JR “Hi Chris, thanks for talking to me today at TSF. Let’s start with your current position as assistant coach at Motherwell FC. How are you enjoying the role?
CL '' I am loving being assistant manager at Motherwell FC. It's a club with real traditional values and full of hard working people behind the scenes that have been nothing but supportive in helping us and the team be the best that it can possibly be. So from that respect we have got everybody pushing in the right direction and everybody is behind us which is a nice feeling to have.
JR “Lot’s of readers go into coaching at various levels of football, what do you think are the key skills needed by an assistant manager?
CL “I think that the key factors you look for are that you have got to be in alignment with the manager and you have got to have the same beliefs and the same views of how you want the team to play. That extends to how you want to run the club, the same philosophies that you both believe in as a starting point and from then on as assistant manager you are there to support the manager.
You are there to listen and you are there to be a sounding board to bounce things off and to look at different sides of the job within football because as a manager you are totally consumed within your job. The football operations of getting the team right, the selection of the team and winning games are very important and there is so much more responsibility to make sure that everything is sorted on the periphery to the actual side of the team.
You have to make sure that all the staff are OK and the players too, and you are there really to allow the manager just to concentrate on the most important thing, which is picking the team and getting the tactics right in order to get three points. My role is to assist him and make sure that the support system behind him is working properly.”
JR “Let’s look back on your playing career. You made over 200 appearances for Bury FC and also managed the club. Bury is a club that seems to go continuously through the mill…
CL “Bury FC holds a very special place in my heart. I had six unbelievable years there as a player after I signed for the club from Halifax Town back in 1993. Within those six years we played a play-off final, which we unfortunately lost to Chesterfield FC, and we won promotion the following season to League One.
When everybody tipped us to get relegated we actually won the League One title so we achieved back to back promotions after a play-off final defeat to reach the Championship. From that moment we were playing the likes of Manchester City, Sunderland AFC and Middlesbrough FC which, for a club the size of Bury FC, was phenomenal.
We stayed up in our first season in the Championship. I remember on the last day of the season we had to beat QPR, which we did, and Manchester City got relegated along with a couple of other big clubs, so to stay up was an unbelievable achievement.
Amazingly, the following season we got relegated, but we had 19 clean sheets! But it was the one season that the Football League decided to change the goal difference rules so that relegation was based on “goals for”. We were tied on the same points as five other teams but because we had not scored as many goals as the others we unfortunately got relegated. If it had actually come down to goal difference we would have stayed up. The next season they changed the rules back to goal difference so it was extremely unfortunate how our time ended in the Championship.
But I look back on unbelievable memories but then I was sold to Huddersfield Town for £1m. Bury FC was a great time for me and we had three excellent managers in Mike Walsh, Stan Ternent and Neil Warnock. We also had an excellent team where four players got sold in the late nineties for four million pounds, for a club like Bury to do that just shows you the kind of players that we had in the side. It was great for the club to recoup that kind of money.”
JR “There then followed six seasons at Preston North End, for a while there it seemed as if the club would finally reach the promised land…
CL “Yes, I look back on my time at Preston North End with great fondness and pride of captaining a club of such stature and history. When I left Huddersfield Town to go to Preston North End I remember meeting David Moyes and we had an in depth interview of what he expected of me in my role within the team. It was a real thorough examination of myself when I met David before I signed. It was also the fourth bid that Preston North End had submitted to sign me over the course of my career with previous bids having been rejected.
To go and play for Preston North End was again another club steeped in history, a fantastic support base who are really vocal. I came into a side that were on the up in that they achieved promotion to the Championship and had got beat in the Championship play-off final the previous season, so it was a great time to be joining the club.
I look back on my six years there and I loved every single minute of it working and playing with Graham Alexander for six years was something I look back on with great enjoyment, we had an excellent side. When we reached the play-off final we played West Ham United at the Millennium Stadium, we had beaten them home and away that season.
I would have put my house on us winning that game, to have had such a fantastic season and a great play-off campaign - we beat Derby in the semi final - we were looking at West Ham United thinking that we had beaten them home and away already this season and this is our time. I looked back at myself thinking that this was my time and I was desperate to get to the Premier League and at the age of 34, I thought this is the moment.
Unfortunately we lost 1-0 but I still look back and think that we pushed and fought to get Preston North End to within one game of the Premier League and for myself to captain the club that day and walk out onto the red carpet with Sir Tom Finney was something that I look back on with great pride.”
JR “Could you say who were among the best players you played alongside during your playing career?”
CL “A tough question! I have played with some top players, players that have played for international teams. The manager who I am currently working with is Graham Alexander… We had very similar careers in terms of how we started in the lower leagues fighting our way from division four to the division three championship, and we both got to the Premier League at the age of 35 and 36 with Sheffield United and Burnley respectively.
Graham had a great desire to win and that's what separates him from most other players. Every training session he wanted to win, he went on to play 1000 professional games and was capped by his country 40 times. I played with Phil Jagielka at Sheffield United, he had a great career for Everton FC and England. I played with Ken Monkou at Huddersfield Town towards the back end of his career and he was a top notch player.
Ricardo Fuller at Preston North End was another player who was incredible when he first came on the scene, he was so difficult to play against in training and he would rip teams to pieces. The players I named were not only excellent players but exceptional characters who had a great desire to win. I look at players now and I think If you have the right character and a will to win you certainly have got a chance of making it right to the very top.”
JR. “Chris thanks so much for sharing your story with me today, can we finish by talking about the role models that helped you as a player?
CL ''Yes, I look over my career and the first inspirational manager that I will always remember was John McGrath who is sadly no longer with us. He was manager of Halifax Town, Preston North End and Port Vale FC and he also had a great playing career for, among others, Newcastle United and Southampton FC. But he was the first manager that got a grip of me and helped me down the path of having a long and successful career, so I will always be grateful for the advice that he gave me.
I look further down the line and Stan Ternent was an incredible competitor who knew his players and knew how to win promotions, Stan is another manager who I hold in high esteem for what he did for me and for the clubs that he managed, he is an incredible character. Neil Warnock too. I played for Neil twice at Bury FC and Sheffield United, I look back on my time with Neil with a lot of happy memories because playing for Sheffield United and allowing me to finally achieve my dream of playing in the Premier League at the age of 35 - to which I am still the record English débutante for a Premier League club - is something that I am very grateful for.
I respect and admire Neil Warnock for his longevity in the game and the amount of games he has managed at clubs, plus the amount of promotions he has achieved. He is one of the most successful managers Great Britain has ever had in terms of promotions so I have total respect for Neil.
Craig Brown, David Moyes, Steve Bruce all deserve mentions as influential managers I believe helped my career. There are lots of aspects that I have taken from the way they managed and coached, that I have put into my own coaching career.”
James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.