On New Year’s Eve Ian Holloway ended his 18-month spell away from management after he penned a deal to become the new manager of Grimsby Town, where he replaced Michael Jolley.
The Sack Race caught up with our columnist to find out how he’s found his first week at The Mariners; from being wined and dined to inspiring a win over Mansfield Town in his opening game, despite losing a man after 10 minutes...
Ollie, last time we spoke you said that you were looking forward to going away with your wife Kim at Christmas. A couple of weeks later and we’re now talking to you as the new Grimsby Town manager. Can you give us an insight into how the job came about?
I was going to take Kim away for Christmas, we had the hotel booked and everything, but then I got a phone call from Grimsby Town asking me to come up and meet them. So, instead of taking Kim where I planned to take her, I involved her in the interview as well.
We were invited up to Grimsby where we were treated to some fish and chips at Papas in Cleethorpes. It was like going back to Blackpool, it was really surreal.
We had a chat about the club and everything, then after the meal they took us to the ground, Blundell Park. As we were leaving the car park a black cat ran in front of my car. I slammed the breaks on, and the cat jumped up onto the wall into the garden. There, in the house window, was a big five pointed star.
The reason I say that is because my wife is a Pagan. I call her a White Witch, and a lot of White Witches have a black cat and five pointed stars, so after seeing the cat and stars Kim turned to me and said: ’we’ve got to come here, you’re going to get this job, it’s too much of an omen’.
Two weeks later I got the job.
Why did you decide to buy shares in Grimsby Town? Does this mean you can’t be sacked?
I’m not just a manager now as I’ve bought shares in the club. I’m a director as well.
A few months ago I thought that I might be getting an interview for the Reading job because one of my ex-players, Charlie Adam, rang me saying that he’d put his name in. But in the end the club’s Sporting Director, Mark Bowen, looked at all of the CVs and thought ‘I’ve got the man here...it’s me!’ and gave himself the job.
I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if you could get a higher position at a club, then give yourself the job. So if Grimsby try and sack me, I’ll sack all of them! I’m only joking.
I believe that I’m a much better manager than I’ve ever been because of the experience I've got to draw on. I want to build something and be a part of it, and when I’m gone I want people to look back and say ‘do you remember that bloke and what he did for us’.
I’ve promised the Grimsby fans that we are going to move forward, that’s why I’ve invested in them.
Congratulations on your debut victory over Mansfield Town, where you came up against former Bristol Rovers manager Graham Coughlan, who you recently spoke very highly of. What was it like being back on the touchline?
I’m glad I spoke well about Graham Coughlan when he switched Bristol Rovers for Mansfield Town - to be closer to his family - because when I met his boy after the game I asked him what it was like having his dad at home again, and he said it’s much better now - people don’t realise how tough it can be being a manager.
There was actually one moment during the game when the ball came into the Grimsby dugout area. Graham ran over to us to retrieve the ball, and he looked really aggressive, only to then smile and half-pretend to kiss one of my players! The ref then booked him for it - it was ridiculous.
I’d never been to Mansfield before and it was quite intimidating to be honest. Their supporters were pretty vocal and they gave me a lot of stick.
We got a man sent off after 10 minutes, which probably set the tone. I didn’t think that Luke Waterfall meant it, it was an honest challenge but yes it was robust. I thought that the young referee seemed intimidated by Mansfield.
I had to change my game plan after going a man down. In a way it put the pressure on Mansfield because the expectation levels amongst their fans shot up.
I told my players at half-time that I expected them to go on and win this, but in order to do so they needed to become heroes; to sit in, dig in, break, counter-attack and be brave.
When I looked at the stats after the match my sports scientist told me that the high-end sprints - which I told them they needed to improve upon - were up by an average of 17%, more than any game they’d played this season. That’s absolutely amazing and credit to the lads.
What have you missed most about management?
Making someone believe that they can be better than they dreamt they could be. That’s my goal. I believe that everyone of us has the ability to shine at something, if we’re supported, loved and encouraged.
Also the fans. To see 1,500 people fill up an away end was amazing. The euphoria from the fans was incredible - when we scored with 10 men I probably over celebrated, but there you go. When you’re able to put a smile on people’s faces, people who love their football club and want it to do well - that was an absolute privilege.
What’s it like having Anthony Limbrick as your assistant?
I’ve seen Anthony for about four days and he’s been really great. He’s an enthusiastic young coach who previously worked with the U17s at Southampton, and then took over here at Grimsby when Michael Jolley left.
I think he was hoping to get the job himself but that won’t matter, I won’t make him feel like he’s lost anything, I hope that I make him feel like he’s gained something. I’ll learn from him too, as you keep learning all the time in this game.
I won’t be bringing any senior staff with me, only players. I’ll be honest, I’ll be quick, I’ll make changes and I’ll try and make us a really good team that can play in not just this division but the next one up, and then maybe the next one up after that. We’ve got some big plans. Other clubs have done it so why not us.
Have you found a place to live in the area?
We’ve just got everything sorted. We found a house to rent that will let us bring our four dogs up. It takes a bit of time these days so in the meantime I’m renting a lodge at a golf course, it’s beautiful. It’s a mini-home from home. Everyone has been so friendly, the people are magnificent up here. It’s a bit quirky, and I love it.