Football: NON-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK - Tough start for Wright

IN CONTRAST to his former Liverpool and England colleague John Barnes, who is learning his trade as a manager in the high-pressure atmosphere of Celtic, Mark Wright is spending Christmas getting used to running a team in the Nationwide Conference.

The 36-year-old former England captain was a cultured centre-half for club and country. Wright made almost 500 first-team appearances for Oxford United, Southampton, Derby County and Liverpool, and won 45 caps. Last week, just over two years after his playing career was brought to an end by injury, he was appointed manager of Southport.

Wright succeeds Paul Futcher in the hot seat at Haig Avenue, and he has asked the former Everton midfielder Paul Lodge, who was caretaker manager after Futcher's departure, to stay at the club as his assistant. His first game in charge, last Saturday's 1-0 home loss to Northwich Victoria, was the club's fifth consecutive league defeat.

That setback left Wright with a mountain to climb, for Southport are in the Conference relegation zone, with just Welling United and Forest Green Rovers beneath them. "I know it's a long, hard road and it's going to be difficult to get this club going," Wright said this week, "but at the end of the day a challenge is a challenge. That's what gets you out of bed in the mornings."

Wright, who, unlike his squad, is a full-time employee of Southport, added: "The hardest thing is that you only get to see your players twice a week. I've got to find out which of them are on the same wavelength as me, and then bring in players who I know can do a job for me. That's when I will be judged."

Wright, who since he retired from playing has spent his time gaining Football Association coaching qualifications, clearly does not regret starting his new career at a small club like Southport.

"I see it as a great grounding in management," he said. "It's a chance for me to find out if I'm right for everything."

For his part, Southport's chairman, Charles Clapham, seems sure that he has found the right manager.

"Mark's playing career did not go unnoticed," he said, "but what was more important was his single-mindedness. Without a shadow of a doubt, he's a winner."

Wright's next test will be a local derby away to in-form Morecambe on Monday, followed by a home fixture against the same opposition seven days later. The Conference leaders, Nuneaton Borough, are at home and then away against Kettering Town on the same two days.

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