Southport supremo Liam Watson 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, Liam 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 think anyone who knows me, especially in football, the likes of John Coleman, Gary Brabin, they know I’m obsessed with it, and I think you have to be. It started for me, I’d had a move from Warrington Town to Preston and it was like a non-league record fee at the time, but after nine or ten games, it was over for me. I ended up getting a really bad injury; I signed in February and in May I had this injury. I was out for 14 months, and when I was out, John Beck, who was the manager, said to me ‘don’t waste your time.’ As a young, never been a pro before, I’m going to take on board every word he says. He said to me ‘don’t waste this time, make yourself a better forward, go and take in as much football as you can,’ and he used to talk to me about things. ‘What have you done?’ I got obsessed, I started going to games virtually all the time; I was single so I had no hassle about that. Once I’d made my mind up then, I wanted to manage. I got the opportunity at a young age and turned a negative into a massive positive. Ever since, I’ve always been obsessed with watching games, I’m always out, always want to learn.
I didn’t realise at the time, at Preston, how lucky I was, because I ended up surrounded by Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, John Beck and Gary Peters. You see some of the staff meetings and you’d have had to be an absolute idiot not to have picked stuff up. Some of the players in the changing room, Gareth Ainsworth, who’s done great at Wycombe, Paul Raynor’s gone with Steve Evans everywhere he’s been, Kelham O’Hanlon had a spell (Preston caretaker and AFC Fylde manager) and has gone on to America, Tony Ellis runs the youth at Rochdale. There was that much knowledge and information. John Beck was miles ahead of his time and he ended up getting ridiculed because people thought he was odd and different; now he’d be classed as a wonder coach. I was lucky to be surrounded by all them people.
Which training sessions do you enjoy leading the most?
To be perfectly honest, pre-season’s mine. I had many years working as a PTI in Ashworth, so that kind of it I enjoy. Jon McCarthy is a top, top, top-drawer coach. I have input with him, we sit and talk about what we want to do, but a lot of the time I stand back and let him take it. I actually think there’s a difference between manager and coach; if you look now in the modern game, there’s a manager, assistant and first-team coach. I take the odd session but I’m always there, on top of the players, and they know I’m the manager, but I can’t speak highly enough of Jon McCarthy and what he’s done. Obviously he’s managed himself, and I think he appreciates what I do, so it works.
Will you ever take part in training (in terms of actually being in the sessions as an active part, like an extra player)?
I’ve joined in sessions, and also, when I’m stood at the side watching, and Macca’s taking the session, you can’t have eyes in the back of your head. If I see something, Jon doesn’t take offence if I step in. That happens an awful lot more in the first three months of the season than it does now! What I will say about this squad of players is they all work really hard in training, there’s no messing, they get on with it.
Favourite ground that you’ve visited or would like to visit
Growing up as an Evertonian, you always want to play at Goodison Park, and I was lucky enough that I got to do it – Preston’s reserves and lost 5-0! That was special for me, though, listening to Maurice Johnston telling stories out on the pitch and watching Preki’s unbelievable ability was a bit different. I don’t know why, but I’ve always had an urge to get through to play Tottenham, at the old White Hart Lane. I think it was because they always had the flair players; your Ginolas, your Hoddles, your Waddles. Apart from that, going to Telford with Burscough, that suddenly hit me that one day I’d love to manage there, but there’s no better feeling for me now than a Tuesday night, we’re at home, and we attack the Jack Carr end and we get a great win.
Favourite player to watch (past or present)
As a player, he was someone I took so much notice of as an individual, and that was Gary Lineker. How to attack the near post, how to not be involved in a game and then score. He played one season at Everton and got 40 goals; played alongside Graeme Sharp, who must have been a dream to play with, but he was so clever. I think with Lineker he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He was one of the first to go abroad, and definitely one of the first to be a success. He then comes back and does it for Tottenham, and then he went abroad again to Japan. So he was sort of well before his time. He was one I watched and watched and watched; in them days you used to get videos, ‘Gary Lineker Collection of Goals.’ I do think a lot of it made me a better player. I used to get stuff thrown at me, ‘I never seen him all game.’ ‘Yeah, but, we won 2-0 and he scored both goals.’ They used to say ‘you’ve done nothing.’ ‘No, have a look in the paper tomorrow.’ I’d say a lot of that was Gary Lineker. He was constantly on the move, always looking for that bit of space in behind.
The other one I loved was Gazza. People say after Italia ’90 he got the injury and he was finished – that wasn’t true. He went and played in Italy, and some of the goals he scored were outrageous. Then he came back and played for Rangers in an unbelievable time when Rangers and Celtic were top, top sides. He was just brilliant. I think football let him down. Everyone knew he needed to be sheltered and looked after, and he probably struggled with the enormity of Paul Gascoigne’s career’s ending. He came and played at Everton at the back end of his career, David Moyes takes over, and I’m thinking Moyesy’s thoughts would be very similar to mine – the first two out the door are Gascoigne and Ginola! Are they going to buy into a team ethic? They’ve had their careers. He was right to do what he did but it was still nice to see the pair of them in an Everton shirt.
