MARTIN ALLEN – MANAGING IN THE REAL WORLD: My life as a coach… on the fans’ bus, and how an obsession with set pieces finally paid off

  • That final hour before kick-off on a match day is awful, especially for a manager
  • I told Charlie Carter to not walk further than the pool as he recovers in Tenerife
  • After obsessing over set-pieces, it was fantastic to finally reap the rewards 

Martin Allen returns with his latest column for Sportsmail.

This time around, the Chesterfield manager talks about the painful hour just before kick-off, Charlie Carter’s recovery routine on holiday in Tenerife and how an obsession with set pieces finally paid off.

He also revealed his extreme sadness at the situation at Leicester, his former club, on Saturday night.

Chesterfield boss Martin Allen writes exclusively for Sportsmail in the Verdict each Monday

Chesterfield boss Martin Allen writes exclusively for Sportsmail in the Verdict each Monday

My life as a coach…on the fans’ bus

The hour before kick-off is the worst. Not for the players of course. There’s the routines to keep them occupied: getting changed, going out for the warm-up.

For the manager it’s different. Your work’s done by 2.15pm on a Saturday and the last thing the players want is to see you around the place, cluttering up their minds with last-minute ideas. You’re left to your own devices, looking for ways to kill the time.

I know I’m not the only one. Between management jobs last year I was working for the Premier League as a referees’ assessor and found myself in the Bournemouth corridor before kick-off on a day they were playing Liverpool.

There, outside the dressing room, as the players were starting to emerge, was Jurgen Klopp, sitting on a kit skip, reading the match programme. Yes, I can safely say it’s the longest hour of the week for us all.

I’ve developed my little routine for it now, heading back out of the stadium, getting back on board the team coach and sitting there on my own to get away from things, clear my head.

That’s where I was at AFC Fylde last week when our club’s supporters’ coach arrived and parked up a yard away from ours. It seemed the right thing to leave our bus and board theirs.

I saw Jurgen Klopp reading a programme at Bournemouth to kill that hour before kick-off

I saw Jurgen Klopp reading a programme at Bournemouth to kill that hour before kick-off

I wasn’t so sure what they would think about the sight of me climbing up their steps. We’ve not had a great time of it with results just lately and I’m sure 50 per cent of them were not too keen on listening to me – but I’ve never tended to worry about things like that.

I said words to the effect of: ‘Good afternoon. Great that you’re here. We love your support’, and said if they had questions, I would try to answer them. I was on board for about 15 minutes but we could have gone on all afternoon if there had not been an FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie to play.

We covered what my starting XI would be, how we’d approach the game, our tactical systems, why we’d not won for 13 matches… these were people who’d expected better than we’ve given so far this season but there was a lot of mutual respect.

In the game, we went behind inside 15 minutes but won 3-1, our first victory since August 11. After I’d said a few words to the players I headed out in search of that fans’ bus to thank them for their contribution. They’d gone, taking their jubilation back out on the road with them.

We’ll be meeting again soon. I’m doing a Q&A at our stadium, a week tomorrow. Even better when it’s not in the middle of the worst hour of the football week.

Get Carter to the pool

‘Get to the hotel pool in Tenerife,’ I told my midfielder Charlie Carter. He’s looking at a three-month recovery programme after an ankle operation, and his wife, a schoolteacher, was off for half-term.

‘Golf and walking further than the pool are banned,’ I added. ‘And here’s your exercise programme.’ You take your work with you in the National League.

Bang! Set-piece obsession pays off

I couldn’t fill our quota of seven subs for the FA Cup tie win at Fylde. I brought back 18-year-old Charlie Wakefield from loan at non-league Sheffield FC and we were still short. I can’t say that worries me in the slightest.

When I managed at Leicester City, 10 years ago, we had a squad of 44. We had 11 v 11 in training. And another 11 v 11 at the same time. And there were still subs with the hump. We don’t want players with the hump. Who really needs seven subs anyway?

I’ve managed 10 clubs over 16 years and I’m not sure I’ve ever spent so much time working on set-pieces. We pored over video of every minute of every game when we couldn’t find a win, desperate to find areas where we could do better.

Set-pieces was one. Defending them and scoring from them. We’ve spent hours on them in our extra Wednesday afternoon sessions. And on Saturday, a bit of payback. 

Jonathan Smith’s last-minute equaliser at home to a very strong Wrexham in the League was a move we’d worked on. Three players draw defenders to the front post and another one arrives late at the back. Bang! Managerial intuition and tactical genius of course! Plus a bit of set-piece obsession.

I had just walked through the door on Saturday night, still feeling the euphoria of the last-minute equaliser, when I switched on the television and discovered the tragedy which has hit my old club Leicester City.

It’s 10 years since I worked there but I have many old friends still working behind the scenes. They’re in my thoughts this week. 

Martin Allen was talking to Ian Herbert. 

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