Whalley's World of Sport
by Mike Whalley on July 26, 2006
Keith, the football man
"MANAGERS who are lucky enough to go straight into the Championship don't know what it's like in the lower divisions," Keith Curle told me. "When I was at Mansfield, I was painting changing rooms and helping to build press rooms."
While it would be nice to think that Jose Mourinho's been getting his paintbrush out at Stamford Bridge, I suspect somehow that it won't be necessary. Such is the difference between life at the top and life everywhere else.
Curle, you may remember, spent five years at Manchester City around the time that English top-flight football started to transform itself into the all-singing, all-dancing festival of hype it is now. I spoke to him for an article I'm writing about this weekend's North West Football Masters at the MEN Arena - a tournament which sees ex-pros turn out for their former clubs. City, United, Everton and Liverpool are the teams in action this Sunday, with the winners going through to the national final in September. It will be the first time Curle has pulled on a City shirt since he left to join Wolves in 1996.
These days, I think you can split Premiership footballers into two categories. There are the ones who play their entire career at the top level, who earn enough money to finance a small country and have no interest in dropping down the divisions, perhaps choosing to pursue interests outside the game instead. Take this position to its logical conclusion, and you end up with Stan Collymore getting a cameo role in Basic Instinct 2, displaying the kind of acting ability that would struggle to get him a walk-on part in Hollyoaks.
Then there are the 'football people', the ones who enjoyed success in their career, but who just cannot walk away from the game, and would probably manage a table football team if you gave them one of those big jackets with their initials stitched on to the breast. The football people are a bit like red squirrels - once dominant in this country, but increasingly losing the fight to stay in existence. Nonetheless, there are still quite a few hardy football souls around, and Curle is definitely one of them.
A career in acting or an appearance on Love Island wasn't really an option when Curle was at his peak as a player. But even if it had been, I get the feeling that the no-nonsense Bristolian would still have taken the decision to drop down the divisions as his playing career came to an end, before taking on highly-unglamorous management jobs at Mansfield and Chester.
"I loved it," Curle said. "It was the best learning curve that any young manager can have. I learned more things about myself and about dealing with players than you would even in a Championship job, never mind the Premiership. I would be doing things such as watering the training pitches myself, and paying for training facilities out of my own pocket."
Curle is still dealing with the fallout of his first job in management. He was sacked by Mansfield in December 2004 following a club inquiry into his conduct, and is pursuing the Stags through the High Court for damages, with his case due to be heard on Wednesday and Thursday of next week. Since his time at Field Mill, the 42-year-old has had nine months at Chester, which came to an end in February with the club plummeting down League Two after 11 defeats in 12 games.
"Everything was running to plan at Chester; we were in the top four or five until Christmas last season," Curle said. "But then I needed to bring in three players, and the club didn't have the finance. There were all sorts of strange things going on at that time, though. The financial problems were only a part of it."
Since then, Curle has been scouting for his old mate Neil Warnock at Sheffield United. But being a typical football man, he's got that urge to stand in a dugout again - even if it means watering the training ground and painting the changing rooms once more.
"I can't wait," he said. "I'm a football person, and I've got all my certificates and qualifications. I just want to be involved again."