And how would you sell the club to Lineker (or Gazza), if you were trying to sign him for Southport (in his prime)?!
Well I wouldn’t sign Gazza, so it’d be Gary Lineker. Bizarrely enough, when he played for Everton he lived in Southport. All you can say is ‘I know what you do. I won’t be asking you to do anything you’re not good at, the crowd’ll love you, the pitch is perfect for you.’ I was fortunate that I managed a lad in 2004/05, Terry Fearns, and he scored 41 goals for me, bizarrely like Gary Lineker did in his season at Everton. They were an absolute double of one another, it was spooky. I remember watching Fearnsy playing for Vauxhalls, and that was the one time I came back to Charlie and said, ‘listen, I’ve got to sign this lad. I know he’s going to cost more than what you want, but I’ve got to sign him.’ First game, we were losing 1-0, Fearnsy scores this outrageous volley, we go on to win the game, and just didn’t look back.
Pre-season tour anywhere in the world
This might surprise you, but I wouldn’t have to go far. When Coley (John Coleman) was manager of Sligo in Ireland, there was the Sligo (Summer) Festival on all weekend, so it was the best time for me to go out. I flew in, Sligo had a game, and I was watching this level of football thinking ‘wow, you don’t get a minute.’ There was about 14 players booked and it was like in the old days where they used to say if you played against a team from lower levels in a cup, you know you’re in a game. It was that, but in a sort of very professional way. There was Seán Maguire who went to Cork and then got sold to Preston, and John had actually got his work ethic and know-how into Sligo. I stood there and thought if you ever had a week of pre-season, where you can get three games in, the games are going to be physical and sharp, it’s not far away, the golf courses are phenomenal for a day off, and if you do give the lads a night out it’s always a good laugh with the Irish.
Most challenging/frustrating part of your job
It’s a little bit different for me, but I do turn around and say there’s so many good young managers now and they never get the opportunities. They never get the respect from the League clubs, because there is an element of snobbery about it; ‘oh he’s a non-league manager.’ You look at the two lads at Chester, Bernard and Jonno, and what they’ve achieved. People say ‘they had money at Salford’ – they never at Ramsbottom. Even if you’ve got money, you’ve still got to spend it wisely, and they have done. They’ve collected trophies, they’ve had good cup runs. You’ve got Youngy (Neil Young) who won three leagues back-to-back at Chester, Dave Challinor’s done an amazing job at Fylde, Phil Parkinson has at Altrincham. I’m going to miss people out, but Coley’s gone on to step into the Football League and do great, Micky Mellon’s done the same, the Cowley brothers at Lincoln. I just think that these managers who achieve in the Conference, Conference North/South, there should be a higher percentage who are given the chance to manage higher. No doubt I could have said it to myself in 2010, but I had a job, I had two young kids, and I didn’t want to shout from the rooftops ‘I’ve done this, I’ve done that.’ It wasn’t my style – still isn’t – but from the outside, I’d love to see them get more of an opportunity. As an older manager now, I’ve gone the opposite way to how it was, where I love seeing the younger managers come through. I suppose in my day, it used to be a lot more ‘who’s this little jumpstart?’
Funniest player/coach you’ve worked with, or just one of the funniest
Carl Baker without a shadow of a doubt. When he was going to Morecambe and he had enough respect for me to let me do his deal for him, he’d been banned from driving, and I said ‘well he’ll need full relocation, which is £8,000, tax free,’ so Carl chirps up and goes ‘I don’t need that much.’ I went ‘Carl, you do need that much, how are you gonna get to training? You need to move up there.’ He goes ‘I’ll just drive.’ I said ‘you’re banned!’ He went ‘yeah, but that’s only in Southport, isn’t it?’
There was another one when he first signed and we had an away trip, the chairman hadn’t really met him, and he’s gone up to the buffet and he’s come back. It was a nice buffet as well, and the chairman goes ‘what you having there Carl?’ He goes, in a real Scouse accent, ‘alright Chairman, I’m not that hungry, I’m just gonna have a bit of fish and chips.’ I’m looking at him and saying ‘but you’ve got duck and parsnips on your plate!’ Great kid, went on to have a stellar career, played against us the other day and still in great nick. He’s the one, along with Shaun Whalley, where people had given up on them, and Southport as a football club helped to point their lives into a different way. I think the pair of them will always be totally respectful of the club for what it’s done for them.
