In this week’s edition of #ManagersAtHome, we sit down with Barrow manager Ian Evatt and discuss his views on what will happen regarding promotion to the EFL now that the National League has been cancelled.
We also talk about how the coronavirus situation has affected the club financially, the issues surrounding player contracts, Ian Holloway and the challenges he’s faced whilst being in lockdown.
With Barrow sitting four points clear at the top of the National League prior to the season being abandoned, Evatt and his backroom staff, his players and the supporters of the club are all eagerly anticipating further news from the League with regards to what happens next.
“The National League has decided to stop the league and have cancelled the fixtures for the rest of the season,” said the 38-year-old, who took charge of Barrow back in 2018 after an illustrious career playing for the likes of Blackpool, QPR and Chesterfield.
“They’re now looking for a resolution with regards to promotions and relegations, whether it’s voided etcetera.
“At the moment, they’ve asked for feedback from the clubs whether they think the play-offs should go ahead, that will be concluded on Friday so we understand. And again, depending on the decision that they get from the clubs, they’ll then make a decision regarding a resolution.”
Financial support from the community
It’s no secret that the world is currently suffering financially, with thousands of industries and livelihoods effectively put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Evatt admits that Barrow - like most football clubs in the lower leagues - have found it tough being out of action for so long.
“Obviously it has affected us financially, there's no doubt about it.
“The Government furlough scheme has helped, however we were getting full houses (before the season was postponed) and we had five home fixtures remaining and three BT games left to play; obviously because we’re top of the league people want to see us, so this has probably cost the club about £150,000, which to us is a hell of a lot of money.
“Then it’s just the unknown. The difference between EFL League Two money compared to what you get in the National League, we’re talking over a million quid which to our football club is ginormous so there is a financial impact but luckily we are sustainable, and we have a great group of local investors who run the club properly.
“We’ve done work to the ground to make sure that it’s ready for the EFL, so we’re okay at the moment, but I must stress that the longer this goes on, the harder it’s going to get for everybody.”
As with the case with a lot of National League clubs, supporters have been forthcoming with donations to the club at this difficult time, raising over £7,000 to help keep Barrow afloat.
“It’s amazing that even at this stage of the season and this stage of the world and the economy, to donate £7,500 out of their own hard-earned money. It’s fantastic for us.”
Barrow sit four points clear at the top of the National League, but may still miss out on promotion to the EFL
With National League players’ contracts expiring this month, Evatt finds himself in somewhat of a difficult position as he does not know which league Barrow will be competing in next season - something that is pivotal when it comes to finalising new deals from a financial standpoint.
“We’ve got a lot of players who are out of contract at the beginning of May. We’re going to have to make a decision on that but it’s difficult when we don’t know what division we’re going to be in (next season).
“The budget difference from the EFL to the National League is huge, so we’re going to probably have to delay that decision, and keep most - if not all - of our players on furlough until that finishes to buy ourselves some time until we find out about our future and what league we’re going to be in.”
With the UK now approaching its sixth week of lockdown, Evatt admits that it’s been difficult not going to work and seeing his players on a daily basis. Alongside that, though, the Barrow boss says that it’s the unknown of not knowing where his club stands that is affecting him the most.
“I think for me it’s the unknown, the position we’re in and what’s going to happen.
“We’ve put so much hard work into getting this opportunity and we’re really anxious to see what happens with that.
“Not just that, it’s the contact with the players too. I love going to work, i’ve been a professional footballer for 21 years and I love football and when you take that away in an instant, it’s difficult to deal with.”
Life under Holloway
As a player, Evatt made 250 appearances for Blackpool, and was part of the Tangerines squad who gained promotion to the Premier League in 2010/11 under Ian Holloway. Now retired and enjoying life on the other side of the white lines, the former defender reflects on the impact that Holloway - who he played under at Blackpool and briefly at QPR - had on him during his playing career.
“What he taught me the most was the mental side of the game, and that you need to believe in yourself. Unless you don’t believe you’re the best then you have no chance to be the best.
“Winners and champions act like winners and champions long before they start winning football matches, and that’s what he brought to us - that mentality and focus of believing in yourself and that you can be the best.
“Don’t be happy with just avoiding relegation, you need to aspire to be at the top and it was that mentality that we’d always take into games.”
Evatt’s admiration for his former boss is evident, so much so that when we posed him the question: ‘If you could self-isolate with any three managers in the world, who would it be?’, the 38-year-old chose Holloway as one of his selections.
“I'd have to say Oli, just because of the relationship we have. As I said, what he brought to me as a person and a character on the field and off of it was amazing. He could talk you to death but you’d really enjoy what he was saying!
“The second, purely from a football perspective, would have to be Pep, just for how good I think he is. To watch his teams, to watch his sessions, I’d just want to pick his brains 24 hours a day and I’m sure he’d get fed up with me! But I just think he’s a genius with what he’s done and how he’s played the game.
“Then the third one, probably Sir Alex as I’m a United fan. The one thing that impresses me the most is how he constantly evolved at a team like Manchester United for so long and how he won so consistently.
“How he knew when to change the team and when to sell certain players is amazing and just to feed off that knowledge and speak to him would be great.
“There’s a few in the National League I wouldn’t want to be stuck on a desert island with, trust me. Pete Wild (Halifax manager) would be one, he’s just so intense I don’t think you’d get a minute!”