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Behind the Scenes with Reno - Part 8 – Match day

Everyone involved with football has their routines and rituals, and the same goes for players and then even more so for Managers, where in non-league where it’s often a second job, so packing everything into the week is a challenge, especially so on those precious matchdays.

As a player or a manager, matchday is what I have always lived for. I just want the working week to pass so I can have that feeling of waking up on a Saturday morning early with butterflies. It’s that feeling of trying to sleep on a Friday, wake up first thing, draw back to the curtains to make sure that it’s not raining too heavily as I need the game to go ahead. Saturdays must involve football. Over time as a manager my Saturday routine has changed slightly but as a player I was strict on how I prepared for match day, trained on the Thursday, rested on the Friday, cleaned my boots and got my bag ready, ate the right things, drank the correct fluid, went to bed at a reasonable time. I would wake on the Saturday, drink water, eat beans on toast and then it would be a case of waiting to set off. I would always like to arrive early, before anyone else as I wanted to sit there, read the programme, get the stuff out of my bag and have a bit of time to myself to get myself fully into game mode – that is still the same now as manager. The morning of match day always seems to drag…. as soon as I wake up I just want to be there and there is no difference now.

One thing that I would never contemplate is alcohol before a game – I know that some players say that they need 2 or 3 pints to sleep at night but that was never for me, I always woke up with a nervous feeling so add alcohol into the mix and I would not be able to play. I have made that mistake only once in my career when I was playing for Darwen away at Trafford. It was my 18th birthday on the Friday night and McGarry had given out the squad on the Thursday at training, I was not involved on the Saturday. Although I was disappointed it meant I could go out on the Friday and drink whatever I wanted to so I cannot really recall the night, but I will never forget the feeling the morning after. The home telephone rang first thing and it was McGarry, he told my mum that I was in the squad that day and I needed to be at Trafford no later than 13:30. My mum passed on the message, I was in no state to play football but McGarry would kill me if I didn’t turn up.

I vaguely remember arriving, still drunk from the night before. McGarry named the team and I was on the bench, thank God for that. After sixty minutes I went to warm up, I jogged to the far end and started to be sick – I felt terrible. He called me back in and told me to get ready. The last thirty minutes was a blur and despite running around, I could not get into the game. Word got back to McGarry that I had been out for my 18th birthday though due to my good relationship with the Gaffer he did not single me out in the dressing room, but I knew he knew. When I was showered and changed, he asked to see me, then he gave me the biggest one on one bollocking I have ever had in football. He questioned my desire to get into the team, he asked what I wanted from my career, he then said you will have years to go out drinking when you have finished playing as it’s only a short career.

McGarry taught me a valuable lesson that day…. although you were not in the sixteen you are still part of the squad and he expected you to travel. Someone may not arrive, get injured in the warmup etc. so you make sure you always prepare in the correct way. If you do not make the sixteen then bring your training kit and do some running before and after the game. That was it for me – I can safely say, hand on my heart, throughout the rest of my playing career I never had a drink on a Friday night. It’s still the same now, to me, a pint doesn’t taste the same on a Friday night….I guess it’s my inner self telling me that I shouldn’t be drinking on a Friday night – when you train your body for that long it just knows, Saturday after a win though is totally different!! As manager now, I share his values and beliefs… I will never insist the lads run if they are not in the squad, but I like it if they do. You will often see players in my squad running before or after the game if they have not been used or only had limited minutes and I love that as it shows me that lads have pride in their own physique and are prepared to do what it takes to get onto the pitch.

I have alluded to it above, my Saturday preparations have slightly changed. When you have children it is not about ‘you’ any more, do not get me wrong, everything leading up to the morning of match day would be the same, but I quickly learnt that Saturday mornings would never be the same again. It may have been taking Molly to Dancing from the age of three (she is nearly 17 now and takes herself) or taking Jack to football training from the minute he could walk and kick a ball. He now plays Futsal for Preston North End on a Saturday morning as part of their programme. I just hope that they have an early kick off, so it does not affect preparations too much. I get stressed if I am on the last minute – that is rare, but it does not bode well if it happens, especially for Jack whilst we are travelling in the car!!

