A year is a pretty long time in football at every level of the game. In the main, committees are long on experience but short on patience, and Managers don’t often get the time they need to build a successful squad. Even in the NCEL, a Manager’s career expectancy can be pretty short, as we have already seen this week with the breaking news from Handsworth Parramore that their talented young Manager, Jas Colliver, has left the club.
Winterton Rangers have made a great start to their season and survey the view from the summit of Toolstation NCEL Division One after a ten-win run. From the first whistle of the campaign they have played attractive football and scored goals, so, it seemed like the right time to chat with Rangers Manager, Rob Watson, who was coincidentally celebrating a year to the day in charge at West Street, writes Craig Kendall for the Bootiful Game.
After a playing career which had taken in Brigg Town, Appleby Frodingham, Glasshoughton Welfare, the former Rangers player/Assistant Manager Rob took over as caretaker after Player/Manager Paul Grimes stood down for personal reasons last year. Having impressed in the caretaker role he was then confirmed as Winterton’s new Manager.
Rob takes up the story.” I’ve been Manager for just over a year now” he told TBG. ”The first game was Eccleshill – but I held the job as Caretaker until they decided; I’d not been a Manager before but having been Assistant Manager at Winterton and Brigg Town,” he explained “I’d had the experience of managing games – just not with the official title of Manager”.
Rob has been pleased by the progress made in his twelve months at the helm. “I’ve really enjoyed it” he admitted.” I think it’s gone quite well. Winterton were nineteenth when I took over and we’re now currently top of the League with a couple of points to spare, so I certainly think that’s classed as successful”.
Winterton were in and around the Play-Off spots around the turn of last season, but finished in tenth. Rob accepted that he’d been disappointed by the way Winterton seemed to fall away at the death. “I think if we’d have had a better start in the League last season we’d have certainly been up there in the Play-offs and maybe given ourselves a chance of promotion in our first season”, he argued “as I felt that Paul, myself, and Mark McDonagh at the time, had put together a really good team. We just didn’t gel quickly enough but having taken a little bit of time to get a kick-start, we went on a good run.
Rob has been a little taken aback by how competitive – and unpredictable – the League has been. “Any team can beat anyone in this League” he insists. “No two games are the same – I’ve always said that. I think that the consistency of performances across the League can vary, even looking at the results yesterday, a few surprised me. I think the league – especially without the Play-offs now – will certainly go down to the wire. There’ll be a lot of teams in there until the end of this term – so it should be good”.
On the negative side, Rob was philosophical when asked about his biggest disappointment since taking on the role “There’s not been a great deal that’s disappointed me” he told us, before adding “I and most of my managerial colleagues have had a word or two about the officiating from time to time, but from my own perspective, it’s the variability in standards that has been my biggest concern. I think we all understand that it’s a very difficult job” he admitted. “If the level of consistency could improve that would be great. I think you’ve got some really good referees in the League; then there are one or two that I feel are maybe just that little bit too young and inexperienced and they need more guidance. Sometimes we get some quite big games and the unreliable, disputed decision can change games and that can be not only disappointing but can kill some games!”.
Reflecting on that disappointing finish to last season’s Play-off push, Rob wasn’t too concerned for his own position at the time, but accepted that once Rangers were mathematically out of contention the squad took their collective foot off the gas. “No, I wasn’t worried.” he insisted, “I think the problem was that when we knew there was nothing to play for we all just went into a little bit of a comfort zone and a few people downed tools a bit. I’ve been in the game for quite a while now at Non-League level and I’ve seen that mentality across the board unfortunately – once you have nothing to aim at it’s just a case of turning up on a Saturday. We knew we weren’t getting relegated – and we knew we weren’t going up so I think it was just more about seeing out the season, looking to rebuild in preseason – then have a real go at it this season.”
