Last Monday, Handsworth Parramore announced that their popular and well-respected Manager, Jas Colliver, had left the club together with Assistant Gary Middleton, after their side’s 2-0 away FA Vase First round defeat to North West Counties League side Irlam.
Parras had led the Toolstation NCEL Premier Division for a good bit of last season, finally finishing fourth. After a sluggish start to this season, Jas had guided Handsworth to eighth in the table after a well-publicised bout of injuries had disrupted the team selection. Jas has been an excellent contributor to the Bootiful Game and so TBG Editor, Craig Kendall picked up his well-travelled biro and sought Jas out for a wide–ranging chat, which started with the former Sheffield FC Manager explaining the background to his departure.
Despite the stop-start campaign thus far, Jas had been determined to see the job through. ”I said that I wasn’t going to leave – as that is something that’s not in my nature – so it was the club’s decision,” he explained. ”I was there for the long haul with the ultimate aim of getting Handsworth promoted into the Evo-Stik League. I accept that we had a poor start to the season but, looking at results of late – in the last month I was there – we’d picked up and turned a little bit of a corner. Performances still were not great, but results were picking up as we had only lost one League game in five. We were only seven points off the top of the League and there are a few teams involved in that race for promotion, but it’s still early days. We said, “win those two games in hand and you’re a point off the top.” It wasn’t a disastrous start; however, it wasn’t as good a start as we would have hoped for.”
Jas agreed with Craig’s assertion that exits from the FA Cup – a Preliminary Round home defeat to Congleton – and that loss in the FA Vase might have been major factors in the club’s decision. ”Yeah, we had a couple of meetings and once the club had made a decision they said they’d give me until the Vase game,” he told us. “We travelled up to Manchester, unaware that this could be the last game. That was something behind the scenes that the Board and the Committee had decided on. I look back at that Vase game; we’d travelled away, with only three substitutes, a lot of injuries and unavailability. We were in control of the game – then an error from our goalkeeper – who’s dropped it – they’ve capitalised and they’ve scored.”
“It’s fine margins and I’m not digging the goalkeeper out at all, because he was my player and I brought him in,” Jas insisted. “I’m not saying he’s ultimately why the club made the decision but it’s fine margins in football. If he just picked that one up and – I don’t know if you’ve seen the penalty appeal on social media – at 1-0, their lad has clearly handballed it on the line. It should have been a penalty – and a red card. The referee deemed it ball-to-hand and we’ve not got anything. We were obviously going to try and get back in the game. It’s a Vase game, it’s a Cup game and we threw everything at it and we got caught on the break.”
“Fine margins really,” he conceded. “I think, in all honesty, that the decision was already made before that game.”
Jas didn’t attempt to hide his feelings about his departure.” I was extremely disappointed. We know it’s not been good enough,” he accepted. “I look at myself; I don’t point fingers; I don’t blame anybody else; I take full responsibility. Like I said, I was in it for the long haul and we were building something and recently we’d made some good signings – good additions to the squad. We had a couple of lads coming back from injury and we were, two games in hand, only that seven points off the top of the League.”
Looking back on his tenure at Sandy Lane since the spring of 2017 leaves Jas frustrated on a personal level, as he explained. ”I am disappointed that I took the job having left a prestigious club, Sheffield FC, and dropped down a level and all I wanted was to get Handsworth promoted. Handsworth are an ambitious club with an ambitious board and a Chairman who had backed and supported me and it’s just not worked out. I’m also disappointed because it’s my community. I wanted to get Handsworth into the Evo-Stik and back in Handsworth – with a ground that they’ve just got funding for. That was my long-term aim but the club obviously wanted to take a different direction.”
Craig suggested to Jas that last season’s League finish was something Jas could take great credit from, particularly given the quality of the three promoted sides. Jas agreed that the consistency of those top three was crucial. “Yes, I think that was the difference,” he nodded. “You look at the top three and the three teams had been together a while. Ponte went up from Division One and had the momentum – as well as good players and a good style of play. I look at the clubs now who are doing so well at our level and in the League below. You look at Hemsworth, then you look down again at Hallam, Knaresborough and Eccleshill, who were in our League. They’re teams that have had time to build something – and get that momentum.”
“The season was a disappointment because, if you’re not going to finish top, you’d hope to finish second.” Jas went on, “if you’re not going to finish second we’re not going to gain promotion – and we missed out. We had a decent run in the FA Cup, and got to the semi-finals of the League Cup. It’s small steps however, when we had a really poor start to this season there had to come a decision by the club.”
