The Jim Bentley revolution

By September 9, 2011 League Two, Morecambe 4 Comments
Jim Bentley

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

4 Comments

  • MatthewBrown says:

    Very interesting, as a Macclesfield Town fan, to read about Sammy McIlroy’s time at Morecambe. Obviously at the Moss Rose he’s regarded as a legend – two Conference titles, two promotions, and an FA Trophy speak for themselves.

    Back then his teams were made up of youngsters cast off by Football League sides and talented part-time non-leaguers playing out of their skins every week. He also played passing football, sublime stuff, like a non-league Barcelona or Arsenal in their prime. Though rumours about lazy training routines did occasionally crop up back then too. Funnily enough, no one gives a damn about that when a team is winning.

    Where did it all go wrong?

    Well, that’s assuming it went wrong. A promotion followed by three top-half finishes – 11th, 11th, 4th with a play-off defeat – isn’t a bad record at all.

    Putting this record down to ‘luck’ as you state above is unfair. Last season Morecambe fell into the kind of decline many defeated play-off teams face – Macclesfield Town went through exactly the same after the 04/05 play-off defeat. Perhaps the problem was increased expectation?

    By the same token it’s very early days to be confident that Jim Bentley will do any better. So far he’s done brilliantly, and yes he’s making all the right noises, staring out players before they sign, taking the squad on crazy bonding exercises and pulling out all sorts of cheap gimmicks to try to psych-out opposition teams.

    Morecambe’s good form may continue for a while but at some point it will turn bad, and that’s when you’ll see how good Jim Bentley is. Club messiahs are often carried by an initial wave of goodwill followed by a total collapse. Last season, in mid January, Cheltenham Town fans were quietly confident that Mark Yates would lead them to the play-offs. It’s a long season.

  • Mathew Seage says:

    Don’t get me wrong, in my eyes Sammy is a legend at Morecambe too, what he achieved with us is fantastic and I’ll always be grateful to him for what he did.

    Perhaps luck wasn’t the right word to use but his approach to management was always considered to be less than committed. He was rumoured to be the last to turn up to training and the first to leave and often left it to his assistant Mark Lillis to take care of. There was supposedly very little in terms of scouting and his signings were mainly players who arrived at the club through pushy agents or came recommended by his friends in the game.

    He never really bonded with the fans either, taking any chance possible to have a pop at the support. Even after finishing 4th he chose to have sly digs at the fan base in his speach at the end of season do rather than praise the efforts of the whole club in achieving a playoff place.

    His methods were often criticised, even when we were doing well and there was always the feeling that he wasn’t quite the right man for us but whilst results were good you couldn’t really complain.

    It’s no secret either that the budget he was given to spend was very competetive for League 2 (it needed to be with the type of players he wanted to bring to the club) and this has been slashed considerably this season under Bentley.

    I’m under no doubt that Morecambe will drop off from their current heady heights and to be honest I’d just be happy with finishing 3rd bottom. It’s more about having the feel good factor back and having a manager in charge who you trust and feel like he understands the club and it’s supporters rather than one who sees them as an annoyance.

    • MatthewBrown says:

      Sounds like Sammy got lazy in his old age. The stuff about a lack of scouting sounds familiar though – throughout Macclesfield’s success under Sammy there was certainly an almost Harry Redknapp-esque turnover of players.

      It sounds like the template Sammy established is one that Bentley is happy to follow, he’s getting some good performances out of a squad with a lot of veterans.

  • Mathew Seage says:

    You make a valid point about the age of players, it occured to me yesterday when looking at our lineup that the youngest player in the starting 11 was 24 and the vast majority were 28 or older.

    Whether this is something Jim has done on purpose or it just happens to be coincidence that the players he deemed best to do the job where of this age only time will tell.

    He has signed double of the amount of players Sammy ever did from the youth team this year though and he’s given Dan Parkinson his first team already so it would appear he has more time for the youngsters than Sammy ever did.

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