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Behind the Scenes with Reno - Part 4 – It ain’t all rosy

Behind the Scenes with Reno - Part 4 – It ain’t all rosyReno reflects back to his formative days as 17 year old playing in a men’s team, the lessons he took from those early days, and putting them into practice one cold afternoon in Runcorn....

"During my career as player and as manager I believe that there are not many more straight-talking people than me. If I see it then I say it. This isn’t always the best way, but people respect you for it. I have learnt that although people may not like it at the time, they will certainly respect you for telling them as it is, maybe not there and then but certainly when they look back on it – if they have got anything about them.

However, I have learnt over the years that there are different ways that you can put your messages across. We have all made mistakes. I have lost the plot being captain of several clubs when we haven’t performed and I have certainly gone over the top whether as a coach, as an assistant manager or as manager, why?…. It’s because I care, and I’m passionate. Over the last few years being a manager I have realised that certain individuals respond in different ways. Some need an arm round them, some need telling straight, some need a bollocking, some need to be left and spoken to on one side. However I wish that it was always that simple. You cannot predict the moment that the red mist will descend. Don’t make the mistake of doing it every week, lads will quickly lose respect but equally if you feel it’s the right thing to do then catch them when they are least expecting it!

To me, football just isn’t a game. I was taught this at a young age when I stepped into men’s football plying my trade at Darwen at 16 years old in the North West Counties League. At school my teacher would say ‘It isn’t all about winning’….well, try telling that to a bunch of grizzled 30 year old men in a dressing room who gave up their Saturday afternoons for next to nothing… Trust me, it was all about winning to them! If we didn’t win, then you would know about it. Winning meant everything to them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand you must learn to lose, and you must do it in the right way but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. At the time we were managed by a chap called Ian McGarry. After he finished managing, he went on to host the non-league radio show on Radio Lancashire every Friday night. I can safely say that Ian taught me everything about what football means to people. When people ask me who was the best manager I played for, my answer will always be McGarry. Tactically, no he wasn’t, but winning mentality…there is no one better.

So, there I was, a fresh-faced teenager from Preston about to make my step up to non-league football. Back then I didn’t realise that my life would always revolve around Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Throw in the preparation time before training, Friday night staying in and recovery on a Sunday…this was about to become my life. That was before I went into management, now there are not enough hours in the day or days in the week! Ian was one of those people who would work all week to provide for his family, but I am sure he only worked to pass the time. Saturday afternoons at 3pm meant the world to him. He hated losing but would always kind of accept it if his players came off the pitch dripping in sweat, full of mud - and he would like nothing more than if his centre half came off splattered with blood across his face after he had stooped for a 70/30 ball in the opposition’s favour and was met with six metal studs in his face! On cold days, there was always a shot of whisky waiting for us on the physio’s table to drink before we went out to play 90 minutes, ‘That will warm you up’, he said. That was always followed by a smack into the stomach before you went out to play. Nowadays the lads shake hands and wish each other all the best. We used to line up in the tunnel and when you weren’t expecting it, McGarry would dig you in the stomach – ‘All the best, son’, he would say. I used to go out retching, one after the whisky shot and two after the blow to the stomach, could you allow that to affect you? Not a chance…

‘Leave everything on the pitch’, he used to say. There is no better lesson. Ability is a wonderful tool to have but, ask all successful managers - if you do not have the correct attitude and mentality, then they will be quickly moved on. I adopted this mentality. There were no mobile phones back then. After training on a Thursday McGarry would give you the squad. ’Right, meet 13:30 at Flixton on Saturday’. ’Where the hell is Flixton?’ I thought. I didn’t dare ask, forget Google maps, that wasn’t a thing, you just had to get there. For home and away games I used to catch the bus to Preston Bus Station where I would meet some players; the Walsh brothers, Andy and Mark, Brian Gardener, and Harold Sandells. All Preston lads who had played professionally early in their careers so had incredibly high standards. There we were, cramped into a car with bags on our knees. No better feeling.