The match day experience has certainly changed over time. As a player I used to think I was busy in the lead up to match day but my preparation was all confined to what I needed for myself, then arrive and sit and relax in the changing rooms until the manager gave us the team. 3pm arrived and it was time to go out and give my all, but now as a manager I wished it were all that simple. The saying ‘The s**t that people don’t see’ may give you a full insight into exactly what happens now on match days.

From when the last ball is kicked at 16:45 on a Saturday afternoon it is all about preparing for the following week, if we have a game on the following Tuesday, then it is usually double preparations but if you have a game the following Saturday then you have a week to prepare. You just hope you have played well and got a positive result on the Saturday because if not, to me it is the longest week in your life waiting for the next game to arrive. Sometimes you get lucky and put it right on a Tuesday night if you have underperformed and despite it absolutely ruining your weekend you do not have long to wait to try and put it right, this was certainly the case this season after the Bamber Bridge away game when we then went an put in one of the best performances of the season away at Nantwich. Typically though it’s a week and the amount of things you must do in that week is incredible. I respect people who are involved in non-league football, the myth of Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays goes out of the window. I am sure for any manager reading this now they will be in full agreement that this role is more than a full-time job, added to that most managers at this level will already have a ’day job’ but ask anyone and they would not change it for the world. I never complain about an 18-hour day as I’ve chosen it, however, there is so much you can do in this time and overall, it is so rewarding.

The feeling of driving into Broadhurst Park on matchday is always special. As I turn in, I am always greeted by Harry. We have a couple of minutes and he always finishes with “Let’s get a win!”. As I drive towards my usual parking space (not that I have my own, but I always arrive early enough to secure the same one), Danny is waiting there to move the cones so I can drive in, then car parked, I will have the same argument with little Jack every week as I have to remind him to bring all his stuff with him as I have my own things to carry and then we head to the main entrance, Jack usually lags behind me as I’m desperate to get in to the ground and he is still bumbling around getting his gear. We are greeted by a few fans who we will stop and chat to and they will ask about today’s game.
We head in through the main entrance and we are greeted by Dave, John H & John G. I love talking to these three, and we always make a point of shaking hands and I make sure that Jack gives them the correct ticket from his season ticket book. Don’t ask me why but I always ask what ticket number it is and they all look at me, point to the desk and there it is in black bold on a white background…Match number 10 – oh yeah, of course it is…. Same mistake every week, you would have thought I would have learned by now!

Before heading into the main office, I always like to go to my office first so I can hang my gear up. I love it when I walk in and the match day programme is on my desk, I do my weekly interview with Paul Hirst on the Wednesday before the game. Paul does a great job in turning our conversation into a fluent passage that reads well for the fans. I’ve no idea how he does it, but I am really grateful to him though that is only a part of the programme, Dave Bergin does a great job in putting it all together; I have read hundreds of programmes over the years but ours is up there with the best.

I usually leave Jack at this point as he will wait for the players to arrive. I will double back to the main office, see Jane on main reception, say hello to John England who will always be in his usual seat, then go and say hi to Viv and give her a hug. I then go into the club shop to see Colin, John and Ruth. They will all vouch for this, but I always seem to buy something on match day. I never go in thinking it, but something always catches my eye. It may be a badge each for the staff, a new bobble hat for training, things for Jack, you name it…..they probably have a joke knowing that they have a guaranteed sale when I walk in! Dave, one of the fans will always be in there so we just have a general chat. I head out of the club shop, back into the main office and Adrian Seddon and Paul Smith will usually arrive at the same time. Handshakes (maybe an elbow tap in the future). Adrian will let me know who the sponsors are for the day and any arrangements I need to know and away I go. Paul will speak to me about the week gone by and then they will both wish me luck for the game ahead. As I am about to exit, Viv will always shout to me, ‘Have you got the team?’. I respond – ‘I will be back in 15 minutes’; John doesn’t leave the room (he knows the drill by now) as if I’m ever undecided on a certain player I always turn to John (it’s his fault if they don’t perform!) so he just waits for me to come back. I used to do this when John was Football Secretary and still do it now.

