LIVING On the Volcano is the way Michael Calvin’s brilliant book on management describes it.
From the outside, becoming a football manager doesn’t always seem the greatest career move. But for those who do it, live it and breathe it, there is no better job in the world.
So what’s it like when you’re out of it? Former Bury, Worcester City and Northwich Victoria boss Andy Preece is currently in that busy waiting room hoping his name gets called.
“If anything it’s made me even hungrier,” says Preece, who left Welsh Premier League club Airbus in August. “I pretty much watched every National League North team in the first month I was out of Airbus.
“It’s an unbelievable league. I’ve seen some really good games. Fylde v Salford was an absolute classic – three-each and some unbelievable goals.
“It really makes you want to get back into it. That’s the hard thing. You want an allegiance with one team or the other. You go and watch a game as a neutral, but it’s nice to be on the side where it really matters.
“I’m lucky I’m working in football with Fleetwood’s Academy and I’m working at Blackpool & Fylde college with a football team.
“But that actual Saturday, where it means something, it’s about the three points, the ball is going in the 18 yard box and your heart is in your mouth – that feeling is something I really miss.
“Why would you want to put yourself through that stress, why would you want to go back into it? But once you’ve been in it, it’s in your blood. It’s something that fires the juices. I feel it’s something I’m good at, and meant to be doing.”
Preece’s CV can vouch for that. In his four-and-half years in Wales, he took Airbus to new heights. In a division dominated by powerhouse TNS, finishing runners-up as a part-time club is a big achievement as he led the club into Europe.
Of their six games on that stage, they only lost twice, with a 2-2 draw against Croatian side Lokomotiv Zagreb a real highlight.
“It’s definitely improved me as a manager, no doubt about that,” Preece says. “It’s almost a totally different game in Europe. In Croatia, their Press couldn’t believe we were part-time. We had to explain half a dozen times. They just wouldn’t have it, ‘These lads are working?’ You take pride in those performances.”
This week it will be five years since the 49-year-old left Northwich Victoria. His side famously beat Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup, but success on the pitch was hampered by the farce off it.
In administration and owing big money, they were relegated from Non-League’s top flight into the Conference North – despite winning their final six games – and a season later were booted down again.
“One minute you’re in the Conference, the next you’re in the Northern Premier League after winning 60 per cent of your games,” Preece says.
Preece had grown accustomed to off-field problems in his first job at Bury, who he guided into the Division Three play-offs in 2003.
He has managed nearly 700 games and pretty much comes with a guarantee of success. All helped, he says, by those tricky experiences.
“I’ve seen the other side of it and how difficult it can be,” says Preece, who feels he can manage back in the Football League. “Fans with collection buckets, players struggling to pay bills – to have to deal with all that is not easy. So you have to think on your feet.
“It’s amazing what goes on during the week. People think you go on the training pitch, work on your shape, few set pieces and that’s it. But there’s always little problems here and there – that’s part of management. One of my biggest skills is handling those little things that can get you down.
“Even in the darkest days I was able to keep everyone together so when the lads went out on the pitch they forget all about that and perform to the maximum. That’s what your job is.”
For now he’ll keep doing his homework of the leagues so when that next chance does come, he’ll be ready.
“I just have the feeling that the next club is going to be the one,” he says. “It’s going to be the one that catapults the club and myself to where I’d like to get to.” Back on the volcano.