Here we go again. After several false starts, I have a new adventure on FM 2021. Last time I eventually took Leeds to Premier League glory, but could not crack Europe. What will this journey hold in store?
The preamble is that I am a Sunday League football with no prior experience. Where will I end up?
I was interviewed by Wigan but I think this is standard practice within the game, and I didn’t get the job. From there, I watched as Southend United manager Mark Molesley’s situation grew increasingly tense, however the club’s fans laughed off the notion that I could become the manager. Darren Moore at Sheffield Wednesday was also under pressure, but as the Owls were a Championship side circa the 20/21 season, I had no expectations of becoming their manager. I did apply for the role of Gillingham boss, but would the League One side even be remotely interested in speaking with me?
So, it was a case of applying for the suddenly-available Southend role.
I didn’t get an interview with them either.
I applied for the job at League Two strugglers Oldham. I also applied for the Barrow role. I had interviews with both clubs, but Barrow approached me first. They offered a six-month contract and wages of £800 per week. The goal was simple – avoid relegation.
It was going to be a huge challenge. Barrow were miles off safety, and alongside Southend, pretty much set for the drop. Defeat after humbling defeat followed, aside from a draw with Southend, and after 24 matches, we had 12 points. We were level on points with Southend, but bottom due to goal difference.
I’d tried some counter-attacking tactics but to no avail, so it was time for something ambitious. A tactic existed that combined Klopp and Guardiola’s philosophies – pressing and possession. Could it benefit my lowly side?
The first test would be away, to high-flying, promotion-chasing Cheltenham. I did not fancy our chances, and in the end, we were roundly beaten, 5-2 in fact, but we created a lot more opportunities, and scoring twice in a game… well, I had no words. We should have hosted Grimsby next, but that game got postponed, so instead we travelled to Bradford, who were low down the order but significantly ahead of us on points. Despite keeping the score goalless at half-time, we succumbed to a 2-0 defeat.
One thing did start to happen. The team started to show a bit more resolve. We so nearly beat Forest Green away from home, only to concede two late goals and lose 2-1. Prior to that came a spirited draw against Cambridge United. Then, finally, finally, I got my first win as Barrow manager, at home to Grimsby. The result was surprising – a 1-0 win, thanks to an early goal, and having to spend the last half an hour with ten men after a red card, against a team battling for automatic promotion, was not where I expected that first victory to come from. A 1-0 defeat followed, due to another late, undeserved goal, this time against Morecambe.
At least the effort was there, and away to Oldham (who were struggling, though not as much as Barrow), we picked up a second consecutive away win – 2-0. Escaping relegation seemed like a pipe dream… but could we?! We drew 1-1 away to Bolton, a respectable result, then hosted Harrogate. 10th-placed Harrogate would be difficult to beat, especially with my first-choice ‘keeper (Joel Dixon) being ruled out for nearly a month through injury. Despite this, we emerged 3-1 winners, marking three wins in five.
Barrow remained bottom of the standings, due to an inferior goal difference with Southend (who had also earned some points recently), but suddenly, we were four points off safety, and had closed up on struggling Oldham. The game then played it’s cruel ‘ghost goal’ trick on me again, seeing Barrow lose 3-2 at home to Mansfield, thanks to two goals at the death. To describe this as annoying would be a supreme understatement. A 2-0 defeat at Walsall followed, along with injuries to two players, to my further annoyance.
We were then beaten 4-1 by Salford, to leave us nine points adrift of safety once more.
Following more points lost due to the game’s habit of randomly awarding goals to the opposition, I resolved to not allow it anymore – if a phantom goal cost my team points, I’d replay the match until I got those points. The right attitude? Maybe, maybe not, but I was furious that the game had this annoying habit, and I would not tolerate it any further. A spirited 2-2 away draw to Colchester followed, where there was no need to reset, so to speak. A 2-0 win at home against Carlisle followed.
From there though, things went downhill. Defeats at Stevenage and Leyton Orient all-but doomed Barrow to non-league football. I signed a few youth players, recently released from Premier League sides, in a bid to secure the club’s future, but now it was about preparing for the drop. However, following a defeat at home to Port Vale (where we had two goals disallowed in as many minutes), we were relegated, and the Barrow board decided I would not be the man to lead them back up. All I could do now was wait and see where the next job would be.