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Wanted: A man for all seasons

The role of a football manager varies from club to club but, as a generalisation, the smaller the club, the greater the manager’s range of responsibilities. At larger clubs in the UK, the tendency is to divide the traditional manager role between a Head Coach (including the coaching and medical staff) and a Director of Football.

Under this division of labour, the head coach selects the team and its system of play, motivates the players before and during a match and changes tactics and personnel when required. Facing the media in pre-match and post-match interviews has increased greatly in recent years and requires an additional skill set.

At smaller clubs, the manager’s role, as often as not, also includes the recruitment, retention and transfer of players, the acquisition of loanees and the negotiation of player contracts. Although concentrating on first team matters, there will also be an involvement in the club’s scouting and youth development activities.

It's quite a list and identifying the right candidate to control the whole playing side of a football club is a demanding task for club officials, particularly those not trained in recruitment interviewing. Few applicants will tick all the boxes but that is often where the appointment of a versatile and reliable assistant manager can be so valuable. When Alan Kernaghan was player-manager of Clyde between 2002-2004, his assistant was the superb Billy Reid. When Kernaghan left Broadwood, he was succeeded by his highly rated assistant. Further managerial experience was gained by Reid whilst team boss of Hamilton Accies as his positive reputation grew within the game. Suffice to say, he is now assistant manager to Graham Potter at Chelsea. No one deserves it more.

Until 14 November 2022, it was quite surprising to note that five SPFL managers had an unbroken tenure of at least five years:


Gavin Price Elgin City 12 Oct 2017 29 Oct 1974 (48)

Peter Murphy Annan Athletic 2 Jun 2017 27 Oct 1980 (42)

Stewart Petrie Montrose 4 Dec 2016 27 Feb 1970 (52)

Dick Campbell Arbroath 8 Mar 2016 22 Nov 1953 (68)

Jim McInally Peterhead 7 Oct 2011 19 Feb 1964 (58)

Noticeably, this mini list does not include a Championship or Premiership club, where fan pressure to sack the manager perpetuates the belief that a new man standing in the technical area, and not the eleven on the pitch, will produce the required turn around in results. It seldom does. Perhaps the above list also confirms that supporters and officials of teams in Leagues 1 and 2 are simply more realistic about their teams’ prospects and don’t suffer from an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

The most obvious conclusion to draw from any management appointment which exceeds five years is that the original recruitment process has demonstrably been a success and that both manager and club have proved to be a good fit, with matching ambitions.

That seems to have been the case with the man who was until recently Scotland’s longest-serving team boss, Jim McInally, and his club Peterhead. Inevitably, there had been ups and downs during eleven years with the Blue Toon but, under Jim McInally’s leadership, Peterhead gained their first trophy as an SPFL side when they were crowned League Two champions in Season 2013–14. Three years later, the ultra-competitive nature of a ten-team division showed its flip side when the Aberdeenshire club headed back to the fourth tier via the 2016-17 play-offs.

Many predicted that the well-run Balmoor outfit would make an immediate return to the third tier but when promotion was not achieved, the always honest McInally offered to resign. However, in a refreshing response, the Peterhead board of directors asked “Jimmy Mac” to stay on and both parties were suitably rewarded when the 2018-19 League Two title was won, this second title success being secured on the season’s last day.

In theory, a lengthy managerial tenure should bring stability and assist long term planning at a club, but such stability cannot by itself lead to success because the other clubs are not exactly standing still. As the influx of ambitious clubs to the SPFL looks set to continue, the League’s bottom two divisions have probably never been more challenging and that is certainly the case in League One for a club of Peterhead’s resources. In such circumstances, “punching above their weight” becomes the de facto club motto and, even without the admirable Jim McInally at the helm, I expect nothing less than a continuation of that approach from the Blue Toon during the remainder of this season.

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