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Give Young Non-League Managers A Chance

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SkyBet League Two side Swindon Town have just appointed Phil Brown as their new manager.

Nothing particularly wrong with that in in itself – the former Bolton Wanderers number two did a reasonable job at Southend United in a five-year spell and led Hull City into the Premier League for the first time in its history.

But it`s another example of the Football League especially re-cycling its managers instead of looking a little lower down the Pyramid at some outstanding young candidates, especially in the Vanarama National League.

League One Walsall sacked John Whitney and one of the names being bandied about as a possible successor is current Wrexham boss Dean Keates.

The 39-year-old has turned the Dragons into a serious title challenger this season, but the Saddlers are his home-town club, and one he played for and won promotion with twice in two spells.

Keates took charge of Wrexham in October 2016 following the dismissal of Gary Mills and signed a new three-and-a-half-year contract last February, which may put off possible suitors.

Keates is one of several young managers who are doing terrific jobs with teams in the top tier of non-League football.

Luke Garrard at just 32 is earning rave reviews for the job he`s doing at Boreham Wood who, like Wrexham, are pushing hard for a top seven finish.

Garrard has been in charge since October 2015 and is the youngest boss in England’s top five divisions.

He joined Wood as a player in 2005 and has led them to sixth place and the Emirates FA Cup Second Round this season.

But, like Keates, he too had his potential recognised and was awarded with a new contract which takes him up until the end of the 2019/20 campaign.

AFC Fylde`s Dave Challinor also signed a new two-year contract in June after guiding the Coasters into the National League.

The 42-year-old took over in 2011 and won his third promotion with the side since joining from Colwyn Bay.

A former Tranmere Rovers, Stockport County and Bury central defender, who made over 400 appearances as a professional, became well-known for his enormously long throw-ins.

But he`s another highly-thought of young boss who has the club on the cusp of the play-off race this season after they took a while to adjust to the higher level.

Last Friday saw 34-year-old Daryl McMahon earn February`s manager of the month award after guiding his team from an inconsistent start to the New Year to four consecutive wins to resurrect their play-off challenge.

McMahon, who is a former Fleet player, was appointed manager in April 2015.

He led the club to two successive play-off finals, winning promotion at the second attempt with a 2-1 victory over Chelmsford City last May.

But he too has been tied down – Fleet quickly recognising his potential – signing him up on a new five-year contract last summer.

Gateshead`s Steve Watson has the best playing CV of the young bosses in the National League.

Now 43, Watson was capped by England at B and under-21 level and made over 200 appearances for Newcastle United and 125 for Everton in the top flight as well as spells with Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield Wednesday.

After retiring as a player, he helped former Newcastle team-mate Lee Clark as a coach at Huddersfield Town and Birmingham before becoming assistant-manager at Macclesfield Town in the summer of 2016.

Gateshead appointed him as their new manager, following Neil Aspin’s departure for Port Vale, last October.

His background and a decent run of form since taking over at the International Stadium could make him a target for higher level jobs.

In contrast, few in non-League football had heard much of Anthony Limbrick when he was handed the Woking job last May.

But at 33, the Aussie who learned a lot of good habits from Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton, has take the eye with the Cards` performances, even if results haven`t quite gone so well in recent weeks.

Limbrick came to England in 2004 to try to make a career as a professional footballer. However, he soon decided to focus on coaching and was given roles with the youth team at Boreham Wood, Wingate & Finchley and then in Southampton’s renowned academy in 2010.

He spent six years with the Saints, coaching at different age levels, including a final year spent as lead under-18 coach, working with many players who have gone on to have successful careers in the Premiership.

After a brief spell as assistant-coach to the England under-17 squad, he became West Ham United’s academy coach in February 2016 before leaving to take up the reins at Kingfield.

Eyebrows were raised when Lincoln City appointed the relatively `unknown` Danny Cowley as their new manager in May 2016.

The then 37-year-old had combined teaching with guiding Braintree Town to the play-offs after doing an exceptionally good job lower down the non-League Pyramid with Concord Rangers.

But what he alongside brother Nicky achieved in a short space of time at Sincil Bank was remarkable – promotion back to the Football League and that marvellous FA Cup run last season.

It`s little surprise that his name was being touted around as a possible contender for the vacancy at Championship outfit Barnsley.

With the season`s `squeaky bum` time approaching, there will no doubt be more vacancies going around in Leagues One and Two, but I wonder how many chairman or chief executives will have the courage to look outside the usual merry-go-round of managers who have failed elsewhere?


About Author

Former Swansea City and Kettering Town defender who has been managing the likes of Kettering Town u18s, Rothwell Town, Desborough Town and Wellingborough Town for 33 years as well as being technical director at AFC Rushden & Diamonds. Began in non-League journalism as editor of Team Talk magazine back in the early 1990s and then as editor of Non-League Daily, joining Pitchero to set up Pitchero Non-League in January 2011. Also works for the National League.

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