By Matt Badcock
A luxury Hotel and Spa in Bagshot, Surrey might not seem the most obvious stop-off for Salford City’s National League North title challenge.
Should the Ammies achieve their promotion goal this season then there will likely be a nod to the day they spent at Pennyhill Park, tapping into the brain of one of world sport’s greatest coaching minds.
Ammies bosses Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson spent time observing England rugby supremo Eddie Jones at the RFU’s Elite Performance Centre.
It was a chance to see inside a camp that has been transformed under the Australian and seen the Red Rose become one of rugby’s most powerful forces once again.
“We spoke to Eddie Jones for a good hour and got so much out of him,” Morley tells The NLP.
“It comes down to desire, determination and wanting to work hard. He put markers down the lads had to get to. He said at first it was impossible for them to get there.
“Where they were working for 90 minutes in a session, now they’re working for 110. Without actually knowing it, they are doing it. When he first put the markers down for them they didn’t think they’d ever get to it. They now naturally work harder in training than they do in a game.
“That’s where you see the success come from. No opponent fazes them anymore. To get to where they want to be in the 2019 World Cup, he’s given them targets to achieve. It was great to see because even though it’s a different sport you still try to manage it the same.”
After the meeting, Morley and Johnson returned to Salford with ideas they could implement in their new full-time environment.
“You’re like a little kid in a sweet shop,” Morley says. “It’s like, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable’.
“We spoke to the captain Dylan Hartley and Mike Brown – he approached us and said, ‘I’ve seen you lads on the documentary!’ He was brilliant, Chris Robshaw was too – we had some really good conversations with them. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll go to other clubs and get other ideas and in the next couple of years things will start coming to us naturally.
“We do things our own way, but we like to get other ideas from managers and sports. We want to learn, we want to be the best and to be the best you’ve got to work hard and get other ideas.
“That’s in the coaching culture. Coaches watch other coaches. We want to do that.”
Dismissed as ranters and ravers, Morley and Johnson’s qualities as coaches are constantly questioned as they lead the ‘Class of 92’ backed club.
What’s often overlooked is where they came from. The North West Counties League is no playground for two new managers starting out in their mid-20s.
But in the nine years since, they’ve led Ramsbottom United to two consecutive promotions before moving to Salford and taking them from Step 4 to Step 2 with back-to-back successes.
Last year, the club missed out on reaching Non-League’s top table through the play-offs before a summer transition to full-time football as Johnson and Morley packed in their day jobs.
Morley says their management style is always evolving and hints that the training ground is a slightly quieter place these days.
“What you’re asking is, we don’t scream and shout as much as we used to – and we don’t, that’s for sure,” Morley says. “In a full-time environment that can lose its effect.
“We try and keep the lads happy. What I mean by that is they work hard, of course they do, but we try to give them a lot of ball.
“We work on things we need to but we try to make it enjoyable. There’s nothing worse than going to training in a full-time environment and working on things where you lose lads’ attention.
“As soon as that happens, your sessions go to pot. We try to make them as adventurous as we can, as well as working hard to identify what we need to do to implement it into a game.
“When we watch a game back, can we identify what we’ve been working on in training? I’d like to think we’re doing that.”
Their trip to see Jones shows an open-minded approach. The players take part in yoga classes each week and they’ve been to a Total Ninja assault course for something different and some team bonding.
Morley says the togetherness they’ve created comes from much more than kicking a ball and it’s a spirit they need to lean on heavily with the outside public waiting for a slip.
That’s come over the Christmas period with just one point from the double header against FC United either side of a 3-0 defeat against Chorley.
Morley, though, says there’s no need to panic and has reminded the players there’s a reason they were recently nine points clear at the top of the table.
“We’re not happy with results, that’s obvious,” he says. “However, we managed to get ourselves nine points clear in the league for one reason and that’s because we had consistency and sides around us had blips.
“So there’s no concern, no panic, no worry, it’s just that we’ve had our blip and we still see ourselves four points clear. It’s as black and white as that.”
And he says the pair dubbed ‘Morecambe & Wise’ by Rammy chairman Harry Williams are loving life as full-time bosses.
“We really enjoy it and embrace it for what it is because you don’t know what’s around the corner,” he says. “We’ve wanted the opportunity for years. We’re adapting as managers, learning as coaches, we’re on our courses, and our coach underneath us (Derek Egan) who we trust has all made it a really good environment to be in.
“We’ve got a good squad of lads here and the togetherness stuck out for me on New Year’s Day when Jack Redshaw scored his goal. They all celebrated together at the bench. Every single side in the world has a blip. We have to keep working hard.”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday and Monday