Chris Dunlavy looks at the ca­reer of Bris­tol City boss Steve Cot­ter­ill

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

LIKE so many young man­agers, Steve Cot­ter­ill en­tered the dugout not through choice but by ne­ces­sity. A pro­lific striker with Bur­ton Al­bion in Non-League, then Wim­ble­don and Bournemouth, his ca­reer was fin­ished, slowly and ag­o­nis­ingly, by the in­jury foot­ballers fear most.

“I did two cru­ci­ates,” said Cot­ter­ill, who was player of the year in each of his three full sea­sons at Dean Court. “First one knee, then the other .These days, I might’ve had a bet­ter chance of re­cov­er­ing, but not then.”

Cot­ter­ill over­came the first, nursed back to health by Sean O’Driscoll, then the physio at Bournemouth. Then, with supreme irony, he at­tempted to tackle O’Driscoll dur­ing a train­ing game and did the other one. With no car­ti­lage left in the knee doc­tors told him to call it a day. That was 1995, and Cot­ter­ill was just 29.

“Heart­break­ing,” he says. “But it’s funny. When your ca­reer fin­ishes early, or it’s taken away from you, it can give you a big­ger in­cen­tive to stay in the game. And I’d al­ready done my badges – I started them when I was at Wim­ble­don – so I had a head start.”

Not that it opened too many doors. Cot­ter­ill’s first job was at Sligo Rovers, who he led to Europe via third place in the League of Ire­land.

Then came 14 months of unem- ploy­ment be­fore a life-chang­ing re­turn to Chel­tenham, the place where Cot­ter­ill was born.

Raised on a coun­cil es­tate in the oth­er­wise gen­tri­fied sub­urb (“There are some nice spots in Chel­tenham,” he once said.“And then there’s where I grew up”), Cot­ter­ill be­lieves a child­hood with lit­tle money helped forge the hon­esty and hard-work­ing val­ues that he de­mands from his play­ers.

It also pre­pared him well for life on foot­ball’s bread­line with a club then in the Dr Martens League, two di­vi­sions be­low league foot­ball.


“We had one good stand, leak­ing gut­ters, pud­dles and holes and ev­ery­thing; aw­ful pitch, a turnover of £100,000 and 400 sup­port­ers,” said Cot­ter­ill.

Yet five years later Cot­ter­ill had guided Chel­tenham to Divi­sion Two (now League One), via the Con­fer­ence, the pro­mo­tion play­offs – and won the FA Tro­phy to boot.

“I have played un­der some great man­agers, but he is the best with­out doubt,” said Ju­lian Al­sop, a striker at Chel­tenham from 20002003 who re­mem­bers gru­elling pre-sea­sons un­der Cot­ter­ill.

“His foot­ball knowl­edge was amaz­ing and I was al­ways im­pressed with what he had to say. He came across so well and his man-man­age­ment was so good. He built a team of lead­ers at Chel­tenham and topped it off with Tony Nay­lor, who is prob­a­bly the best sign­ing the club ever made.”

Sub­se­quent moves didn’t quite work out. Cot­ter­ill joined Stoke in 2002, only to leave 13 games later to be­come as­sis­tant to Howard Wilkin­son at Sun­der­land.The pair lasted just 27 games be­fore be­ing dis­missed and from then on, Cot­ter­ill started his ca­reer as a foot­ball fire­fighter.

At Burn­ley, in 2004, he in­her­ited only eight play­ers from Stan Ternent, but grad­u­ally as­sem­bled a side so tal­ented that it formed the ba­sis of the team taken to the Premier League by Owen Coyle.

Then, af­ter three years out of the game, he took charge of a Notts County side left in ru­ins by the Munto Fi­nance de­ba­cle and promptly led them to the League Two ti­tle with 14 wins from 18 games.

In 2010, he in­her­ited a Portsmouth side with only three se­nior play­ers, a trans­fer em­bargo, and run by ad­min­is­tra­tors. He kept them up, and – briefly – chal­lenged for the Cham­pi­onship play-offs.

Then came For­est, rud­der­less and cash-strapped, fresh off the back of Steve McClaren’s dis­as­trous 111-day reign. It wasn’t pretty, but again Cot­ter­ill kept them up.

And now he finds him­self try­ing to keep Br­si­tol City in League One. Cot­ter­ill doesn’t want to be known as an es­cape artist, but he does rel­ish work­ing on a shoe­string.

“What hap­pens when you don’t have a lot of money is you end up with team play­ers rather than star in­di­vid­u­als,” he said while in charge of Burn­ley.“If you have lots of money, you might have a lot of very good in­di­vid­u­als, but then you don’t al­ways get a team.” And ac­cord­ing to Howard Wilkin­son, he is pretty much a sure bet. “Steve has im­proved ev­ery club he has ever man­aged,” said the for­mer Leeds boss.

“He does not just get re­sults on the pitch but he im­proves the over­all well-be­ing of a club. He works very hard. He is very, very ded­i­cated, al­most ob­ses­sive about the game. His teams re­flect that.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

PROUD ROBIN: Chel­tenham's Steve Cot­ter­ill lifts the FA Tro­phy

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