Two is company but three’s a crowd. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
It has often been said and deemed an unwritten rule in football’s law book that joint management in the game has, does and will never work. With famous cases of joint stewardship dismally faltering – Liverpool fans look no further than Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier in the 1998-1999 season – and few success stories to talk of, the odds are stacked against this form of management. Yet, the Non-League managerial pair of Paul Hurst and Rob Scott are increasingly proving the doubters wrong.
Like the majority of managers in the Non-League and Npower Football League, both Hurst and Scott spent their playing careers exclusively in the Football Leagues in England. Whilst early on in his career Scott moved from one club to another, most notably having a two year spell with Fulham, Hurst spent his entire career at Npower Football League Two side Rotherham United. The two became united at United when Scott eventually made the move to The Millers in the 1998 season. From that point on the two established a strong defensive-duo in the United backline forming an integral part of the team’s successes on the pitch. They achieved successive promotions in the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 seasons and guided the club from the old Division Three all the way, and very much against the odds, to the dizzy heights of Division One. After a successful partnership lasting seven years, Scott set off for pastures new, eventually ending his career at Halifax Town, whilst Hurst, after a wonderful fifteen years spent at The Millers, was released by the club at the end of the 2007-2008 season. Nevertheless, having amassed nearly 800 appearances between them during their playing careers – a venture into management, albeit joint, provided them with the ideal opportunity to further progress their careers in the sport.
Somewhat ironically, the pair, who originated from different parts of the country to play for Rotherham United, hadn’t originally set their sights on a career in management. After all, both had jobs outside of football which they could fall back on having finished their careers. Nonetheless, being in football, albeit part-time, was no comparison. Their careers began in the glamorous surroundings of Ilkeston Town in Derbyshire. Despite the team being tipped to struggle in the Northern Premier League Division, the ambitious duo, playing an attacking 4-3-3 formation, defied the odds to get the club promoted to the Blue Square North following a historic play-off victory over Nantwitch Town. Their success was at Ilkeston was mirrored, to a certain extent, at Boston United where the pair took over for the 2009-2010 season. Like Ilkeston, Boston gained promotion to the Blue Square North via the play-offs – this time a victory over Bradford Park Avenue. They went a step further by winning the FA Trophy again by playing with an inventive 3-4-3 formation. The fact that in the space of just three years the duo had managed to drastically turn the fortunes of these two clubs from relegation battlers into promotion winners spoke volumes for their instant achievements. Therefore, the prospect of cutting their teeth in full-time management with Blue Square Bet Premier Team Grimsby Town was an opportunity they simply could not let slip through their hands.
When we talk about clubs in this country with a defined history and heritage then one can look no further than The Mariners, Grimsby Town. As Scott said at the duo’s official presentation at their press conference on Thursday, ‘It’s a proper football club; you can see that with the surroundings at Blundell Park [Stadium]…it’s a big club and has a lot of potential’. Despite recently under-achieving, it remains one of the most successful clubs in Lincolnshire being the only one to play top-flight football as well as reaching an FA Cup Semi-Final on two occasions in 1936 and three years later in 1939. Notable figures have passed through the managerial door at Grimsby Town, including the late Bill Shankly who went to guide Liverpool to, amongst other things, three League Titles and Southampton’s 1976 FA Cup winning manager Lawrie McMenemy, another one of the great post-war English managers. Whilst the club has enjoyed a successful past, the club’s demise in recent years has led to instability and, most notably, fans being driven away. Enticing disillusioned fans back to Blundell Park is just one of the many projects facing the management duo as they look to lead the club back to the glory days of the past.
Although the duo weren’t the front-runners for the Grimsby Town job, their ages (Hurst at 36 and Scott at 37) along with their ambition of enhancing their careers and their previous experience in the Blue Square Conference fitted in with the board’s criteria. Whilst this will be their first ever taste of top-tier Non-League football, their appointment has been met with enthusiasm by the fans. The club currently lie outside the play-off places – a full 10 points behind fifth placed Kidderminster Harriers, however, with two games in hand. Their recent form has stuttered. A 2-1 defeat at Batch City was followed up by a frustrating 2-2 draw against mid-table Gateshead after being two goals up. If the duo can, in the ten or so games that they have until the end of the season, replicate the successful attractive, attacking football that they managed to develop at Ilkeston Town and Boston United then the team still has an outside chance of making the play-offs this season. Whilst a return to the Football League at the first time of asking would represent an instant repayment in the faith shown to them by Chairman John Fenty, a second season in the Blue Square Bet Premier looks like being a more realistic prospect.
Whilst I earlier highlighted the disastrous joint management case at Liverpool, success stories, though far and few between, do exist. Alan Curbishley and Steve Gritt helped to lay the early foundations at Charlton Athletic in the early 1990s. Curbishley eventually went on to enjoy a highly successful sole reign at the club, which included keeping The Addicks in a very credible solid mid-table position in the Premier League for five and a half seasons. Whilst Curbishley and Gritt’s partnership is one of the more high-profile successes, successful joint management has worked in the Lower Leagues. In the case of Hurst and Scott, the statistics certainly back up their previous successes. As Fenty stated at the press conference, ‘Since going into management their successes have been remarkable, win percentages of 65%, 61% and 58% in successive seasons’. Sharing the work load has meant more time for coaching and developing skills whilst simultaneously prompting discussion as to team selection, tactics, training and so forth. Although there may be no set criteria for management, they can be assured that in their position both will come to receive equal respect on an equal level.
While both Hurst and Scott may not have been the most enthralling players to watch, up to this point they have managed to carve out a successful joint managerial career, helped out in no small part to an excellent grounding in the Football League. No, there hasn’t been a wholly-successful spell for a top-flight club under joint management for a period of time with the duo singing from the same hymn sheet in being equally as ambitious as the other, but Grimsby Town fans can come to expect an exciting future ahead of them. They may be a viewed as a one off, but Hurst and Scott are so far proving that two heads really are better than one.