YOU’LL see them on the touchline at football matches from Old Trafford right down to a council recreation ground in Southampton.

Sometimes you can’t miss them, and you can very rarely fail to hear them.

There they are, shouting encouragement (if you’re lucky) or administering a rollocking (if you’re unlucky).

They prowl up and down the side of the pitch, arms waving like human windmills or fingers pointing furiously at watches.

Emotional messes, at times.

That is the life of a football manager, from the very top to the very bottom.

Last weekend, for the first time in my life, I joined their ranks.

While Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini were thinking about tactics for their Manchester derby clash which was being beamed live to a television audience of many millions, I was taking charge of my son’s Fordingbridge Town under-11s side for our Testway Youth League Cup tie against Tidworth.

There was no worldwide audience for this fixture.

In fact, there was hardly any audience at all.

The venue was fortress Burgate School, where we’d won all three of our previous home games this season – 6-0 (against an Upper Clatford team currently leading our division), 3-1 and 1-0 (against a West Harnham side previously unbeaten in the league).

I have watched and played in hundreds of football matches, possibly well over a thousand, throughout the last 30 years of my life.

In all of them, I had never felt the pressure of management.

I’d felt the pressure of refereeing, but that different. That is about ensuring fair play and keeping the game going.

This time I felt the pressure more keenly.

I’m always desperate to see my team (Exeter City) – or my son’s team (Fordingbridge) – win any game, but this was different.

This time my decisions could help the team win.

Or play a part in ensuring the team lost.

There must always be contrasting thoughts going through a manager’s head.

Always two possible answers to every question – a positive one and a negative one.

I didn’t have the pressure of league points to worry about, and every manager always seems to say he would prefer to win a league game rather than a cup tie.


This was against Tidworth, who stuffed us 6-2 on the opening day of the current season and who beat us in the cup last season.

They had won every game they’d played this season, except one.

I was desperate to beat them.

I know, this is under-11 football we’re talking about.

But the will to win should always be there alongside the need to improve the kids’ skills, tactical awareness and enjoyment of the beautiful game.

Tidworth rolled up with only eight players – we play nine and side at under-11 in the Testway, compared to the Southampton Tyro’s 11 a side for the same age group.

Though I had 10 players to choose from, we were minus our top goalscorer Charlie Dawkins and Sam Penton, the manager’s son.

Dad Mike and his family were away for the day, hence my ‘promotion’ to boss for the game.

I had key decisions to make. Who to play up front in Charlie’s absence? How to re-arrange the defence and the midfield? How best to use my one sub? And when to use him?

A manager can easily be submerged under a tsunami of questions he asks himself, before he has to deal with sorting out any other queries from parents, referees and opposition officials.

And it’s not just a few hours or so on a Saturday or Sunday morning for a youth football manager. It’s organising the midweek training, what drills to choose, what skills to concentrate on?

I even had to help put the goals up before the game.

‘I bet you wouldn’t find Jose Mourinho doing this?’ I pondered as I tried to find the right piece of white tubular plastic to slot into another piece of white tubular plastic before getting my hands tied up in the goal net.

Even in the days leading up to the Tidworth game, my train of thought would be rudely interrupted by sudden bursts of youth football related thinking.

Are there are tactical tinkerings I could make? Is there any way I could improve the team just by moving some players around position-wise?

Before too long, in your mind’s eye there are visions of your side replicating Barcelona with short, sharp passing movements which have left Tidworth dazed and confused, culminating in a blizzard of goals.

It didn’t work out like that.

I never for one moment really thought it would.

What did emerge was the sort of game I realistically expected.

A match that was tight, with no repeat of our 6-2 caning back in September.

In fact it was so tight that after an hour’s play it was still goalless.

The Tidworth boss and I had agreed, prior to play starting, that we would have two 10-minute halves of extra time rather than going straight to penalties.

All managers like to say ‘the first goal was crucial’ and I am no different.

The first goal WAS crucial.

And we scored it.

With the sun in his eyes, the Tidworth keeper failed to keep out an Ollie Bayliss speculative shot and we were in front.

A few minutes later it was 2-0, Bayliss scoring from the penalty spot.

All the lads were keen to take the spot-kick, but my touchline words of wisdom – ‘Let Ollie take it, he’ll score!’ – were to be proved right.

This managing lark is quite easy, I thought.

Of course, it wasn’t.

It was anything but.

The constant stream of encouraging words, the non-stop tactical advice – ‘mark number ten’, ‘get tight on number 6’, ‘who’s picking up the tall guy’, ‘use the width’, ‘give Jack a shout’, ‘keep moving’, ‘keep talking’ ... on and on and on I droned, as I prowled up and down the touchline.

And to think there’s loads of managers who do this sort of thing every weekend, up and down the country.

All unsung heroes, all giving up their time – weekday evenings and weekends, in a multitude of weather conditions – to help our sons and daughters play football.

Even though Tidworth pulled a goal back with about 10 seconds of extra time remaining, I was never worried that we wouldn’t win.

Contrastly, I was incredibly worried that we wouldn’t win to start with, and for the whole hour of normal time.

I thought we might win at 1-0 up, and pretty sure we’d win at 2-0.

The ref was checking his watch when they scored, so life was good.

I could hand the team back to Mike having overseen a victory. And a good one at that.

The relief was palpable, as it always is in football.

I have always celebrated great Exeter wins – yes, we’ve had a few you might be surprised to hear – but relief is usually the primary emotion.

I was happy my son’s team had won a cup tie, and delighted they’d beaten a good team in the process.

More than anything, though, I was relieved.

Now I can go back to watching from the touchline, and running the line if asked.

If there really is no-one else to be press-ganged into whistling duties, I will also help out refereeing But generally I can go back to enjoying watching my son’s team, rather than being immersed in the game and constantly barking out instructions.

And I can go back boasting a 100 per cent record.

What’s that noise? Oh, it’s my phone ringing. Excuse me.

‘Hello Mr Abramovich .... Say again?.... No, sorry, can’t manage your team next week, Fordingbridge under-11s are away to South Wonston Swifts. Perhaps next time, eh?’ That’s one of the great things about football.

There’s always a next time.