Back then I also had to play for the under 18s – that was the agreement if I was involved with the first team. They played on a Sunday morning. There was no going out on a Saturday night, I had to get back to Darwen the following day. There was no lift waiting at Preston Bus Station. Sometimes I would cycle and other times I would sleep at the first team manager’s house on the Saturday evening, walk to the ground the following day and then after the game I would work out how I was going to get home, that was eventful! Especially after spending the Sunday afternoon in the ‘Alex’ pub in the middle of Darwen with some of the first team lads!

This was Football, this was my life. In today’s game you will put the squad out on a Friday night and if we aren’t travelling by coach one of the lads will reply, ’Have you got the postcode for the ground?’ I sit at home thinking ’Just GOOGLE it! what more do you want?.

What I have learnt is that winning games of football is the best feeling, however, there are times when it doesn’t go for you and you quickly realise that ‘It ain’t all rosy’. I have experienced several dressing rooms in my playing career and looking back I now think, how did some people get out of there alive? There are two stories that I will never forget, one playing for Darwen and one playing for Bamber Bridge. These were vital lessons that taught me, always leave everything out on the pitch, don’t wait for someone else to do your running and finally, never show the manager that losing doesn’t hurt! We had a player called Martin Atkinson at Darwen. His nickname was Herman, after Herman Munster from the Munsters family! He was one of four Atkinson Brothers that played for us at the time; they were all tough lads, but Herman was something else! He would let you know if you weren’t doing it. We got on, he said I would get stuck in, score the odd goal, put my head where it hurts and run around – ‘You will go higher than this’, he used to say to me. He was massive and his head was as wide as it was long. Now, he could head a ball. A traditional centre half who didn’t contemplate losing any battle. The downside was that you knew he had at least five red cards in him in any one season. If the centre forward got around him then God help him. If an opposition member would confront him on the pitch, then it was over. Herman would destroy him. However, after the game, he would go in the bar and be everyone’s best mate, even the lad with the broken nose on the opposition team that he had headbutted during the ninety minutes. Surprisingly, two people he would never argue with were the referee and McGarry – he had absolute respect. Now McGarry on the other hand was about 5’6, a bit overweight but he would always say it as it was. It didn’t matter who you were or how big you were, if you crossed him then you would know about it.

I recall we played local rivals Great Harwood on Boxing Day. There were a few hundred watching and this game meant everything to both sides. Blood and thunder. ‘Now boys, hit them and hit them hard’, McGarry said. ‘When the referee isn’t looking, stand on their toes, dig them in the ribs, lick them up and down their face with your dry breath (this was a trick I’ve seen and done many times, it stinks and the opposition player would go wild, shouting, ‘Ref, he has just licked me’, ‘Go away’ the ref would say, not knowing if to laugh or take them seriously). Literally anything to get one up on who you were marking but DO NOT get a red card as they will make the added man count. Great, we went out, tackle after tackle went in, a few scuffles but it was a local derby, so the referee let them go. This was a proper game to play in. It was 1 – 1 and there were two minutes left. They had a lad called Sharples playing up front and he was giving Herman the run around all afternoon. They had been exchanging words all game, ‘Stay calm, Herman’, I would say, he wouldn’t listen to me, I was only 17. Then they got a corner, I always marked the hole which is just off the front post. I was looking at the corner taker, then I remember hearing the loudest crack I’ve heard on a football pitch, like someone had been shot. I turned around and Sharples was laid on the floor with a face full of blood. The referee approached Herman, brandished the red card and awarded a penalty. I hadn’t seen the incident, but I believe that Herman didn’t think the ref was watching so headbutted him with that enormous head. Sharples was out cold and stretchered off. Harwood scored the resulting penalty and won the game. I was gutted but I wasn’t saying anything to Herman – respect your elders and all that.

