'If it wasn't for Saturdays it would be the best job in all the world...'

Non-stop pressure, a 90-hour week and a 145-mile round trip to work. Welcome to the world of Oldham's Ronnie Moore. <i><b>Phil Shaw </b></i>reports
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The Independent Football

When Saturday comes, managing a football club can make Ronnie Moore's stomach churn and his head spin. Like an addict, he goes through it in order to savour the high of winning, although he realised such sensations might be few and far between when he took over an Oldham Athletic side that had lost eight successive games and were in danger of plunging into the Football League's basement division.

When Saturday comes, managing a football club can make Ronnie Moore's stomach churn and his head spin. Like an addict, he goes through it in order to savour the high of winning, although he realised such sensations might be few and far between when he took over an Oldham Athletic side that had lost eight successive games and were in danger of plunging into the Football League's basement division.

After eight years in charge of Rotherham United, Moore is three weeks into his fire-fighting role at Oldham, the Premier League founder members who lie 19th in League One. Both parties will review the arrangement at the end of the season. However, it is not a sense of insecurity that gnaws at his insides. It is match days, when he stands or falls by the efforts of what one manager labelled "11 daft lads".

"The pressure is greater than when I first started [as caretaker manager of Tranmere Rovers in 1987]," says the 52-year-old Merseysider. "Lose two in a row now and it's a full-blown crisis. I spoke to Martin Allen when we played Brentford and he said: 'Why do we do this? It's not enjoyable'. People say what a lovely job it must be, and if it wasn't for Saturdays it would be the best in the world.

"You get that horrible feeling in your guts and your head's going round. That technical area is a lonely place if you're losing. When Rotherham trailed Sheffield United 5-0 in a derby, their fans were singing 'Ronnie, Ronnie, what's the score?' But then I also remember beating West Ham and Leeds, clubs with massive resources compared to us. That feeling, and making so many people happy, is a powerful thing."

For Moore, the match is the 90-minute culmination of a 90-hour working week. A manic Monday sets the tone for seven days of planning and supervising training sessions, making countless phone calls to fellow managers and agents about potential recruits, driving hundreds of miles on the motorways, spending most afternoons and evenings scouting at reserve games and snatching the odd cup of tea and round of toast.

Moore's day starts at 6.30am. Breakfast in his South Yorkshire home (he is separated from his wife) is a cuppa as he checks the football news on Ceefax. Soon he is picking up John Breckin, the assistant he has brought with him from Rotherham. They have dabbled with routes for the 145-mile round trip, once ending up on an isolated moor with only sheep for company. High on the agenda is last weekend: Oldham were within 20 seconds of beating Luton until the leaders hit them with what Moore calls "a sickener". With the transfer deadline falling a week tomorrow, they also mull over how to use their shoestring budget.

Business begins in earnest at Boundary Park around 9am. A rival manager rings looking to take an Oldham midfielder on loan. Moore says "no" but ends up with useful information on Walsall, who his new charges visit in a six-pointer on Saturday. A player left out recently comes in demanding an explanation. The local press want a story, and Moore appreciates the value of "keeping them on your side". Moore arranges for a French player to join his squad later this week.

By 10am, he and Breckin are navigating Oldham's ring roads and roundabouts en route to Chapel Road playing fields for training. Mondays are about blowing away the cobwebs and a nine-a-side game is soon in progress. Jermaine Johnson, who was released by the previous manager, Brian Talbot, catches the eye. Moore has re-signed him on a pay-as-you-play basis "because his pace offers an alternative attacking option".

At Rotherham, Leo Fortune-West was invariably "terrible" in training but "usually did the business in matches". By that reckoning, Moore should field the red bibs at Walsall. As Breckin tells them: "I hope you lot went out on Saturday night. If you didn't, there's something wrong." Detailed preparations for the match will not commence until Thursday.

Midday finds the duo back in Moore's cubby hole of an office, into which are crammed a desk, sofa, fridge, a row of Rothmans Yearbooks and a whiteboard containing lists of players that interest him. He picks up The Sun and scans the weekend teams to see which players were on the bench or left out, asking his secretary to request advance notification from the Premiership clubs playing reserve fixtures that evening of their sides.

Among the post is a letter containing two betting slips, each for £50 on Oldham to win, to show the sender's commitment, along with doom-laden warnings about the standard of the squad. No address is included. "That'll be the chairman," quips Breckin. There is also a DVD from a Bosnian in New Jersey who wants a trial. "We had one," recalls Breckin, breaking into laughter, "of this guy in a park with long grass, just volleying and heading crosses from someone you couldn't see."

They analyse the tape of the Luton game, repeatedly replaying the goals conceded. On the first, they spot slack concentration at a throw-in by the visitors. For the second, gifting possession from their own throw-in proves costly. "If we keep the ball here, they don't score," Moore asserts, freezing the frame. "I'll have a word with the lad, tell him not to force it by throwing the ball long and giving it back to them."

Yet he also rewinds to Oldham's goals and celebrations, noting the "togetherness" of a side that had been in freefall. "That's pleasing," he says. "We've been here just the four games and, to be fair, there's been only one diabolical performance."

At 2pm he has his first chance to check out Oldham's juniors in a Lancashire Youth Cup semi-final against Burnley, watching from the stand as the coach, John Sheridan, barks instructions. A 2-0 lead becomes 2-2, but with extra time nearly over, Matty Wolfenden, a 17-year-old who impressed Moore in the first half, claims the winner.

"The kids were all right," says Moore, waxing lyrical. Despite their promise, looming games with Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday as well as relegation battles against Torquay United and Milton Keynes Dons make it highly unlikely he will experiment in the senior ranks.

The pursuit of players continues via mobile phones - Bolton Wanderers have a couple Sam Allardyce is prepared to let out - before Moore and Breckin hit the road again at 4.30pm for a 7pm kick-off between the second string of Birmingham and Everton at Solihull Borough FC, some 115 miles away.

They tell of how two friends at wealthy Wigan Athletic, the managerial team of Paul Jewell and Chris Hutchings, travelled by helicopter to Plymouth reserves to assess a player. "As it turned out," adds the assistant, "the lad wasn't even playing."

The foreign striker Moore had earmarked from the fixture is not involved either, but he knew that before they set out. The purpose of the trip is to satisfy himself there is no hidden gem among the players whose names he does not recognise. "There wasn't a great deal for us there because most clubs stick kids in at this stage of the season," he admits later. "They're saving their more experienced fringe players in case they need them for big first-team games. But we had the reserve matches at Manchester City and Bolton covered too. And I can recommend the cheeseburger 'n' onions and the Oxo at Solihull."

From there it was back to Yorkshire, a 94-mile run taking his mileage for the day to nearly 300 (just as well he professes to enjoy driving). "We're thinking of getting bunks put into Ronnie's office," says Breckin. Moore, striking a more serious note, adds: "No sooner have you got in than it's time to go out again. As well as a 32-year-old daughter and my son Ian, who plays for Burnley, I've got a 10-year-old boy. The nature of the job means it has always been hard to see as much of him as I'd like."

Moore is back home before 11pm, early compared with some of his drives to the south to monitor future opponents or possible signings. After a night-cap of ice-cold Chablis and crisps - "I'll have to get in the gym to work off all this stuff," he says only half-jokingly of his diet for the day - it is off to bed before Tuesday comes and the treadmill starts again.

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