By Matt Badcock
YOGA, GPS tracking, lie-ins and breakfast – Salford City bosses Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley have waited long enough for their shot in full-time football that they’re determined to squeeze every benefit they can out of it.
Tonight they welcome Nuneaton Town looking to build on consecutive victories against National League North title rivals Harrogate Town and Brackley Town.
In the summer, the club powered by the famous Class of 92, made the switch to full-time football.
Johnson thinks the move will come into its own even more when the midweek fixture schedule eases up and they make the most of being able to put in the work at the training ground.
“It’s the contact time you get, but I honestly believe the biggest part of it is the rest,” Johnson says. “Because of motorway closures, we got home from Harrogate at 2am.
“Now if that had been last season, we would have had lads getting up a 5am to go to work. We would have been up too.
“You know the lads can stay in bed, recuperate, get a proper recovery session in – things like that are a massive step forward.”
It’s meant new players and new ideas for everyone – including being able to use a lot more sports science and technologies to aid their quest to reach Step 1, initially, and eventually the Football League.
Johnson explains how they’re starting to see the benefits, starting with the GPS tracking that has opened up a whole new dimension to how they see the game.
“It’s brilliant – I remember reading a lot about how Lincoln used certain things last season and when you’ve got it you really start to realise the massive pros you get with it,” Johnson says.
“I think, ‘Let’s see if anyone’s having us over here’. But when you look they’ve actually done a lot more than you think – the accelerations and decelerations that you don’t watch for in the game. It’s unbelievable, even down to the heat maps it generates. If we’re playing a 3-5-2 we can compare the wing-backs and see the areas of the pitch they are covering.
“We can adapt our training sessions to get more out of the players and manage the load of lads coming back from injuries. Rob Williams, our sports scientist, used to play for us and he knows what sessions to put on and can give us advice on getting players back to full fitness. It fascinates me.
“Probably 12 months ago when we were hearing about Lincoln doing that type of thing, we didn’t have any idea about it. It was just flogging lads until they can’t run anymore!
“It’s that old Non-League mentality. You don’t realise the damage you’re doing sometimes.”
Like any technology, it’s not a replacement for experience and Johnson says they aren’t totally governed by it.
“Nothing beats the eye, this just backs it up,” Johnson says. “It’s the same with analysis. You trust what you see but the clips can help back it up. It’s not about battering lads with information.
“You can pull a lad in and say, ‘This was superb on Saturday, but this is what we’re looking for a bit more of and we’re going to work on that tomorrow’. Those little bits you can use it for are absolutely brilliant.”
It’s all a bit different to their days in charge of Ramsbottom United, where they won two promotions in a row before being plucked by the Ammies and winning two more promotions on the spin.
“It was a load of shouting, swearing and punching walls,” Johnson, whose side missed out in the play-offs last year, jokes. “But it just shows how far me and Bern have come in our career and how quick Salford are progressing. We want to get better.
“We can’t go too far away from what we are because that’s got us to where we are as a management team and a club. But all these little bits you can get from these marginal gains is helping you. You’ve got to be open-minded and get that balance.
“When you get something brand new, you hammer it. It’s like a brand new car. You just want to go for a drive for the sake of it. But the reality is you’ve still got to understand it’s still a game of football, still 11v11. If you overload them with information they have too much to think about.”
Johnson and Morley are well on their coaching badge pathway and have been able to tap into the minds of their peers.
And he says the influence of others, particularly those around them at the club, is vital to their success.
“You’ve got to pick up as much information as you can,” Johnson says. “See how they use it. Some use a lot, others use it to the bare minimum but you take little bits you think you can use. We’ve got our own A Licence coach, Derek Egan, who is an FA educator and has come on board this season. He’s been a breath of fresh air.
“Big Robbie Williams as our sports scientist, Craig Dootson has played a good level and been with us for a while – we’ve got a good team around us. It’s not just a load of pals who have been thrown together.
“We’ve never been just our voices. It’s always been an open forum. Glen Moses was our assistant but he couldn’t go full-time. He was with us for six years. Craig has been around the Non-League scene and has been with us for three years.
When you’re that wrapped up in a game, they see things you might miss.
“The other side of being full-time is you can come in the morning and actually discuss things. When you’re part time some lads would be rocking up five minutes before after being at work. They finish and dash straight there. Same with me and Bern to a point. You end up going through things when the training session is going on.
“This is the big thing. We had to make it happen because when there are five or six full-time sides in your league – you saw the impact it had on Fylde and Kiddy finishing top two last year – you have to see what else can you get from it to make sure you get the advantage.”
The players were consulted on some parts of how they wanted the full-time club to run. They have a breakfast rota each morning. Bread, jam, teabags, milk, are all paid for out of the designated player’s pocket as they start the day eating together.
On Thursdays they have yoga after training as another advantage of having time to play with.
Relentless is the word Johnson uses to describe the National League North and then there’s the added pressure of outside expectations on the club. That has inspired a siege mentality and Johnson says they’ve got the personnel to cope with it.
“We’ve signed good characters – experienced players,” Johnson says. “Your Liam Hogans, Lois Maynards, Danny Liveseys. Lads you have been there and done it and won things.
“They’re all local lads so it matters to them and they’re winners. We bang onto the lads, since day one, that it’s about them. They’ve got to be in it together. They are a tight group already, it’s been a good start but it’s just a start. Long may it continue.”