When Brett Agnew started out playing in Scotland as a youngster he couldn’t imagine that at the age of 29 that he would have to retire due to a knee injury, but Bridlington Town and Chairman Pete Smurthwaite have given the prolific striker a huge chance in managing one of the NCEL’s biggest sides.
Which previous clubs have you played for?
“Since I’ve been in Hull I’ve played for Brid, Ferriby and Hull United. I played for a couple of teams up in Scotland when I was younger: St. Johnstone and Albion Rovers. The last team I played for before coming down here was Rutherglen. A similar kind of level to what we’re at just now but, up in Scotland, it’s not as good a standard!
“To be honest with you, a lot of the pro lads turn down going pro just to play in those kind of leagues. I wouldn’t say it’s a lot more money but it’s just that, when you’re a pro in Scotland and you’re part-time pro in some the third division teams, it’s an awful lot of hassle. It’s good to have the tag as a pro but it’s a lot of hassle goning part-time and you’re only getting £250 when you’re travelling all over Scotland. It takes an awful lot of time. A lot of boys go into these leagues.
You’re 29 years old and you’ve been in the role for eight weeks. How are you finding it so far?
“I’m really enjoying it. I’m at work, trying to learn, trying to think up new drills, things that nobody else knows. I’m trying to think up things with a twist but it’s full on! I didn’t think it was going to be as bad as this! The messages never stop, it’s so full on. I’m always on the phone and trying to do things – signing players and stuff – but I’m really enjoying it.
“Pete’s been fantastic. For myself and the boys he’s had input into some things but and he’s basically just let us get on with it. He’s backed us with every player we we’ve gone for but, he’s basically just said, Rome wasn’t built in a day so it’s going to take time to build. I think we’ve built quicker than we expected.”
You’re currently third in the league with four games in hand. Is this a dream start for you?
“Considering we were fourteenth and a lot of the boys didn’t know what direction they were going in really when we took over, we’ve rapidly shot up there. It’s hard to say. I’m quite an ambitious person and confident in my own abilities but, when I took over, I didn’t think it would be this good and the squad would be as good the way they are. They’re tight knit and everybody’s enjoying it.
“I was expecting us to get a good finish this year then go for it when the preseason starts. I could get my own kind of players in, be in all the cups again then give it a good crack. Now, where I am, my ambition is I want to win the league.
“It’s crazy how football works week to week! To me, I think anything less than maybe second place this season has not been good enough. If you’re in second place and you’re fighting the likes of Penistone and Yorkshire Amateurs, who are doing really well, and a couple of other teams who may surprise us and go on to win, we’ll have had a good season, to be fair.”
“When you’re up in second, you’ve got a chance of winning it but you don’t get anything for finishing second, do you?
“It’s a weird one, that! I don’t really get that. I think when they’ve done the play-offs in the league below, I thought it worked really well and that was quite exciting. It gave people who were sitting maybe eighth and ninth a chance of something to build to go and get there whereas this year, if you’re sitting in eighth or ninth and maybe about ten points off, you might just pack it in. You’re not interested in getting anywhere. You’re just safe so you don’t need to worry about it.
“I think in all leagues there should be at least play offs or something because it gives you something to look forward to if you are in and around the middle of the table. You’re not going to get relegated but you may get promoted. If not, it just stagnates the leagues a bit.
“But it is what it is! You’ve just got to crack on with it, I suppose!”
How did the role come about? Did you speak to Pete Smurthwaite before or after Curtis Woodhouse left? When you first started playing football, would you ever have imagined you would be a football manager at the age of 29?
“No, no! It’s something I’d wanted to do when I’d finished but I thought I’d be finished way into my early forties at least!
“Last year, at the start of the season for Bridlington, I played in a friendly against Grimsby Borough and I got tackled and had to get taken off. My knee had blown up a bit, it took a couple of weeks then I just played on. It wasn’t until I signed for Ferriby that somebody knew a specialist. He said he thought I needed to go to see a specialist because there’s definitely something up with me.
