.
If one of those in the chain aren’t supporting the other, it has a knock on effect and no-one can reach their potential, either as a team or as a club.
The committee need to hire a first-team manager that shares the club vision and philosophy, the first-team manager needs to stick to what was agreed on his appointment, whilst also working closely with the reserve team boss.
First-team players need to be willing to play for the reserves when required, without any sense of superiority, and reserve-team players need that drive in them to aim to play first-team football rather than refusing and saying they’d prefer to play with their mates and chase a Reserve League title.
On top of this, first-team managers need to reward regular performing players in the reserves, rather than playing their mates or their favourites in the first team who may not be performing well for a large period of time.
If reserve-team players see players in the first team that are consistently playing poorly but they are getting chances ahead of them, then this can cause unrest and bad feeling towards a first-team manager.
Quite often if the reserves have been raided by the first team or they have a lot of injuries themselves, they need the support of the under-18s.
If the vast majority work on Saturdays, prefer to play park football with their mates, or just can’t be bothered and only play under-18s football for fun with their friends rather than playing for the club as whole, then this can also cause problems in the chain.
It’s not only about players – first team, reserve and under-18 managers need to be in regular contact and have a short and long-term progression plan in place rather than wing it from week to week and start panicking on a Thursday or Friday when either of the two senior teams struggle to field two squads of 14 on the Saturday.
Locally, Raunds Town seem to be the benchmark for local clubs with their first team and reserves generally strong every season.
First-team manager Jim Le Masurier and Reserve team manager Jon Shanks have both been there for a few years, and work closely together to build their football club on and off the pitch.
I’ve managed at UCL Reserve League level for five years and they seemed like 15.
While the good days were very enjoyable, more often than not it was just a week full of stress and trying to put square pegs into round holes just to get 14 players for the Saturday. Let alone a strong 14, with the luxury of leaving players out.
For my first couple of years as manager, our Irchester United first team were struggling in the Premier Division and we signed on around 115 players in each season.
In one of those seasons we had SIX first team managers, and each one was different to work under, and all six wanted me to manage, recruit, select and promote in different ways.
Daren Young, Paul Hamblin, Scott Goodwin, Craig Adams, Chris Gell and Colin Ridgway were all very different from the next.
Some were enjoyable to work under, some weren’t, some gave me respect and others didn’t; each of them had different coaching styles at training on a Tuesday and Thursday, and I found myself either very involved or not involved at all. Some had great man management skills, others did not.
All of this change saw dozens of players come and go, and the reserves especially was like a revolving door. One week you’d be begging players to play, the next those you’d begged were having to be told I couldn’t fit them into my squad as I had too many and I was asked to play such and such ahead of them.
As a first-team manager you can drop players down to get minutes and they are still happy as they are getting a game on a Saturday.
As a reserve-team manager if you have to drop players they find themselves without a game and left wondering why they bother to train.
Some players are understanding but many are not, and you either fall out with them, or if they are young, the player and their parents.
Life is tough for first-team managers as it is more results driven and they have more exposure in the media.
It is their ego at stake if they lose a few games in a row, and with that a lot of players these days become disheartened at losing and not many stick it out for the full season at a struggling club.
With social media it is much easier to get to know opposition managers and players, and they are only a Facebook message or Tweet away from a move.
A lot of players these days aren’t prepared to roll up their sleeves to win back their places, or fight to save a club from being relegated, and the player and manager relationship isn’t transparent to committee members or paying spectators watching from the stands.
If a player scores a 90th minute winner they are the hero but if a team loses to a 90th-minute goal the manager generally gets the blame. Wrong selection, wrong tactics, and wrong substitutions.
Football is a game of opinions but what people don’t see is that it is a game of emotions, especially as a manager.
After spending countless hours planning training sessions, watching future opposition and chasing players that ‘forget’ to reply to texts, it can all be worth it with a win on the Saturday.
If you’ve got all that stress during the week and the players don’t match your effort on the Saturday, it can be soul destroying.
Win or lose, players generally go home and forget about it until the next training session or game.
In fact, most of them are laughing and joking in the bar after a bad performance whilst you’re seething inside and feeling deflated.
That feeling can last all week, and if you’re having a tough season you can feel permanently dejected, your self confidence as a manager and a coach goes, and you lose the enjoyment.
In my last season I felt emotionally drained after five years of mainly struggle, and my longer serving players were telling me I had changed as a person.
I wasn’t the bubbly laugh a minute character I used to be, and I began to dread training and games where before I couldn’t wait.
I always felt tired and stressed, I lost interest in recruiting new players and couldn’t wait for the season to end. In fact, towards the end I was willing teams to score against us as it gave me more of an excuse to resign and take a break.
At the final whistle of my final game of the season, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I hugged my subs and the opposition manager.
I can totally understand managers resigning if they have been doing it a long while and they face mental burn out.
Three years on, I’m still managing (Kettering Town youth teams) but it is a lot less hassle and I’m a much happier and confident person.
Would I go back into UCL management? Maybe one day as I’m only 33. I’m in no rush and I do like a challenge, but I think attitudes and commitments in football are changing and many don’t match my own anymore.
Over the next few days, keep an eye on my UCL Facebook page as I’ll be posting the thoughts of current and ex-UCL managers as to why they think there has been so many managerial changes this season – many of them are great reads and thought provoking.
Keep enjoying your football…
Dan Beaman is the administrator for the unofficial UCL Facebook page, which you can visit by clicking here