As a Plymouth Argyle stalwart, Paul Wotton was at the coalface of some golden years for the Green Army, though he also came to know the game’s chastening nature during his playing days. Eight weeks into his first managerial job at Truro City, the one-time Southampton player has been greatly encouraged by the young side he has had to swiftly assemble, with bundles more to pass on to them over the weeks and months to come.
With a two-year contract announced on 17th June for Truro City’s previous caretaker manager Paul Wilkinson, a fortnight later, he was confirmed as Bury’s new boss. While admittedly an especially swift departure, it would have been a chance to manage four divisions higher for the former Middlesbrough striker, if not for the well-publicised and desperately sad turmoil at the Shakers.
In any case, it was another example of how change is just about the only constant in football, and it left the way open at Truro for Paul Wotton’s first shot at management. The former defender/midfielder had left Plymouth Argyle in late-April with manager Derek Adams, having been assistant back at the club where he made his name as the hometown captain in the Pilgrims’ memorable rise up the Football League in the 2000s.
Truro recently started their BetVictor Southern Premier South campaign with three wins from three, before a rough Bank Holiday yielded back-to-back defeats. The White Tigers’ new gaffer has been enthused by what he has seen so far, though, and he recalls how taking the reins came to fruition.
“I had a phone call from the club asking me to go in for a chat, and I had no preconceived ideas really. I wasn’t up to much after leaving Plymouth Argyle, so I had a chat with (the club’s High Performance Football Consultant) Alex Black and within half an hour I knew I wanted the job, so they offered it me after that meeting and I signed the next day.
“Impressions have been very good. There’s obviously new owners, there’s a new optimism around the place.
“I can’t speak about what went on before because I wasn’t there, but it stagnated a little bit, the club. There’s a massive potential down there and with the new owners, they sold it to me and it’s been really good so far.”
It has been a transitional time for the club to say the least. Last season ended in relegation from the Vanarama National League South, with the club also returning to Treyew Road during the campaign after temporarily groundsharing with Torquay United at not-so-nearby Plainmoor.
Highly significant was the 9th March announcement that Championship rugby union outfit Cornish Pirates had taken over the club, with the intention stated for each to continue as separate entities with individual boards and management teams. The proposed Stadium for Cornwall would be home to both clubs, as well as Truro & Penwith College.
All hopes are for a positive new era, but off-field developments aside, the only focus in the meantime for Truro’s main man in the dugout is on the pitch.
“First and foremost, they just want some stability. They had four managers last year, which is ridiculous in one season.
“The infrastructure about the club, that’s nothing to do with me at the minute, that’s being handled by really good people with more experience of that sort of thing than I have. I signed on the Thursday, had training that night, and I had six contracted players, so it’s been mayhem.
“At the minute, my only concern is getting the first team on the pitch and getting some organisation into those players and some half-decent results. So I haven’t had chance to think about infrastructures and remits or anything like that.
“They’ve been great with me, they literally said from day one ‘we’ll never get involved with the football side of it, so it’s completely up to you,’ which is great to hear.”
NEW SIGNINGS: Welcome to our two newest signings for the season – both Harrison Davis and James Hamon have signed on one year contracts. Manager Paul Wotton is delighted to have you both on-board! #truro #nonleague #whitetigers pic.twitter.com/qzmyLrNhAk
— Truro City FC (@TCFC_Official) July 29, 2019
Wembley winners in the 2007 FA Vase under Dave Leonard, five promotions in six seasons had landed the club in the National League South in 2011, only to suffer relegation two years later, having also found themselves in administration. Promoted back to Step 2 in 2015 under Steve Tully, they made the play-offs two seasons ago in Lee Hodges’ second spell in charge.
That 2017/18 campaign also included a trip to Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup first round, as they became the first Cornish side to reach that stage in 48 years. Former Plymouth midfielder Hodges resigned at the start of last season, and Leigh Robinson came in, but was gone in March. Paul Wilkinson’s caretaker stint ultimately couldn’t save them from the drop.
