Football: The chairman is managing nicely

Trevor Haylett meets John Reames, a man with a vision for football's future
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The Independent Online
IF WALTER SMITH and Harry Redknapp believe they were the week's big losers in the battle for footballing power, they should take note of the shoestring end of the game where the trend of ambitious chairmen dictating not only transfer policy but who plays in the team is beginning to turn convention on its head.

John Reames, for 13 years owner, chairman and the financial life-belt keeping Lincoln City afloat, has just become the latest from the boardroom to reinvent himself as the club's manager. Should he prove successful - and a win, draw and loss in his first three games is not discouraging - it is inconceivable to think that more chairmen won't consider that their rightful place on a Saturday afternoon is in the dressing-room rather than hobnobbing it with visiting directors.

In a sense Reames, like Michael Knighton at Carlisle and Ron Noades at Brentford, is living every supporter's fantasy because we all dream of the chance to pick the team. Yet he believes the reaction in rival boardrooms is more likely to be one of derision rather than envy, such is the game's reluctance to embrace change. And he insists the Lincoln way is not a model for others to follow.

"What we are doing is not the way forward for English football but it may well change the way forward for English football," said Reames. "A culture exists which says the only way to success is to have a former player running the team but where has that got us in the last 10 years? To my mind we have gone backwards at international level and at club level because of our shuttered vision. In my time here I have seen managers make glaring mistakes such as the non-development of young players and a lack of regard for the financial circumstances of the club. This way I believe we will manage properly not only team affairs but also the financial affairs."

The Reames regime came about when Lincoln's fall to the foot of Division Two made a change of manager inevitable. Out went Shane Westley and out of the chairman's office stepped the former agricultural trader, a successful businessman but, by his own admission, no great shakes as a footballer and with next to no knowledge of coaching. Nevertheless, the predictable rush of applications from failed former managers and those with zero experience only hardened the conviction that he was right to try something different.

"If you look at sport around the world it is only in English football that there exists this conviction that the recipe for success is to appoint a former player as manager. Yet very often these are people with no skill in man-management and, in some cases, no experience in coaching.

"We are running a business in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to survive and where we only exist, like at least 50 per cent of Nationwide clubs, through the good grace of our creditors. In what other business would you appoint to a senior managerial position someone straight from the shop floor. In what other business would you take on somebody who then says, `I don't like those you currently employ, I want to bring my own people in.' That's the way English football operates and it's the way to financial ruin.

"I would not be so absurd as to suggest that ex-pros should never be appointed and I am not that naive that I don't believe the majority of managers will continue to come via that route. At the same time, I don't believe it is the only criteria for the job.

"As a businessman for 30 years with control of a workforce of more than 100 I believe I learned how to handle and motivate people. You also have to give others their head. I have seen managers become experts overnight in other areas, overruling trained physiotherapists as if suddenly they have become more better qualified."

By necessity his coaches, Phil Stant and Keith Oakes, like those at Carlisle and Brentford, have assumed more authority on the training field. Reames says they will take on more responsibility the more they develop but in the meantime team selection is down to him.

The Lincoln fans are warming to the change, although it will be a test of their support should it all go wrong next week in the FA Cup at home to Stevenage, and Reames says the players have been right behind him from day one.

"I sat down with my coaches and worked out a formula on how we would work together because there must be no doubt among the players as to who is in charge. I do no more than oversee the training sessions but I have insisted the players work more with a ball. You don't have to be a genius to know that compared to the continentals our players have inferior technique."