Chester FC joint-gaffer Anthony Johnson is the latest to feature in The Bosses’ Lounge, and if you missed the first half of his interview, you can find it here.
In the second half, ‘Jonno’ took on the regular Q&A that goes with this feature, blending managerial and coaching outlooks, inspirations and lighter moments. Let’s see what he came up with…
When did you want to start coaching/managing?
I never did. It was Bernard’s idea; it’s his fault we’re doing it. I’d just broke my leg playing for Clitheroe, and at the time, we weren’t enjoying our footy and he said ‘why don’t we go back to Rammy? They’ve got a caretaker manager. See what’s happening and we can get a load of players down there that we know.’ I thought ‘that’s not gonna happen.’ Anyway, we went down and the chairman, who’s another character, he just said ‘do you want the job’ and that was it. I think it was probably the second or third season in the North West Counties League – we finished 4th, then we finished 2nd and then we won it – and the year we finished second to New Mills, I did my (FA) Level 1 coaching badge. I had no interest in coaching at the time, and I thought ‘if we win a promotion here, we might be in the game a while.’ You think now, seven or eight years on, where we live and breathe it, watching stuff. It was probably a couple of years in that I realised we had a bit of a niche for it.
Which training sessions do you enjoy leading the most?
I tend to do the set-pieces, so if we concede goals it’s down to me, generally, but over the years we’ve been very good in both boxes. I wouldn’t say I look forward to it but that falls on my head the majority of the time. I enjoy watching, when Derek or Bernard take a session, the shape side of things; how we’re gonna break down an opposition. How you think they’re gonna set up, and then they do set up like that and you break them down, I always enjoy that part of it. I don’t think I ever go into a session where I think ‘I can’t be arsed with that,’ because the minute I did, I wouldn’t do it.
Will you ever take part in training (in terms of actually being in the sessions as an active part, like an extra player)? And when did you last play?!
To be fair, me and Bern have been decent players, but Bern’s 17-and-a-half stone now, he’s a big man! He’s technically a very good football player, but his body sometimes won’t allow him to do what his brain’s asking! We’ll play vets’ football, and we’ll pop the ball about in a session, but I think players always say they prefer it when we’re either driving a session or on the outskirts of it.
Favourite ground that you’ve visited or would like to visit
I absolutely adore being able to go and watch Bury without any pressure on myself. I’ve never enjoyed the game side of it, at Rammy, at Salford, at Chester, until we’ve won, whereas I can walk to Bury with my son, or I can go with Bernard or my dad, and I’m a fan. I love being amongst 2,500-3,000 people that just want their local team to win. I used to park my car around the corner on Parkhills Road at my granddad’s house and we’d walk down, so it’s the same sort of tradition that I’ve been doing for the past 30+ years. I’ve been to the Stadium of Light and Old Trafford watching Bury, but I’ve never been to watch a team at a top level.
Favourite player to watch (past or present)
My two favourite players of all-time are Paul Gascoigne and Ian Wright. Absolutely loved Ian Wright, knowing that he came from non-league and went through at Palace and Arsenal. Ian Wright and Gazza, they both played football the way you imagine playing on the street with your pals, or playing with my brother who’s four or five years younger. I love those type of raw, talented, uncoached players. There was a fella at Bury for about six months – some of the greatest performances I’ve seen live – called Andy Gray, who played for England once under Graham Taylor. I speak to him on Twitter now and again. Lenny Johnrose as well. I watched Lenny Johnrose smash Emerson (Middlesbrough) at Gigg Lane; Bury got a draw that day, Paul Merson was playing. I’ve seen some good players at Bury – Chris Lucketti, Paul Butler, Dean Kiely, David Johnson, David Lee – but before Sky I used to stay up late watching people like Ian Wright and Paul Gascoigne on Match of the Day.
And how would you sell the club to them, if you were trying to sign them for Chester (in their prime)?!
