How the Football League’s youngest boss is transforming Boston United

In Depth

Adam Murray was the youngest manager in the Football League or Premier League with Mansfield Town last season, but now he’s in non-league and looking to transform Boston United.

It’s 10 years since Boston were relegated from the Football League, with the club simultaneously falling into administration.

They had previously spent the last five years in League Two and even had Paul Gascoigne amongst their players in 2004, but their failure to find a new stadium saw them suffer from severe financial difficulties.

In the same 2006-07 season, their manager Steve Evans and former chairman Pat Malkinson were given suspended jail sentences after they pleaded guilty to “conspiring to cheat the public revenue between 1997 and 2002”.

Chestnut Homes and new chairman David Newton duly acquired Boston, with only Stewart Talbot and Paul Ellender surviving within the squad.

The club managed to finish mid-table the following season in the Conference but were relegated further as they failed to exit administration by the given deadline.

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“They were close to going bankrupt,” says current manager Adam Murray. “The chairman we have now came in and saved them. He has put the club on an even keel, even though it’s still costing him money personally.

“In the chats that I have had with him, whenever he does plan to walk away from the club, he wants to hand it over debt free and with a brand new £10million stadium. That might be five years down the line or 10.”

Boston now participate in the National League North, which is the sixth tier of English football. They will compete with Salford City, F.C. United of Manchester, Kidderminster Harriers and York City among others next season.

“There are a lot of teams that are going to be up there,” says assistant coach Karl Hawley, the former Carlisle, Preston and Notts County striker still turning out for the Pilgrims at 35. “Teams have big budgets in this league and everyone will be fighting to get promoted. Every point will be highly fought for and we are relishing that challenge.”

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In 2014, Murray became the youngest manager in the Football League at the age of just 33, when he was promoted to player-manager at Mansfield Town.

He was initially shocked to be given the opportunity, but even at such a young age he already had plenty of ideas he wanted to implement.

“I was in the bath getting ready to prepare for the game on a Friday night about 6 o’clock and I got a phone call saying the manager had gone and things had been passed on.

“I had been coaching for a few years up to then and I had a kind of an idea of how I wanted things done.

“It was a little bit like when we came in here (to Boston) last season, we were in a relegation battle and we hadn’t won in 12, I think, so it was tough to get the group to turn around, but I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”

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Mansfield lost just seven matches in 18 after Murray was given the job permanently. They dropped form considerably in the run-in, but they had done enough at the turn of the year to remain in League Two.

“It was an average group of players that we had to get the best out of to keep a team that if we didn’t keep in the Football League would probably have spiralled down the leagues,” continues Murray.

“To go in there at the age that I did, it was the biggest learning curve that I have had to be honest with you. It was six months of tough times, but I think it gave me experiences.

“I’ve picked up so much, there isn’t one thing that I could turn around to say, ‘I’ve learnt that or learnt that,’ there was just so much on a day-to-day basis.”

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Mansfield had the fourth lowest budget in the division, but despite this they improved and finished 12th in the 2015-16 campaign, their highest position in over 10 years.

Then, in November he decided to leave, declaring it was “time for a change” after 14 years at the club. Just over three weeks later he took over at Boston.

“I had only been out of Mansfield a few weeks,” he says. “A lot of people were telling me to take a step back and review what happened at Mansfield, then plan my way forward.

“I went to a few LMA meetings and seminars and it scared the life out of me. I saw that many good managers and coaches who had been out of the game for two or three years and were still trying to get back in.

“I got the phone call from Boston and I went for a meeting. I think the bigger picture of what they want things to be like really sucked me in. After speaking to a couple of people, I thought I’m 35 years old and I have too much energy to sit about.

“The stature of the club for the level that it’s at and the way they want to do things, it matches my ambition. It was a no brainer really.”

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Murray took Hawley with him to The Pilgrims, with the hope the 35-year-old can help provide goals on the pitch. As a forward alongside Michael Bridges, Hawley was the top scorer in League Two in 2005-06 and was Carlisle’s leading marksman for three seasons before a move to Championship side Preston North End.

“The transition is still happening,” says Hawley. “I’ve got a dual role here, as I’m still playing. I’ve got both spectrums, it’s a little bit easier and harder at the same time.

“I’m getting used to being on the other side, but most of all I’m enjoying it and it’s a challenge.”

So how does the dynamic work between the Midlands-born duo, in and around the training ground and dressing room?

“We are two different people,” says Hawley. “We have both got good and bad points, but I think we balance off each other well. He’s definitely more hot-headed and I try to calm things down!

“I enjoy working with him, he pushes me and pushes boundaries. He doesn’t leave any stone unturned. He makes me better and he will continue to do that.

“But I don’t agree with everything he says and if I have a different opinion, then I voice it.”

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Murray has four children and has been with his wife for 18 years, but he admits it can be difficult trying to maintain the right balance between his professional and personal life. He once spent three days at the club as he obsessed over tactics and planned for future opponents.

“I’ve never been to non-league before, so I tried to do my homework and research on the league as much as I could. I wasn’t up to scratch last season,” confesses Murray.

The manager loves this aspect of the game, and his eyes light up when I discuss Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, and terminology such as ‘Geggenpressing’ and ‘Half-spaces’. He once read that “David Moyes likes to dissect the pitch” into small areas and it’s these finer details that enthral him.

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For the 2017-18 term, every club in the National League North must upload their full 90-minute game to a platform called Scout7 by 11pm on a Saturday night.

There were naturally coaches that were opposed to the idea, but it’s a change in mindset that those further up the echelons also had to make years ago.

“It’s all I have ever known,” says Murray. “If we don’t do it this year, then it will be next year because that’s the way the game is going. It was the one thing that I really missed last year, we do a lot of tactical work.

“We are very instructive in our approach and organised. It was difficult not being able to plan the group for what they would face. Having that next season will be a massive step forward.”

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It’s clear that Murray wants to build a high intensity style of football at Boston, with the aim of keeping possession and scoring plenty of goals.

In training, one group play six-a-side on a small pitch to improve technique in tight areas and to help teach pressing in the right zones for when they lose the ball.

“The things that we are trying to do on the training field and in matches are all geared towards trying to score more goals,” says Hawley. “The players that we have brought in will definitely help that, as the quality has gone up ten-fold.

“Over the summer I’ve done a lot of work and I knew which players might be available. We have brought a lot of Football League boys into the building, especially those from Mansfield,” adds Murray.

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Only three players are still at the club from last season, but there are several players in the squad that worked under Murray at his former club.

“They know exactly how I work, what I expect, my philosophy and how I want to play. When we do our tactical and shape work they know it already.

“They are big characters as well, so they drip feed it through to the younger lads and they help people that haven’t worked with me for so long. I couldn’t put a price on it.”

Murray is focused on all elements of the club, with a desire to improve the Centre of Excellence. Boston have previously lost players between the ages of nine and 13 to Peterborough, Nottingham Forest, and Murray’s former side Derby County.

Murray wants to nurture his own youngsters to progress to the first team, as illustrated by the three 17 year olds in the main squad.

“The big objective is progression, structure and a more professional outlook on things,” he says. “There has been a massive shift especially in the last few months, where the youth team have gone full time, we have U21’s now and the first team have had an extra day added to their training schedule.

“We are moving it slowly towards where we want to be. It’s just about building. They had a horrendous season last year and we want to be successful straight away, but it’s about realism.”

By Paul Wilkes


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