The beauty of football, but for the saddest of circumstances a club can encounter, is that there is always another game. A change of personnel, whether players, staff or a combination of the two, can often bring the clearing of the decks needed to reinvigorate a place.
While results will always be pivotal, especially for someone who was at the heart of league-winning teams in his career, Paul has been determined not to be lax about what he brings into Truro, personnel-wise.
“I refuse to sign anyone who doesn’t wanna be at the football club. I’m not after anyone who’s playing just for money; not that there’s a great deal of money there, but I’ve got no interest in signing anyone who doesn’t wanna work hard or improve.
“I don’t want anyone who’s in a comfort zone. I spoke to a few players, I would say a few 26-29-year-olds, who were just in their comfort zones at their clubs and it didn’t strike me that they really wanted to be here.
“The boys I’ve got there at the minute, they all wanna be there, they all work tremendously hard, and they’re a humble bunch as well. They’re willing to learn and listen, which is all I can ask for.
“I am on the lookout for a couple more players but it’s taking time because I want to sign the right characters.”
Among the pre-season additions was young Plymouth striker Luke Jephcott on loan. Advised by Argyle boss Ryan Lowe to go out and get some games, the 19-year-old has scored twice so far for Truro and has just extended his stay until January. Left-back Ryan Law, a scorer in the 2-0 win over Metropolitan Police, is another loanee from Home Park who recently extended his deal until the New Year.
The links with Plymouth are obvious, with Truro naturally an ideal club for emerging Pilgrims players to gain competitive experience with. Precious few in the game, however, have anything like the association to Argyle that the White Tigers boss has, with Paul making almost 500 appearances for the club.
The vast majority came in his initial spell, with four of his seasons spent in the Championship, after Division Three (2001/02) and Division Two (2003/04) titles were won. It was a driven dressing room dynamic on their ascent, with goals spread around the team, so what if the one-time skipper could drop one of his old comrades from the Theatre of Greens – in their prime, of course – into his Truro City side?
The goal-getting midfield Frenchman David Friio perhaps?
“David would be a good one. I’ve got two: Micky Heathcote, who actually wasn’t in the promotion-winning teams but was a centre-back under Neil Warnock when I was a young lad.
“He was the captain of Plymouth Argyle then and he was a monster. The other one would probably be Mickey Evans; centre-forward who didn’t score many goals but what a target man he was.”
There were three years at Southampton, which included relegation from the Championship, a ten-point deduction in League One, and Wembley success over Carlisle United in the Football League Trophy in what were decidedly different times for the now-re-established Premier League club. Paul also had an Oxford United loan spell and a year at Yeovil Town, but it is Plymouth he will always be synonymous with. His new side welcomed his boyhood club to Treyew Road for a friendly in July, with a 1,766 crowd, and Truro having to delay kick-off due to the amount of fans who turned up.
The manager most closely linked to his success as a player is Paul Sturrock, who would later take Graham Coughlan, Peter Gilbert, Steve Adams and Hasney Aljofree (on loan) with him to Sheffield Wednesday in his next Football League job after a brief top-flight tenure at Southampton. Some of the Scot’s former Plymouth players would also join him in later stints at Swindon Town and Southend United.
At Wednesday, or indeed any of the other clubs, Paul says an attempt was never made to sign him by his old boss, so was that at all surprising for him?
“No, not really. Even though I was his captain, played every minute of every game for him really, I wouldn’t say we had a typical manager-captain relationship.
“You mention Cocko (Graham Coughlan) there, he was a lot closer to Cocko; I think he signed him two or three times. I think he signed Hasney two or three times as well, and Stevie Adams.
“He obviously had his favourites and they served him well. I took a different path and ended up at Southampton, which was amazing.
“There was never any interest from him ever in signing me at any of his other clubs, which I didn’t take personally. I’m from Plymouth, and representing Plymouth Argyle was always my dream, and I was doing it every weekend.”
— Truro City FC (@TCFC_Official) July 9, 2019
Scoring 64 goals for Plymouth, free-kicks and penalties were something of a speciality. Asked whether he had a goal bonus as an extra incentive to step up in such situations, he laughs that he never even had a win bonus!
