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8 June 2014

Boss on the importance of taking time away from football

It is ironic that a legendary quote from former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly managed to outlive him, given his sentiments that: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very much disappointed with that attitude. I can assure it is much, much more important than that.”

Pompey manager Andy Awford understands and embraces the significance of the game to thousands of fans.

But after making his Blues bow against Crystal Palace, aged just 16, on the same day in April 1989 that the Hillsborough tragedy shocked the nation, he is acutely aware that its importance does not stretch that far.

Perhaps Shankly, who died eight years before the disaster, would have revised his opinion with the benefit of hindsight. 

Putting the game into perspective, Awford explains: “Football isn’t life and death – of course it isn’t. To this day I’m still scarred by the fact that on the day I made my debut at Selhurst Park, I came off the pitch to learn about Hillsborough.

“We recently had the anniversaries of both the Heysel Stadium tragedy and the Bradford fire, so football can’t really be spoken about in those terms.

“It’s an entertainment business, but we all want to do our best and achieve what we. There is no doubt that football matters to all of us, so of course I want to achieve my optimum.”

Despite revelling in his role as Blues boss, Awford feels it is vital to occasionally escape the madhouse.

“Back in November, when I was first in temporary charge for the Southend game, I had a little Reggie Perrin moment,” he reveals. “It was about 3pm on the afternoon of the match and it had been a real whirlwind experience, having taken charge of training, sorted the team and tactics, and all the other little things.

“I was having a cup of coffee and my head was spinning. Alan McLoughlin asked if I was okay and I just said I needed to get out and be alone. I just went out for a walk to the seafront and that was the moment I knew you had to create some time away for yourself.

“There is a story about two blokes in a forest chopping down different trees. One stopped, walked away and sharpened his axe, while the other carried on. The one who took time out came back after an hour and his tree came down quicker.

“That is the definite moral to management. In the hour I was away I had a latté, had time to refocus my mind, get it right and concentrate once more on the job in hand.

“I was listening to Arsene Wenger just the other day and he was speaking about the need for a managerial routine. Most people recognise and take it for granted that players have a routine, but not that managers need one.

“Arsene described how, for instance, if there was an evening game he would spend the afternoon sleeping and that is something I can totally identify with. It is as important for the manager as it is the players.

“The last seven games of this season emphasised that – the need to have a period where I spend time with the wife, the kids and turn my phone off. Because being a manager is full on.

“For me to perform to that optimum level I do need breaks. I’m not talking about two weeks in Barbados, but a couple of hours here and an evening there. That is the equivalent of me sharpening the axe.”

Awford remains a rookie in managerial terms, but has worked under plenty of professors during his many years in the game.

The ambitions held upon his retirement as a player aged 28 were abruptly halted when he saw the magnitude of what a switch would entail.

“When I stopped playing I thought I was going to be the next England manager by the time I was 32 and then I met Harry Redknapp.” Awford recalls.  “The main thing I learnt from Harry was that you treat players like adults and with respect, but, nevertheless, with a firm hand.

 “There was also the tactical side to it – picking the right team, making the right change at the right time, tinkering with the system. Putting Sonny Bradley up front like I did at Bury probably won’t work next time, but it did that afternoon.

“If I get anywhere near Harry in regards of managerial astuteness and awareness then I will be a happy man.

“I’ve seen some very good managers and coaches here, like Tony Barton, John Gregory, Frank Burrows, Jim Smith, Alan Ball, Terry Fenwick, Tony Pulis and the brief time Terry Venables was at the club.

“You find yourself taking little bits from all of these and you would be unwise if you didn’t because they were all decent managers in their own right.

“But I have got my own personality and my own set of beliefs in football because of the upbringing I had in the youth team under coaches like Peter Osgood, Graham Paddon and Bally.

“My beliefs and traditions stem from that upbringing through those three, but nevertheless you add other little bits as you go along. So while I am my own man, if I can add a bit of Harry here and a bit of Bally there with a smidgen of Jim Smith in the middle then all the better.

 “I have learnt so much, am still learning now and will continue to be educated as I go along. All those previous managers have contributed to my outlook in some way or another and that is the key. You have to keep discovering and improving.”

Another less repeated Shankly quote was: “Liverpool was made for me and I was made for Liverpool.”

And given his Fratton Park past and the affinity he holds for the Blues, Awford would probably concur with the sentiment as he begins his permanent Pompey managerial career.

In Part Three: Andy talks about his time away from Pompey, how he never envisaged returning and why the time was right to take up the managerial reins.

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