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Selling a Club for a Quid, Managing in Non-League & Developing Future Stars

Owning a club and selling it for £1 to the fans, being Vice-Chairman of a club on the brink of administration, managing a non-league team and coaching in the youth setup of their supported club, is just an example how Spencer Fearn rolls. He's a busy and committed man...

Name, age, where are you based?

Spencer Fearn, age 44, Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

Current Role:

U15/16 YDP Coach at Sheffield Wednesday

First Team Coach at AFC Mansfield

Director of North of England Football Academy

Managing Director of Education company LifeSkills


Cruyff Institute Post Graduate Diploma in Sports Management; CMI Post Graduate Diploma in Strategic Management ; CMI Management Level 5; CMI Management Level 7; CMI Strategic Management Level 7

Cruyff Institute Master of Coaching Diploma; UEFA B Licence and F.A Youth Modules 1, 2 and 3;

Level 4 - Football Coaching in Performance; F.A Level 3 in Education and Training; F.A Sports Psychology L3

F.A Sports Psychology L4; Sports Psychology Level 4 – Barcelona Institute; F.A Talent ID Level 1 and F.A Talent ID Level 2.

At the moment I am working towards the UEFA A Licence, Masters in Sports Management with the Cruyff Institute and MBa Chief Executive in a Sporting Organisation with VSI.

How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?

My journey is an unusual one. I spent 5 years at Sheffield United as a kid and throughout my twenties. I was not that involved in the game as I was living in London and working on building an education business.

When I was 31 I moved back home to Yorkshire and wanted to get involved in football again, so I bought what was the worst team in Britain at the time, East Stirlingshire in Scotland. We had 4 terrific years there, some great Scottish Cup runs, including playing at Ibrox before I sold the club in 2010 to the fans for £1. It became the first fan owned club in the professional league and even 10 years on, I’m still in touch with many people there.

Next up was Stockport County where I was Vice – Chairman for 16 months. This was a real eye opener at a very tough time for the football club as it was teetering on the brink of another administration.

A break from football then followed and an old friend of mine from Sheffield United, Mark Askwith, asked me to come and lend a hand coaching with the County Senior side he was managing. From this, I got the bug back and loved being back on the grass. Without him badgering me to help I most probably would not have ended up coaching.

Mark and myself then went to Maltby Main where we delivered the clubs highest league position for 20 years and after two seasons there, I moved on to Frickley Athletic.

At Frickley we missed out on promotion through the play-offs in my first season, but had the highest goals scored ratio in steps 1 to 4, with 139 goals in the 17/18 season, we conceded a few as well so we were entertaining.

Whilst working at Frickley I was working at Sheffield Wednesday with the U12/13s and a role came up with the U15/16s which meant I was working Saturdays at the Owls, meaning I just couldn’t do both. I left Frickley in October 2018 with a 59% win rate, had some great moments and loved my time there.

As of today, this is my 3rd season at Sheffield Wednesday and I enjoy working for the club I support and love developing players for the future. I also work alongside two friends, Matt Chatfield and John Stancliffe at AFC Mansfield, who are really flexible in terms of my commitments to Sheffield Wednesday, so it’s a perfect fit at a really well run club.

Since I got into coaching I have thrown myself into learning as much as possible. As I did not play professional football, I have had a lot to learn and this is a journey of learning that will always continue, because I love football.

In the past 5 years I have travelled to Austria, Holland, Spain, Wales, Norway and Portugal to learn from Raymond Verheijen, one of the top coach educators in the world as well as spending 3 weeks last year doing the Cruyff Master of Coaching. I’ve been obsessive about becoming a better coach and anything I can do to improve, I will. This means making sacrifices, but to improve, it’s what must be done.

What is your training focus with your current players? What do you feel are important values for your set of players

Within our SWFC age groups we have three core values of respect, hard work and to be humble.

I see my role as not just coaching football but to also help develop them further, in terms of being good people and being independent. By that I mean they take a lot of the responsibility for their own learning and I am there to guide them.

This season we have implemented the growth mindset model (Carol Dweck) within the U15 age group and we have seen some fantastic progression with these lads. Part of the process is we get the lads to do match preparation, analysis of opponents, setting tactics etc. The more they do themselves with a little guidance, the more the learning sticks.

You’ve been a 1st Team Manager in non-league football, what was that like, what made you want to move into Youth coaching and what adaptions were needed to move from senior non-league to youth coaching at a pro setup?

I loved my time managing in non-league and recently have got back involved with AFC Mansfield as part of the coaching team, as I missed the buzz of playing for 3 points on a Saturday. I was very raw when I was managing Maltby but through hard work, educating myself and learning from my mistakes I continued to improve. When I was at Frickley Athletic we had a very professional set up and had some success breaking numerous club records.

I take my hat off to the lads that work full-time and play non-league, it is a big commitment, so you have to be flexible and use different styles of management for different players and what their own personal circumstances are. Although, some of the excuses for not playing at a weekend were hilarious, I remember one player saying he could not play in an important F.A Vase tie because he was going to Disney on Ice!

Most of my working life I have worked in education and developing young people and when the opportunity came up to work more at Sheffield Wednesday, although a tough decision, it was the right one for me. I work with some great people and it’s satisfying to see the progress the lads are making.