The lads trudged into the dressing room. I had often seen McGarry lose it, but I have never seen anything as spectacular I was about to witness. Herman was already in the dressing room due to the red card. McGarry must have run in as he was in before me. I approached the changing rooms and McGarrry was going nuts. ‘Come on then’, he was shouting, ‘headbutt me, you think you’re tough, big hard man, well come on then!’ McGarry was going for Herman. The manager was a scary character but Herman, wow, nothing compares. I remember though, he would never confront his manager. McGarry went from anger to rage, he had lost it. He was repeatedly slapping Herman across his face. He then got him in a headlock, screaming whilst he was punching his head. He then backed off and threw the medical bag which hit Herman square in the face. That was it, Herman stood up and looked at McGarry. I thought, oh no, he is going to kill him. Out of nowhere, he apologised to the manager and his teammates. I just remember thinking ’wow, he can’t be that calm’, I was right. He turned to his brother Mick, who was sat next to him, grabbed hold of him and launched him across the dressing room. ‘What was that for you idiot?’, Mick shouted. ‘If you would have nailed the little t*** after ten minutes when you had the chance, then I would not have got sent off!!’ Conversation over, we got showered and went for a pint. After that, I always made sure I won my tackles and that the man I was marking knew he was in for a game, especially when Herman was playing behind me.

The second incident happened whilst playing for Bamber Bridge (the first time around) – I was about 20. We played Barrow away from home and in those days some of the dressing rooms had baths instead of showers. At half time and full time, the metal pot of tea would be placed in the dressing room. It was huge and always scalding hot. Our manager was a chap called Wayne Harrison. He was tiny – no bigger than 5’5. However, he had been a professional most of his career, he had a wand of a left foot. He was also known as being quite ferocious. I had just left Darwen, McGarry had resigned by that point and was replaced by Steve Wilkes. I had
stepped up a couple of levels so I wasn’t sure if the managers would be the same – absolutely they would. Harrison was a winner but went over the top at times, especially in training if a player wasn’t on the same wavelength as the manager. Harrison didn’t last long at Bamber Bridge, but he gave me my debut and trusted me. We always got on. He found similar traits in me as McGarry had.

We had travelled to Barrow on the Saturday and at the time I was new to the club and Harrison was recently appointed. We were destined for relegation – for the record we survived after a home 2-0 win towards the end of the season – a lad scored Ian Vickers scoring both goals and I crossed the ball for his second, a diving header! However, there were only about 15 games left so every game had to be like a cup final. We played well on the day, but Barrow ran out eventual winners, 1-0. The Gaffer wasn’t happy after the game as the goal could have been avoided. David Eaves had lost his man on a corner. Harrison was pointing the finger at Eavsey but he accepted it. ‘Unlucky boys, we played well and if we continue to play like that then we will be ok; get yourselves in the bath and then we will get out of here!’.

I remember all the senior players piling into the bath. Eavsey and captain Darren Brown would always carry beers in their bags, it just seemed to be the norm. Out came the beers, and they got in the bath. I was usually one of the last ones in. Being young and all that, it was a bit daunting, especially when you were new to a club and didn’t really know anyone. Anyway, I remember sat in the changing rooms waiting to get in and two of them laughing, it was loud, they were just sharing stories but they weren’t football related. There were a few of the other senior players in the bath at the time. I recall the door opening and it was the Gaffer.

He stood there for around 30 seconds, but I remember looking at him, thinking, he is about to explode. The teapot was next to the bath on a table. It was an open dressing room so you could see everything. They must have seen the Gaffer but carried on laughing, telling stories. ‘What’s funny?, we have just lost 1-0’, the Gaffer said... ‘We are in a relegation fight and you two think it’s funny’. He was getting louder. By this point Browny realised that he wasn’t happy and went quiet, moving away from Eavsey. Eavsey carried on, ‘Calm down Gaffer, the game is over’. The Gaffer took one look at the teapot, remember how big and hot it was, and launched it at Eavsey!! ‘Calm down, calm down, we have just lost one f****** nil and you are telling me to calm down’. The noise and screeches that came from the bath due to Eavsey wearing scalding tea were incredible! ‘Are you mental?’, Eavsey shouted back, ‘That’s red hot!’.