As I go back into my office, I will use the two whiteboards to write down the team on one and tactics and formations on the other. If there is something that we need to know about the opposition then that will also be displayed clearly as there’s no point having teams watched if you don’t use the information gleaned. After training on a Thursday, we usually know the team. However, there is an ongoing joke between the management team, they say that despite what we have agreed on a Thursday night I will always change it. They do not ask me about it, when the staff arrive and see the team, they will say, ‘Honestly, that was a waste of an hour’s conversation on Thursday night’. They may be right…. Do not ask me why, I have something against naming the same eleven every week. I do not always change it but sometimes – if you notice this in the future, I will have my reasons for it!

Once all the staff have arrived, we will put the kettle on. Brian will tip coffee and sugar all over the floor whilst making the brews and then we will have a quick chat about the final team selection. At this point I will head back to the main office to give Viv the team. The staff know even at this point that there could be changes and that is where John England comes into it. Despite agreeing I always have a doubt over one position. I will discuss with John and then decide from there.

It is great when I name the team on match day and have made a last-minute change, I look up and the staff roll their eyes at each other. It happened this season when I deployed Mike Donohue into the defensive midfield role against Kettering at home, we spoke about it and they all disagreed with me. They thought Donners was on the bench but when I went into the main office, I knew I was always going to play him there and he was outstanding. All the staff thought I had lost my marbles with this decision and they’ll agree that Donners proved to be the best player on the pitch that day, sometimes they think I play ‘Russian Roulette’ (Mike’s saying) but I guess as a manager sometimes you must go with what you believe in; so once the team has been given to Viv there is no going back as this is then handed in to the match officials. Chaddy will go out and set up the warm-up. The staff will head into the dressing room to be around the players and I will have completed my pre-game day rituals.

Every game the one thing that absolutely blows me away about FC is the sheer number of people who work for the club as volunteers; there are so many people giving their time not only to keep the club running but to continually make it better. Even on non-match days when I drop into the office there are volunteers working around the club, be that around the stadium doing repairs or in the office taking calls and helping with administration. Obviously on match days the numbers of these great great people increase as the sheer number of things that needs to be done is unbelievable, the club truly wouldn’t be what it is without them and I wish I could thank them all here individually but to anyone who has given any amount of time to help, thank you, I know I speak for the whole coaching and playing staff when I express my gratitude for the fantastic job you all do on behalf of our club.

With 3pm fast approaching I have a packed hour or so to do a number of important duties, first, Chris Boulderstone will grab me to meet the mascots for the game. I will go and introduce myself and we will have a picture taken in the home dugout. From there I will always make my way up into the main stand. I will speak to a few fans about the game ahead and then head into the main bar. I love the feeling, the atmosphere, the camraderie and even the smell in the main bar. People getting their pie and peas, seeing people gather over a pint, the Reds of FC coming together. I mingle with a few fans and people will ask me about our team, if certain players are fit, you name it, it is a chance to talk football which we all love.

I will then head into the sponsors’ lounge. Rob and Peter oversee and look after the sponsors. They do a magnificent and professional job. I know Rob always has his family in the lounge and I love chatting to them. As for Peter, ever since I set foot in the ground, he has always said he wanted a suit jacket like mine – in fact, he wanted mine. I was going to give him one from last season but it ripped at Brackley so I needed to buy a new one. It was great this season when he bought himself one – I guess we have had some stick about being like brothers, but it is all football banter.
I will make a point of speaking to the sponsors individually, I think this is important, and taking any questions that they may have. Not all managers will do this, but I think this is what you should do, like everyone else in the ground they’ve paid for the occasion and the least they should get is to meet the manager and ask what they want to. As with everyone I will always answer openly and honestly. I have been that impressed with the match day hospitality packages and service they receive that I have encouraged my friends to sponsor games this season and they have loved every bit of it and been amazed with our incredible facilities. They have already confirmed that they will be back next season.

