When I first started coaching, I found it was no different: try harder than everyone else. Work as hard as you possibly can.
I was 18 and playing for Bristol Rovers when I took my first session. We were encouraged to get into it by a fella at the club called Gordon Bennett – why his mum and dad chose to call him Gordon, I’ll never know.
“You’ll improve if you think about the game,” he told us. “If you understand tactics. So, I want you to teach someone else.”
The first day I went to watch this team of young lads play, they lost 13-0. After that, I went once a week to train them before they played on the Sunday. I was in the Bristol Rovers first team and not that much older than them, so these kids hung on my every word.
The first few games were hard, but at the end of the season we played that same team in the final of the cup. This time we beat them 3-1.
That’s when it got me, really. I was hooked.
“I still remember the exact moment we found out the club was in trouble. This man came in, told us he was the administrator. At the time, I didn’t even know what that meant”
If I’m honest, I found the coaching courses quite tough. I’m not sure if I was dyslexic or not, but even at school all those academic things were difficult for me. I was determined to get through it, though, because I absolutely love the other side of it: when you’ve created something and you put it on the training ground and give people good habits.
I didn’t really feel ready for management, but when Bristol Rovers made me player/manager, it wasn’t something I could afford to turn down. I was 33 and had four kids under four. It gave me some security. I had to do it.
It was a sharp learning curve.
I had my best mate Gary Penrice with me as assistant manager/centre forward. My other best mate as my goalkeeper/coach/physio, and I was manager/midfielder. It was happy days for Bristol Rovers, because they saved themselves a fortune.
If I was playing, Gary would coach. If he was playing, I would coach. And if we were both playing, we’d coach as we went, because we had nobody else. We were young and had all these exciting ideas. It was a beautiful time.
It was also the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I took everything so personally because it was my hometown club. A club that I loved. One that I really wanted to be successful.