It is true that it has not all been by design along the way for Brighouse Town boss Vill Powell, with something unexpected often leading him in a prosperous direction. There has been a Wembley hat-trick, a current Premier League star for a strike partner, some memorable wisdom from an ex-England man, and much more besides to help leave the ex-Sheffield Wednesday youngster more than primed for his managerial beginning.
While he is undoubtedly still extremely young in managers’ terms at 38, it is nearly a decade since Vill Powell began to tilt his perspective toward that of an observer and a guiding hand, rather than what he had always known – making it count in the opposition box. The Sheffield native was an FA Trophy winner with Grays Athletic in 2005 and cemented a reputation as a trusty non-league marksman, even scoring 73 for Retford in a single season.
The Brighouse Town gaffer’s road in the game started out in very different surroundings; in terms of league standing, if not geographical location. At Sheffield Wednesday in the Owls’ heady top-flight days of the 90s, he gained an invaluable grounding as a teenager amongst some big names in S6.
His Premier League links can still be found, both in the Leicester City star he once partnered at Stocksbridge Park Steels, Jamie Vardy, and also a few miles away at Huddersfield Town. Brig are currently battling it out in the Evo-Stik North, and last Friday (16th February), they signed midfielder Isaac Marriott on a work experience loan from Huddersfield’s academy.
As well as the clubs being in close proximity, Brig’s connection to their West Yorkshire neighbours extends to Vill personally, with his one-time Wednesday youth counterpart, former Owls and Sheffield United defender Leigh Bromby, heading up the club’s academy. Brig trained together with the young Terriers last week and it is a link that Vill hopes will reap long-term rewards.
“I’ve known Leigh 20-odd years, which is crazy when I actually think about it,” he began. “I’ve got a very close relationship with Leigh; he was at Sheffield Wednesday at the same time I was.”
“The plan is to build a relationship with Huddersfield Town, not just for players coming in on loan needing experience of men’s football, but also for players potentially going in the other direction if they’re deemed good enough. It’s a relationship he’s keen on strengthening in terms of familiarity, so we train in the same environments where possible.
“We trained with them on Tuesday night at their academy, we played them in a friendly during the season, so it just builds that relationship and it will be a regular feature for the players at the club going into next season.”
Ex-Watford and Leeds man Bromby was around when Vill was taking foundational steps in the game that have served him well ever since, and never more so than now, as he negotiates the transition from experienced coach to leading as a number one. With parents who came to England from Jamaica before meeting and ultimately settling in Sheffield, Vill and his five siblings grew up in the Wincobank area of the Steel City.
His school was Hinde House, especially significant for being the place where ex-footballers like Jon Newsome, Scott Sellars and Chris Sedgwick (and even former boxing world champion ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed) once went. Vill credits his older brother and the 1990 FIFA World Cup with sparking a love for football that was not always there, though the chance to make his way at a top-flight club like Wednesday was far from expected.
Bagging a hat-trick on the hallowed turf of the old Wembley (before the Owls’ FA Cup semi-final win over Sheffield United in April 1993) also probably wasn’t something he had envisaged!
“The whole Sheffield Wednesday scenario came about really from when I was playing for my Sunday side, called Steel City, and the scout actually came to watch another player. I must have had a half-decent game and he invited me down to the School of Excellence, as it was at the time.
“Clive Baker was the manager of it at the time, he invited me in and I did alright, and that was the season before the 92/93 season (when Wednesday reached both domestic cup finals). Going through that and being part of it at the club, there was a real buzz about it.
“Before the semi-final with Sheffield United, we played on there at Wembley and it’s one of my greatest early memories of football, playing in front of a semi-packed stadium and scoring a hat-trick. It’s something I’m still proud of to this day, to be fair.”
“(Di Canio) would come in and train with the reserves when the first team had a day off, because he didn’t think at the time that the club trained as hard as it should do..”
After the School of Excellence, Vill joined as an apprentice in 1996, before signing professional at 17. His time at the club coincided with the managerial tenures of Trevor Francis, David Pleat, the returning Ron Atkinson and lastly, Danny Wilson.
On the playing side, there were also some highly notable personalities around the place, who were willing to share their experiences, as Vill recalls fondly.