Now remember Herman, he would never turn on the manager, Eavsey, no…he was going for him. Eavsey jumped out the bath naked and started wrestling and rolling around with the manager. The Gaffer in his suit and Eavsey with nothing on, what a sight! Neither of them would back down. It seemed to go on for ever until some of the lads split them up. Eavsey was on contract at the time. He refused to travel back on the team bus, stating that the manager was crazy.

We turned up for training on the Tuesday and we all went to warm up. Browny led it as he was the captain. Eavsey joined us and the manager shouted, ‘What are you doing?, you are not part of that squad, you can go and train on your own!’ Eavsey was on contract so he knew that if he walked off then the Gaffer would probably fine him his wages for the next few weeks! For the next two months Eavsey would turn up for training and the Gaffer would make him run all night. Eavsey was one of these weirdly fit players. Ate and drank whatever he wanted to but was still the fittest lad at the club. He did his running, but he would never break – I don’t think the Gaffer liked this. At the end of the season we had survived relegation, it was no surprise that Eavsey did not have his contract renewed. One key lesson I learnt, never show others that you either accept or enjoy losing. This is a trait that has stayed with me. If we have lost, even if we have played well, I cannot shake it. I am not worth talking to. I’m forever playing the game over in my head thinking, if we would have done this or that, then what? Why did he do that? What if I would have done this differently? Losing is something that I find hard to accept, so you can imagine that the relegation last season nearly finished me.

The worst thing is when you lose on a Saturday and then must wait a week for your next game. It’s not so bad if you can bounce back on the Tuesday but a week. You don’t enjoy anything, well I don’t anyway. Seventy-two hours to wait doesn’t seem that bad, especially like this season when we lost to Bamber Bridge on the Saturday 3-0 but then went to high-flying Nantwich on the following Tuesday and won 1-0. You can quickly eliminate that feeling of loss. So, how do I accept a poor performance? Thinking back to the Scarborough game at home this season, this was a really poor performance. I wasn’t happy but also felt sorry for the lads. What was the point in going off the handle in the dressing room? This was a brand-new squad and they were suffering mentally. They needed telling that I believed in them and that this run of defeats would soon come to an end – there is enough quality in this dressing room, trust me. However, this didn’t mean that I had gone soft. If there was a time that I believed that they could do more in the season, then they would be told. To this point I had been relatively calm in the dressing room. Yes, the lads knew I was loud from when I give instructions at training or on matchday onto the pitch, but at Runcorn in the FA Trophy away I even surprised myself.

23rd November 2019 was probably the first time in the season that people were labelling FC United as the favourites to win a game. We were turning the corner in the league and performances were improving. We had been drawn away to Runcorn Linnets in the FA Trophy. They were hovering around mid-table in the league below us. I recall arriving at the ground and it was beginning to fill up, here was a great atmosphere. This was Aaron Morris’s old club so I knew he would be desperate to do well. Everyone was speaking to Aaron; Brian was good mates with their management team; it all just felt a bit weird to me. I will be mates with people after the game (even better mates if we have beaten them) but never before the game. Shake hands, say hello and that’s it for me; McGarry used to say that there would be plenty of time after the game for all that!

The majority of the squad had all played in this division the year before so they would be used to the surroundings and the pitch – a total opposite to what the lads see at Broadhurst Park but at the same time, I really liked the ground; it had a really warm, family feel to it. I had chosen the team and went in to do the team talk. ’We cannot underestimate the opposition, they are the underdogs, they will raise their game, play every trick in the book to get one over on you. We must execute to the game plan, stay patient if passes go astray. One thing Runcorn will do is work hard so make sure you are ready for that and work harder than them’.

