The scene is a recent match and the time is around 4.40pm one Saturday afternoon. In the crowd is a nervous wife watching her husband’s team hang onto a one-goal lead with full-time approaching.

‘Ten more minutes left and I’ve got a decent weekend,’ she says. ‘If we don’t get a win then my whole weekend is a write off. I might as well pack my bags and go and see my family.’

For all the benefits it can provide this is the lesser-seen – to outsiders at least – side of football management. A job so consuming that what happens in the all-important 90 minutes has far-reaching consequences that go well beyond the pitch and last long after the final whistle.

Prior to leaving Edgar Street, by mutual consent, the former Hereford boss Josh Gowling turned his attention to social media issues, “I’m thankful we had the fans behind us for most of my time, cheering us on, because it’s very easy to be negative.

“It’s very easy for people to go online and bash me, bash the club, bash the board, and bash the lads, when in reality we were always a work in progress. I would like to thank all the fans who have supported us through thick and thin even when things haven’t gone well”.

Such abuse is just an unfortunate aspect of being a football manager according to the Everton boss Sean Dyche, “It’s a reality of the job, it gets worse every year because of the coverage.”

“Everyone’s got a phone, everyone’s suddenly a pundit of sorts, a reporter if you like, of sorts, sharing opinions.”

Steve Bruce shone a light on the issue when revealing he was quitting football for good due to the personal abuse he suffered and the strain it placed on him and his family.

His admission and concerns struck a chord with his managerial colleagues who, as well as offering their support, have discussed that very topic among themselves but soldier on regardless, finding their own coping mechanisms for an issue that is too easily dismissed as ‘part of the job.’

While many managers have thick enough skin to absorb the football-related criticism that comes their way, personal abuse but especially their nearest and dearest getting dragged in – as targets but also collateral damage – is where the line is drawn.

‘You don’t get that far [in management] only because you are good at tactics, but also because you’re a strong character, a leader,’ former Croatia and West Ham boss Slaven Bilic said.

‘I don’t lose my sleep about it, but it’s more about family now. When my kids were growing up then it came to the age where it is not only about me.’

Neal Ardley said: ‘When I first took over Wimbledon the first season we had to win our last game to stay up, and my wife knew if I didn’t get the first job right and I’m relegated what it might mean to my career.

‘She bore the brunt. She couldn’t even look at the telly. She’d go out for a walk at 3pm for two hours, she’d not take her phone with her. It means even more to the wives in many ways.’

Ardley also recalled a fan of one of his former clubs who had been on his case repeatedly on social media over an extended period. At one stage the supporter also jumped uninvited into a social media conversation to ask Ardley’s daughter ‘does your dad know you’re in the showers with the players after each game?’

Later in his reign after a crucial victory, as he celebrated with supporters’ he noticed a man hugging him, telling Ardley how much he loved him and that he was unbelievable. It turned out to be the same fan who had been behind the social media campaign against him and also sent the ‘horrible’ message to Ardley’s then 15-year-old daughter.

‘When I tell this to people, they look mortified and say “did you give him a right hook while he was trying to cuddle you?” Ardley, previously of AFC Wimbledon and Notts County, said, “No. That’s the world we live in. They can do what they want to you and you’ve got to take it, be professional and lead your club with integrity because that’s the job”.’

While managers being subjected to abuse is nothing new the emergence of social media in particular has changed the landscape. Bilic said: ‘Fifteen or 20 years ago, you had to open the papers or turn on the television. Go in a pub, club or restaurant to hear, very rarely, that somebody will tell you something nice or not nice.

‘It was difficult to do it face to face. In the last 10 years it’s becoming like enjoyment for those guys to do it.’

Paul Tisdale, who has managed over 800 EFL games, said: ‘It’s very different now and the banter culture. It’s not just the detailed, focused criticism of you as a manager. ‘Instagram and all the different sites are just constantly ridiculing. It means nothing but it’s everywhere.’

Ardley said: ‘It has got miles worse because of social media and what happens now is in many cases it actually loses people their jobs.

‘The world has become so social media orientated that even if your chairman isn’t on it will be a member of his family that is and people can’t help telling people what’s going on.

‘They’ll say “fans aren’t happy, they want the manager out, blah, blah, blah”. The moment you mention that you’re putting the seed into people’s minds.

‘I’m adamant now that the merry go round of management isn’t just because we’ve got a lot of foreign owners or impatient owners.

‘A lot of it now is that the world has become impatient and they make more decisions based on pressure from the feeling they get from fans who are not just at the game on a Saturday at 5pm but it’s throughout the week.’