“You had people like Paolo Di Canio, Benito Carbone, Des Walker, Kevin Pressman, Andy Hinchcliffe, Wim Jonk, Regi Blinker, David Hirst, Mark Bright, Chris Waddle, so there’s a real array of names there and they were all supportive. They weren’t aloof, so they’d talk to you, they’d give you advice.
“I’m still in distant contact with Des Walker; he was going towards the end of his career and we were right at the beginning of what we hoped was going to be a career. One of the things he said to me when I was there was, ‘You’ll be surprised how quick it goes, so enjoy it now, because it’ll all be over in a flash.
“You don’t want to look back and be thinking ‘what if?’ so give it all you’ve got now.’ You were kind of sat there as a teenager thinking, ‘Oh, 34, that’s a million years away,’ but it’s true and it’s one of those things that’s stuck with me ever since.
“Other influences, one of the things I took from Di Canio was he was relentless with his work-rate. He’d come in and train with the reserves when the first team had a day off, because he didn’t think at the time that the club trained as hard as it should do, in terms of the first team.
“So he’d come in and train with us and make sure he did the extra. It rubbed off because you’re looking at a player in terms of his stature who wasn’t shy to work hard and mix it with the reserves and youth team and train as much as he could to get that extra edge over everybody else.”
As well as the late and aforementioned Clive Baker, Vill cites Luton Town legend Ricky Hill, who worked with the Under-19s at Wednesday under his ex-Hatters boss David Pleat, as a major influence from his time at Hillsborough. He also highlights Ron Atkinson, who returned to S6 in November 1997 after his acrimonious departure to Aston Villa following Wednesday’s League Cup success in 1991.
‘Big Ron’ kept the club in the top flight, only to be let go by chairman Dave Richards that summer in what plenty amongst the fanbase believe was a form of revenge for his exit six years earlier. Nevertheless, Vill recalls how his impact had been felt throughout the club, and that galvanising approach is another example of something he has been able to take with him into coaching and management.
“The other managers had a slight impact but they weren’t as engaging as Ron Atkinson; he was a massive influence in terms of unity and bringing all the age groups together so it was all one club. The club was struggling, in that 97/98 season, and it was a major factor in the club staying up.
“Those influences I’ve taken with me right through my career and into my fledgling managerial career I’ve got now.”
With a pathway to the first team under Danny Wilson not accessible, Vill decided to pursue an opportunity with Finland’s most successful club, HJK Helsinki. Although his stint was a short one, with difficulties adapting to the language and lifestyle, he enjoyed the opportunity to get out on the pitch with Klubi.
Having turned out for Northern Irish side Derry City, Vill and his agent pursued any potential openings with pro clubs back home, though the much-publicised collapse of ITV Digital in 2002 and its adverse effect on club’s budgets seemed to significantly harm his chances. It led him to the start of a non-league adventure that has had some headline moments and has also intertwined with his transition into coaching.
On the pitch, he has represented sides such as Havant & Waterlooville, North Ferriby United, Stafford Rangers and Weymouth. Closer to home, his time at one club notably saw him cross paths with, and even partner, Leicester and England man Jamie Vardy.
His time as a teammate of the Premier League champion has become one of the attention-grabbing facts related to Vill’s career and he has positive memories of working with an admittedly unpolished, but tireless and promising youngster.
“I joined Stocksbridge (Park Steels) from Sheffield FC, and he was a very, very raw talent, but one thing that stood out was his fitness. His fitness was unbelievable; in every pre-season, he was at the front of the pack whenever we did running.
“He was a great lad. I used to travel in with him for training and games because he used to work near where I used to live in Wincobank.
“In the dressing room as well, he was a big character, because he was a young lad at the time. You’d always see him bouncing around and having a bit of banter; he was a live wire and really good to have around.”
A UEFA A-licensed coach, Vill’s CV includes a role within Rotherham United’s academy, time as assistant to Harrogate Town boss Simon Weaver (another ex-Wednesday youth), and he has also been an FA Coach Mentor since 2015. From starting with coaching local amateur football in Sheffield almost ten years ago, he has embarked upon his biggest role to date at Brighouse Town.
