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Big Interview: Don’t believe what you hear, we’re just a pair of Salford softies!

WHEN Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley asked Ramsbottom United chairman Harry Williams to give them a crack at management, the two players, then in their mid-20s, were met with a curt reply.

“P*** off home you pair of idiots,” said Rammy’s founder. They wouldn’t take no for an answer and Williams soon handed the reins to the friends he dubbed Morecambe & Wise.

“We were persistent,” Morley says. “We went back and said, ‘Listen, we’re serious about this. We might not be the best managers because we’ve not done it, but give us a chance. If we don’t deliver, sack us. Nothing lost, nothing gained’.

“He used to call us Morecambe & Wise. He said: ‘You talk a bit of sense you two,’ and gave us a go.”

They lost their first game of the season to Newcastle Town 5-0. “You’re thinking, ‘Jesus Christ’,” says Johnson, who by then had broken both legs inside 12 months.

“As it happened that Newcastle Town side won the first 28 games, but you wonder what you’re doing there. I was playing at a decent level and you think you should just still be doing that.”

Respect

Morley, 32, says: “Harry came up to us after and said, ‘Win or lose, we still booze’. So that picked us up. We went in the bar and had a beer. He said, ‘Listen, it’s going to be a long season. I’ll back you. You’ve got good players in, you can’t expect them to gel straightaway.

“Harry was touching 70 so he was like our grandad. He’d had the good times and bad times. He could see two young lads coming up and he wanted us to be successful. Let’s get it right; if he didn’t give us that chance we wouldn’t be here today.”

And Johnson says they had to learn quickly with some experienced heads in their team.

“We were stood there at the age we were and we had Baz Massay – a legendary centre-forward around Manchester – who was 40, and Barry Shuttleworth, who was about 35 and had played for Blackpool, Rotherham and Bury,” he says.

“So you’re aware you’ve got old pros and big characters judging what you’re saying. But they bought into it, so you think, ‘Ok, they might not respect us yet, but they understand what we want’. Slowly you get results, and that turns into respect.”

Success duly followed. They soon had a fourth-place finish in the North West Counties League Premier Division. Next was a runners-up spot before scooping the title. A second promotion came immediately as Rammy climbed to the giddy heights of Step 3.

Anthony Johnson on the sidelines

Anthony Johnson on the sidelines

Salford City and their famous Class of ’92 owners then came calling – a title and a play-off win later, they’d made it four on the bounce.

“We had at Rammy what we’ve created at Salford and that’s the culture of winning,” Johnson, 33, says. “It sounds an obvious statement to make.

“People talk about philosophies and styles, but it’s Non-League football. At this stage of the season where you only train Thursday night because you’re playing Tuesday, you only get an hour a week to train.

“For me and Bern, we try to create a culture of winning. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You don’t just say, ‘Right, we’re going to decide to win’.

“It’s about absolutely everything you do. Making sure you don’t settle for lads having an off-night in training or a game. We’re constantly on at the boys. I suppose over the eight years the thing we’ve been consistent with is how determined we’ve been in what we expect out of the lads.

“We’re massive on all the old-school things… well, it’s not old-school, I don’t know why people say that. It’s not old-school to me, it should be everything: values, morals, principles. What’s old-school about that?

“If you turn up to work late every morning, you lose your job. It’s what people should be doing in every walk of life. Those values are what we’ve always kept.”

Morley says: “It’s what people have said about us in the past. Sorry, excuse my french here: A pair of clueless *****, a pair of thugs, lazy coaching. You thrive on that. ‘Oh right, that’s what you think we are?’

“We’re still learning. I’m 32 with four promotions under my belt. We’ve been doing it eight years, so it’s not a fluke. We’ve done it with and without the money. It’s all about what’s in that changing room.”

Their detractors say that it is all funded by the cash of the Manchester United legends.

“I saw someone saying we pay people £1,000 a week,” says Johnson. “On my children’s lives, the spine of the side that played FC United on Tuesday – so four or five players – are on just over that as one.

Inflated

“Because of who the owners are it gets blown out of proportion. If lads were on that type of money I’d be at the wrong football club because people would be in it for the wrong reasons. It’s a load of nonsense. Absolute nonsense that gets spouted about for people to justify why they’ve got beaten [by Salford]. But we don’t pretend we haven’t got a decent budget, because we have.”

Morley estimates they are sixth or seventh in the National League North spending table, and scoffs at whispers the pair themselves are on a grand a week.

“Anthony’s still getting up at half-five in the morning and driving his bin wagon,” Morely says. “I’m doing plaster boarding, installing partitions and ceilings – sometimes five or six days a week. I don’t want people to feel sorry for us, but it’s hard work.”

Salford enjoyed success in the FA Cup last season

Salford enjoyed success in the FA Cup last season

They’ve also achieved at the Ammies under constant scrutiny and pressure, as well as the presence of TV cameras. The second series of the BBC documentary Class of 92: Out of their League is back on screens on Thursday.

“We come across screaming and effing and jeffing, but that’s just who we are,” Morley says, accepting that their softer side doesn’t always make the final edit.

“People who want to label us thugs, let them do that. People who do that don’t know me as a person. Once we cross that white line we are Jekyll and Hyde, I understand that. But when I’m with my family I’d like to think I’m a gentleman.”

As well as their volatile side, the programme also shows the build-up to Morley’s wedding to wife Jemma, with Johnson his best man.

“Anthony is an absolute barmpot,” Morley says. “He’s a pleasure to work with. Yeah we have our ups and downs, and I don’t mean that in personal things. When we get beat we take it hard. But he’s a barmpot. The lads know it. He brings this aura. He’s great for the lads.

“We bounce off each other. It’s good. People think joint-management doesn’t work, but you’ve only got to look at me and him.

“A lot of that comes down to friendship and trust. We’re best mates off the pitch. That’s not because we’ve been successful – he’s the type of person I like to drink with and be around. He’s funny and he’s professional when he’s got to be.”

Experience

As all Non-League managers will testify, the results only come from being out at games every night of the week after long days at the coal face.

“We were saying at the weekend, we’re in the same league now as Liam Watson, who has won promotions from this league, Neil Young, who has won promotions, Dave Challinor, Jim Gannon – all of a sudden you’re managing with some of the biggest names in Non-League football,” Johnson says.

“You do question it and think, ‘Jesus we’ve been lucky here’. But we’ve been managing eight years. It’s not a flash in the pan. We’ve put eight years’ hard work into it. We put the hard yards in at Rammy and we’ve been at every level to get up to where we are.

“We’re very open in the way we’re prepared to change. It’s not just about me and Bern, we listen to other people’s ideas. We’ve got Glenn Moses as our assistant, our keeper coach Craig Dootson has played at a top level, so we surround ourselves with good people.

“It’s not a case of, ‘This is what we’re going to do and if you don’t do it we’re going to shout really loud’. There’s a plan with everything we do. So far it’s not been a bad ride.”

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