‘You’ll enjoy your football. You’ll enjoy it, provided you do this other stuff.’ But Ian Wright and Gazza are both loose cannons! We’ve almost had a Crazy Gang culture at our clubs, a bit of an underdog mentality; I don’t think that sat particularly well at Salford at the back end, but that’s just the way we came through being. I remember when Jimmy Bullard came to do the drill for Soccer AM last season and we threw him in the puddle, and we had that bit of Crazy Gang culture and I think those two players fit perfectly into the way our teams have played and been.
Pre-season tour anywhere in the world
Cornwall. Get down to the South West, play your Weston-super-Mares, Truros, a few days down there, couple of bevvies, down in Newquay for the night. I remember Bury used to do it back in the 90s; I think they did Isle of Man as well. For all the delusions that I have, I like quite traditional methods, so the thought of travelling down on a coach, the joking around with the boys, and then playing the matches, that makes me smile thinking about it.
Most challenging/frustrating part of your job
I suppose early days it was pitches; there’d be a puddle on the pitch and it’d be off. We played Stockport County at Rammy about three weeks before we left to go to Salford, we would have been Evo-Stik Prem and they would have been Conference North, and Alan Lord was the manager, an old mentor of mine. Woke up in the morning, it was freezing cold, goes down to the ground and they said it’s gonna be off. Me and Bern jumped over the fence, got on the phone and got a load of lads down with blow torches, thawing the pitch out to get the game on. We got the game on – went and got beat 3-0.
Funniest player/coach you’ve worked with, or just one of the funniest. I know we already mentioned Gaz Stopforth…
Let me tell you a Gaz Stopforth story. We won our first promotion at Salford and they put a big do on at night at Hotel Football; brilliant, all the owners were there. We all went to Manchester and a few of the lads were staying back at the hotel, so 8 o’clock in the morning in the hotel, Gary Neville and his wife came down into the bar, and Gaz Stopforth’s still there drinking! Gary Neville’s gone ‘Gaz, what you doing?’ – and he ran off! Gary Neville’s gone to order a taxi and Gaz Stopforth’s just ran off out the hotel; never saw him again for about three months, until the next season started.
Steve Howson’s another absolute barmpot. Danny Warrender, fantastic footballer, played for Blackpool and he signed for us; he was a mate of Bern’s from school. We’ve just had so many of them. It sort of curtailed a bit at Salford, especially the last season when you’re going full-time and you’ve got to be a bit different, but back in the day at Rammy, we used to love going to places like Blyth or Darlington because it meant two-and-a-half hours on the coach on the way back together. Some of the antics that used to go on, and these coaches, Harry wouldn’t hire a coach with a toilet on it because it cost an extra £20! Lads would bring big dustbins on. Just so many characters we’ve had, but I like them type of people. George Green at Chester now, for his well-documented issues he’s had, as a lad he’s an absolute diamond, but a character. Gary Roberts as well. But they’re the type of people you want, because they’ll take risks. We’ve had some belting lads, and what was tough last season at Salford, we only had Scott Burton left. Obviously, the budget goes up and you’ve got to be ruthless and make decisions and sometimes they’re wrong, a la Jordan Hulme (being let go from Salford in 2017), and sometimes they’re right. It was tough having to say goodbye to some of the lads because without them, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now.
Most embarrassing moment as a manager/coach
Bernard’ll say things like, ‘this game’s a banana slip.’ Instead of saying ‘I don’t know about you lads having butterflies’ he said ‘buttyflies.’ Then we used to have a lad called Luke Clark, so rather than calling him ‘Luke’ or ‘Clarky,’ he called him ‘Clukey.’ He does it quite a bit, it’s funny. You can see him trying to hold it in but people just sort of burst out. I think my most embarrassing moment was being on TV telling everyone how big my balls are! I remember being behind the couch thinking ‘please don’t have that bit in.’ The other embarrassing thing I said was ‘we’re the alpha males here,’ and it just knocks me sick! I swear you forget the cameras are there, but when I listen to that, I think ‘have you done that for the camera or what?’ So I’ve probably got more embarrassing moments than most people.