Rob feels that the roots of this season’s flying start were planted during that previous campaign. “I think it’s just the continuation of where we finished last season. We’ve managed to maintain about 90% of the squad from last year, all sharing the same goals and all wanting to progress as high as we could in this League and get promoted. We obviously knew the task would be difficult – and I told the lads it was vital that we had a good start and the lads bought in to it.”
Rob also paid tribute to the West Street Chairman, Wayne Turtle, and offered some insight into what goes on away from the field to help the squad. “Wayne’s been brilliant”, Rob enthused. “The Chairman, the club, the Board – they’ve all supported me and the lads from day one. I tell the lads, quite a lot, that they’re very lucky to be at this football club – although we don’t have a great monetary deal, and we are literally trying to get an eleven out, week in week out, to stay in this League – the club’s in a really good place because it’s well-run behind the scenes. For me it’s the little things that the club did for us in preseason. We had the changing rooms kitted out; they look brilliant and the lads get well looked after before and after games and that’s what it’s all about at this level.
We’re not able to pay massive wages – but we can make it a good environment for the lads to play in”.
Asked if he was likely to pull his boots on again – he’s still registered as a player – Rob didn’t completely rule out the prospect, but told us that he felt it was unlikely anytime soon.” I’d love to play, I really would but I think there are players in the squad now that are a little bit better than me, which is hard for me to say. One of them might be the Assistant Manager (Scott Helliwell) but I can’t say that too much because he’ll be smiling too much! I look at the lads and when they’re winning and they’re enjoying it then if I could play I most definitely would. I might play a couple of games at the end of the season, it depends where we are but, at the minute, it’s about getting the best eleven out every week and winning games. I’m happy with that”.
Drawn on whether he’d give himself a run out if Winterton clinch the title, Rob was a little more forthcoming. “It would be nice, yes. If we seal promotion there might be a couple of League Cup games that I play in but, at the minute, the lads are doing well in how they’re performing and I certainly won’t change that, as much as I’d like to!”
Rob contrasted the respective merits of playing and managing.” I miss playing” he admitted “I miss being out on the pitch and being involved in it but being a Manager it’s a different feeling. I feel that all the planning and preparation that goes into a win is down to me and my team and it means a little bit more. As a player, you can only go out and just control what you do whereas as a Manager you’re controlling everything. I enjoy that side of things”.
Rob feels that the current Winterton squad is good enough to go all the way this season. “I feel with the squad we’ve got, we’ve certainly got a chance. I’ve said to all of the players and the Board that I’d rather be playing for something than having a job for life. We’ve got a real good opportunity to go up – but there are some good teams in there and I want us to be in it all the way to the end. If we are and we get promoted then great; if we don’t we’ll look to go for it again next season. We’ve had a good start but obviously we’re going to have to put our tin hats on over the winter period and deal with the bad pitches and scrape some good results, which should hopefully leave us with a good opportunity for a final push at the end of the season”.
In describing his progression from player to Manager, Rob told us “I’d had a bad knee injury and I knew that if I was to get injured long term it would affect my job, while working on the management side still gives me the pleasure of being involved in professional football. In the job that I do I’m surrounded by some brilliant people and I learn from them every day and having the opportunity to go out on a Saturday and put that knowledge into practice at Non-League level is great. It’s great for my own education to manage at this level, I enjoy it and if I can’t play then the next best thing is to manage”.
Finally, TBG asked Rob about his aspirations for himself and his club. “I think for myself, in the short-term I’d like to progress with Winterton and try to take us out of this League – and beyond. Long-term – for me – I’m only 29 so I’m a very young manager. I’d like to progress in my own job and this is a really big part of it. The education I get from Non-League certainly helps me in my full-time work. At this moment the priority is certainly to build with Winterton, but, long-term I’m just like all the players in that we all aspire to go as high as we can in the game – and I’m no different.”
The Bootiful Game would like to thank Rob Watson and all at Winterton Rangers FC for their help in the preparation of this piece, and to Ellie Dalglish for her transcribing skills.