A decade ago Steve Harmison helped England win back the Ashes, destroying the Australian top order with his hostile fast bowling. Tonight the 36-year-old makes his managerial debut – in football, taking charge of Ashington FC in their Ebac Northern Football League Division One clash against Bishop Auckland. In case you’re wondering, that’s the ninth tier of English football.
Though Ashington have been around since 1883 the club they – or at least their few hundred fans – call ‘The Colliers’ have not made much of an impression on the wider footballing world in the last 75 years. In the years immediately after the First World War Ashington reached the dizzy heights of the Football League Third Division North, and in January 1924 nearly 12,000 fans watched them lose 5-1 to Aston Villa in the FA Cup.
That was about as good as it got for the Colliers, and nowadays the average crowd in the Woodhorn Lane ground is around 200. But some 500 are expected tonight to see Harmison take his seat in the dugout as Ashington look to improve on recent results that have seen them drop to 16th in the table with just nine wins from 30 league outings.
Many of the fans will know the England bowler personally. Harmison grew up in the former mining town and his family were better known for their footballing skills than their cricketing. Harmison played in the defence for the club’s youth team before concentrating on cricket, while his dad played for Yeovil Town in the Conference and his brother still plays for another local side.
According to the Daily Mail, Harmison’s part-time role as manager “pays a token wage to cover expenses and will involve at least two weeknight training sessions and Saturday matches”. Whether it will lead to bigger and better things remains to be seen but Harmison dismissed suggestions it’s nothing more than a publicity stunt. “Anyone who knows me understands that football has always been first,” he told the Mail. “Northern League football is something I have watched since I was old enough to walk – not many people have watched more non-league games than I have.”
Harmison, who won the last of his 63 England caps in 2009 and retired from all cricket three years later, explained why he had taken the plunge. “It felt right,” he said. “The club has solid foundations but they needed a change with some fresh ideas and I’ve got a fantastic team… the club has so much going for it and we want to be part of that. I know the league and I know what’s going on. We’re in a bit of a relegation fight but I’m excited by it.”
Harmison intends to undergo an FA coaching course in the summer and in the meantime he’ll bring to bear at Ashington what he learned on the cricket field. “If you have played a professional sport at the top level then those core values transfer – a winning mentality and demanding certain standards,” he said.
Harmison is a lifelong Newcastle United fan and the Magpies’ head coach, John Carver, has offered to lend a helping hand to a North East sporting icon. “He might come in and have a cup of tea and go through some tactics – he’s more than welcome to do that,” said Carver, who, when asked what he thought of Harmison’s decision to manager Ashington, replied: “He must be crazy.”