Your routine on a match day
Bernard’ll drive on a Tuesday, I’ll drive on a Thursday, and then on Saturday, we alternate. If Bernard’s driving he’ll always be two minutes late, whereas I’m more of a ‘half an hour early’ person; maybe it’s my military background, I don’t know. So he’s always two minutes late, then he wants to stop for a can of coke and a bag of crisps! I’m chomping at the bit wanting to get there, ready to go and get to the ground before anyone else. Then I think ‘what am I doing?’ I wouldn’t say I’m organised but I like to be ready. As a player I was convinced I had OCD. I had to drink 2.5 litres of water, had to have porridge. I had to shave my head fresh; now the thought of that knocks me sick. I’ve come a little bit away from that, but I like to be early for anything we do.
One singer/band or song you would sneak on to the team playlist
Let me tell you, at both Salford and Chester they’ve asked me to pick the playlists because I pick the best music. I’ve seen the one Scott Burton’s put out today with Chester; it’s terrible, it’s rubbish. I’ve got quite an eclectic taste with music. I’ve got a Smiths LP here, I’ve been listening to Buffalo Springfield, it can be absolutely anything. I used to listen to Deacon Blue a lot, and then Bernard liked it, and he turns everything into like listening to Capital FM; he wants to listen to everything a hundred times. If I had to pick one band or one singer, it’d probably be David Bowie. David Bowie and Rolling Stones.
Advice you remember getting that’s stuck with you
Be a sponge; take as much in as you can. I remember a lot of stuff and I like to decipher the bullshit from people. Although I talk a lot, I’m a good listener. We went down to watch England rugby union train last Autumn, with Eddie Jones. We watched them train in the morning, it was an hour session, and everything was ‘bang, bang, bang’, quick session, done. We went in for lunch, and all of a sudden, Eddie Jones comes over and sits with us; Chris Casper took us down there, and Eddie Jones sat with us for an hour and a half. He’s telling us stories and asking us about how we do stuff, and he was so genuine. Just the subtle changes he was making to his sessions as well to get the most out of his players. Then we went and sat with Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw. Listening to Sir Alex Ferguson talk last year when he opened the Peninsula ground. I’ve always enjoyed listening to people and asking them questions where they’re not just trying to palm you off. Without being at Salford we wouldn’t have had that opportunity, so I absolutely loved just spending time with those types of people.
If you could have some time with any manager, past or present. (You played Liverpool in pre-season with Chester, did you get chance to speak to Jurgen Klopp or were they straight in and straight out?)
Yeah it was straight in, straight out, but Jurgen Klopp was watching us do our warm-up, and I was watching Jurgen Klopp. So I’m like a little stalker following him round watching what he does, and all he did was watch us! It was a shame with Jurgen because we didn’t get to have a real chat with him, but at the end of the game he came over. They played their strongest team and after 40 minutes it was 0-0; we put our kids on and lost 7-0. At the end he came up and said ‘I’m very, very surprised by how organised you were, well done.’ That was genuine and I love that. So if I could pick any manager, I’ve read a couple of Pep Guardiola’s books, but if I could pick anybody to spend time with it’d probably be Brian Clough. What he had to go through and what he did at Derby and at Forest, it’s only really been matched by Sir Alex Ferguson. We talked about characters earlier and he was definitely that, so I would have loved to have sat with him and talked about football.
How have you changed since you first started coaching/managing, or what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Believe it or not, that you don’t have to scream and shout about everything. The best way I can describe it when we went to Salford was we were like cowboys kicking down the saloon door. It obviously didn’t work for the whole time we were there, but I felt at that time like I had to stamp my authority on things, and again, I don’t know if that sat right with certain people, but that was my style of doing things. I’ve gone full circle, but listen, I can still go for it; I smashed a bin up the other day in the changing room, to be fair! So I can still snap, but that comes down to if I see a player jog when they’re closing someone down, I can go apoplectic, because that’s not what we agreed we’d be.
