Chris Dunlavy pro­files the ca­reer of the Grimsby Town man­ager

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

T HESE days, Karen Car­ney is an in­ter­na­tional star of women’s football, capped more than 100 times for Eng­land with more tro­phies than a branch of Timp­sons.

But ask the 29-year-old where it all be­gan and one for­ma­tive in­flu­ence stands head and shoul­ders above the rest: Mar­cus Bignot.

“Mar­cus was a pro­fes­sional and QPR’s cap­tain when I first met him,” said Car­ney last year. “He was my coach from age 11. I had un­be­liev­ably great par­ents, but he was my football fa­ther. I idolised him. He’s still my men­tor now. To me, Mar­cus is football.”

Car­ney is not alone in her ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the cur­rent man­ager at League Two Grimsby after al­most two decades in the dugout.

Alex Scott, Eni Aluko, Laura Bas­sett: some of the game’s most glit­ter­ing lights credit Bignot’s pre­cise and pas­sion­ate coach­ing with their flow­er­ing on the global stage.

“I’d al­ways played up front un­til I met Mar­cus at Birm­ing­ham,” re­calls Scott, now a de­fender at Arsenal and a veteran of 123 Eng­land matches.

“When he first said to me ‘I want you to play full-back’, I laughed. I thought he was crazy. But he saw some­thing that I didn’t, that no­body had. I made the move and never looked back. My ca­reer could have gone very dif­fer­ently.” Few men can claim to have done more for the women’s game in Eng­land than the for­mer QPR, Crewe and Mill­wall full-back, who is mar­ried to Arsenal and Repub­lic of Ire­land keeper Emma Byrne. Back when TV com­pa­nies ran a mile, pre­sen­ter Gary New­bon was claim­ing that “no­body in their right mind” would pay to watch it and even the par­tic­i­pants were pay­ing subs to play, Bignot was graft­ing at the coal­face of a sport strug­gling for recog­ni­tion.

Not that it was pure char­ity. Bignot de­scribed manag­ing Birm­ing­ham’s women as his own ver­sion of Championship Man­ager, sat­is­fy­ing his crav­ing to coach.

Re­leased by the Blues as a teenager, Bignot had joined Telford and was im­me­di­ately taken un­der the wing of a coach named Tom Stack.


“Tom got me into coach­ing and al­ways be­lieved in me,” said Bignot. “Even at 19 or 20, I was be­ing told I’d got a ca­reer in coach­ing. For my part, I al­most in­stantly fell in love with it. Those years at the Bucks Head with Telford kind of mapped out my ca­reer.”

Bignot was 23 when he moved into pro­fes­sional football with Crewe and just 24 when he was of­fered the chance to man­age Birm­ing­ham City Ladies in 1998. For the rest of his ca­reer, this du­al­ity would per­sist.

Even as he was win­ning player of the year at Gresty Road, pro­mo­tion with Rush­den & Di­a­monds or skip­per­ing QPR to a place in the Championship, Bignot’s eye was trained on Ian Hol­loway or Dario Gradi, desperate for ses­sions and drills to copy.

“At Kiddy, un­der Gra­ham All­ner, I first saw how to man­age a football club. Then, Dario Gradi took it to the next level,” he said. “I ac­tu­ally mod­elled the Blues on ev­ery­thing I learned from Dario.”

On the day Bignot took over there – re­cruited by the chair­man after a chance meet­ing at a tour­na­ment – the club had one player on the books.

Luck­ily, that player was Car­ney. Bignot, as­sisted by Mickey Moore, hoovered up the best un­der-12s in the area and, seven years later, his club had two ma­jor tro­phies. More sig­nif­i­cantly, SEVEN of Eng­land’s Euro 2005 side came from Birm­ing­ham’s ranks.

“Mar­cus and Mickey were the driv­ing force be­hind the rise in the club’s play­ing for­tunes,” said for­mer Blues CEO Steve Ship­way. “They re­cruited young kids like Karen and Eni, turned them into in­ter­na­tion­als and we went from the Mid­land Com­bi­na­tion to the North­ern Divi­sion to the Pre­mier League in four sea­sons. Women’s football in this coun­try owes them a great debt.”

That unglam­orous ex­pe­ri­ence of manag­ing on a shoestring later proved in­valu­able dur­ing a five-year stint as man­ager of Soli­hull Moors.

In 2011, his first year at the helm, ac­coun­tants dis­cov­ered a £60,000 debt and ad­vised liq­ui­da­tion. Pay cuts averted obliv­ion, but Bignot re­alised an un­der­stand­ing of fi­nance was crit­i­cal if he was to suc­ceed.

He made it his busi­ness to build not just a team but the in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port it.

While owner Trevor Stevens built func­tion rooms and con­fer­ence fa­cil­i­ties, Bignot – in a dual role as di­rec­tor of football – founded an acad­emy and more than 30 youth, women’s and dis­abil­ity teams. So in­vested was he in sus­tain­abil­ity that, in an in­ter­view with the Birm­ing­ham Mail, Bignot even ad­mit­ted his first ques­tion after a match was ‘How much did we take at the bar?’

But it worked. After five years of steady growth, the Moors beat off a host of highly fan­cied and funded ri­vals to claim the Na­tional League North ti­tle and a place in the Na­tional League for the first time.

Asked about his coach­ing achieve­ments, Bignot said: “I look back on my play­ing ca­reer with pride, but I’ve al­ways had more plea­sure on this side.

“You get more sat­is­fac­tion when you in­vest time in oth­ers and you see them suc­ceed. One day I want to man­age in the Football League and mir­ror my play­ing ca­reer.”


And, when Paul Hurst left Grimsby in Novem­ber 2016, that’s ex­actly what hap­pened.

Omar Bogle, the Wi­gan striker who scored 66 goals in 116 games for the Moors, says it is richly de­served.

“Mar­cus is in­cred­i­bly hard­work­ing,” said the 24-year-old. “And his at­ten­tion to de­tail is in­cred­i­ble. He’s so thor­ough when he goes through things and so at­ten­tive with sys­tems and the way we play.

“I think he has changed from our time to­gether at Soli­hull. He’s even more as­sertive now.

“He’s taken his knowl­edge and coach­ing style to an­other level. Above all, he just makes you want to go out there and play for him.”

PIC­TURE: James Baylis

PRIDE OF LI­ONESSES: Mar­cus Bignot launched the ca­reers of numer­ous Eng­land Ladies stars

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

HOOP-HOORAY: QPR was one of the mem­o­rable stops in Bignot’s play­ing ca­reer

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