When it came to the pressure cooker of a penalty, was it always as simple as picking a spot and hitting it as hard as he could?
“It sounds awful, doesn’t it, but yeah, pretty much! I never really practiced them, never really practiced free-kicks either, it was just something that I was good at, fortunately.
“There were things I wasn’t good at, which I should have practiced more, but penalties and stuff, I just enjoyed it. I enjoyed being centre of attention for that two-minute period when you’ve got a penalty.
“I missed a couple as well. I never practiced them, I was just fortunate, even as a kid, to have a half-decent strike.”
As the gaffer himself now, Paul brought Truro’s all-time leading scorer Stewart Yetton back this summer as player/assistant manager. Jamie Richards has been captaining the side, with the 25-year-old defender three years into his time with the club, after spending a decade at Plymouth as a youngster.
It is over five years since Paul played his last professional game, in a 3-3 draw for Plymouth with Portsmouth at Fratton Park. With ample time for reflection, who does he feel had the best understanding of him as a player, in managerial terms?
“It’s interesting because people always jump straight for Paul Sturrock, but I had to overcome a lot of obstacles with Paul Sturrock. I’m not sure he really had me as a player, to be honest with you, even though I was his captain and played all the games.
“There was always a bit of self-doubt there regarding that one, but Tony Pulis was phenomenal for me when he managed Plymouth Argyle. He respected me and treated me really, really well.
“I loved the way he did things in training and on the pitch; it was very black and white, which for me was great. I needed to know what to do in certain situations and he left you in no doubt as to where he needed you to be on the pitch.
“Alan Pardew at Southampton treated me really, really well; I was older then and he treated me with a lot of respect. Always asking my opinion on little things and asking how I was and that sort of thing.
“Tony Pulis, for me personally, he suited the way I was as a player and suited me as a person as well.”
As an Argyle youngster with some first-team experience under his belt, Paul saw the club relegated to the fourth tier in 1995, promoted back a season later (Ronnie Mauge at Wembley and all that), and relegated again in 1998. He played in the infamous ‘Battle of Saltergate’ as a 19-year-old, as Plymouth won 2-1 at Chesterfield – oh, and five players were sent off.
Highs, lows, special and surreal times, but does he recall a tougher period in particular where enjoyment was lost and his mettle severely tested?
“There were tons of them. Any player who says they don’t suffer with self-doubt or worry about games or question their ability, all these sort of things, they’re lying.
“Any time you’re dropped from the team, or when you lose a game, it’s hard. I was lucky to have been a professional footballer for so long, but it’s not easy.
“People can sit there and say ‘they only work from 10 until 12,’ which is a load of rubbish anyway. ‘They get these amazing pay packets,’ and all that; well, they don’t in the lower leagues.
“It’s difficult, and you’re there to be shot at all the time, and it’s got even worse nowadays with social media. Self-doubt’s horrendous, then lack of confidence and you have to fake it to make it on the pitch and pretend you’re the big man, but inside you’re questioning every decision you make on the pitch.
“It’s a constant battle, being a professional footballer. I’ve always said it’s the greatest sport in the world, but it’s a horrible business, it really, really is.
“Listen, we all love it, don’t we, and we all keep doing it.”
Drawing upon his fortitude to solider on was very much the order of the day when he ran the London Marathon earlier this year. He would learn of his and Derek Adams’ Plymouth departure a matter of hours later.
As he will detail in the Q&A to follow here, his body may feel far from tip top now, but he could never be accused of letting himself go since he stopped playing. In terms of other interests outside football, though, he is more than happy to keep it blissfully low-key whenever the chance arises.
“Do you know what? This is a boring answer, but not golf, not anything like that, I love sitting on the settee or just family days.
“Even now when I’m older and the kids are older, having family around for barbecues and dinners and social events, or going to the pub, I’ve always found that very relaxing. I’ve never had any other business interests or anything like that; I was always pretty dedicated to football, to be honest.”
Each manager in The Bosses’ Lounge also takes on a unique Q&A…
When did you want to start coaching/managing?