After leaving, I try and make my way to the SMRE – especially if Malcolmses is on and I’ll speak to as many fans as I can. I have a principle of being transparent and it’s only right that fans know what is happening. It may be about the game, last week’s game or just a general chat. As I head over that way I make sure I get a ‘Pound for the Ground’ ticket from Lesley, this is a really important source of income for the club and I have nothing but respect and gratitude for the teams that sell both the tickets and the programmes in all weathers all year round.

As it approaches 13:45 I need to head back to complete the team exchange. The secretaries, the captains and managers of both clubs are invited into the referee’s room. We hand over the teams and the officials set out their expectations.

That is it, 13:50… Time to go. I always make sure I am last into the changing room (superstition), so I encourage everyone to get in. As I walk in, I will always shake everyone by the hand, including all the staff, then I go through the team and today’s shape (already prepared from training). I will cover any key points that we need to be aware of but it’s important not to over-complicate the team talk – I’m also aware not to talk about the opposition too much, respect them but never fear them. You can tell by looking at the lads if they are ready - they do not need me going on and on!

Once the team talk is completed, they know they must be ready for 14:13 to walk out to Stone Roses ’Waterfall’. I always go out and shout up to Dan to see if the music is ready…. Thumbs up and we are ready to go! There are times when the lads are in the tunnel, but I will not let them go out until the music starts. The main warmup will start at 14:17. Strange times but it is our thing! The only ones who do not do this are Chappy and the keepers as they like to get out straight away – that’s keepers for you, keepers’ union and all that!!

Liv our fantastic physio will complete any last-minute straps and rubs but lads arrive early so it is not usually the case. Mike Faulkner will prepare the analysis vests ready for the lads to put on before the game. They all need turning on, numbering against the players and Mike keeps a track of this so we know which player is against which number. Chaddy will take the warmup, and Brian will go and and complete the pre-match interview with Tim, then Brian will always go over to support the warm-up when he has finished his interview.

At this point, I will make my way over to the TV gantry. This has been new for me this season and I have really enjoyed it. Keg, Aiden, Tim, Josh & Sam do an incredible job and prepare everything, their knowledge is brilliant. We’ll be often be joined by James Quinn or Roy Soule who make up the interviewing team with Keg and this usually lasts around twenty minutes. Keg has produced the questions and we go over the highlights from the preceding games,it’s also a chance to answer any questions that the fans send in – again, I always try and answer these openly and honestly. It’s only right that the owners know what is going on within their club. My only proposal is for next season we have a better way for getting onto the gantry as I am sure one day I am going to miss the step at the top of the ladder!

Once the TV interview is completed, I head back around the ground. The SMRE is filling up at this point and it is a good chance to catch up with some of the fans, I go out onto the pitch to oversee the last part of the warmup; as I walk out I can see all the work that Graham and Jimmy have put in during the week prepping the pitch, and while there have been some well documented challenges with the pitch through the lack of investment in necessary maintenance, the superb efforts of everyone who helped or contributed to the #NoDrainNoGame Crowdfunder mean that it’s going to be a superb surface, particularly for our style of play. Once the warm-up has finished I head in, I like all the players to be inside the changing rooms at 14:43 to get their last-minute bits done. Once we are in, Brian will go through all the set piece routines, Mike will put the monitors in the lads’ vests, and I will finish off with a few key messages. We wish each other all the best; the referees’ official will knock on the door and it’s time to go. At this point I leave the players to it. I like to walk out onto the pitch first to greet the fans and then it’s over to Tim to welcome the two teams onto the pitch. I encourage my captain to get the lads in for a group huddle…this is now their time. All I have is the small pressure of trying to secure the three points!!

Mike will always take his seat in the stands and the staff and substitutes will take their seats in our technical area, you are only allowed two standing on match day but Chaddy will always stand in the far corner of the home technical area. Unless we have a ‘busy’ assistant referee he will get away with it – he hates sitting down! For the first two minutes of the game I take my seat and Brian will stand. Saying that…. we tried something different at Nantwich away. We both sat down for the first two minutes, it was the longest two minutes of our lives as we were both itching to stand up, we did not want the lads to feel any pressure, so we decided to both sit. Brian always likes to stand on the touchline. I may be back and forth chatting to Chaddy, Chappy or Liv. I will stand and sit during the game…depends on the scenario.