Traditionally I wear my suit to every game, so I do not get involved in the warmup. However, this was the day that Paddy Wharton wanted to do some running before the game. He had been doing some light training for a couple of weeks since his freak injury on a trampoline after the Stalybridge game, Chappy didn’t have time as he was preparing Cam, Brian and Mike were carrying out their normal roles. ‘Come on Paddy, I will take you’. We went away from the lads into the far corner of the pitch. I worked Paddy hard, mainly running, but it was evident that he had lost the fitness that he had built up over pre-season. He worked hard though and never gave up. As we went back inside to do our last bits the banter was flying around the dressing room. There is always a bit but nothing like I heard that day – mainly directed towards Paddy, and he slumped red-faced in the corner of the dressing room. I gave my final instructions, but the atmosphere felt a bit flat. ‘Don’t underestimate them, boys’ I said, ‘All the best, see you at half time’. I remember saying to Brian just before we kicked off that I had a bad feeling today which isn’t like me, I’m always totally the opposite. Brian said, ‘We will have too much for them, we will be fine’. ‘ I hope so’, I said. Two minutes on the clock gone, great move down the right-hand side and Tunde finishes into the back of the net, BOOM, another goal for the new hero of FC United. Brian looked at me and said, ‘Told you, we will be fine’. ’Brilliant’ I thought, ’hopefully we can put them to bed before half time’. How wrong was I?

The game became a sloppy affair. Pass after pass was needlessly put out of play, there was no sight of a recovery run when we gave the ball away. Runcorn were first to every ball and were growing into the game, we were shirking out of tackles, losing headers, there was no shape to our formation. The back four were getting caught from their runners, I thought they were destined to score and were unlucky not to. I was raging inside but we were still 1-0 up. It was one of those games that if the opposition scored, I wasn’t sure if we would or could recover. Mindset is a difficult thing to shake once it sets in, your mind takes over, your legs become fatigued and it’s nearly impossible to find your rhythm again. The half time whistle went, and I usually talk to the staff on the way in, give the lads a couple of minutes; the staff give their opinions and then I get my points over to the squad. Not today!!

Before and after games, my little lad Jack will always ask if he can come into the changing rooms to listen to what is said. Very rarely will he come in at half time though, just mainly before the game or at full time if we have won for the traditional sing song! He will stand at the back out of sight just to listen and learn. I don’t usually swear in the dressing room, so I don’t mind him coming in, plus the lads all love him and he loves them; it’s all for his development. They comment on this at Preston North End where he plays, they say his continual exposure to men’s football will certainly help him in the future.

Today was different. I remember walking off the pitch at Runcorn as the half time whistle went and I had no idea who was around me, I was blazing inside! Now, I was mad at the Chairman from Malta when we were trying to sign Tunde but I controlled it as I was trying to get the signing over the line, stuff it, not today though, the red mist had finally dawned! Mike was stood by the dressing room door with his notes and I flew past him, it was a really cold day and Jack must have been freezing.

We were winning 1-0 at the time so he just sneaked in the changing rooms and hid in the showers. I couldn’t see as the showers were behind me and he was tucked away in the corner. I’m not a Dad that shouts, Jack and Molly know I have really high standards, but I am not a shouter and I never have been. If they ever cross the line (which is very rare) then I will give them the glare or let them know that I’m disappointed but shouting, no that’s not me. If I ever thought I was going to say something particularly strident then I would not allow Jack into the changing rooms.