So, what’s next for Jas, a young, talented manager with plenty of potential? As you’d expect, he won’t be rushing into anything too quickly, although – predictably – the mobile has already been ringing. “At the moment – and I know it’s an old cliché – I’m having a bit of time out,” he explained. “I’ve been involved in Non-League for many a year and I probably took my first coaching role a bit too soon. I was coaching when I was 28 years old so it’s been seven or eight years – hard years – at it so I’m hoping to see what’s what. I’ve had some interesting texts and I’ve had lots of messages saying, “you know where we are if you need anything”. I’ve had Managers, Coaches, and Chairmen all in contact.”
“I’ve had some interesting ones where I need to look at myself and I need to look at what I’ve learned from this experience at Handsworth,” Jas expanded. “Do I need to think what’s around the corner tomorrow? No. I need to be looking at a longer-term view. Whatever that might be, I just need to be happy in what I’m doing. I used to coach children at the Centre of Excellency at Rotherham United so I’ve thought maybe that is something I’d like to go back into, working with the kids and Academy football. At the moment I’m swaying in that direction.”
Maybe Jas could even pull his boots back on? “I did have a call to say ‘come and play at a North East Counties One team,’ so I’m thinking that if I can get back fit and stay injury-free, could I go and get a smile on my face and get back playing? I stopped playing Non-League probably a bit too soon” he said.
“Who knows at the moment?” Jas asked. “As I say, some interesting calls and I’m grateful to everybody who’s been in touch and shown their support. There are people who I’ve not heard from for a few years. People that I didn’t think had got my back and supported me. Everybody’s been great, including the people at Handsworth Parramore.”
“I’ve worked my socks off at Handsworth. People know how hard I work, I’m usually the one that other clubs contact for match reports, players etc it’s fair to say I’ve put the hours in. I don’t do things half hearted and I’ll continue to believe in myself and work hard in what ever crops up next.”
Craig turned the conversation to the recent, recurring and very public criticism from NCEL Managers of refereeing standards. A recent experience had swayed Jas a little – and he accepts that he too has been a critic. “I include myself in that because I think I was bored with it, especially after one particular game,” he recalled. “I kind of look at officials and say “well done” after every game – or at least thank you – and look them in the eye and say thanks for the game. One particular referee completely ignored me, walked away from me then told me – when I’m on the verge of getting sacked anyway – I need to look at my tactics after losing a game. That does really rile me – and you look at their pleas for respect – but it needs to work both ways.”
“I’ve never – and I’ll never – say that I have been great with officials,” Jas admitted. “I’ve never really seen eye to eye with most officials – and they’re probably saying the same about me – but what I do after every game is that, I conduct myself in the right manner: I go and speak to them. We’re all human, we’re going to make errors; but I just think that there are many errors being made on a regular basis. Something needs to be done. I don’t know what the solution is. The standard is not brilliant in officiating.”
Jas feels strongly that inexperience is a major contributor to the problem, and he lays the blame at the policy-makers. “My own personal opinion is that these younger referees are getting fast tracked because it’s a tick box exercise for the FA,“ he suggested, “getting the younger lads through the steps without really laying the foundations, by putting the groundwork in to make sure they are progressing.”
Jas takes great care not to generalise. “There are some very good young officials so I’m not putting them all in the category,” he insisted. “It’s the officials you can spot a mile off – those who have not played football to a decent standard or even played football at all. To officiate at any level I think you’ve got to have an understanding of the game and potentially played to a level. I’m not saying that needs to be at a semi-professional level or a professional background – but I think they need to have more understanding.”
He also suggests that officials need to be a little savvier. “Common sense comes into it,” he insisted. “They are refereeing completely by the rule book at the moment, and by the laws of the game and quoting them to you. They probably read it before they go to bed but actually it’s also in managing the game that some show a lot of inexperience.”
Jas closed with a personal refereeing anecdote which makes his point perfectly. “I remember a referee called Matt Walsh. Matt went into reffing late and the FA told him he wasn’t ever going to progress because he was too old,” he recalled. “I look back at him and I think he’s one of the best referees we’ve ever had – and that’s because he understood the game.
“He played the game to a very good level.”
The Bootiful Game would like to thanks Jas Colliver for his kind cooperation in the writing of this piece, and wishes him well for the future.
We would also like to thank Ellie Dalglish for transcribing the interview.
All photographs courtesy of Ken Allsebrook.