“The club itself is extremely well run, internally. I’ve been at a lot of non-league clubs and one thing about Brighouse is it’s a family club.”
Away from football, his work has centred on the training and employment industry, working also with Sheffield Council, and he has found it hugely applicable to his efforts in the game, from a communicative perspective. With Harrogate moving full-time this season, and Vill having his council role, he took over at semi-pro Brig in June 2017, with current Shaw Lane boss Paul Quinn leaving at the end of last season after almost six years at the helm.
At the club, he has Nat Brown as his assistant, another Steel City native and a former defender with experience at Huddersfield, Lincoln City and Macclesfield Town. At the weekend, 18th-placed Brig had led 3-1 at home to high-flying Bamber Bridge with 14 minutes remaining before conceding twice, and the season definitely fits into the ‘learning curve’ category, with attacking promise in their ranks as well as defensive vulnerabilities to be nurtured.
Cohesion in the playing setup has needed to be built from scratch, in effect, as Vill explains.
“On the pitch, it’s a completely new team; there was only Adam Field and Tom Haigh that stayed on from the previous regime and that’s from the circumstances of the financial constraints from last season. It’s evolved over the course of the season in terms of mental strength, commitment to the cause and in terms of bonding.
“The group’s really bonded well; it’s a really positive environment. Very naïve at times, and that’s going to take time because it’s a young group, but it’s been a real positive how the group’s taken to each other with so many new players coming from around North Yorkshire, Manchester, Sheffield.”
What he has walked into at St Giles Road gives him plenty of cause for optimism and ambition, with the support and camaraderie something he is quick to express gratitude for, believing it to be a non-negotiable ingredient in what he hopes will prove a recipe for progression.
“The club itself is extremely well run, internally. I’ve been at a lot of non-league clubs and one thing about Brighouse is it’s a family club.
“The support from the board and the chairman, Charlie Tolley, has been invaluable, especially for a new manager. I’ve really took to that because it’s important that you get someone behind you who supports you and believes in you.”
Each manager in The Bosses’ Lounge also takes on a unique Q&A…
When did you want to start coaching/managing and when did you?
It was never really on the radar and then I kind of fell into it in 2009. I was playing semi-professional with Sheffield FC, and Howard Holmes from Football Unites, Racism Divides sort of convinced me to get involved with an amateur side that came under the umbrella of Sheffield United – Sharrow United. It all kind of went from there. I did my (FA) Level 2 (coaching licence) through Sharrow and I did Sharrow for three seasons or so. I did my (UEFA) B Licence while I was at Sharrow and kind of took them as far as I could. It was an amateur Sunday side in the Meadowhall Premier, we got promoted in our first season and got to the semi-final of both cups, and in the second season I think we finished third. In my third season, we finished mid-table, but I was getting heavily involved in coaching elsewhere and was at Rotherham United as an academy coach as well, so the desire to get more involved semi-professionally had strengthened.
Which training sessions do you enjoy leading the most?
I like really high-intensity sessions and I buzz off one-v-one and two-v-two attacking and defending sessions. They’re my favourites because the lads are working hard and there’s that competitive edge to the sessions.
Will you ever take part in training?
I try and join in where I can, where it’s appropriate; if we’re having a little 5-a-side, 7-a-side. So I occasionally join, but I prefer to get a good view of the players involved and who’s showing good desire and intensity, because it can influence my decisions.
Favourite ground (other than your own) that you’ve visited or would like to visit
I’ve been to Anfield, that’s my favourite (as a Liverpool fan). I think it would be the (Santiago) Bernabéu. If it’s non-league, I’d like to visit Salford’s new stadium when it’s finished, because that looks impressive.
Favourite player to watch (past or present)
John Barnes will always be the one, just because he’s the one I kind of idolised growing up. There was a shift to the original Ronaldo, R9, during a period when John Barnes was towards the end of his career, but ultimately it has to be him.
And how would you sell the club to him if you were trying to sign him (in his prime)?!
I’d just say ‘you’ll play every week, even on one leg!’ It’s a well-run, family club with an excellent dressing room and a group of players that’ll work tirelessly for you.