There will always be tension on match days, obviously, we all enjoy the game but with it always comes with pressure and I could feel that in the 4-4 draw with Warrington at home this season. The game started well for us, 2-0 up after 20 minutes but our technical area remained calm as we knew Warrington had threats and could get back into the game at any point. Now, I understand people celebrate in different ways and you must accept that, however, it must have been their goalkeeping coach’s first time at Broadhurst Park. I think he wanted the whole stadium to know he was there! If I did not know any better, you would have thought he was the manager, the way he was jumping around and running onto the pitch every time Warrington scored. 4 goals, and the same celebration each time and then turning to our bench and calling us fit to burn. I remember when they scored the fourth he just sprinted onto the pitch, jumped and did a 360 degree turn in mid-air before running to our dug out, crouching down on his haunches and shouting….’How do you flipping like that then?!’ or words to that effect. I was absolutely fuming but could not let him see it, and for the next ten minutes he would not shut up, barking orders from the sidelines. You can imagine the scenes now when Griff laid the free kick wide to Pottsy, who whipped his foot around the ball and delivered a sublime cross for Curtis Jones to rise higher than everyone to head the ball into the bottom corner…..absolute bedlam!! We went nuts and when everything had calmed down I looked at him before the final whistle and said…. ‘How do you like that?’. He smiled and must have thought…. ’Flipping heck, why did I say that?’ Football has a funny way of biting you on the bum… it’s hard to control your emotions but I always refrain from celebrating in front of an opposing dug out…you just never know what will happen!!

At half time Mike will make his way down and go through any key points he has seen from his position high up in the stand, we will talk about these in my office and give the lads a few minutes to themselves (apart from the Runcorn game when I stormed straight in!), then we’re into the changing room to talk about the performance and what has gone well and what we need to improve on. Most times I will go through the few points, I will then hand over to Brian if he has anything to add. At this point I will leave the changing rooms and tell the lads I will see them at full time, I usually go out early and take a seat in the dugout, it’s up to the staff, the captain and the players to ensure they are ready for the second half. You can sometimes say too much, which means the lads will struggle to take on board the information.

The team go out for the second half, group huddle and away we go. The game finishes (with a win hopefully) and then we carry out the same routines. Handshakes to the opposition bench, players and officials. We all meet on the halfway line, win lose or draw and have a group huddle. I gather us all in to quickly address the lads with a few words, sometimes things may not have gone our way but on the pitch is not the time to point fingers. On the other hand, like after the Lancaster game last season, it’s euphoric…. then the lads are all round each other and we are all congratulating each other. That feeling of togetherness is why we do what we do, we then go and thank the fans as after all, without them we would not be here and the fans absolutely make the match day; when I’m talking to potential new signings they all reference that playing in front of our passionate crowd is a huge part of wanting to join, and so it’s only right that we thank our ‘12th man’. I make a point of always going to the Main Stand first, followed by the SMRE and then make my way along all the fans before getting to the tunnel where I will high five the ball crew and clap the fans above the tunnel. It is usually where Paul Hirst and John England will be stood. Sometimes it may take us ten minutes to go round the ground but it’s worth it. I just must remember to wait for Tunde before we start the debrief/sing-song as he is always the last one in…. everyone wants a picture with the goal-scoring machine!

As soon as we have debriefed the players, I head up to the radio team. Ben, Swampy, Statto Paul, Roy and James do a sterling job. What I love most about this interview is their honesty, if there is something to say or question, then they’ll do it and I will never shy away from an interview, even when we have lost. The relegation season was particularly tough, but people have a right to know about why I took this or that decision. The team are extremely fair, and I enjoy the interview, I know they put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to cover FC. In addition to this, I always speak to Ben on a Friday night before the game; that will go out on the radio the following day. Same time, same place every week, usually around 18:30 at Cottam Sports Arena in Preston where Jack has training for Preston North End, and this is when I do most of my football calls. Ben will call and we will cover any breaking news before Saturday’s game. I have a good relationship with the radio crew and they travel on the coach to away games and are fully immersed in what we do. I encourage the players and staff to talk to them, they are doing their bit for the club and are a great team. I first met Ben and Swampy years ago at the Evostik Dinner in Barnsley. I always enjoying talking football to them, proper football people…. I think it was my first or second dinner that I attended. It was about 2am and I fell asleep in the foyer area, when I woke up, I had a flower hanging out of my ear, I am sure they had something to do with it!! By this point, the pictures had already been circulated; I never found out who did it, but they were present along with Ally Waddecar….!

