Scarborough Athletic head coach Darren Kelly is the latest to feature in The Bosses’ Lounge. If you missed the first half of his interview, you can find it here.
In the second half, Darren takes on the regular Q&A that goes with this feature, blending managerial and coaching outlooks, inspirations and lighter moments. Here we go…
When did you want to start coaching/managing?
To be honest, when I was very young; probably when I was playing for my hometown club. The reason, I’m quite a deep thinker, and I just thought the type of player I was – an old-school, ‘head it and kick it’ – I started to see the game change and my type of player would drift out of the game. The game, for me, was going to be technically and tactically-based players, and players were effectively going to become athletic robots. So from a young age, I knew the route I wanted to go, because I was always studying, listening to what managers say, watching how he copes and deals with players; I always absorbed it. Seeing different trends of managers that I’d looked at from my time in Ireland and England, and how different they were, and how players responded to different information. I’m big into man-management, and some of what I saw I’ve used, but I’ve incorporated my own style, if you like. I always wanted to be, effectively, a head coach is the way I would describe it, because I’m very hands-on. I do the majority of training myself, in terms of working on your phases and your functions, your warm-ups and your technical practices and all that. It was just something I learned from day one and sort of took with me.
Which training sessions do you enjoy leading the most?
To be honest, every part of it. You could do the phases of play and there’s many times I’ve seen it over the years where you see something that you’ve done – maybe an unopposed practice within training – and you see it come off. Effectively, football is about trying to move the opposition and you being in the right areas to exploit the opportunity. There’s some very astute coaches at our level who don’t get the credit I feel they deserve, but when you’re playing against some really compact, difficult teams, you have to have a solution to break that down. The practices where that works against that compact formation and you’re exploring opportunities, and you might not score but you’re working the keeper. That’s where I suppose the experience over the years really comes to fruition.
Will you ever take part in training, in terms of actually being in the session as an active part, like an extra player?
Me personally, I don’t join in. Maybe at the start you might do a wee bit of rondos, just for activation. I’m not saying it would distract me, I would be able to cope and manage with it, but I just like to do it properly and do it right. Unless a player is pulling out through injury, I don’t feel I’d be doing my job properly if I’m having to join in. I like to be very thorough in organising my sessions. I’m not saying it’s not right, it’s just not for me.
Favourite ground that you’ve visited or would like to visit
Being a Spurs supporter, I’ve been there, but a dream down the line, I’d love to go there as a manager one day. Especially the new stadium, having been there on a very hot day against Newcastle United, getting beat 1-0, was absolutely amazing, but the opportunity to be on the sidelines, I can dream. That would be the one, to be honest.
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— Darren Kelly (@DazKelly6) March 28, 2020
Favourite player to watch (past or present)
It would be Ronald Koeman when I was young. Gazza would have been the one as a Spurs supporter quite young, but when you try to sort of model yourself on a player, a Ronald Koeman. The old-style sweeper, good at free-kicks; I’d always fancied myself as a free-kick specialist, but looking back on it, I was quite rubbish! But it didn’t take away my dreaming of being a Ronald Koeman, for example.
(Where did supporting Spurs come from?) It was my big cousin Emmett, who I used to idolise, to be honest. All my mates would have all supported Liverpool, but I was a Spurs supporter. I remember when Spurs won the FA Cup in ’91, a couple of months before that they played Chelsea and they were beat 3-0 in the League Cup, and I remember bawling my eyes out! I remember clear as day where I was and what I did. Another one was the following season, when they played Feyenoord. I don’t know why Johnny Metgod stands out, I think probably because he was ex-Forest, I don’t know if he scored the goal that knocked Spurs out, but I remember sitting in my room with my scarf, jersey, watching it, and just amazing memories. So much that now, my six-year-old and 11-year-old are quite fanatical Spurs supporters as well.
And how would you have sold the club to let’s say Ronald Koeman, if you were trying to sign him for Scarborough (in his prime)?!
We have a really passionate club, and I always say in life, you have to be knocked down. Your choice is do you stay down there and go ‘right, that’s me,’ or do you fight against that? As much as it happened to me as a player, it’s also happened to our club. The fact that the club went into liquidation, everything was taken from under them. When you come into a new stadium like ours, my selling point to Ronald Koeman, you’re playing in front of 1000+ diehard supporters every home game. Very passionate and loyal supporters, and the vision of the club is to be successful, to try our very best to gain promotion and get back to where the team belong, which we believe is the Football League. So, we’d love you, Ronald, to come on that journey with us! It’s a great question because I’ve actually had it three times with players, where they’ve been offered astronomical money elsewhere, but they’ve took less than half to come to us, and I’m absolutely delighted with that.
Pre-season tour anywhere in the world
It would probably be La Manga. I say La Manga because the facilities, and also because I’m big into team bonding and that type of thing. So you do your thing when you’re out there, but you also have your opportunity to bond and have maybe a team night out, which I think is important, provided it doesn’t turn into anything silly. Players socialising, finding out about each other, but then having top-quality training and coaching within the realms of good weather.