With Shaun Whalley, we’ve always had a fine committee, so if you fine a player for not wearing your flip-flops in the shower, turning up late, at the end of the season you decide what to do with the money in the pot. We’re playing away at Forest Green, this is like February time, Shaun Whalley gets the ball right in front of the dugout, runs down the right wing, chops the left-back, goes inside the left centre-half and unleashes a 25-yarder into the top corner. He runs past me and does, remember the Paul Merson thing when he was pretending to throw pints of lager down his throat? I’m just thinking ‘clown…great goal, but you’re still a clown.’ At the end of the last game of the season, he comes up to me and goes – he always used to call me Bernie* as well – ‘Bernie here you go.’ He gives me £50, and I went ‘what’s that for?’ He says ‘for the kitty.’ ‘Yeah but why you giving me £50 for the kitty?’ He says ‘I’ve been out of order.’ I said ‘oh what have you done?’ He says ‘you know that Forest Green game? I went out the night before.’ I said ‘that’s the best you’ve played all season!’ He says ‘I know, I know. I won’t do it again.’ I said to him ‘you play like that you can go out every Friday!’ It probably says something about the dressing room that he gave £50 for something he’d got away with. Bakes and Shaun Walley were two shining lights who’ve gone on to have two great careers.
*When Liam played for Marine, he says he seemed to smile a lot and someone called him Bernie Winters. Shaun Whalley’s dad, a teammate, heard it, so a young Shaun who used to watch them play always remembered it. ”Not many people (at Southport) knew what he was on about!”
Most embarrassing moment as a manager/coach
I don’t ever really go mad on the touchline, but it was in the 2011/12 season when we were up in the Conference, on this run, fighting for promotion. We ended up winning eight consecutive away games, which is unreal for a part-time club like Southport in that league. We’ve gone to Kettering who were playing at Rushden & Diamonds at the time, we’ve started really well and gone 2-0 up, then they’ve pulled it back and we’re hanging on at 2-1. In the 93rd minute, they’ve equalised and you’re thinking ‘there’s the run gone.’ There’s about a minute and a half left of added time, and we get a free-kick, but it’s 35 yards out, and Tony Gray gets the free-kick. We had big lads, and I’m thinking ‘just put the ball in one good area.’ Matty McGinn had fabulous delivery, Shaun Whalley as well, so one of them’s going to deliver it. Next thing, Tony Gray is taking the ball off them. Now, if anyone’s seen Tony Gray, he’s 5 foot 8 and is in need of a pan of scouse! Then I realise, Shaun moves away, Matty moves away. Now I am going ballistic, because he’s not going to put a ball in, so he’s actually lining it up to shoot. I’m screaming like a banshee and he’s just completely ignored me. He’s gone up and hit the worst free-kick you’ve ever seen in your life and I’ve just gone berserk. The keeper’s only done a Massimo Taibi! I’m booting balls, booting boxes and then I heard a cheer. I said ‘that hasn’t gone in, has it?’ I just sat there. I went berserk in the changing room after as well because it just shouldn’t have happened. I’m glad it did…
Your routine on a match day
Nine times out of ten, the players have picked up what the team is and the shape is from the previous training session, so if it’s a 3 o’clock kick-off I try and get to the club at half 12, quarter to 1. Normally go round and see one or two, see the kitmen, see the secretary, see the CEO, the owners I’ll probably have five minutes with them. I always go in with the captain at 2 o’clock to hand the team sheets in. Always try and make the opposition manager a cup of coffee if he wants one. Just try and let the time pass by; we’ve always got a game on in the office, if there’s an early game on TV. I’m basically very chilled. Normally on a match day, I’ll get up in the morning and Kim knows it’s match day so I’m left to my own devices. I’ll get up and have an eight-mile walk, come home, have a shower and get changed and ready to go.
One singer/band or song you would sneak on to the team playlist
There’s got to be a Neil Diamond. There just has to be. I do like country music actually, and in the summer, me and Kim normally go on a road trip round America. We’ve done Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, which was brilliant. We’ve done the other one; California all the way down. St. Louis, Santa Barbara, LA, and drove across to Vegas. In terms of football, Marcus Wood (on loan from Bolton) seems to have jumped on our music box, but it’s terrible. You can’t beat a bit of Neil Diamond to get it going.
Advice you remember getting that’s stuck with you
I think one of the best things I was told is the harder you work, the luckier you become. The other thing is to forget what you’ve achieved today, it’s what you need to achieve tomorrow. If you’ve achieved something it should drive you on to achieve it again. I always say to my son ‘whatever you do in life, make sure you’re liked, make sure you’re respectful to people, even when times are bad just make sure you’re a nice lad.’ The best advice I’ve had in football, again came from Coley, and it was two things. A week’s always a long time in football. You can be flying high and then in a week you’re brought back down to earth, but it also works the other way. When you’re lower than a snake’s belly, that one win’s always just around the corner. The other thing is don’t be kidded by results. If you’re playing really well and there’s worldies going in against you and you’re missing penalties, even though it’s hard, you know you’re playing well. Trust me, that’ll change. On the flipside, if you keep on getting results but not playing well, that will also change.
