If you enter the name Gordon Bartlett into Wikipedia you get the following details:
“…Gordon Bartlett (born 3 December 1955 in London) is a former professional footballer who played as a forward…1973-75 Portsmouth FC. 2 appearances, 1 goal…In 1975, he played for the Denver Dynamos in the North American Soccer League (NASL)…His career was cut short by injury…He is currently manager of Wealdstone FC…”
Anyone coming across this brief information could be forgiven that there is no more to the story than that. Just another professional who never made the grade due to an injury and then took up management – nothing remarkable. Well the internet may be a fantastic tool in so many ways, but the story of Gordon Bartlett is not one that the World Wide Web has got right. Instead it is left to the written word of the book to tell the tale of this Non-League luminary.
Off the Bench – A Quarter of a Century of Non-League Management (by Gordon Bartlett & Roger Slater) is the recently published book which charts the career of the current Wealdstone “gaffer”. The book openers with a foreword which covers the unfortunate injury plagued career of Bartlett. In the 1974/75 season on 14 December he came on as a substitute and scored the second goal as Pompey ran out 2-0 winners against Bolton Wanderers. His only other appearance was later that month against Southampton on Boxing Day. However, he was released and went to Denver to play. Fate was against him, as injuries meant he never actually played for the Dynamos in the NASL. Bartlett returned to England to try and regain fitness, but an unsuccessful months trial at Brentford showed that his professional career was over. Despite the injuries he did return to playing for Non-League Hayes FC.
What changed the course of his path in football was studying for the FA Coaching Badges and his first management position as Hayes Youth team coach. When Hayes dispensed with their Youth team, Bartlett moved to Southall to take over their Youth set-up. What this lead to later in 1985/86 was his appointment as first team manager. It was an incredible first season, as the club reached the FA Vase Final at Wembley against Halesowen Town. What follows in the book is a year on year account of Gordon Barlett’s career in management, from that first season at Southall, the years at Hounslow FC (1986 to 1989), Yeading FC (1989 to 1995) and Wealdstone FC (1995 to 2010) – a total of 25 years in Non-League Management.
However, the chapters of those years aren’t merely a game-by-game analysis of a season. In terms of tone and style it is very conversational, with plenty of humour and sincere reflection of both the ups and downs at the various clubs. Events, players and games spark off memories and stories for Bartlett, with the warmth of his recounting of these events making for a very readable book. It is a straight talking and honest look at life on the Non-League circuit and provides a revealing insight into the realities of budgets, player transfers, club management and fans outside the top 92 clubs in England.
Over the 25 years Gordon Bartlett has experienced the full range of emotions in the game. From the highlights of winning the FA Vase, to the lows of battles against relegation. With the joy of discovering players who make the grade such as Les Ferdinand and Jermaine Beckford, there is the despair of players who simply don’t turn up and vanish, never to be seen again. There too is a 15 year management stint at Wealdstone, which is an incredible act of faith and loyalty by both Gordon Bartlett and the Club Board, which survived the ill-fated Prince Edward Playing Fields project.
For me this book will appeal across a range of people in the football world. It will be a fascinating read for players, officials and fans of the clubs Gordon Bartlett has been involved with, as it may throw light on why decisions and events occurred the way they did. Certainly for anyone who follows a Non-League football, it will be a point of comparison for how their particular club is run. Also, I believe it will make interesting reading for fans of the professional clubs, to see how the “other half” live and the financial reality and resource issues that clubs outside the Premier League and Football League have to deal with, week in week out, season after season.
A real insight into all aspects of Non-League Management by a “real” football legend.