Most challenging/frustrating part of your job
I think at this level, having experience of working in the Football League, for example, at this level you pretty much do it all yourself. In terms of a coaching aspect, I take all the balls, bibs, cones, I’m the one who has to make sure they’re pumped up, I’m the one who has to do all the arranging of the squad and everything like that, whereas in the Football League, it’s all done for you. I use it as a motivation, in the fact that are you going to work hard to get the rewards of doing this? In terms of the information, I like to get all that out myself just to make sure everything’s received. I’ve actually done presentations on the importance of those fine lines and making sure that everything is done to the detail.
Funniest player/coach you’ve worked with, or just one of the funniest
The assistant manager at Carlisle, John Cunningham, who’s a dear friend, was a funny guy, but was professional. We’ve always had good characters in the changing room. There was never anyone to stand out as I suppose a class clown, if you like. I was always blessed that we were always in changing rooms where there was good banter, and it was a mixture of people, rather than one specific person.
Most embarrassing moment as a manager/player
There was one when I was playing in Ireland. We used to play in a stadium called the RDS, Shamrock Rovers, but it was also a place where they used to do the showjumping. I was a young whippersnapper coming on the scene, I must have been about 16/17, and the management team were basically taking the hand out of me, saying that I need a tetanus jab on my backside because of the horses doing their thing on the pitch! So I’m lying down, my buttocks out for everybody to see, and the manager gets a pen and actually dabs me on the backside pretending it was a tetanus jab. He said to me ‘how you feeling?’ and I said ‘oh, I feel a bit funny’. Then they all started laughing because it was only a pen mark.
— Darren Kelly (@DazKelly6) June 7, 2020
Your routine on a match day
I’ll always start the day with my notes, making sure I’m prepared for every scenario within the day. It’s something I’ve probably only done for the last couple of years, going through every scenario, if we have to make a tactical change, what we could do. It’ll always start with taking my boys to football first thing in the morning. When I drop them home, that’s when I fully focus into the mode of making sure every stone is unturned. The big thing is when I get to the ground, supporters play such a big part in everything, so going and saying your hellos and making time for people. One thing I hate to do is rush. If I get to the ground for half 1, and the team meeting’s at 20 to, I hate it where you’re just saying hellos. I like to sort of go casually and speak to people and make sure my head’s focused and everything is nice and relaxed and ready.
One singer/band or song you would sneak on to the team playlist
Do you know what? I’m an absolute sop at heart. I love 80s/90s love; Tony Rich Project. I’m that person. I like some Irish love as well, but I like that sort of mellow, smooth, relaxing kind of music. I’m not having all this hip-hop, high tempo, all that.
Advice you remember getting that’s stuck with you
I think the only thing that did stick with me was my granddad on his deathbed, and I think it was an extra motivation, where he said ‘enjoy the football’. Those were his last words to me, and I did. I had an amazing career for the abilities that I had, which were quite limited, to be honest. To get the years out of it and the opportunities that I did, I think I’ve done well.
If you could have some time with any manager, past or present
Brendan Rodgers. Fellow Northern Ireland man, but I’ve always been fascinated with him. When I got the sack at Oldham, he was at Liverpool at the time and he was having some little troubles himself, but he took the time out to phone me and invite me down. He was absolutely amazing, but I’m gonna knock it back about ten years, to when I emailed him. He never even got the email, but it was a real inspiration for me, because I left school, no education, probably struggle to write, to be honest. People told me to keep an eye out for him, ‘he’s a fantastic coach’. Without wanting to copy him, I watched a lot of what he did and how he’d done it, and he was just your motivation, to watch from a distance. I’ve still got the email to this day, and I look back at it and I cringe! I’m about to complete my Masters, and I basically had to relearn to write, but I look at this email and it’s like something you get from a three/four-year-old! But I was very straight in, I said ‘apologies for my writing, I left school with no education,’ and it was basically to say ‘you have an admirer from a distance who’s loving what you’re doing. Keep doing what you’re doing and I look forward to you prospering.’ Since then he’s gone on to great things; got a promotion at Swansea, Liverpool, Celtic. When this shutdown ends I’m gonna go down and see him again, because he’s invited me down.
Any misconceptions about you as a player/manager/personality, myths you’d like to dispel, or something you wish people could understand a bit more?
I’m always a very honest, straightforward person. I think getting the sack at Oldham, I believe if I’d been given a proper opportunity, I would have went up the ways. I believe if I had been given a fair chance and time, I would have been successful there. That’s the one killer thing, to be honest, because as I said before, I spent a lot of money and devoted a lot of time and energy to my qualifications, and I went all over Europe to watch teams and things like that. You go into a club, and in six months, it’s gone, and 100 per cent not done the way I wanted to do it. For example, the players I wanted to bring in, I couldn’t bring in; I was basically a puppet on a string, and I let it happen. That’s a regret, but I’ll take responsibility for that. Even supporters now get in touch with me and say ‘you weren’t given a chance,’ and I’ve no doubt if I had have, I’d have turned the club around. If I had have been given the proper opportunity to be a manager.
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?
100 per cent. I could probably have an easier life now if I wanted; business is doing successful and I could go and watch my kids, but I’ve just a drive and an ambition to be successful as a head coach. I wanna be on the training pitch, I wanna be successful in football. I want my kids to be proud; number one by a clear distance in everything is my family and I want to do them proud. I never had a father that I could look up to. I want to inspire my kids, I want me to be their idol and that role model. I think through doing things and being successful in my own life, it helps and enhances that, because family’s number one.
Interview by @chris_brookes