Game turns full circle for Sheffield United’s Mick Wadsworth as he reflects on managing the good and bad times

Brave decision:  Democratic Republic of Congo football coach Mick Wadsworth directs players before the start of the African Nations Cup in 2004. Picture: Getty Images
Brave decision: Democratic Republic of Congo football coach Mick Wadsworth directs players before the start of the African Nations Cup in 2004. Picture: Getty Images
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MENTION to Mick Wadsworth that many of his jobs in football have been borne out of adversity and the Yorkshireman is likely to provide a wry smile.

Still in the game at the age of 68, Wadsworth is pouring his energies into helping the next generation of talent come through at Sheffield United in his role as senior development coach – having previously spent much of his coaching and managerial career in positions which carried a health warning.

His current role may possess its own challenges, but is far removed from some hardcore dug-out experiences which would have tested the fortitude of famed fire-fighter Red Adair.

Top of which was coaching the Democratic Republic of Congo national side shortly after a ceasefire was announced following one of the bloodiest civil wars in history.

Life by the seemingly tranquil seaside at Scarborough also proved turbulent in late 1990s, and the waters by the North Sea at Hartlepool were also decidedly choppy at times.

His footballing ‘marriage’ at Gretna was far from harmonious and stress-free either and there was scant respite during his time close to his Barnsley roots at cash-strapped Huddersfield Town in the early Noughties.

Mick Wadsworth during his time as Hartlepool's manager back in 2010.  (Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Mick Wadsworth during his time as Hartlepool's manager back in 2010. (Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Amid challenging circumstances, Wadsworth kept his head and stoically made the best of what were often pretty rough jobs and earned the wider respect of his peers in the game.

His love of coaching has also taken him to the likes of St Kitts and Nevis, Beira Mar in Portugal and, closer to home, Newcastle and Carlisle and Colchester and Southampton.

A footballing life less ordinary saw him secure title success in border country at Carlisle (1994-95) and Gretna (2006-07) – where he was director of football.

Play-off participation was also booked against the odds at Scarborough in 1997-98 and promotion to the Alliance Premier League – now the National League – clinched at Frickley Athletic in 1979-80, where his coaching story began.

The underlying factor is that I really do enjoy coaching and being out on the training ground and particularly with young players. I have always believed in young players. I worked it out once that I gave about 90 debuts to scholars.

Mick Wadsworth

At his current senior status, many would opt for putting their feet up, but that is not Wadsworth’s way. A man with worker’s hands in love with his craft and still with something to give back to the game which has provided him with so much.

Wadsworth, who trained as an electrical apprentice at Dodworth Colliery as a teenager, told The Yorkshire Post: “Even through the tough times, I have enjoyed it. Having seen my dad’s life as a collier for 50 years, I have been fortunate enough to spend so much time in football.

“You work hard and you have good and tough times.

“The nature of the clubs I have worked at were often under massive financial problems. I remember sitting in my office at Scarborough and the bailiffs came and took my telly and video away. They could not get my car back from servicing because the bills had not been paid.

Mick Wadsworth, now coaching coaches at Sheffield United (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Mick Wadsworth, now coaching coaches at Sheffield United (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

“In my last year there, I actually paid the scholars’ wages at Christmas as there was no money to pay them. They were paying my wages out of the gate money.

“But what does not kill you, makes you stronger.

“Africa was a great adventure. It was a complete disaster from start to finish in the sense that you are dealing with corruption, no organisation and diverted funds. Diverted funds away from football.

“It was difficult, but I would not have missed it for the world as it was an amazing experience – albeit difficult beyond belief.”

His multifarious life in coaching and management has seen him work with some household names in the game, including Sir Bobby Robson.

Wadsworth was an official match observer during Robson’s time with England – one of several roles with the Three Lions – and later linked up with him at St James’ Park.

It is time that will forever remain cherished.

Wadsworth said: “I have been very lucky. In the early days, it was people like Maurice Firth, Eric Winstanley, Mel Machin and Norman Rimmington at Barnsley. They were great people.

“Obviously, as I moved on and worked with the FA, I was so lucky to work with Bobby Robson. Dave Sexton and Don Howe, too, and they were the ‘Holy Trinity’ to me; all great men and coaches and totally different.

“Bobby sort of took me under his wing and took me to the World Cup as a match observer and got me working with the Under-21s as well.

“There were others such as Graham Taylor and Lawrie McMenemy; great, great football people. But Bobby was number one and words cannot express what a great man he was.”

Robson’s longevity in the game he lived and breathed saw him stay involved in football into his 70s and so Wadsworth is closing in on that particular milestone.

As for how long he plans to carry on, his message is simple. Wadsworth, who helped bring through the likes of David Hirst and Steve Agnew as youth coach at Barnsley in the early 80s, continued: “I have had a good career and not been out of work much. I have had some really tough times and great times.

“But the underlying factor is that I really do enjoy coaching and being out on the training ground and particularly with young players. I have always believed in young players. I worked it out once that I gave about 90 debuts to scholars. It is almost nine teams.

“Even in the toughest times, with Huddersfield being a case in point, there was satisfaction that the likes of (Jon) Worthington, Steady (Jon Stead), Lloydy (Anthony Lloyd) and (David) Mirfin got a debut. It got them a foot on the ladder in terms of having a Football League career.

“It was not ideal as they were going into a team that was struggling. The club were bankrupt basically and players were not getting paid for months. It was a tough year, but out of that came some good young players.

“I started with young players and it is also now full-circle helping coaches develop. The academy at Sheffield United is a full-time operation with a lot of full-time staff and a lot of success over the years. It is a way of putting a bit back.”