The main adaptations is that you cannot be as colourful with your vocabulary when coaching in the YDP compared to senior football, also remembering that youth football is about development, so I try to give equal game time with all the players, rotate positions for players -something that is not possible in senior football. It’s nice to win and of course we want to win every game, but we are here to try and develop lads to make a living in the game, whether that be at Sheffield Wednesday or elsewhere.

As part of a coaching staff at youth level for a pro club, do you feel coaches have a good environment set to progress through a coaching pathway with the same club, or at least with a different pro club? How is the personal development/support and how is the role kept refreshing and challenging?

It all depends on the club and ultimately the finances available. If you are working at a Category One club the investment in development is more, compared to say a Category Three club. At my club we have CPD events and the coaches also take responsibility for developing themselves and working and learning from each other. If coaches are part-time, generally the clubs do not fund the UEFA badges, it is when you become full – time that support is provided more, which is fair enough, it’s down to the budget available.

My role is with the U15s and U16s so every season a new group comes into the U15s and this keeps it fresh in terms of new faces, abilities, different challenges and characters. For the 15s we arrange our own fixtures, so we have a mix of fixtures against Category 1, 2 and 3 academies, which presents different challenges for the lads, so against Manchester City we will not see much of the ball compared to a category 3 Academy. Our job is to keep challenging these lads, give them an environment where they can express themselves, make mistakes and use these mistakes as learning opportunities to develop.

A typical week is training Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings with day release every second Tuesday. The U15s play midweek generally and the U16s on a Saturday morning. So, there is plenty of coaching going on. In addition to this is the PMA system which takes time if done right, this is where sessions, games, minutes are recorded and also where we respond with development points based on the players weekly self – reflection.

On a Tuesday with day release we will have an analysis session where the lads prepare the tactics for the next game based on footage of our opponents and also a review of the previous game. This gives them ownership of the process and builds confidence as they present back to each other by unit, so the defensive unit presents, midfield etc.

What’s been the best thing for your personal development thus far?

I was fortunate to complete the Cruyff Master of Coaching last year, which was the most unbelievable course. It took me out of my comfort zone massively and was challenging, but it has without doubt improved me as a Coach. Working with some top Professors in Holland from different sporting backgrounds and coaches, such as the Belgium number two Shaun Maloney who was also a student on the course, was a great experience.

I am also a regular attender of World Football Academy (WFA) courses, delivered by Raymond Verheijen and have completed four so far. These are tough and it is not unusual to do 16-17 hour days for 4 to 5 days. I am drained at the end of them, but again the learning is brilliant. He has some excellent guest speakers such as Peter Bosz, Albert Capellas, Marcel Lucassen and fellow students have included Freddie Lljunberg, so it’s great to get insight from those who operate a top level in the game.

In June this year, I am doing the WFA Expert and Pro courses back to back in Madrid, which I am looking forward too. I am also really enjoying the UEFA A Licence that I am doing in England and this again has helped me progress further.

What things have been challenging in your current and/or past roles?

The biggest challenge in senior football was not letting the result affect me. If we had lost I used to come home and sit in silence for hours with the mug on! Over time, I got a lot better thankfully.

In youth development, scholarship time is tough, when those lads and parents you have built relationships with don’t get something at our club. Although as a club we are excellent at finding other routes for players and have a first class record doing this… it still is a tough part of the role.

Off the field, my time at Stockport County was a huge challenge, we had to make many unpopular decisions to keep the club afloat and the financial situation was a lot worse than the picture that was painted when I joined. It was a tough time, but I learnt a hell of a lot. The main learning was don’t always believe what you are told.

You’ve been an FA Affiliate Tutor, what did that involve ?

My role at the F.A was as a Coach Educator so delivering the Level 1 and Level 2 F.A courses was the main function. The Level 1 is delivered over 3 ½ days and for those just starting out in coaching, whereas the Level 2 is more advanced. This was a job I really enjoyed and I had some cracking groups. To deliver the English DNA and also throw in my learning from other parts of the world to help developing people, was something that gave me enormous satisfaction. Due to the many commitments I have in the next 12 months, I’ve taken a break from doing this, but who knows I may end up working in this field again.

The future -what’s next for you?

The main aim is to be working full-time in football again. What I have done the past year is work on the sports management part of the business through the degrees I have done / am doing. Taking this approach gives me a more rounded understanding of all the elements in running a sports business instead of just focusing on coaching. My view is that the more I know about all elements the better I will be.

Coaching is a real passion of mine, I really enjoy what I currently do, but who knows what the future holds. As I have come to learn in football, things can change very quickly.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My late Dad Roger was my biggest inspiration. He was a man with a tremendous work ethic, had good values and was certainly a risk taker. He had success and had failures, from which he always bounced back. He gave me lots of good advice, one piece has always stuck with me “Get the quality right in everything you do, the rest will follow”

I also have a great mentor and friend John Williams who is the current Head of Coaching at Rotherham United. He has been in the game a long time and is always there to share his thoughts and experience. We meet up every couple of months and can spend 2-3 hours a time just talking football.

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