A SMILE creeps across John Coleman’s face as he regales the time Jimmy Ryan dived into Guide reservoir.
The Stanley boss and assistant Jimmy Bell celebrate 1,000 games in management together when the Reds host Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup this afternoon.
Coleman’s career has included plenty of highlights but the moment Ryan plunged into freezing water in a bid to get out of training still tickles the Accrington chief.
He said: “We were training at the indoor gym and it was freezing and we had already decided we were going to send the players home. I made a throwaway comment of anyone who dives in there can go home and I turned round and Jimmy had jumped in!
“I have been blessed with lads who would brighten your day like Jimmy Ryan who was a great lad.
“I have had lots of funny moments, most of them centring on players. We have had some characters, the likes of Ian Craney and Andy Mangan who make you laugh every day.”
Coleman’s managerial career began at Ashton United 22 years ago when, on the advice of then Ashton player Bell, he successfully applied for the job at Hurst Cross and made the move from Lancaster City.
His first game in charge was an FA Trophy third qualifying round tie against Burton Albion, a club who play alongside Stanley in League One.
“We were getting pummelled by Burton Albion in the FA Trophy,” Coleman, 56, recalls. “We ended up winning 1-0, I don’t know how.
“The last 10 minutes was like the Alamo and one of our players went down with an injury and stayed down and the referee wouldn’t stop the game for him to get treatment. In my wisdom I just sent the physio on, like in a rugby league game.
“He ran on when the game is getting played and the ball hit him on the back of the head as he was running on!
“I was cup tied at the time because I had played for Lancaster. Jimmy was carrying a knock and he didn’t play.
“On the day of our first game at Ashton, Lancaster drew in the Trophy so I had to go and play for them on the Tuesday because my registration hadn’t been transferred and then went back to managing Ashton on the Saturday. We got to the quarter final of the FA Trophy that year and lost to Dagenham in the last minute.”
Bell’s injury meant he was in the dug-out alongside Coleman from day one, and he has remained there ever since, from Ashton to Accrington via Rochdale and Irish side Sligo Rovers.
“You very rarely get two best mates getting the opportunity to do that for too long,” said Coleman of the longstanding partnership.
“It’s a good little milestone for myself and Jimmy.
“When I look back to the first game I could have only dreamt of managing in a game like we had against Barnsley the other week with the atmosphere we had.
“It’s pleasing to look back that we’ve managed to last 1,000 games, and not ripped each other’s head off, or our own heads haven’t exploded!”
The pair have led Stanley to four promotions, the most recent of which came last season when they won the League Two title in style.
Without doubt the duo have experienced more highs than lows and Coleman is well placed to comment on the rollercoaster of emotions that only football can bring.
“There have been some great highs and there have been some terrific lows,” he said.
“Probably the most low I’ve ever felt was at Rochdale.
“We were playing Walsall who were battling relegation with us. We were 2-0 down but turned it round and scored with 10 seconds to go to go 3-2 up.
“Then they kick off, the ball gets lumped forward and the lad heads it from 25 yards and it loops in.
“So from going to euphoria to absolute desolation in less than five seconds – that took some getting over.
“But if you didn’t have those moments, then the moments of winning the league against Lincoln last season or score that winning goal against Luton (in April), they don’t taste as sweet, so it’s all swings and roundabouts.
“You have to possibly put up with the lows to enjoy the highs.”
Coleman has always said the first promotion with Stanley was the sweetest but admits that late victory over Luton last season takes some beating.
“For actual sheer excitement it’s got to be the Luton game,” he said. That’s when the lads believed we were going to win the league as soon as the final whistle went.
“Winning that game, and the euphoria in the dressing room afterwards, we knew we were going to win the league then. And that’s a great feeling.”
Coleman and Bell have come a long way together, from picking subs at Ashton based on who needed the money to guiding Stanley to the highest level in their history.
The two have developed along the way with Coleman full of praise for Bell, 54, and his coaching abilities, labelling him one of the best in the country.
“Myself and Jimmy have tried to improve and I have watched Jimmy develop unbelievably well as a coach over the years,” added the Reds chief. “I have seen him go from being quite nervous in front of players to being such a top coach that he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.
“He is very insightful and he reads the game very well.
“I have tried to develop myself as well, develop my managerial skills and my people skills and be a bit more realistic about football.
“I think I have been able to deal with disappointment a lot better in the last five or six years.”
Football itself has changed hugely in the last two decades, from recruitment to resources.
“Preparation has changed a lot,” adds Coleman. “When we first started out we didn’t have the benefit of being able to watch things, getting the feedback of a video straight away.
“It was only a few years at Accrington when we were in the Conference that we had access to videos for our own games. Now you can watch any game in the world at the drop of a hat.”
He added: “When you used to come back for pre-season it was your job to get the players fit but now they very rarely get themselves get out of condition.
“It has been a complete change, even in non-league. I think the drinking culture in non-league is probably still there but it is nowhere near as prevalent as when I was playing. You might lose a little bit of the camaraderie but you don’t have to drink to have team spirit, winning games is the best way.”
Coleman and Bell have been masters of fostering a successful team spirit, player after player comments on how the Stanley dressing room is an environment to succeed in.
And the Reds chief believes he has been able to alter his approach over the years to create that camaraderie.
“The advice I would give to any manager is focus more on recruitment, that is because you are only as good as your players,” he added.
“You can make a good player better but you can’t make a bad player a good player.
“Sometimes you have to look into the character and when I was younger you possibly took names and players on reputation but I have learned now that those reputations are earned elsewhere and they don’t translate.
“You have to focus on what they can do for you and not what they have done in the past.”
So to the future. Do the pair fancy another 1,000 games?
“Why not,” said Coleman. “I think I can put up with Jimmy as long as he can put up with me.
“My next target is to go 1,000 league games, I think I am just short of 600 so that would be a great achievement.”
Source : LancashireTelegraph