The Gaffer: BT Sport Documentary Lifts Lid on the Realities of Being a Non-League Manager

‘The Gaffer’ is the latest documentary from BT Sport, lifting the lid on the day-to-day realities of being a non-league manager in the National League, the fifth tier of English football. The access-all-areas film follows five bosses, showing their lives both in and out of the dugout.

‘The Gaffer’ follows Harrogate Town’s Simon Weaver, whose father is owner and chairman, Bromley-born Neil Smith managing his hometown club, lower league legend John Still and his mentee Hakan Hayrettin at Maidstone United, Eastleigh’s Ben Strevens in his first ever season as a manager, and Middlesbrough playing hero Craig Hignett in his second spell in charge of Hartlepool United.

How do they switch-off from football’s most intense, relentless, unforgiving job in the modern game? What is the real impact of being sacked?

From the training ground to their homes to half-time team talks, with BT Sport capturing it all, the man behind the manager makes ‘The Gaffer’.

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Strevens describes management as a ‘rollercoaster’, while Smith likens it to ‘going to war every game’. For Still, a veteran lower league gaffer of 40 years, ‘They’re all waiting on you to come up with the magic formula.’

In one scene, Strevens, an Eastleigh player until taking the step in management in 2018, discusses making the transition from teammate to boss and having to leave the players’ WhatsApp group.

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“Last year, 50-60 per cent of them were my teammates and you always worry as a person stepping up, will they show you the same level of respect and it that sort of stuff, but they’ve been really good with me,” the 39-year-old explained.

“I think I left [the players’ WhatsApp group] before they kicked me out anyway. I’ve been in those groups and I imagine I’m getting a bit of stick. I know what I used to be involved in and some of the stuff we used to say about the managers. All light hearted, I hope.”

Weaver, meanwhile revealed just how much things have changed in his decade at Harrogate.

“Nearly 10 years ago when I was appointed, footballs dropped out from the shelves and there were nine flat footballs, and it was pretty hopeless. My first year was so tough,” he said.

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“We had a big fridge in the middle [of the dressing room] and a big cupboard, cluttering it up. 

“Once, I just came in and put my foot up against it, did a bit of a karate kick; put my fist through the door. Part of me thought, ‘that’s actually a really good connection’, but a big part of me thought that’s really hurting because my hand was dripping with blood.”

‘The Gaffer’ premieres on Wednesday 14 August at 10.45pm on BT Sport 2 after the UEFA Super Cup clash between Liverpool and Chelsea, and will also be repeated on Saturday 24 August at 9pm on BT Sport 1.