By John Lyons
Ian Evatt has played for a host of managers in his two-decade long career, but Ian Holloway stands out above all the others.
And as Evatt takes his first steps in the cut-throat world of football management at ambitious National League outfit Barrow, he’ll be hoping Holloway’s influence rubs off.
The 36-year-old first played under the Bristolian at QPR, but it was at Blackpool that the good times really rolled.
Appointed boss in 2009, ‘Ollie’ led the unfancied Seasiders to promotion to the Premier League via a 3-2 Wembley play-off final win against Cardiff in his first full season in charge.
Towering defender Evatt was one of Holloway’s rocks that season and went on to play in all the club’s top-flight games the following season as Blackpool gave it their all but just came up short in their bid to stay mixing it with the elite.
“You take little bits from everyone, but certainly from Ollie I took the most,” said Evatt, who intends to mix modern methods with old-school ones. “We went out to attack, played without fear and tried to hurt the opposition’s back four – that’s what I got from him.
“Sometimes you can overcomplicate football and put too much emphasis on tactics, formation and shape. The way to win games is by scoring more than the opposition.”
Holloway is renowned for his colourful quotes and turn of phrase, but Evatt believes that too much is read into that.
“People view him as the class clown and a joker, and at times he is – but at the right times, and to keep the lads relaxed,” he said. “But when it comes down to business, his attention to detail is second to none.
“We had a way of playing that we nailed down day in and day out on the training ground. I’ve had a fantastic career and I would probably have to say that winning the Championship play-off final was the highlight. It was an unbelievable achievement.
“No-one gave us a cat in hell’s chance of getting promoted with our budget. It won’t be done again, simple as that.”
While Evatt has had some magic moments in his career – including promotion with Blackpool from League One via the play-offs in 2007 and winning League Two with Chesterfield in 2013-14 – it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
He’s suffered back-to-back relegations with Chesterfield in the last two seasons, finishing bottom of the pile both times to plummet from League One to the National League.
“Getting relegated out of the Football League was a massive blow, but you have to try to learn from that,” he said. “I’ve learned so much in my career and I’ve looked into coaching in recent years. I feel it’s my time.”
Evatt has his A Licence and could quite easily have been leading Chesterfield in the coming season. He was, after all, in caretaker charge for the last three games of last term after the Spireites parted company with boss Jack Lester.
In the event, Chesterfield plumped for the experience of Martin Allen, who almost pulled off a miracle and kept Barnet in the EFL, instead of the rookie.
Asked if he felt disappointed not to have been given the chance to take the reins permanently at the club he served twice in his playing career, Evatt is diplomatic.
“Possibly,” he said, “but everything happens for a reason. The board and directors felt they wanted to appoint someone with more experience and I have no qualms with that. From my side, I have been given a fantastic opportunity to work with some great people.”
Indeed, Evatt is grateful for the chance he had to dip his toes into the water at the back end of last season.
“I have been thinking about management for a long time now,” he said, “and people have told me I would make a good manager, but until you try it, you don’t really know. I really enjoyed it.”
It’s just as well that Evatt relishes a challenge. Barrow finished 20th last season, one place and one point above the drop zone.
The initial honeymoon period following Dallas-based businessman Paul Casson’s purchase of the club in 2014 has petered out.
There was a Conference North title in 2014-15 and a seventh-placed finish under former Mansfield boss Paul Cox in 2016-17 that hinted at an assault on the Football League place that Barrow held from 1921 to 1972, when they were voted out. But Cox resigned after just five league games last term and Micky Moore and Ady Pennock both then had spells in the hotseat as the Bluebirds clung on to their top-flight status by a fingernail.
It leaves plenty of work to do if Evatt is going to get them challenging at the other end of the table this season, but he’s determined to give it everything he’s got to turn Holker Street back into a fortress.
“There’s no point in life settling for being mediocre or mid-table,” said Evatt, who intends to hang up his boots to focus all his attention on management. “My ambition is to get this club promoted this season. People may think I’m mad, but you have got to have the ambition. We need to try to be the best we can be.
“It’s about getting in there and setting standards immediately. I feel the owners have supported the managers in recent years in terms of budget, but the money has been spent incorrectly.
“It’s a professional club paying professional money, but the results have spiralled.
“I have very high standards. I put in 110 per cent as a player day in, day out and I want that as a manager from my players.
“I will do the job to the best of my ability with the budget I’ve got and the players will be under no illusions about what I expect. I have a blank canvas in terms of recruitment, so I can create my own team. I have enough confidence in myself to get the right ones in.”
That said, Evatt isn’t expecting an easy ride in the National League after his career playing in the top four divisions of English football.
“I’m not a football snob,” he said, “and I believe the standard is underestimated. I think it’s a very high standard, not much different to League Two and perhaps League One.
“It’s going to be tough, especially with only one going up automatically and one through the play-offs, but we have to go out and try the best we can.
“We have to get the fans on board and create a perfect storm, like we did at Blackpool. Everyone pulled in the same direction.”
And if Evatt does need some advice or words of wisdom from his network of contacts, he can always give ‘Ollie’ a call.
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday
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