Football management is said to be stressful at the top of the game, with managers under pressure from club owners to deliver almost instant success or face the sack.
But at the bottom it’s even tougher. Harborough Town Football Club’s senior team manager Chris Church is a prime example.
Playing in the United Counties League Premier Division – the ninth rung of the English football ladder – Harborough Town are a semi-professional outfit based at Bowdens Park. They are managed by the 35-year-old Church, who has been associated with the club in one form or another since he started playing for the junior team.
“I actually started playing for Harborough Town when I was seven years old”, Church told the Mail. “My dad is also a past chairman and I was involved in playing until I was 16.
“Then I got released by Leicester City and fell out of love with the game. But I was asked to come back by Andrew Wilson, the previous manager, and set the youth team up eight years ago. When Andrew became first team manager, I joined him as his assistant and worked with him for five or six years. “He moved on last season and I took the helm. I also run an under-8s team as well at the minute. The club is in my blood and I’ve got their best interests at heart.”
To pay the bills, Church is also a sales representative for Corby-based company Recycle Force. And Church admits it’s difficult balancing that with all his duties at Town: “It’s almost like doing two jobs. It’s a very rewarding job when things are going well, but obviously you can’t keep everyone happy, so you’ve got to be prepared for that. I knew what was expected when I took the job on. It’s thoroughly enjoyable. It has its moments but it’s good, I enjoy it.”
Church and his team leave no stone unturned when it comes to his managerial job. Whether it’s looking at potential new players to sign or scouting upcoming opponents, Church leaves nothing to chance: “My priority is to do my full-time job, but I’m forever looking at opponents we’re coming up against, seeing what players they’ve got, results, looking if any players come to light.
“You never switch off and it is very, very busy, so it’s a balancing act, but one that I think the lads I’ve got around me have got down to a tee quite well.”
So how many hours does he spend doing both jobs? “That’s a difficult question, they’re both full-time jobs. It all depends on what we’ve got going on. From Wednesday evening to Saturday are the busiest parts of the week because we’re preparing the training sessions, looking to see who our opponents are on the Saturday and getting the training session ready for Thursday. On Thursday, it’s about finalising your squad. The easiest part of the week is throughout the game.”
When not managing Town or doing his full-time job, Church likes to spend time with his family, and you sense he is a family man. “I’ve got two small children, they’re aged three and seven, so when I’m not doing football I try and spend as much time with them as I possibly can.
“The family come down for support and watch. My eldest daughter loves football. I don’t think I would be able to do it without their support.”
Church, who lives in Desborough, has also played for Harborough Spencer and Rothwell Town, and was previously in the set-up at Leicester City before they released him as a 16-year-old. His playing career was cut short at the age of 24 when he got a compound fracture in his fibula and tibia.
Church was appointed Town manager along with Mick Ogier in December last year with the club staring relegation in the face.
But the duo turned Town’s fortunes around and stayed up by two points, a feat he says is the highlight of his managerial career so far.
Church is sole manager this season, looking to consolidate the team’s position in the United Counties Premier.
“We’re looking to do well and we certainly don’t want to be in the relegation mix at the end of the season. We’re looking to use the experience we had from last season to progress further up the league.
“We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves though, we’ve got to be realistic at the same time. We’ve got to stabilise ourselves. We’ve progressed quite quickly from park football to semi-professional in three or four years, so we’ve got to establish ourselves at this level.
“But there’s no reason why in a number of years we can’t kick on and go further up the non-league pyramid.”
Town have also embarked on their first ever FA Cup run this season, beating Teversal 2-1 in the Extra Preliminary Round before falling at the next hurdle. They are also through to the second qualifying round of the FA Vase. And Church recognises the importance of cup runs for the club.
“It gives us a chance to progress in a competition but also there is a financial reward at the end of it as well, so it’s vitally important. We don’t budget for that income so it’s a bonus and vitally important for the club that we do well.
“It was a great experience for the lads [playing in the FA Cup]. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in FA Cup runs before but a lot of the playing staff here who have moved through the levels with us, it was their first experience. It was a great day and everybody enjoyed it.”
Those players also have to balance full-time jobs with training and playing for Town, with the squad containing an eclectic mix of occupations including a recruitment consultant, students, sales reps, builders and carpenters.
And unlike most other teams in the league, Harborough do not pay their squad, meaning they do sometimes miss out on players. But Church and his team can provide something over clubs are envious of.
“We’re not a cash-rich club, but we’ve got first-class facilities,” says Church. “Nearly all the players in other sides in the division get paid but we don’t pay our lads, but we expect them to be as professional as the next team. So it is difficult and a very fine balance from expecting too much to professional aspirations. The lads all understand what we expect from them and to be fair they’re pretty good.”
“Not paying players can put players off coming. We have to pick the right people to join us that are going to fit in with the current dressing room that we’ve already got. But our biggest attraction is the facilities that we have. We’ve got a 3G training pitch, first-class facilities and in my opinion we’ve got first-class coaches.”
Harborough Town don’t just have one team though. They have 35 – including teams at every age group in mini and junior football, with their now being a smooth transition between youth football and the senior set-up at Harborough, which Church welcomes.
“When I was a kid growing up, unfortunately there wasn’t a natural progression into the senior side. I’ve played with a lot of good players over the years that have either given up on football or they’ve gone elsewhere and progressed, whereas now we’ve got a natural progression for those that want to. The club in the past two or three years have realised the potential that the place has got which is brilliant. The whole club have come together as a unit instead of two clubs and realised what great facilities and potential they’ve got for home-grown players.
“We’ve got some great coaches doing junior football. I watch a lot of training sessions to see what’s going on and they’re doing a great job. I think it’s a great place to be at the minute.”
Church’s positivity is infectious after just 20 minutes of speaking with him on the phone. A great place to be, and with Church at the helm, the right man to help take the club forward.
For more information about the club, visit its website at www.harboroughtown.org.
You can also follow Church on Twitter at @woowoo0706.
Story by guest sports writer Matthew Elliott.
Follow Matthew on Twitter, @mattelliott321.