Five Minutes of Your Time, Please is a series of interviews with people from different areas and eras within the game. This one features Gordon Bartlett, a manager in the non-League game for twenty-eight years, the last eighteen of them at Wealdstone FC. His biography ‘Off The Bench’was published in 2011 and a year behind the scenes at Wealdstone FC ‘Behind The Season’ featuring Gordon’s diary was published shortly afterwards. Both are available from http://www.wfcmegastore.co.uk/en/112-wealdstone-fc-books (on special offer), www.amazon.co.uk, Kindle and all good booksellers!
Ealing Schools, Middlesex County and West Ham Youth and Portsmouth. How good were you as a player before the injuries that curtailed your career?
I was a hard-working front player and seemed to have a knack of scoring goals from early schoolboy days right through.
A couple of clubs tried to turn me into a midfield player or a full back but I wasn’t good enough. I just ran around up front and goals seemed to keep coming. As he was growing up, my son Craig once asked me if I was quick when I was a player? My answer was no, not really. He then proceeded to ask, did I have a good touch? Was I strong? Good in the air? With pretty much the same answer to all of them, he paused and said, “well how the hell were you a professional footballer then?” – Good question!!!
Can you remember much about your League debut for Portsmouth and scoring your only League goal? Did you think at the time that was the start of…?
I remember it well.
George Graham was injured and I had been scoring a few goals in the reserves and Ian St.John pulled me in his office on the Friday and told me I was in the squad against Bolton then in Div 2 (Championship today).
We were leading 1-0 when I came on as sub with about 20 to go and nicked a goal after about 5 minutes reacting quickly to a save from a Norman Piper shot.
I lacked confidence in my own ability and my thoughts were only about how lucky I had been. I was offered apprentice forms after scoring 4 on my debut for Pompey in the FA Youth Cup. I then got my pro contract on the back of another 4 goals in the following year’s FA Youth Cup, a hat trick in my opening reserve game and then I nicked a goal on my first team debut!
I now realise that luck balances out and the knee injury soon followed. I’m so pleased I didn’t get carried away with such a good start because it all went horribly wrong very quickly.
In ‘Off The Bench’ you told the story of how you made the move into coaching and then management. Do you think the mind-set is different? How did you learn and adapt from being a ‘Player who Coaches’ into a full blown coach and manager?
I just learned as I went along really and have continued to adapt as I gained more experience.
One thing I recognised very early in my management career was the importance of having good people around me, especially ones who complement my personality and make up for my deficiencies.
As I mentioned in the book, Leo was the main person who made me realise the importance of delegation. After our first season of working together at Hounslow, he pulled me to one side and said he felt he was wasting his time because I didn’t let him do anything. I took the training, negotiated the money, picked the team, did the scouting and I wasn’t giving anything to him – fair point. I had learned to trust him and I bet now he wishes he’d never said anything as he does all of that and a lot more.
What is the one element that stands out from all others in the Gordon Bartlett Book of Management?
Treat other people the way you like to be treated and try to give everyone respect.
Your early career in Management was quite successful with a number of promotions, Cup wins and two FA Vase finals with three clubs (Southall, Hounslow and Yeading). Was there a common factor in those sides that made the difference?
A winning mentality!
There was also a very strong spirit within the group of players, especially at Yeading. In fact, two members of that team watched our recent game against Met Police and likened the grit and determination in our team to that Yeading team. The lads should take that as a massive compliment but I must confess that Leo and I did not share their opinion!
What was the hardest decision you made in those days as a coach/manager?
No doubt about that one. Selecting teams for the Wembley finals and then having to tell the players I was leaving out that I was taking away their dream of playing on the hallowed turf. Now that was tough!
Then the move to Wealdstone. You knew the club in your time at Yeading and it was no doubt a tough decision to join The Stones. Is it easier or harder than you expected?
It’s totally different – more people came to the first ‘Meet the Manager’ night than Leo and I saw at most home games while we were at Yeading. The passion and expectation was something we and the players had to come to terms with but it was great to enjoy success with a fantastic vocal support behind you. On the other hand, we had to cope with the criticism when results went the wrong way.
