When Sammy McIlroy departed Morecambe in the summer many eyebrows were raised at the promotion of the then 34-year-old former captain Jim Bentley into the role of manager. This was considered a huge risk by many in the national press and has led to the Shrimps being tipped as nailed on relegation candidates by journalists and fans alike up and down the country. However, for those who know Jim, the club and the circumstances surrounding McIlroy’s departure, the decision was a no brainer.
McIlroy’s appointment as manager back in 2006 was much needed at the time with the club struggling to achieve that final push over the finish line to gain promotion. Jim Harvey left his former Northern Ireland colleague with the basis of a squad capable of promotion but needing the finishing touches to achieve it. McIlroy completed the jigsaw in the space of a season, replacing the free flowing passing game utilised under Harvey with a more workmanlike philosophy, epitomised by savvy veterans such as Danny Adams and Neil Sorvel who had been part of his Macclesfield teams in the 90’s.
Things continued to go well for The Shrimps in the first three seasons of league football under McIlroy, the blueprint remained the same; effective football whilst relying on experienced players who had been there and done it in the Football League at the expense of anything even resembling a youth policy.
McIlroy’s luck with this approach ran out last season. The summer recruits followed the same pattern; journeymen pros looking for another pay day. Paul Scott, Chris Shuker, Tony Capaldi and Adam Rundle in particular failed to emulate the success McIlroy had with this approach in previous seasons through the likes of Phil Jevons, David Artell and Barry Roche and the knives were beginning to come out for the manager.
Rumours began circulating of poor training methods that failed to challenge the players (which eventually led to Tony Capaldi being forced out of the club due to his comments on Twitter) and a lack of cohesion in the dressing room. Numerous players fell out with the manager and as the season went on it became more and more apparent that they weren’t playing for him anymore, summed up nicely by the 7-2 hammering at Port Vale.
Despite McIlroy being offered another deal by the club he decided to turn it down, stating that he had taken the club as far as he could, a verdict shared by many Morecambe supporters at the time which meant the club were now looking for a new manager for only the second time since 1994.
Morecambe fans had become tired of McIlroy’s approach and demanded a manager who viewed the role as an honour and not something to fit around commitments to MUTV and Sky Sports whilst also providing a more entertaining brand of football and having less of a reliance on lower league journeymen.
Fortunately for the Shrimps the one man who encompassed all of these traits was already with the club and had spent the past 12 months honing his managerial skills as reserve team manager. Jimbo, as he is affectionately known, is a hugely popular figure at Morecambe having spent almost 10 years at the club, captaining the side to promotion at Wembley as well as through the early years as a Football League club.
Shrimps supporters were in no doubt that Jim would be a success, a view not shared by many outside the club who saw his appointment as a cheap option and one that was due to end in disaster as have many other reigns of club legends trying their hand at management.
The change at the club over these past few months has been described as a breath of fresh air by those in the know and Bentley has left no stone unturned in his quest to produce a winning Morecambe side. Feeling that the Globe Arena was too welcoming for away sides he has requested that the away dressing room be painted black, all the barriers around the ground painted red, flags to be put up in the home end and pictures depicting Morecambe victories be placed around the corridors for opposing players to see.
He also took the squad on a team bonding trip to Scotland in pre-season to boost morale and togetherness within the squad, something he pinpointed as severely lacking last season. Team spirit is something Jim is a big believer in and he even had the team flatty trapping (basically fishing with your feet) this past week as a bonding exercise!
The days of Morecambe signing whatever players were recommended to the club by agents are firmly over too with Bentley refusing to sign a player unless he’s personally sat down with them and looked them in the eye allowing him to decide whether they have what it takes to succeed in one of his teams.
Already fans can see a huge difference in the levels of commitment shown by the players compared to last year with the likes of Kevin Ellison and Nick Fenton providing much needed leadership whilst Lewis Alessandra and Izak Reid add more pace and movement in attacking positions than we have seen in years.
Whilst it’s still early days the general feel around the club is light years away from what it was last season where doom and gloom were the order of the day. Everyone is firmly behind Jimbo and there’s a real togetherness from the boardroom right down to the fans that hasn’t been seen at the club for years. Nobody is getting carried away with the start made by The Shrimps but all Morecambe fans are quietly confident that come May, Jim Bentley will get his side much higher up the table than predicted by the vast majority going into this season.
Written by Mathew Seage, We Are Going Up’s Morecambe Blogger
Mathew tweets at @Seagie85