Richard Bevan, chief executive of the League Managers Association, is worried by the rise in hostility. ‘The level of abuse and extreme criticism is a constant concern, the culture is drifting away from the fundamental principles of respect and decency and is in danger of taking the game backwards.’

So how are managers coping? It is not unheard of for some to secretly turn to sleeping or anxiety pills to help them deal with the strain of management. One told friends that after quitting management for a new role in football the change finally allowed him to sleep for the first time in 20 years.

Ardley described how his family now try and create a bubble around themselves to keep negativity away. He encourages his wife and daughters not to look out for things said about him on social media.

Tisdale made sure he enjoyed the Monday to Friday element of the job and encouraged his players to do the same. Saturday was business and all about delivering the result but he tried his best not to bring any baggage from the matchday back into work again on Monday.

Tisdale also made time to shut off from the game completely and, after an LMA health check revealed how the adrenaline from management stayed in his system for up to seven hours after a game he took up cross country running twice-a-week for a period to help expend it.

Tisdale, who admitted he has had the odd tough spell when he has advised family to stay away from games ‘because you know what’s coming’, added: ‘It was never intended in the first place, but I lived a long way away from it. I never lived in Exeter all those [12] years while I was there and it was actually a huge benefit for me because it meant I could drive home into a different environment well away from it.’

Regardless of any additional methods, there is no escaping the need for a thick skin and mental resilience with Sunderland’s then boss Lee Johnson providing a perfect, timely example. During his Sunderland side’s 5-1 defeat at Rotherham, Johnson was on the receiving end of such relentless ‘vile’ abuse that one disgusted witness came close to leaving the ground.

‘It was pure vile and about everything. His height, shoes, shirt, just constant,’ he explained. ‘What if his kids or wife were there?’ He then made a point of watching Johnson’s post-match interview to see what impact fans hurling abuse at him from just a few feet away for a whole game had.

Tisdale explained how stressful this particular post-match moment also is for managers during their working week. ‘The hardest point for a manager other than the decisions he makes technically, is five past five, after the match, go to speak to the press,’ he said. ‘You’re speaking to about five different stakeholders as you answer that question.

‘The whole thing is a Rubik’s cube and the whole time you’ve got adrenaline in your system. You feel emotionally battered.’

How was Johnson after his 90-minute verbal battering? ‘Placid as anything. I was shocked,’ the witness said. ‘I’d have said something like “the fans were a disgrace” but he’s able to control his emotions. How long does that last though? It must be a ticking time bomb. You’ve got to go home at night and say “I got absolutely battered today”.’

Some cannot cope anywhere ignore the abuse as well as Johnson and others.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta revealed he had spoken to existing managers considering, like Bruce, whether the hassle is worth it. Arteta had also talked to potential managers who were being put off pursing the job due to the abuse.

Some managers have been left with mental health issues preventing them ever managing again. One younger manager who was so put off by his first taste in the hotseat due to the abuse that he later rejected a director of football job because the offer included just the possibility that he might have to step in as an interim manager.

Bilic added: ‘No matter how much money you are earning it doesn’t make you less human or less vulnerable. People say “he is earning £2million, £3m or whatever million per year”. So what? Does that mean if someone is earning £10m they can kill him or whatever?’

Neil Warnock, who has taken charge of a record number of games in English football said: ‘It’s got really, really nasty. I couldn’t have done what Steve Bruce did at Newcastle, if I’m honest. I don’t need the job that much’.

But stepping away when things get out of hand is not a luxury every manager could afford.

‘There are lots of managers who need that job to earn a living as they can’t afford to be out of work,’ said Ardley, who also explained that being part of a dressing room is the best part of management and not easy to give up.

There is little expectation among managers that the situation will improve. If anything it will only get worse with Tony Pulis fearing it won’t be long before a manager is attacked. And there is seemingly not much they can do to prepare themselves.

It all leaves managers needing to find a greater motivation to justify continuing to put themselves in the firing line.

‘No matter how much the managers are complaining [about abuse] nobody stops doing their job,’ Bilic said. ‘That doesn’t mean the abuse is right. It means they’re stronger and they love their job more than that.’

Tisdale added: ‘To get through the crap, you’ve got to be on a different mission to be a manager – for success, to create a legacy – whatever it is. Pep, for example, and certain other coaches I can see they are. If it’s just because it’s a job, that’s what I do and I’m in the sport… really?

‘What drove me was building relationships, helping people and creating something successful and extraordinary. That mission you are on is what drives you to be that coach and last a long time.’

By Editor

Lifelong Hereford supporter who has endured the rise and fall of the club through progressive generations. Sports journalist, broadcaster and commentator who will never forget his Edgar Street roots.

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