In summing up, easier and more enjoyable when we win and harder and far more strenuous when we lose.
This job has certainly been good for character building and learning about those around you.
Social media has actually made the job a little more difficult over the years because we could shield the players to a certain extent from the comments or opinions voiced in the bar after a game but nowadays it is out there for all to see within seconds of the event.
The player’s social lives have also become more assessable with the aid of Facebook and Twitter and they also need to be careful of the picture they are painting of themselves. It’s funny how easy it is to associate a poor performance when you know someone has been out the night before!
You’ve been with the club for eighteen years, all but. What has been the lowest point and what made you grit your teeth and carry on?
Easy! Football wise it was Barking away.
That was the closest I have ever been to quitting. A string of poor results and a lack of fight from the players was unacceptable and that night was the final straw. Leo, Fred and myself spoke outside the Master Brewer until the early hours of the morning and decided to sleep on it.
Strangely enough, I woke up very positive the next morning, went to a board meeting in bullish mood and had a fighting finish to the season.
Not getting Prince Edward Playing Field completed was my other low point. I couldn’t do anything about that but I still believed in a positive and successful future for our club despite yet another major setback.
What one thing in those eighteen years grates with you – what is the one thing you’d do differently given your time over again?
The way I dealt with Fergus Moore when I sent him out on loan. He said it would be out of sight out of mind and I promised him it wouldn’t. We were struggling and my focus was getting us out of relegation and I didn’t communicate with Fergie. He was right and I regret the way I treated him to this day. I was wrong and apologised which Fergie accepted (eventually).
I stand by my decision but certainly not by the way I dealt with it! He deserved better especially for what he gave me and Wealdstone every time he put a shirt on.
Man-management has to be one of your biggest skills – to mix and manage the personalities in the side with the expectations of the fans and the wishes of the board. But can you change a players psyche – can you give them a winning mentality and make them part of a team?
I don’t think you can change a players character, but I do feel you can influence their mentality. The group mentality can have a massive influence on an individual, especially in one-off games.
The mix in the changing room is very important, but to be successful, you must have enough strong characters with a winning mentality to help influence the others.
Those payers that have moved on into the pro game – from Les Ferdinand and Andy Impey to Jermaine Beckford, Carl Martin and Marvin McCoy – you must feel proud to have been part of their progression but do they keep in touch?
It’s a good feeling to see any players that were once associated with your club moving up the footballing ladder but we should not expect any thanks or gratitude because they are the ones who have the talent and have worked hard to get there. We have given them the opportunity and they have taken the chance.
As for keeping in touch, I am the world’s worst person for doing that so I would never criticise any of the lads for not keeping in touch after they leave us. They have their own lives to lead and Wealdstone is a distant memory.
You have also built up a great number of contacts in the game and the vast majority respect you as a manager – even to the extent that some consider you a ‘mentor’. Are there any that ring and you think ‘Christ, not him again…’
Whoever calls, I always try to offer my honest advice on a situation, player or team and then it’s down to that person to deal with it in the best way he thinks possible.
You are also now coming up against some of your former players that are coaches and managers of our opponents. How does that feel – do you see or look for yourself in them?
Two things come to mind; Firstly, it makes me feel bloody old! Secondly, they have probably only gone into management because they’ve looked at me and said, if he can do it, anyone can!
I don’t look for myself in anyone. My only advice would to be yourself.
From the current Stones squad, there will be a few lads that at the end of their careers will make the step into coaching. What advice can you give them to prepare for that step?
Don’t be stupid enough to do it!
Ask Jimmy Gray at St. Albans. He cannot believe the time it has taken up and the affect it has on his life…and he’s only been doing it three months.
What drives you?
I’m not really a great one for listening to music but do associate Wealdstone with Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory. We have been so close over the last couple of seasons that this song typifies our situation. I want to turn that nearly into success.
Finally, what’s next for Gordon Bartlett? Do you ever see yourself not directly involved in football?
I’m not sure. I’ve never been one for setting personal goals or time limits. I am enjoying my involvement, I still feel the club is going in the right direction and more importantly, I believe we can be successful.
Football is like a drug, I don’t think I could be without it totally so I will just have to see what happens when my managerial career finishes.