Michael Jolley has always felt like an outsider in the football world, born in Sheffield he is a Cambridge University graduate with an economics degree, who quit a lucrative life as a bond trader in New York shortly after his friend died in the Twin Towers terror attack, writes Gary Chadwick.
The Grimsby Town manager made the decision to pursue his dream of becoming a football manager, but every time he picks up a matchday programme he feels the odd one out and believe’s he should not really be in the dugout. After returning to England he joined the coaching staff at Crystal Palace on a part-time basis, despite being told years earlier that he was not good enough to play the game as a teenager with Barnsley.
As he prepares for his biggest test since he was appointed Grimsby Town manager last March, he returns to Selhurst Park to face former England manager Roy Hodgson in the FA Cup (Third Round). Jolley had been selected by the FA to take part in their inaugural Elite Coaches Award in 2011, before his big break at Burnley as U23 Development coach, where he became a close friend and confidante of manager Sean Dyche.
A tough year in Sweden as the manager of AFC Eskilstuna led to the job at Grimsby Town where Jolley has blossomed. He kept the team in Sky Bet League Two last season after the club had played in the Vanarama National League two years ago. He has now earned a reputation for playing attractive football. Jolley has now re-establishing the club at the heart of the community, which has realigned the club with its town and seen fans return.
“People often say look at what else you could have been doing instead of sitting on a plastic chair in a portable office at Grimsby’s basic training ground, surrounded by half unpacked boxes of club merchandise. But there is nothing more I would rather be doing than this. Actually, a good number of my peers have called me and said they wish they were doing what I’m doing, life is full of choices and this was a long shot. But if you fix your mind on something and you work hard enough towards it for long enough, then in the end you can make it happen.
“I’m just a great believer in if you have a dream or you have something you want to work towards, do not settle for something you’re not happy doing. This was what I wanted to do and as much as people can say you’re an outsider and you haven’t played the game, I feel that I’ve earned the right over 15 years working in lots of different contexts to get this opportunity at Grimsby. It’s a really proud area and for us we have to understand our place in the community. The football club is a very important part of people’s lives here, it’s important that we take that role very seriously, that we engage with people, support local charities, local businesses.
“The fact that we’ve got 5,500 supporters travelling to Crystal Palace with a 5.30 kick-off and no train back afterwards tells you all you need to know about how the people of Grimsby feel. They care deeply and want to get behind the football club and this is a great opportunity for them to do that.”
Jolley retains a sense of perspective unavailable to most as his experience on that sad September day in New York, when hundreds of people died and his world came crashing down around him, frames everything. “To live in close proximity was something I will never forget and to lose a friend on that day made it even more difficult.”