So what’s changed? I’m hungrier, which is bizarre to say because I was starving when we started. I look at the Cowleys (Lincoln City), I look at Ryan Lowe at Bury, who’s had a great career but he started in non-league football. You look at Neil Warnock; there’s a pathway for you. It’s keeping yourself up to date and staying relevant, because when I was 25/26 years old, I was desperate to go past Tony Hancock at New Mills, desperate to go past Danny Johnson and to catch Liam Watson and Neil Young. Liam Watson’s won four promotions from Conference North but he’s still at this level, Jim Gannon’s a UEFA Pro Licence coach, Jon Flanagan’s just been sacked by Curzon Ashton – which is staggering, by the way – all these people that me and my mate are going up against, we come from the North West Counties. You’ve got to keep setting bars and setting standards of what’s next. I look at Jamie Vermiglio who had to wait his turn, Mark Bower at Bradford got told he couldn’t do it; it’s funny how football works. These are good coaches, good men, and I enjoy spending time with them and listening to them.
Any misconceptions about you as a manager/personality, myths you’d like to dispel, or something you wish people could understand a bit more?
‘Tactically you’re not great,’ ‘lazy coaches,’ all them type of things. Me and Bernard use it as a joke now, we actually say it, lazy coaches. We put hours and hours into planning sessions, bearing in mind we haven’t come from a coaching background. I’m not bothered by it, but you ask me the question and I’ll answer it, I don’t feel like we’ve had the respect we deserve for what our teams have achieved over the years. 34 years old, Bernard is, and he’s had five promotions. I don’t think people understand what we’ve had to do to get where we are. No one’s said ‘have a job at Salford in the Conference North,’ we started at Ramsbottom United in the North West Counties, and we dropped a level when we went to Salford.
When we left Rammy, we were probably about 20 places below where Chester are now; that’s how far we took Rammy, and then we took Salford up three leagues. We don’t quite get the credit we deserve as managers, and that’ll carry on, because we’ve been on the TV, we’ve worked for the Class of ’92 and people hate Man United, and people are waiting for you to fail because they don’t feel you deserve to be where you are because of the helping hand you might have had. When we went to Salford, we were on the same money for two-and-a-half years as we were at Ramsbottom United; we went there because we saw it as the next thing. Salford have done the same now – ‘what can we do to propel us to the next level?’ That’s fine, I’ve got no problem with that. I’ve learned to live with it, but when I read and hear things I can’t help but wanna bite. I get the way we’ve been and the fact we’ve been on the TV evokes the opinion, but give us a little bit of credit.
And finally, what’s the best thing about having this life around football? When you wake up and football’s your focus for the day, do you still get that same buzz as you always did?
I would say that I hate losing more than I hate winning. I’ve sat there and thought a lot about that the last few weeks. When you win, unless you popped a team off the park and you won 4-0 you don’t really come away thinking ‘that was perfect.’ We were 3-0 up against Nuneaton and ended up winning 3-2, and we come away so negative because we could have lost the game. When we lose, the best way I can describe it is I go into mourning. I know it sounds pathetic, but the feeling I get when we lose is absolutely unexplainable, and that’s why I’ve tried to explain it with the word mourning. Yet when we win, I’m still looking for negatives.
When you win leagues, I think you sort of know you’re gonna win it, so the enjoyment’s taken away from it, because you’re building up to it. I think the time I felt most pride was when I left Rammy, and I left Salford. We’ve managed 480-odd games, and we’ve got a win percentage of 60+. It’s only when you look back on stuff like that, because medals don’t mean anything; the kids break all mine, my daughter walks around with it on like she’s won a race! My wife says when we win I’m a great dad, but when we lose, I know I’m rubbish. If we’ve won, I come through the door and the kids rush to me, but if we’ve lost they’re almost quite solemn. It bothers me that something I do affects my kids. Forget the management side of it, that’s something as a person I’m trying every day to become better at, separating the two different lives.
Interview by @chris_brookes
Jonno’s fellow joint-manager at Chester, Bern Morley, kicked off this feature last year during their final season at Salford City. Here’s where you can read it back.