Vanarama National League column – Managers

Who’d be a manager?  by Glenn Moore

There was major news on the managerial merry-go-round on Tuesday as one of the leading clubs made a change. Wrexham, arguably the Vanarama National League’s biggest name (though Leyton Orient and Chesterfield might disagree) appointed Graham Barrow, former manager of Wigan, Chester and Bury.

The decision went under the radar – another managerial move that day, in Manchester, absorbed the media’s attention – but it meant seven of the 24 Vanarama National League clubs now have a different boss to the one they began the season with. If speculation linking Aldershot’s Gary Waddock to Bristol Rovers proves correct it will be a third of the division. Indeed, add in the summer changes and already less than half the clubs retain the manager they ended last season with. Not so much a merry-go-round as a set of fast-revolving doors.

The spotlight may be smaller in non-League, but the expectation can be big. The Vanarama National League is like the Championship; the promotion prize is so great clubs are desperate to succeed, sometimes over-reach, and tend to react quickly. The vacancy at Wrexham arose because Sam Ricketts quit to join Shrewsbury, similarly Andy Hessenthaler left Eastleigh in October to take over at Dover Athletic, but the other five managers were pushed rather than jumped.

Hartlepool, anxious to regain their league status, are now on their third manager since being relegated in 2017, Richard Money this month replacing Matthew Bates who took over from Craig Harrison last season. The other four clubs making a change have never played in the Football League, but are ambitious to do so: Ebbsfleet, Dover, Braintree and Maidstone (whose namesake predecessors briefly played in the league before folding in 1992). Progress has slowed so, albeit with heavy hearts, each parted company with the men who had taken them into the top flight, Daryl McMahon, Chris Kinnear, Brad Quinton and Jay Saunders respectively.

However, there is a coterie of Vanarama National League managers who are part of the furniture. Paul Doswell has chalked up a decade at Sutton United, a feat Harrogate’s Simon Weaver will match at the end of the season. At Fylde Dave Challinor has been in place since late 2011 while Havant & Waterlooville, having seen off interest in Lee Bradbury from Hartlepool, have just completed six years with him at the helm. In each case longevity has bred prosperity.

So far Hessenthaler has had the most dramatic impact of the new men. Dover were bottom when he arrived and while they remain in the relegation zone the trajectory is upwards.  Going full-time has helped, though that is a tricky change to implement mid-season and has meant a turnaround of personnel.

Ebbsfleet’s results have also picked up, those of Braintree and Maidstone less so. Chairmen will wonder whether they were right to make a change so soon in the season, or whether they should have acted earlier. They will never know. While many would argue managers need time there are many factors involved and, when even hiring a multiple-Champions League-winning manager fails, no guarantees.

For more on the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

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