Football management should have come easy for Tim Flowers after playing under the likes of legends Kenny Dalglish, Glen Hoddle and Terry Venables – or so he thought.
The former England goalkeeper and Premier League winner with Blackburn Rovers quickly realised how wrong he was, resigning 11 games into his first managerial job at Stafford Rangers with just one win.
“I wasn’t ready,” the Solihull Moors boss told The NLP. “I looked at it and thought, ‘I can do that, it’s easy.’ Rock up, put someone in a 4-4-2, make a few changes and if it’s not working then bounce a cup off the wall and get a reaction.
“It’s not like that. I’d watched a lot of Non-League football but I knew nothing about what was required in Conference North.”
Flowers had turned to coaching following a successful 18-year playing career that spanned across Wolverhampton Wanderers, Southampton, Blackburn, Leicester City, 11 England caps, Euro 96 and France 98.
Naturally, he headed into goalkeeping coaching for Leicester and Manchester City before becoming assistant to Iain Dowie, a friend of his, at Coventry City, Queens Park Rangers and Hull City.
Three years as a coach seemed a long time – the next step was going it alone at Stafford but Flowers was soon back to the drawing board making notes on players, styles, systems and watching hundreds of Non-League games because that would be his way back in.
“I only really watched Non-League football after that,” he said. “It’s so difficult for English coaches to get jobs. If I wanted one, where would it be? Would it be in the Football League? Probably not. I’ve put in for some jobs over the years and I don’t even get an answer. Not even a, ‘no thanks’.
“Goalkeeping jobs back then I could get at any level, really, I knew what I was doing. But management… there’s better lads than me out there who can’t get a job.”
Flowers returned to goalkeeping coaching in 2011 with Northampton Town, taking charge of one first team game as caretaker – a defeat – before Aidy Boothroyd, the current England U21s manager, arrived and showed him a different picture.
“Attention to detail, restarts, statistically where balls end up,” explained Flowers. “He opened up my eyes to that level and what’s effective.”
Stints on the coaching staff at Kidderminster Harriers and Nottingham Forest, under Stuart Pearce in 2014, followed before his big break at Solihull in early November 2017.
By the time Flowers’ CV landed on the boardroom table of the midlands club they’d already earmarked Mark Yates, the ex-Kidderminster, Cheltenham and Crawley Town boss, for the job but then wanted the pair, so Flowers became his assistant.
There was one big problem – Solihull were rock bottom of the National League with 11 points on the board from 19 games. Flowers described their first training session as “the worst standard I’ve ever seen” but the duo miraculously kept them up with a game to spare.
Yates left at the end of the season to take charge of Macclesfield Town, but Flowers, who was asked to join him, stayed put and became a manager again – seven years after Stafford.
“I wasn’t put off by the Stafford experience,” he added. “I had this idealistic thing that we’d try to play from the back. If you don’t revisit and learn from your mistakes then you’re a fool. I thought if I ever do it again I’m going to get a big, physical side and get the ball forward quickly.”
And that’s what he did. Backed as one of the favourites to be relegated, Solihull finished second, reached the FA Trophy quarter-finals and took League One side Blackpool to extra time in the FA Cup second round. How do you improve on that?
“That’s win it, but this is the hardest division in English football to get out of,” said Flowers, who signed a new three-year deal this summer and is fancied to take Moors into the Football League this season.
“All of a sudden people are saying you should win the league. Fifteen to 18 clubs will think they have a realistic chance of finishing in the play-offs.”
It was his first full season in management and despite being full of success; he had to use every ounce of his experience he learnt from the big names. “I loved it,” he said. “I learned how hard it was but it’s easier when you’re winning. We didn’t lose back-to-back games all season.
“As a player you’re thinking, ‘can’t wait for the next one we’re on fire’. As a manager it’s, ‘thank god for that everyone’s off my back for three days’.
“You might have a beer with your staff but then you’re on to planning for the next one.
“I’ve not had one problem discipline wise since I’ve been here and I don’t expect one. That’s testament to the leadership group I’ve got in there – [Kyle] Storer, [Darren] Carter and [Liam]Daly. If anyone needs smashing into the corner they do it for me, which is great at my age.”
Also key to Moors’ success is the backing from owners Darryl Eales and Calvin Barnett. Flowers has been able to make quality additions this summer in Paul McCallum, Mitch Hancox and Callum Howe.
The club now has a training ground and a fitness coach with GPS tracking technology to monitor the players during training and matches. Damson Park is in the process of being transformed – Solihull are preparing for the next level.
“When I remember back to when myself and Mark Yates came in, it’s changed out of all recognition on and off the field,” recalls Flowers, while sat in the bottom tier of their new two-tiered stand.
“The stadium is light years ahead of what we walked into. We’ve earned a reputation by playing a committed, tough style and we’re not going to change from that.
“Everyone will want to beat us, there’s no doubt about that. I wasn’t born yesterday and I know around every corner there is a blip or someone trying to trip you up.”