For a crash course in football management, James Beattie could not have picked a better place than Accrington Stanley. The Lancashire club have the Football League's smallest budget and lowest average attendance and, since taking the reins last May, the former Southampton, Everton and England striker has found himself doing everything, from cleaning toilets to negotiating players' contracts to providing an impromptu ticket service for supporters.
This latter task came when Accrington's recent fixture at Portsmouth was called off and he helped some fans get into Southampton's FA Cup tie against Burnley. "They tweeted me," Beattie tells The Independent. "I know the lads because we don't have that many fans. I got four tickets and they went and enjoyed themselves."
Beattie arrived at Accrington in November 2012 as player-coach, taking over as manager when Leam Richardson left for Chesterfield. "I have been so busy," says the 35-year-old, who returns to his family home in Dorset once a week to see his wife and three children. "A manager should have an army of people to delegate certain jobs to. Unfortunately for me, or fortunately for my experience, I don't have that luxury. I have been told by many managers and friends that I'll probably learn more in four or five months here than I will in the next 10 years.
"In the summer, we had eight players to start with and the smallest budget in the league. It was a massive challenge to get what I believe is a very good squad together on the money the lads are on." Such a challenge that he ended up paying a tax bill himself to ensure Accrington could recruit Kal Naismith, their joint-top scorer, from Rangers. "It is a struggle weekly," he adds. "I have had to defer wages from the boys a few times, but we're getting there."
The club's playing budget for the season is less than Wayne Rooney earns in a month and they do not have a single paid scout, leaving Beattie reliant on an online scouting platform. Yet he is raising standards. Stanley made their first trip abroad in pre-season to Portugal, and Beattie has brought in a chef to provide breakfast and lunch for the squad each day at Blackburn Rugby Club.
Within the club there is admiration for his level-headed approach. Accrington did not win any of his first 12 league matches, yet he did not waver. "I don't think I've ever had a problem with my own self-belief," he says. "The performances were there or thereabouts, we just needed that first win."
Beattie's ambition shines through when he articulates his wish to "change the whole DNA of the club" and he speaks with satisfaction of the recent audit of the club's academy, which earned category-three status. One young product, Connor Mahoney, joined Blackburn last month in a deal which will provide much-needed revenue. Further encouragement has come from elsewhere. "Everybody within the managerial frater-nity has been very helpful," he says, citing Gary Bowyer at Blackburn, Beattie's hometown club, whose training facilities Stanley use.
As a player, Beattie had fallouts with David Moyes and Tony Pulis, and he is keen to accentuate the bonds of trust being built with his squad. "I am treating the players well, I have experienced some highs and some lows in my career in that respect." Beattie sees the mental side of the game as "massive". "There is more to come from these players if we can get their minds right – if you can get seven, eight, nine players putting a performance in, you're in with a very good chance. The ultimate goal is to stay in the league but, as you've probably gathered, I know these players can deliver more." Stanley sit 22nd in the 24-team division but Beattie is a believer.