WHEN you manage a team that have just lost 6-0, you want to get working with them as soon as possible to sort things out. Sympathy, then, goes to Macclesfield’s Gary Simpson, who has been unable to make it into training this week after being snowed in at his Sheffield home.
The Silkmen, perennial League Two relegation favourites, have been doing pretty well this season after a wobbly start. A run of one defeat in six league games had shifted them off the endangered species list and into that area just above mid-table where all a team’s match reports are obliged to include the phrase ‘play-off challenge’.
Things were going so well, they even managed an FA Cup win at Southend, a place which was previously to Macclesfield what Kryptonite is to Superman. That victory, in a penalty shoot-out, was secured by a spot-kick so bizarre that it will surely become a YouTube hit. Nat Brown’s penalty was saved by Glenn Morris, but the ball spun up in the air, landed behind the keeper as he tried to regain his bearings and shot back into the net.
Over the last eight or nine days, though, the stitches on Macc’s season have started to fray. A 2-0 home defeat against Cheltenham last week was no disgrace, but there was little to be positive about in shipping half-a-dozen goals at Huddersfield in the FA Cup last weekend.
Simpson wanted to get together with his players on Monday to talk through their weary performance. The snow, however, had other ideas. Macclesfield isn’t the easiest place for long-distance commuters to get to at the best of times – it’s not particularly close to any motorways – but this week, it’s proved impossible to reach for several members of Simpson’s squad.
“We’ve got lads based all over the place – Birmingham, Sheffield, Bradford,” Simpson explained. “Those of us on this side of the Pennines have struggled, and some have us haven’t been able to get in at all.
“We were about half-a-dozen short on Monday, and Glyn Chamberlain, my assistant, was able to take training. But yesterday and today have been a no-go, because the training facilities have been under quite a few inches of snow.
“It’s an inconvenience, but quite a few clubs are in the same position as us. It’s just one of those things. All you can do is tell the players to go and do some work on their own.
“When I tried to get in on Monday, it took me half-an-hour to travel a mile. I walked my son to school yesterday morning, and as I came back through the park, I saw cars stranded everywhere.”
As Simpson points out, such commuting problems are not unusual at the lower end of the Football League, where a two-year contract is considered a long-term deal. Club budgets rarely allow for anything longer unless a player is considered to have a huge sell-on value. Such insecurity means that players and managers are less likely to move house for a job unless they absolutely have to. And with League Two player salaries generally somewhere between £20,000 and £50,000 a year, keeping a second home isn’t really an option. (I heard of one manager in the division, three or four years ago, who was earning an annual salary of £17,500. Fourth-tier football is not a career that will make you rich.)
So it’s not unusual for players and managers to travel large distances to get into work every day. Macclesfield striker Tyrone Barnett commutes in from near Birmingham, while midfielders Matt Hamshaw and Sam Wedgbury, along with centre-back Brown and manager Simpson, travel in from South Yorkshire.
They all have a long way to go to match Lee Glover, though. Towards the end of his playing career, the former Nottingham Forest striker had a spell at Macclesfield, and drove up every day from Corby, in Northamptonshire, a journey which I doubt he could have done in less than two hours.
There can be emotional reasons as well as practical ones for not wanting to uproot. Footballers can get homesick too. And even if they are fine with moving from one end of the country to the other, it can be a strain on their families.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed Nicky Adams, a young midfielder who recently joined Rochdale from Brentford. Adams, a Bolton lad, only moved to Brentford from Leicester in the summer, but moved back to the North West last month – partly for football reasons, and partly because his partner and four-year-old daughter were struggling to settle in the South East.
“My daughter’s just started school, and it was important to get her settled,” Adams said.
This got me curious, and I asked how his family had coped when he left Bury, his first club, to join Leicester in 2008. The answer, it turned out, was that he hadn’t moved house. Instead, he had travelled to the East Midlands daily with team-mates Alex Bruce, Paul Gallagher and Paul Dickov, who all lived in the Manchester area.
“We took it in turns to do the driving, so it wasn’t too bad,” said Adams, who reckoned it was a journey of around an hour-and-a-half, which is far quicker than I’ve ever made it to Leicester, and I only live about three or four miles from Dickov. I didn’t ask which route they took.
At that level, football seems to be reflecting Britain’s working society in general, with the job for life pretty much a thing of the past and the willingness to uproot for work disappearing with it. What’s the point of buying a place next door to the office when you could be on your way in 12 months?
But my favourite commuting tale – which I tell even though it sounds too absurd to be true – goes back to an age when players were more ready to move house when joining a new club. The story is that when Mickey Thomas joined Brighton in the early 1980s, he went through a period where he drove down from North Wales to training every day, then drove home again. That’s a round trip of around 12 hours. Thomas has done some daft things in his time, but I’m not entirely convinced even he would do that. I’ll ask him next time I see him.
Even those whose commutes are normally rather more manageable must hope that the cold snap ends soon. Simpson wants to get on with preparing his Macclesfield side for another trip to Southend on Saturday, this time in the league. Erasing the memories of last weekend’s Huddersfield hammering would make for a very pleasant journey home, whatever the weather.