BALANCING your day job with football is a dilemma that most semi-professional players and managers have had to face. Only a fortunate minority have the opportunity to switch from part-time football to full-time though.
You can now include SALFORD CITY and their joint-managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley in that group. The ambitious National League North club announced last week that they will be going full-time this summer, regardless of whether they manage to win a 3rd straight promotion and climb into the National League.
It was no given that Johnson and Morley would be coming along for the ride. But after careful consideration, the club’s illustrious co-owners – 5 members of Man United’s fabled Class of ’92 – offered the pair 2-year contracts. They accepted, and it is no exaggeration to say it’s a dream come true.
Early in their days as Ramsbottom United’s managerial duo, Johnson told me they one day wanted to become full-time managers. After winning 4 promotions in the last 5 seasons – 2 with Rammy and 2 with Salford – that dream has become a reality.
“We started managing back in 2009 at Rammy. We were about 25 years old and our dream was to do it full-time – 8 years later and we’re doing it,” Johnson told Beyond the Big Two. “Maybe only 0.1% of managers are given that opportunity, but we’ve earned the right.
“Over the last few years we’ve won promotion after promotion, always been at the top end of the league and had Cup runs. We’ve always backed ourselves. Even though Rammy were in the Evo-Stik Premier (when they left in January 2015) and Salford were in the league below, we saw the bigger picture. We dropped a league and we’ve gone again, won another 2 promotions and now we’re 2nd in the division.
“We feel we’ve earned the right, and the owners have the same feeling. They said it was a unanimous decision to offer us the job. We’ve been given a 2-year contract so now it’s up to us how far we go with it. If we think we’ve made it and sit with our hands under our arse and feet under the table, we won’t be full-time managers for long. We’ve got to learn quickly.”
Salford have made huge strides since the Class of ’92 takeover in 2014, both on and of the pitch. Given that development, there had been speculation for a few months that going full-time would be the club’s next step but the co-owners delayed a decision – and the announcement – so that the team could focus on keeping themselves in the National League North promotion race. They then had a meeting with Johnson and Morley, which included a presentation on exactly what their plans were. After ‘Johnno and Bern’ agreed to stay on, the players, committee and existing staff were shown the presentation on Monday so they too know what the future holds.
“They didn’t want to do it too early and derail what’s going on this season, which was the right decision,” Johnson explained. “When the rumours started circulating, everybody within the club was questioning the future – how it was going to look, how it was going to run, how it was going to work – but following the meeting, we saw that everything had been put in place by then for us to make a smooth transition.”
A former soldier, Johnson has been working as a wagon driver while Morley is a ceiling fixer, but both will become full-time managers at the end of this month. That gives them 3 months to prepare for when the players follow suit in July. Training full-time will be a novelty for the managerial duo, and while Johnson admits they will consult the co-owners, he insists the United legends won’t be interfering with team affairs.
“We’ll now have time to work on scheduling our week, sorting the training ground, going into different clubs and speaking to different coaches and managers to see how they do things and pick their brains,” Johnson added. “That will include picking the brains of the owners as well, but in terms of the day-to-day running, none of the owners will be down taking sessions.
“It’s totally different to anything we’ve done before – by ‘we’ I mean me and Bern, and a lot of the players that are with us. It was just a case of listening to what the vision and ambition is, and getting to understand how it’ll work, as opposed to them just saying ‘we want you to go full-time, can you do it?’
“The biggest thing for going from part-time to full-time is you’re coming away from the norm, a scenario where you know the structure of your day and how it’s going to work. For my whole adult life I’ve been waking up at whatever time and going to work. Then I’m either playing, training or managing in the evening, and playing on a Saturday. Being a part-time manager, what I’ve moaned about most is the time you get with the players. Now we’re going to be working with a group of players every day, trying to better ourselves and the team, so it’s a no-brainer.
“I’m currently driving a wagon so it’s not as if I can be on my phone all the time, organising things. That’s where a lot of managers struggle with the day-to-day running of things. There’s 3 full-time clubs at this level but there’s a few managers who are already full-time although their club isn’t. They’ve got the time to plan and speak to players. It’s been difficult for us but we’ll be coming away from that completely.”
And the co-owners feel that move will help Salford climb the last 2 rungs of the non-league ladder and make it into the Football League. They could take the first step this season. After winning 1-0 at Brackley last Saturday, the Ammies are 2nd in the table with 9 games left, and Johnson sees no reason why Morley can’t go on that journey too.
“Bernard’s 32, I’m 34,” he added. “A lot of players in our league are older than us. Our captain (Simon Grand) is older than Bernard. Time’s on our side so you’ve got to look at the top and say that’s where you want to get to. The aim is to get Salford into the Football League and, in terms of the length of our contract, we could be a part of that. If you get there, your vision and ambitions change again. You can’t put any restrictions on what you want to do.”
It’s easy to say the sky’s the limit for Salford City, as well as Johnno and Bern. But is it really? They’ve all come a long way already – from the North West Counties League, in fact. But if Salford do get into the League, can they really go even further? Can two working-class lads really go from part-time football to established Football League managers?
The Ammies and their managerial duo have already surprised many people by coming this far, this quickly, so it’d be foolish to rule it out.