Danny Hall: Ex-Blade Curtis Woodhouse opens up at frustration over lack of coaching opportunities

Curtis Woodhouse in his days at Sheffield United
Curtis Woodhouse in his days at Sheffield United
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The quote is found deep inside a book titled ‘Revealing the Kop Legend Who Launched a Thousand Quips’ but Bill Shankly’s forthright views on coaching badges cannot easily be dismissed as a witty remark made in jest.

“When people ask me my credentials for being a manager or a coach, I have one answer... Bill Shankly,” the legendary ex-Liverpool manager once said, his words recounted in John Keith’s excellent book.

“They’re my qualifications, the way I was born. And that’s all the qualifications anyone needs in the game I’m in. I didn’t think it was necessary to take an FA coaching course. I didn’t think it was going to make me any better. If I took a course, am I going to be a better man six days later because I’ve got a piece of paper?

“That’s nonsense. I’ve been to Lilleshall, yes. I’ve been umpteen times. I wanted to go there and see what I could pick up.

“There’s always something you can pick up, even from the most stupid people. I think my yardstick would have been too high for some of these FA coaches to pass.

“What is a coach? He’s a man who knows something about the game, and who is able to convey his ability to other people to make them better at their job.”

Legend has it Shankly once separated a pile of papers brought to his office by his secretary; half on his desk, half in the bin. A concerned acquaintance asked if they were letters from fans.

“No son,” came the reply, with a laugh.

“We have a vacancy for a youth team coach. The letters on the desk I will read later... the ones going in the bin have FA Coaching badges.”

Shankly died in 1981, seven years after leading Liverpool out for the last time at Wembley, but it would have been fascinating to hear his response this week to Curtis Woodhouse, the former Sheffield United trainee, sounding off about the top level of English football, the difficulty of getting started in the grassroots game and most things inbetween.

Woodhouse retired from football to take up professional boxing

Woodhouse retired from football to take up professional boxing

Woodhouse’s story is a remarkable one. He is the former £1million footballer who played for England U21s, but struggled with a drinking problem and was pictured famously lunging for the ball at David Beckham’s feet in a Premier League game he played with a hangover, after spending six of the previous seven days out on the beer.

Woodhouse gave up his football career to pursue his love of boxing, and fulfilled a promise he made to his late father on his deathbed to win the English title.

Remarkable alright, and one that has been documented in print after Woodhouse released his autobiography, Box to Box, last month.

But where does his story go next? Woodhouse wants to resurrect his career in football, as a manager, and is currently unbeaten in eight games in charge of Bridlington Town in the Northern Counties East Premier League.

I’ve been told that I need to learn how to play the game but that’s not me. Never has been, and never will be. I’m going to do it my way; start from the grassroots at Bridlington and make myself impossible to ignore. By winning.

Curtis Woodhouse

The 36-year-old has completed his UEFA ‘B’ Licence and one part of the ‘A’, so is qualified to work in the Football League, but opened up in an impassioned post on his Twitter account earlier this week.

“I’ve had loads of messages from former team mates and former players all telling me... they have given up, they have exhausted all avenues, invested time and money, ticked every box and not even given a interview for whatever job they looked at,” Woodhouse said.

“I spoke to one former England international that is a fully qualified UEFA A coach that has applied for 27 jobs and not had one interview in nearly three years.

“He has decided to move into another line of work.

“You have people who have never played football far more qualified in terms of badges that former players who have played for 10-15 years, while they were learning about it the ex-professional was actually doing it!

“You don’t have to have played professional football to be a good coach or manager - I know and have worked with plenty who are excellent and never played - but don’t punish the ex pro for being a ex pro.

Woodhouse has now returned to football, in the dugout

Woodhouse has now returned to football, in the dugout

“Does 15 years playing the game count for nothing?”

Woodhouse was recently overlooked for the manager’s job at Grimsby Town, who instead took a punt on Marcus Bignot from National League side Solihull Moors, and at least one former teammate has warned the former Blade of the dangers of using his Twitter account to express his forthright views.

But even a cursory glance at Woodhouse’s life story suggests he is a man used to doing things his own way and is by no means the first or last to question the wisdom of the FA, for instance.

They did, after all, at a time when the Spanish model was en vogue, hire Aidy Boothroyd - sacked by Northampton Town when they were bottom of League Two - as the coach of England’s U20s and recruited John Beck, once dubbed ‘Dracula’ over fears he was sucking the life out of football, to educate the country’s future coaches.

Many would be priced out of even getting that far anyway. The B License can cost as much as £2,450 in England, compared to €430 in Germany. Progress to the A License and that rises to a maximum of £5,820 in England.

Their German equivalents would pay €530 for the same course and it’s difficult to even blame Brexit here when the numbers simply don’t stack up.

Little wonder, then, that the deficiency translates to actual number of UEFA A coaches; 5,500 in Germany, 12,720 in Spain and 1,178 in England.

It’s a price Woodhouse has been willing to pay to pursue his dream of league management, but the worry is how many possible top coaches are priced out of doing likewise. As Danny Higginbotham, another ex-Blade, pointed out, there’s no badge for man-management; “the biggest skill a manager needs,” he added.

“The price has made our game a game that only the rich can join,” Woodhouse added.

“A game that was a working class game for working class people is being ripped away from us. English kids are not getting the best coaches because people can’t afford to do the courses.

“I’m worried about where our game is going. It’s something that needs to be addressed and questions need to be answered. Slowly, ex-players will move away from the game and into media and other outlets.

“We will lose some of the brightest minds in the UK if it keeps going this way and in 10 years, it’ll be Armageddon for the young UK coach and manager.

“I’ve been told that I need to learn how to play the game but that’s not me. Never has been, and never will be.

“I’m going to do it my way; start from the grassroots at Bridlington and make myself impossible to ignore.

“By winning.”