In the second of this series, joint manager Anthony Johnson speaks about the six seasons he had, alongside his great mate Bernard Morley, in charge at Ramsbottom United. This is Jonno uncut, in his own words looking at the 2010/11 season in the North West Counties League.
They had turned some heads during their first season in charge at Rammy. After the initial comments that flew around about Harry losing his mind appointing Bernard and Jonno, a fourth place finish in 2009/10 had changed a few minds around the place.
Do you know, we won our first league game of the season on Tuesday night with Chester, when we went down to Kidderminster Harriers and won? The only other time we had done that was in this season, when we beat Flixton 3-0! We just had this thing about not winning our first league game, we had six seasons with Rammy and only did it once!
But whenever we lost the first game of the season, we have gone on to do well – no idea why that is.
We signed Jon Robinson at the back end of the previous season to play up top and we started the season well with wins at Flixton, Barnoldswick and then Winsford in the FA Cup. But then we dropped off a bit and lost to New Mills, when Adam Morning had a stormer and it was then that we realised that it was us chasing them this season in the league.
We played against Cheadle and I came on after recovering from my broken leg. I was nowhere near ready to play really so we know that we had to get some players in as I wasn’t going to be featuring that much.
So that is when we signed Gassy [Lee Gaskell] from Walshaw Sports. He had tried non-league at our level before and it hadn’t really worked out but we decided to give him another try and we also got a young goalkeeper in, 18-year-old Grant Shenton. What an introduction we gave those two future Rammy greats – a loss to bloody Padiham!
But when I think back now, we signed Robbo at the end of the 2009/10 season and in that 12 to 15 month period from about 2009 until Christmas 2010, we created the main crux of the ‘legends’ of the club, all of them were signed in that period. Robinson, Phil Dean, Shents, Gary Stopforth, Danny Warrender, Ian Flannery, Andy Dawson came back from injury, Pilky, Sharples, Dom Smalley, a whole group of players, a dozen or so lads that ended up being the main group that took us all the way through. It all just fitted together. It was that period of time that we put that squad together – we didn’t know it at the time, but they were a group of mongrels!
We didn’t really have a clue at the time that these lads would be there throughout but that 10/11 season was an amazing one, Rammy’s greatest ever season at the time, finishing second in the Counties Premier Division but I classed it as a failure, we didn’t win anything.
Thinking back now at that season, we kind of realised that we could be very good at what we are doing. We were chasing New Mills, who were paying ridiculous wages but had some really good players. For us initially, it was a bit of a hobby but it became more than that. We played some swashbuckling, fearless football. Even now, 10 years or so later, we still try and model our teams in that way.
It was this season that was the catalyst of everything we were going to be, what was expected of each other, not to be outworked, give no respect to anyone, go out there to win every game.
Our second season was the biggest recruitment drive that we ever had, in terms of quality. Later, we added Grant Spencer to the group after he scored a hat-trick against us for Rossendale United in that ridiculous 7-5 win at the end of the season. But, I can’t think of many more players that came into the group that helped push us on.
That second season was our single most important season. I have never really thought of it like that but it was arguably the most important season we had, in terms of setting expectations and setting out a blueprint. As I said, we signed Gassy who was a bit of a show pony but we got hold of him, taught him what was expected of him. The partnership he created with Robbo and with Whiz and Dom on the wings – you are not going to see a better front four. It was a frightening prospect.
But because we were so fearless in the way we played, we could have beaten New Mills but maybe we were too fearless occasionally. Signing Gary Stopforth gave us that little bit more solidity and it allowed Spenno and Whiz to have more of an edge. And we had Ryan Moore again too, he was a top players. We had an unbelievable group of forwards.
On the other side of that was that it was a turning point of where we were as a club. Players like John Blackley, a Rammy legend who played for the club for years, players like Jonny Lea and Lee Connell – a fabulous player who had played at the highest level – they were all good players but lads we wanted to move on from. They were the last of the players from the previous managers and we had moved on.
We did make some other signings, a left back called James Rothel from Maine Road who filled that position. But we just couldn’t get a good, settled back four – Baz Shuttleworth started the season there, Rothel took over but he probably wasn’t quite up to it so Whiz had to play left-back instead.
We had far too many attacking players, which suited our swashbuckling style in the season and were hammering teams but we got beat by New Mills both times – we would have won the league had we beaten them in those games.
The area that we knew we had to strengthen was in defence. Once we lost to New Mills in March, we knew that was probably it. After that game, we just went out and played and scored 36 goals in our last 10 games in April and just enjoyed ourselves.
It was during these games that Gaz became a major part, Mark Ayres joined up a couple of weeks in. We were setting it up for the future – which would eventually lead us to two promotions.
We did actually win our first trophy. It wasn’t much and we didn’t really celebrate it as it didn’t mean very much. It was the runners-up trophy for the Counties. But we got our hands on some silverware and it felt like we had come a long way in two years. I still have my medal at home.
What it did do was make us hungry. I wanted more of that. I wanted to be in more pictures of us winning things.
The other thing that I certainly realised at the time was that that was probably it for us, for Bernard and myself, as players. We wanted to concentrate our efforts of being managers of this team, not bit part players.
It was getting that little runners-up trophy that made us realise that we could be successful managers. Two years previously, it was thought of as a bit of a joke, us being managers of a team. But now, we were already planning on how to win the league next year. We were the favourites to win the league.
The 2010/11 season had been a good season, but next year, no excuses. None!