Even for someone who used to dodge punches for a living, Curtis Woodhouse admits his first year in charge of Gainsborough Trinity has been one of the toughest he’s faced in his managerial career.
After a relegation scrap, squad overhaul, budget cuts and even a global pandemic to stir things up, some would have considered walking away.
But it was little over 12 months ago when Woodhouse, who left Tadcaster Albion for the Holy Blues, watched his new side receive a standing ovation after a 3-1 to Ashton United.
As far as motivation goes, that was all he needed. Any harder though, and he says he might have had to dust off his boxing gloves.
“By far it’s been the toughest year of my managerial career,” he said. “We’re probably fifty percent down in budgets from last year so we’ve got a much smaller squad.
“But what’s happened has happened. It hasn’t taken everything away, but it’s allowed me to look at things a different way. It’s made me a hell of a lot more rounded as a manager.
“It’s been a tough test that has been enjoyable in a way, but if it gets much harder than this I might have to get my gloves back out.
“When I first came to the club, I wanted to raise expectation of everybody here. I felt like the club had found a happy niche where it they were happy to be bobbling along. I wanted the fans to demand more.
“I remember the game before I got the job, they lost at home and the lads got a standing ovation off the pitch. I couldn’t believe it, that’s how low the standards had dropped. You have to demand more from everyone around you and slowly but surely, the fans have started to believe in what we’re doing.
“Hopefully, we have made an impact and people are starting to come back to witness something special that is happening at this football club.”
In at the deep end, Woodhouse guided Trinity to safety with plenty of games to spare.
In February, he made his intentions clear, signing a new two-and-a-half-year deal with promotion on the menu.
“When I first came in, we had 14 lads on contract, ten of them I didn’t want,” he explained. “We had a huge task to make massive changes to the squad at the same time as trying to get out of the relegation zone.
“My remit for my first season was to keep us in the league which we did comfortably. I felt with a bit of luck we could have had a bit of a run to the play-offs. We then sat down with Rich and signed a new deal and the remit for this season was promotion.
“Obviously then the pandemic hit, and everything changed. Suddenly the goal was to stay in the division again. The original budgets this season had to be slashed. If you look at our team, apart from Simon Ainge and Martyn Woolford, they’re all young lads who we’ve picked up from sides below us.
“If we can blend these lads in well, you’ll see the best of them next season. It helps because this summer, we won’t need a turnaround of 16 players because these younger lads will be ready for a push next season.”
As a player, Woodhouse had fruitful spells with Sheffield United and Hull City. After getting to grips with management in the last few years, he’s aiming to be rubbing shoulders with the Football League once again.
“A lot of people have said the pressures off this season but for me, the pressure is never off. I put pressure on myself to be a successful manager.
“I want to go into every game and win so I’ve got to pressure myself to perform and be a good manager. Anyone can do it when they’ve got the resources but with what I’ve got financially because of the pandemic, it’s a good test for me. That’s not anybody’s fault, that’s just the situation we’re in and we have to deal with it. I’m asking myself, ‘can I tick that box?.’
“We’ve probably got a bottom three budget, so the pressure is trying to do it while our backs are against the wall. These are all good tests for me as a young manager.
“I’ve had to go to with my begging bowl to my former clubs Sheffield United and Hull City to pull in some favours. They’ve been great, and we’ve got some great players in from them. It’s great to see the clubs trust us to develop their future.
“I make no secret of my desire to manage in the Football League so to do that, I’m going to have to prove I can do it with resource and on a shoestring too so people can see I can cope at both ends of the scale.”
This article was published in The Non-League Paper on Sunday 26 October 2020.
MAIN IMAGE – John Rudkin