I’ve no idea how Jack got in before me because I remember slamming the door as hard as I could. I had no idea who was in, all I remember is Pottsy who as the captain of the team was congratulating the lads on taking the lead into half time. He was saying it with his back to me as I was behind him as he took his seat, I saw people high fiving each other but the atmosphere was flat! Pottsy had not even had the chance to sit down as the tactics board came hurtling in his direction. I don’t know what it is about Pottsy, I think the last time I was like this was when I was Bamber Bridge manager away at Clitheroe and I threw the physio bed at him, remember what I said about different players needed a different approach from me to get the best out of them, I think it’s because I know he secretly likes it and it doesn’t affect his performance, I completely trust him as my captain and as a player and he trusts me as his manager. He was the first player I brought to FC for that reason. Anyway, I hit the tactics board as hard as I could, and it flew across the dressing room smashing into Pottsy along the way. Pottsy knew I was mad so calmly picked it up and stood it back up not saying a word – I bet he had déjà vu from that Clitheroe game.


I was blazing. This tirade went on for the bulk of the interval, I was singling everyone out and they all agreed with me, but my voice was getting louder and louder. I looked into Tunde’s eyes, knowing he had never seen anything like this. He was lucky that he didn’t see this when he was signing… (Bloody chairman in Malta!!) I was referring to the fans that had made the journey, the badge on your shirt, I even referenced last season’s playing squad to say that is how they were performing. Everything we had done to this date was about togetherness. We believed in the quality of our players and knew they would get better with every game but DON’T EVER EVER, no matter who you are playing for, think just your ability will get you through a game.

Work ethic and attitude sit far higher than that. If you can’t run, work hard and show a desire to win then forget it. I could see glimpses of McGarry and Wayne Harrison appear in what I said. I referenced McGarry was not technically the best manager, but he got everything out of his team – and we rarely lost!!


I proceeded to kick a few bags around, punch the wall in anger and then I turned to the coaching staff and said,


I then remember walking into the shower area to try and calm down, who did I see sat in the corner with his head between his knees – MY JACK!! Every emotion ran through my head at that moment. He has never seen his dad do that, he shouldn’t see that, I felt terrible. Jack picked his head up and smiled at me… ‘Wow - I’m never going to upset you Dad, if that doesn’t show the lads how much football means to you then nothing will’. We hugged and he said, ‘Just say something good to them before they go out’.

That was the changing point. None of the staff had dared to breathe a word. The dressing room was like a morgue. The referee rang the bell and I went back in thinking about what Jack had just said to me. ‘Right, come on, stand up, put your arms around each other’. We stood in a huge circle around the dressing room. I realised that some of the lads had never experienced anything like what they had just witnessed. I asked them what had brought this dressing room together. One by one someone answered…High standards, togetherness, belief, attitude, work ethic, formations, being organised, fitness levels, being friends, playing with freedom and a smile on your face. We all looked at each other and I told them that I loved them. ‘I do not regret what I just did but I do not want you ever to make the mistake of thinking you can just turn up and win a game of football. You are all better than that, hence the reason why I brought you here and you are part of bringing the good times back. Let us put that half away but don’t ever forget it. I will remind you of what happened today at half time in the coming weeks and months. If we are to be successful, then never forget what has just happened – I only did it because I care and I want to help you’. The lads all nodded, and I could tell in their eyes that they were with me.

We went out the second half and we were explosive. We won the game 3-0 and that ranks as one of the best second half displays of the season. No one knew what happened in the dressing room that day – until now, none of the lads mean to get it wrong, I know that but, sometimes they need a gentle reminder or as it happened on that day……a good old-fashioned bollocking just like the ones that I have experienced as a player during my career. It never hurt me, and I think helped me to become what I am today.

After the Runcorn game we went on to win the next seven games and be awarded club of the month for December, I have never asked the players what triggered them but they showed everyone their qualities from then on, they took it on board what it is to play for me and for FC United.

I have never spoken to Jack about that day.Maybe I never will; some things do not need explaining if others can see you care – that is the best lesson that I have learnt from others that I have shared dressing rooms with. One thing is for certain though, we have a really special dressing room that will always play for the badge on their shirt….Three stripes and three sails."



WATCH The teams emerge for the second half at Runcorn Linnets

First Posted ~ 02:29 Fri 8 May 2020
News ID ~ 8707
Last Updated ~ 17:00 Fri 19 Feb 2021