I always thought I could do it, all the way through my career, and I got my badges quite early. I started coaching in the academy when I was late-20s at Plymouth Argyle. I was out for quite a long time with a bad knee injury and I started coaching in the academy and really enjoyed it. Then natural progression really when I realised I was too old to play football…or should I say John Sheridan realised I was too old to play football?! He offered me a player-coach role, which I’ll always thank him for because that was my first chance really of coaching. So I became player-coach, but I never played. I coached for a couple of years; one year under Sheridan, one year under Derek Adams, and then became assistant manager as well. It’s the next best thing to playing. It doesn’t replace playing, it doesn’t at all, but you’re still around the lads and you’re still having the banter; you have to be a bit more serious but it is a brilliant job.
Which training sessions do you enjoy leading the most?
Now I’ve become manager at Truro I enjoy setting the team up for a Saturday, so I enjoy doing shape, which is interesting because as a player I always hated it. I also like coaching high-tempo sessions, when you’re not so much coaching but you’re getting the lads at it and the ball’s fizzing about, the boys are enjoying it and they’re sweating and getting it going. I always enjoy that; I get a bit carried away with those sessions. At the end, when you can see the session’s gone well and the ball’s been moved quickly, the lads are knackered at the end of it, I always enjoy those sorts of sessions.
Will you ever take part in training (in terms of actually being in the sessions as an active part, like an extra player)?
No, and there’s two reasons. Number one: my body’s a wreck. Number two: I did a couple of times at Plymouth Argyle and Derek Adams was like ‘you can’t join in,’ because as soon as the whistle goes you think you’re a player again. You start making demands of people, and you’re 40 years old and not getting close to anyone, so it’s a bit embarrassing really! You always think you can still do it, your brain tells you that you can, but your body’s like ‘no chance mate.’
Favourite ground (other than your own) that you’ve visited or would like to visit. Obviously Home Park, but any others?
It’s strange because as a player you always have a couple of lucky grounds. Ninian Park at Cardiff was always a lucky ground for me; I always scored there. Bournemouth as well. The new Wembley’s phenomenal, I played there with Southampton. I love the older grounds; I loved playing at West Ham, Leeds, Wolves, Burnley, QPR, where the crowd are right in amongst you. Not necessarily beautiful football grounds, but just proper football grounds. Sheffield Wednesday, what an atmosphere that was; I actually played there for Yeovil one night as well and we ended up with nine men and drew 2-2. Then we went to Anfield with Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup; I was coaching that day, but Anfield, it’s phenomenal. I’ve never played or coached or managed at Old Trafford, which would be amazing. The new Tottenham ground looks insane, doesn’t it?
Favourite player to watch (past or present)
Being born and bred in Plymouth and then standing on the terraces, Tommy Tynan was everyone’s hero. Tommy was the first one I ever looked at and was like in awe of him, watching him. He had like gold Hummel boots; it was only him and Glenn Hoddle who wore them! Even his name, Tommy Tynan – great footballer name. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in his company a good few times since I finished football and I get on brilliant with him. He was always a hero of mine as a kid, and then when I got a bit older, Gazza (Paul Gascoigne). Gazza was everything; Italia ’90 he was the man and when he cried everyone cried with him.
And how would you sell the club to one of those two, if you were trying to sign them for Truro (in their prime)?! Would it be Tommy Tynan or Gazza?
Oh, Gazza, all day long! I’d have to tell him that we’ve got a good clubhouse! In Italia ’90 and stuff, he just played football. Just loved football and his emotion and his passion for the game, just phenomenal. I wish there was more. He was a maverick and there’s not many of them now. People would pay to watch him play.
Pre-season tour anywhere in the world
Just go straight to Ibiza, wouldn’t you? That’s not even in doubt!
Most challenging/frustrating part of your job
The frustrating part for me is you have no control when the whistle goes. You have to learn that you can’t make decisions for people. It’s weird because the most important part of the week is that 90-minute game, and you have no control over it really, apart from at half-time and before the game. It’s surreal really.