Once I have completed the radio, I turn about ten yards and Tim is waiting with his equipment set up for the social media interview. Tim tries to listen in on the radio interview so that he can change some of the questions. Because Twitter can only show short videos this usually lasts no more than two minutes, then he’ll post the interview on social media so that people can get my take on the game there and then. Tim is one of the Comms team that have really helped professionalise the way we distribute our media coverage. With so many platforms these days like the FC website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Weibo plus now TikTok it’s important that Tim, Leon, Chantal, Lisa, Fan and Matt get information out quickly and accurately to our members and fans. Tim and I speak nearly every day as we are always trying to improve the way that everyone is kept up to date. Tim is certainly someone I will never take for granted, they say you are only as good as the people you work with and Tim is an asset.

I do need to mention Adrian Seddon. Win, lose or draw Adrian will always be waiting for me after the media interviews, and he’ll always give his honest opinion about the game and put his arm round me even after defeat, we will then both head off for a pint in the main bar. I am dreading the day that we do not head into the main bar and he tells me that it’s the end of the road for me – I hope that never happens!! Adrian has been amazing with me since day one, as he’s so supportive and wants the very best for this our Football Club. We speak often and he poses the right challenges. Adrian is a genuine football person who has outstanding morals. We are lucky to have him as Chair of the board and if I ever thought I had let him or the club down then I would be the first to admit it. I did have that conversation during the relegation season but he (and the board) stuck by me and I will be forever grateful for that.
As I walk into the main bar on match day (especially when we win) there are two people that catch my attention straight away. It is a long walk to the bar as I will always stop and speak to fans, but I can always spot these two. In the distance Carl Pearson (usually stood on a chair) will be belting out FC United songs; I must admit, I love it when he sings the full rendition of the Eric Cantona song. The second one is Mack. If you don’t know him, Mack is usually banging on the top of tables singing some sort of rendition…Last time I saw him he was making his way around the club shouting…’Wooooowoooooo’ followed by a song I don’t know. They are great characters and epitomise what the club is all about.

As I head towards the bar to buy a pint, Dan is already pouring me one. He always buys me one. I always offer to pay but he does not let me. The bar staff, led by Joanne, are incredible, however, I sometimes pull my face if they ring last orders at 6pm… If I am around the bar area I always say, ‘Go on, another 15 mins’…. I sometimes get my wish!!

Finally, I love the atmosphere after any win but at home is something else. I will always stop and mingle with people. Jack and Molly (who now works at FC) know that I like to stay; this does not stop them from saying ’How long, Dad?’. My problem is, I never want to leave – you cannot replace that feeling of winning and I hate walking away from it. It does make your weekend but by that point it’s nearly over. Driving out of the ground, I still pinch myself looking up at the sign, ‘FC United of Manchester’, all lit up in the winter months, thinking that I am so lucky. I quickly envelop myself in the atmosphere that has been circulating around the ground for the last few hours and think….I can’t wait until we are back again…..I drive off and head home!!

Well, another week done, I guess it is time to take the suit off, open the wine, grab a takeaway and enjoy the evening, I always sleep better after a win…. I bet every manager does. You know that on Sunday morning the following game preparations start again, however, this is not until the non-league paper drops through the door and I read the match report of how the mighty Red Rebels have won another game!!

It’s always been the case but even more so in these strange times, ask anyone who is associated with football….you can’t beat match day!!

Stay tuned for next week’s edition…. ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.

Gaffer xx

First Posted ~ 02:24 Fri 5 Jun 2020
News ID ~ 8722
Last Updated ~ 23:45 Thu 4 Feb 2021