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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Old Heads Still have Moore to give

Ahead of the League Two play-off final, Nobes looks at two older managers who keep going strong.

Dagenham boss John Still has vast experience in the Football and Non Leagues

Football is more fashionable than ever however, football, like fashion, has its trends. Whether it's for certain formations or certain players or for a certain type of manager.

Recently, it's the up-and-coming young managers which have become the 'in-thing' for club chairmen to pursue. You can understand why too - they've been successful.

Promotions in the Football League this season have been achieved by Messrs Di Matteo, Lambert, Grayson, Hill, and Howe - all young managers.

However, the final curtain of the 2009/10 campaign on Sunday is being brought down by two of the older statesmen who've graced technical areas up and down the country this term.

The Dagenham & Redbridge boss, John Still, is 60, and his Rotherham counterpart, Ronnie Moore, is only two years his junior.

Of the permanent managers in the Football League this term, only QPR boss Neil Warnock is older.

It's that experience and years working in the game which have served both managers, in their differing circumstances, so well. It is also part of the reason why they've led their respective clubs to the brink of League One.

Dagenham's success this season has been against all the odds. The East London outfit have one of the smallest budgets in the division and attract some of the smallest crowds.

If football, as so many believe, is determined by wealth and resources, then the Daggers shouldn't be at Wembley this weekend. They have punched above their weight and then some.

Much of the credit for that achievement must go to Still. In a managerial career spanning 30 years, he has cultivated an understanding and knowledge of the Non League circuit working at places like Dartford and Maidstone United.

He expanded his knowledge of the Football League during his time at Peterborough and Barnet. It's been the club he considers as 'his' which have really reaped the benefits of his years of experience though.

Still took Dagenham to the Conference title in 2007, and last season they missed out on the play-offs by a single point. This term they've gone one better.

Using his Non League contacts, he's managed his small budget to construct a side of young, hungry players determined to show that they can cut it in the Football League.

No side works harder, no team has forwards that run more tirelessly, no side has a better team spirit. If Dagenham are a family club, then the players are part of that family - and Still the father.

The decision of top scorer Paul Benson to turn down the advances of big-spending Shrewsbury last summer to stay at Victoria Road was testament to the positive atmosphere around the club.

It's also a sign that the Daggers can survive and prosper at this level through bringing through and nurturing young players from Non League and selling them on for a profit.

Critics can, and will, point to an unattractive long-ball style - but it is an example of the pragmatism which accompanies Still's experience.

Dagenham are not an attractive side to watch but, on their budget, they would struggle to be sign the footballers who could play a fluid and competitive style of play.

Now, the wise old head of Still has led his young team to within 90 minutes of the third tier of English football - and in doing so demolished Morecambe 7-2 over two legs in the play-off semis.

Ronnie Moore could secure his third promotion as Rotherham boss

His rival in the opposite dugout at the national stadium will also be hoping to count on his many years as a manager to help his side over the finishing line though.

Like Still, he has also worked in the Non Leagues - his first job coming at Southport, close to his native Merseyside, in the mid '90s.

However, it wasn't long before he moved to take over as manager of Rotherham, where he enjoyed a successful three seasons as a prolific striker.

His achievement in taking the Millers to successive promotions and into the Championship between 1999 and 2001 confirmed his status as a hero amongst the fans.

On a tight budget he also helped them survive in the second tier and enjoy, against the odds, four successive seasons amongst some of the big guns of English football.

When he returned to the club to replace Mark Robins in September, he also showed wisdom in not changing a winning formula too much. It would have tempting to have put his own stamp on the team - but he has resisted the urge.

No doubts he will also have the good grace, should they go up, to pay tribute to the work that his predecessor - and former player - did before moving across South Yorkshire to Barnsley.

Moore's experience in dealing with tight promotion races and relegation contests has also been important in what was a uniquely close contest for the top seven places in League Two this term.

Indeed, as the Millers hit a rocky patch in the last couple of months and even looked like slipping out of the play-off places, the manager kept his cool and was steadfast in the confidence he had in his team.

That confidence was repaid as Rotherham showed a clinical touch and rock-solid defence in their play-off semi final with Aldershot.

They rose their game for the big occasion as their opponents floundered - winning both matches without conceding.

It would also be fair to say that his bitter experience at Tranmere last term - finishing just outside the play-offs only to be sacked - has acted as motivation not to miss out on a chance for promotion this time.

Whoever emerges with another promotion to add to his CV after Sunday's match though, Still and Moore have shown that experienced managers still have a lot to offer.

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