Pre-season tour anywhere in the world
I did a couple of pre-season tours during my time, but a lot of them with Sheffield Wednesday were around Europe. There wasn’t this big clamour to go to Asia or United States at the time; it was mainly Holland or Belgium, places like that. Pre-season tour for me would be the States or South East Asia; they’d be the ones I’d love to do.
Most challenging/frustrating part of your job
For me, it’s time with the players; we’d love to have more time on the training pitch. Instilling messages and game plans takes a lot longer, especially with a group that’s never worked together before and you only get them three or four hours a week. Sometimes it’s only an hour a week, depending on conditions and availability of venues and stuff.
Funniest player/coach you’ve worked with, or just one of the funniest
Steve Hawes, ex-Sheffield United. I don’t know if he still holds the record as Sheffield United’s youngest player but he did at one point. I played with him at Stocksbridge and he constantly had me in stitches; some of his banter was unbelievable. Class lad and good player as well.
Most embarrassing moment as a manager (or player)
It’d have to be for Grays Athletic, playing in the (2005) FA Trophy final at Villa Park against Hucknall. I had all my family there, all my friends, and I missed a penalty (in the shootout) that would have won us the cup. We did end up winning the cup, but that would be my most embarrassing moment, with everybody watching and it being on TV.
Your routine on a matchday
Everything’s really done on a Friday for me, so all my prep, team selection, setting up set-pieces and things like that. On the morning, I tend to get up fairly early, spend time with my daughter, watch a bit of Soccer AM, and try to get to the ground for 12:30 or just before. Then I make sure all the set-pieces are up so the players can see them as they walk in the dressing room, the whole squad, before I name the team. Make sure the players have got everything they need, in terms of kit, make sure the physio’s got what he needs, and then I just think about the key messages I’ve got to get across to the players. Me and (coach) Leon (Wainman) make sure we’ve got a warm-up set up before quarter past one, and then when the players arrive at half 1 we’ll give them 15 minutes to have a chat, see what’s on the board and all that kind of stuff. Then we’ll name the team around ten to two, two o’clock and get across key messages.
One singer/band or song you would sneak on to the team playlist
I’m not so much in charge of it; I was in the early stages because it’s a young group and I think nobody wanted to stick their neck out in terms of getting hammered for their music! It’d be a J Hus or a bit of Giggs, just to get ‘em pumping for the game.
Advice you remember getting that’s stuck with you
I think the key one from a coaching level, which is what I use today, was from Ricky Hill. He said, ‘the game is simple, don’t complicate it.’ I simplify everything I do as much as possible, just because it’s then easier for the players to act on what you’re asking them to do, and generally, that is the game. The likes of Man City, although what they’re doing looks complicated, it’s hard work and two or three-touch passing and trying to get the ball up the other end as quickly as possible to create chances.
If you could have some time with any manager, past or present
Yeah, it’d definitely be Alex Ferguson. He was just one manager at a time when I was playing who managed to adapt through a series of decades and still be successful, so he’s definitely one I’d love to sit down with.
How have you changed since you first started coaching/managing, or what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the obvious isn’t obvious to everyone; it’s only obvious if you know. I used to think ‘oh, why aren’t you doing this?’ but your patience is a must, and although you might think it’s obvious, it not always is. I do a lot of reflection, analysis of games, and looking at decisions made, and what I think is obvious and standard is not always the case to the players.
Any misconceptions about you as a manager/personality, myths you’d like to dispel, or something you wish people could understand a bit more?
I guess with me it’s just ‘what you see is what you get.’ Other than that, I’m not really sure what people’s opinions are on me. I’d like to think I’m fairly well-liked in the game. I’ve probably upset a few now and again on the sideline with my animated gestures at times!
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?
Yeah, massively. That’s just it, it’s just the buzz. It’s not the same as playing, obviously, but I look forward to training and match days. After time with family, it is my favourite thing to do. It’s a difficult one to express because it’s literally an obsession, to an extent. Just being in the dressing room, something you’ve planned going right, just to see your player or team improve from something I’m doing, or from my guidance. I’m still fresh in the role (at Brighouse) so there’s a lot of improvement to do, but there’s a lot more positives than negatives and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Interview/article by @chris_brookes