Funniest player/coach you’ve worked with, or just one of the funniest
Funniest coach is Wally Downes. Absolutely hilarious, he used to have me in tears when I was at Southampton, but not meaning to make people laugh. Just would have one-liners that he would say under his breath or something like that. I just found him hilarious, and still get on with him now, so he’s the funniest coach I’ve ever had. The funniest player, there’s been a few characters, and some outrageous stories that could never be printed. I sound like an old man reminiscing now, but I just remember every day of my life as a football player, no matter what was going on football-wise, I always remember at some point in the changing room just buckling with laughter. There was always something going on. Even if you had the hump with something, at some point during that day you’d be crying with laughter. That’s why footballers never grow up really; just an extended school, the changing room becomes a classroom. Great memories.
Most embarrassing moment as a manager/coach/player
Nothing crazy. Loads of team talks that haven’t gone to plan, definitely! Mispronunciation of names and all that sort of thing; you can see the lads looking at you thinking ‘what is he going on about here?’ (Ever have to sing as a player?) Oh yeah, but I enjoyed all that. My son’s just started as an apprentice at Plymouth Argyle and he was sat there on a Sunday, and I said ‘what’s the matter with you?’ He said ‘oh I’m messing myself, I’ve got to sing tomorrow,’ so I started laughing and said ‘you’ve just got to go all out mate and do it.’ One of my mates at Argyle videoed it and sent it me, it was awful! He sang ‘I Want it That Way’ by the Backstreet Boys.
Your routine on a match day
Ever since I’ve been coaching, Saturday morning I’ve always gone for a long run. I go for a road run and get a good sweat on and then have a bite to eat and get to the game. At Truro at the minute, it’s just over an hour away, so I like to get down there quite early and sit down at the office, have a cup of tea, have a chat with people, have a little mooch about. A big superstition of mine is always going for some form of exercise before the game.
One singer/band or song you would sneak on to the team playlist, assuming that you don’t run it already…
Smokey Robinson (& The Miracles) ‘The Tears of a Clown.’
Advice you remember getting that’s stuck with you
I don’t know, if I could give someone some advice now it’d be don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ve always been so hard on myself and it hasn’t helped. Just try and enjoy life as best you can. I haven’t always done that and I regret that a little bit, so don’t take things too serious.
If you could have some time with any manager, past or present
Brian Clough straight away. I’ve just watched the DVD actually the other day, I Believe in Miracles, about when (Nottingham Forest) won the European Cup; absolutely fantastic. Ian Bowyer who played in that was my youth-team manager at Plymouth Argyle, so I owe him an awful lot. That’s quite relevant, so I would definitely want to speak to Brian Clough, and the other one is Bobby Robson. I watched a documentary about him as well. When not one person can find something bad to say about someone then you’re looking at an absolute legend, and he went all over Europe and succeeded.
Any misconceptions about you, myths you’d like to dispel, or something you wish people could understand a bit more?
Loads of them. That’s the frustrating part of football for me, that fans think they know you, but they really haven’t got a clue what you’re like as a person. On the pitch, I had a persona of always giving my all, being a winner, and I could be really mouthy and make demands of people, but off the pitch, I’m soft as anything. Just a family man, I’ve got a good sense of humour, but people think I’m always snarling and walking about angry, which couldn’t be further from the truth. That always really frustrates me when people judge you as a person for what you do in 90 minutes as a footballer; when I’m playing football I’m there to win, simple as that. I’d do anything to win a game of football and I have done in the past, things I’m not proud of, but off the pitch, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve also played with very loud, vocal people off the pitch who are quiet as a mouse on it. I don’t like that misconception. It’s actually a big bugbear of mine that people think they know me and people judge me; they haven’t actually got a clue who I am.
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?
Oh, 100 percent. We beat Metropolitan Police away in my first game as manager and I haven’t felt like that for a couple of years in football on the bus on the way home, it was amazing. We all love this game and I’m lucky to still be earning a living from it. It is the greatest sport in the world, and for it to be your job sounds so ridiculous, but it’s every kid’s dream. I’m still doing it now at 42, which is amazing.
Interview/article by @chris_brookes