“I went to see a specialist and I’d torn my ACL, fractured my kneecap and pulled my medial meniscus. I’m in agony still and I played a full season with it, thinking it was just a little injury!
“When I went and got the operation, it was obviously a bit of a downer because I wasn’t going to play for a full year. Curtis messaged me and said, “I want you to come back down to Brid and just do some coaching. I went down and obviously he knew me well – I knew him well – and, unfortunately he’s got his boxing academy and things in his family life. He wanted to leave the football; it was just too much for him.
“Pete spoke to me on the Saturday – I think we got beaten by Athersley – and said: “Curtis has come up to me and asked if he was getting the sack. I need to review it but I might need you to stand in.” He then phoned me on the Sunday, the next day, and said: “Curtis has phoned me and resigned. Would you stand in for him?”
I said: “Yes, I’ll stand in however long it needs be but, if I do well, I want the job!”
Pete said: “I’ll need to go through proper interviews first so I don’t mind that you’re taking over, son. I know what you’re like anyway.”
“But nobody came in for it because they thought I’d already got the job! I’d obviously played for Brid and everybody knew what I was like so it was lucky! But I also got a run from the club!”
You couldn’t have done any better, could you?
“It was good! Then the dreaded “get the job then get beat”!
You win Manager of the Month and then lose!
“I’m obviously doing something right if I get Manager of the Month! I’m just enjoying the journey at the moment. The boys are all enjoying it.
The lads are really good. They came out training the other night when it was a bloody monsoon and they just love to be there, hanging about. A lot of the lads have had family troubles and stuff – myself as well – and we just love going to the training and getting round about each other and we forget about everything else and enjoy our football.
“That’s what I said when I first moved there. The first game, I said: “Forget everything else that’s happened now. You’ve got to go and start to play football again. Whether it be with a smile on your face or whether it be different ways you do it, then that’s what you’ve got to start doing. You’re young boys and if you’re not going to enjoy it while you’re young then you’re not going to enjoy it for the rest of your future.”
“To be fair, they took it on board. Anthony [Bowsley] has been really good as well. He’s a great Number Two to have. He just tells me how it is sometimes. I let him go and crack on with it. We bounce off each other really well.
“The future’s looking good, I think, at the club! There are some young boys coming through as well so we’re giving them a chance.”
How influential is Chairman Peter Smurthwaite behind the scenes? He does wear his heart on his sleeve and he’s not afraid to put his two pennyworth in at any time!
“I think you’ve noticed that yourself, yes?
“Pete’s massive in the area. He doesn’t just help with football; he helps with wheelchair rugby, ice hockey… the lot! Everything! Cricket… He’s a great man in the area and he’s a great wealth of knowledge to have as well. I help him out too. I’ve done a few things outwith football and he respects that. He’s also done a few things for myself.
He’s great to have. He’s just like an old grandfather, isn’t he really? He’s always there and he always likes to whinge and moan at you but he doesn’t really mean it!
“He’s as passionate as anybody. I like to give back to Pete because he does a lot for everybody, as I say. I’ve got them tidying up the dressing rooms and picking up the ripped off dressings, just as a mark of respect. I don’t want people thinking that Bridlington are just a football team but we’re so and so off the field. I’d like for us to be known as really nice lads and really nice people that clean up the dressing rooms and be respectful of other teams’ environments.
“That’s another rule I’ve brought in this year and I’ve got the lads to help out to pay for a couple of things on their own out of their wages on the training ground because a lot of boys end up not respecting it. Because they’re paying for things, they respect it a bit more.
“I think that’s life really. You don’t get anything for nothing; you’ve got to work for everything. It’s sure enough. It’s rubbing off on the boys. They’re really respectful of everything.
“Pete’s massive, to be fair. He’s a really good guy, not just for myself but everybody in the area.”