If you could have some time with any manager, past or present
You’re looking at the different eras, aren’t you? For the right reasons and the wrong reasons, probably two. I’d like to actually spend time and talk to Wenger, because there’s a lot more there than picking a team; there’s a business side to being a manager. I run my own business anyway so I understand you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. Everything at Arsenal, and I mean everything, went through Wenger. That’ll never happen again, but you’d have liked to have seen that. The one I’d have liked to have sat down and spoke to, not necessarily now, but certainly in the first spell he had at Chelsea, was Mourinho. To come to a foreign country, be that outrageous, but to go in and build the relationships that he had with Lampard, Terry, Drogba. In Italy, there were players crying that he left, he was that close to them. It’s bizarre because that’s how he was, and he’s left (Manchester United) this time and it couldn’t be further from that.
Any misconceptions about you as a manager/personality, myths you’d like to dispel, or something you wish people could understand a bit more?
People will say I’m a long-ball manager. I have that thrown at me, and that’s the biggest misconception of me. I’m now classed as a long-ball manager because I always have a player who’s got a long throw in the team, but I think you should, I think it’s a brilliant asset. I always get classed as a long-ball manager because I have them organised and we score a lot of goals from set plays, but again, I think everyone should have. However, if I go back and look at my teams, Southport in 2004/05 were a pure footballing team. We had one player who was scraping six foot and we had top players; Carl Baker, Kevin Leadbetter, Terry Fearns, Neil Robinson, all these really gifted attacking players. Then when I went to Burscough, it was a very similar team. When I came back to Southport the next time around, with Fleetwood’s firepower, I couldn’t compete with Fleetwood, so I always go back to a phrase John Beck used to say to me: ‘horses for courses,’ take a different approach. You inherit a group of players, you can’t always have them play the way you want to, you’ve got to make the most of what you’ve got. In the end, I went a very rigid 4-4-2, the two full-backs were virtually centre-halves, and across the backline the average height was 6 foot 4. The two wide midfielders, neither were wingers; one had an ability to score 25-yarders and an unbelievable left foot and great delivery. Ciaran Kilheeney, Steve Daly, Chris Simm came up with 20 goals each. We were horrible to play against, but when Telford won the league, I played three at the back; you don’t get many direct three-at-the-back teams. When I went to Stalybridge and they’ve taken one point from ten games, I had to make them play differently, because the way they were playing wasn’t working, and to be fair to that group, they all had a go for me. Coming back to Southport this time, people say straight away ‘long ball’ – I haven’t played long ball at all. I play 4-2-3-1, I’ve got some really good attacking players and some of them are starting to flower a little bit. What I will say is I’ve helped put 25 players who I’ve managed over the years into the Football League; I’d say 90 percent of them are attacking players. A lot of them are wingers, so I can’t be that direct.
Probably also that people don’t understand how many players I’ve actually sold. There’s some who went on to big things but there were lots and lots of others who went on and played in the Football League. There’s also long-term loans who I’ve tried to guide in the right way and we’ve got four now: Reagan Ogle from Accy, Marcus Wood and Liam Edwards from Bolton, and Jordan Archer from Bury. They’ve all come in, but they’ve all tied into the team mentality, and you try and have an influence of telling them how to play the right way at the levels they are. I’m sure they’ll go on to have good careers. At Southport, Charlie used to put in my budget, he used to account for me to sell at least one or two players every season; he used to expect me to bring in £40,000 a year in sales. I did it year in, year out, which when you are where you are, it’s a tough ask, but when you have the amount of players who go on to achieve good things, it’s great to see them doing really well. Even the ones people don’t realise; the likes of Sean McConville (currently with Accrington in League One) who’s gone on to have a fabulous career, he was on the bench with me when Burscough won the league and he was 17. He grew up used to winning, so I think it’s a good place when you can have younger players and move them on. Now, Southport’s got an average age of 22, which people will probably be surprised at.
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?
First up, getting up healthy, being left to your own devices in the day, there’s nothing better, even when you’re away from home, than putting your trackie on and getting on the team bus. You’ve still got that adrenaline rush where you don’t know what’s going to happen in the 90 minutes; you could be getting back on that bus laughing and joking, or you could be getting back on thinking ‘oh God.’ You don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s that same buzz as going playing at the park with your brother. ‘You’ve got the ball? Come on, let’s go.’ I’ve still got that feeling in me, and I think there’s loads still for me to achieve, and stuff I want to achieve. That probably drives me on.
Interview by @chris_brookes