It's all about teamwork

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
A football club manager turned primary teacher finds many similarities between his two roles. Adi Bloom reports

A red card is the worst form of sanction on the football field. But John Coleman longs for equally effective penalties on the training ground.

Mr Coleman, 41, the manager of Accrington Stanley, said: "You have to be flexible with footballers in training. You don't have set boundaries. You can't give them detentions, or keep them in at playtime."

He has coached the non-league side for the past five years but, since qualifying last summer, he has also been working part-time as a teacher of Years 5 and 6 at St Aloysius Catholic primary, in Liverpool.

He has found the two jobs surprisingly similar. "I use a lot of target-setting with both," he said. "Players have problems with their family, home life or work, and children have similar problems. And you have trouble getting both to do work at home.

"At school you have set sanctions and rewards. I can fire players, but I can't fire children."

Out of habit, Mr Coleman now finds that he occasionally addresses his footballers as though they were children. And, when the club is performing poorly, it is often difficult to shift convincingly into teaching mode.

"Football management and teaching are among the most stressful professions around," he said.

His choice of club cannot help. The history of Accrington Stanley was probably best captured in a cult 1980s advert for the Milk Marketing Board.

"Accrington Stanley? Who are they?" one child asked. "Exactly," his friend replied.

In 1962, the club was forced to withdraw from the football league, because of financial difficulties. Accrington was reborn in 1968, since when it has been clawing its way up through the ranks. Last April, it was promoted to the Nationwide Conference. And, in mid-December, the team beat third-division Bournemouth, to reach the third round of the FA Cup.

Tomorrow they face Division Two's Colchester United.

"It's good the pupils have a club they feel involved with," said Mr Coleman. "They're all behind Accrington Stanley."

Despite the stresses, Mr Coleman says that controlling a group of exuberant youths and teaching a primary class complement each other. "As a manager, you take pride in your team, rather than in your own achievements. It's the same with children: you work them hard, so they can better themselves. We will never win the FA Cup. But as long as we give our all, you can't really hope for more. It's the same in teaching."

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