Heath and Carroll’s blueprint for success remains the same after 17 years

FC Halifax manager Billy Heath and assistent manager Mark Carroll celebrating their progression to the play-off final (Pitcure: Callum Ronan)
FC Halifax manager Billy Heath and assistent manager Mark Carroll celebrating their progression to the play-off final (Pitcure: Callum Ronan)
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Whatever else management throws at Billy Heath, it probably won’t match his first task upon becoming Bridlington Town boss.

The Halifax manager was just 28 when he and long-serving assistant Mark “Bobby” Carroll were given the chance to take charge of Bridlington in the first division of the Northern Counties East League - but there was a catch.

FA Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium.
North Ferriby United v Wrexham.
Ferriby's manager Billy Heath celebrates.
29th March 2015.
Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.

FA Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium. North Ferriby United v Wrexham. Ferriby's manager Billy Heath celebrates. 29th March 2015. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.

“The chairman at Bridlington said to me ‘you have got the job’ and I replied ‘thank you very much Mr Chairman’.

“He then said now you’ve got to go and tell all the players they’re getting a 50 per cent pay-cut - do you still want the job?’

“I replied ‘yes I’ll sort it’.

“But everything we’ve gone through in the lower leagues has stood us in good stead.

FA Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium.
North Ferriby United v Wrexham.
Ferriby's manager Billy Heath celebrates with the trophy.
29th March 2015.
Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.

FA Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium. North Ferriby United v Wrexham. Ferriby's manager Billy Heath celebrates with the trophy. 29th March 2015. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.

“Instead of just walking into a job at Conference level, or Conference North, we’ve had to earn our stripes and learn our trade.

“We’ve certainly done that because we’ve been at clubs where everything is stacked against you, but we’ve still managed to be successful.”

After finishing fourth having taken over halfway through the 2000-2001 season, an 18-game unbeaten run helped Heath’s side finish runners-up the following year to gain promotion.

In 2002-03, Bridlington reached the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup, while a 14-game winning run and another sequence of losing only once in their last 26 games saw them finish as champions by 20 points.

Heath during his time in charge of Frickley. Picture by Matthew Page

Heath during his time in charge of Frickley. Picture by Matthew Page

A third successive promotion was ensured when they finished 11th the following season, helped by a league re-organisation.

“I was still playing when we were appointed at Bridlington,” Heath said. “It was a great opportunity for us at the time. We were 28 years old and Bridlington were giving us a chance. That doesn’t happen anymore.

“We wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for that opportunity. But we grabbed it with both hands and worked extremely hard.

“It proved a difficult at times being player-manager, especially in one game, we got beat 1-0 and I had made the mistake which cost us the goal.

15 October 2016....... Harrogate Town v Halifax Town, FA Cup 4th qualifying round.
Halifax boss Billy Heath.  Picture Tony Johnson.

15 October 2016....... Harrogate Town v Halifax Town, FA Cup 4th qualifying round. Halifax boss Billy Heath. Picture Tony Johnson.

“I was dissecting the game in the dressing room with the players but I could see them thinking ‘well, gaffer you gave the goal away’.

“That was when I knew my playing days were over and I never played again. You have to be totally in charge, and you’re not when you’re a player-manager.”

Bridlington were relegated back to the UniBond First Division after just one season, but were challenging at the top of the table when the duo resigned in March 2006 due to the club’s financial problems.

Heath and Carroll joined Frickley that October and managed to prevent relegation from the UniBond Premier Division.

They resigned after a poor start the following season, but returned after a brief absence and again helped them survive relegation.

Two mid-table seasons followed before Heath left in September 2010.

“We’d been at Bridlington four and a half years and it was time to move on,” Heath said. “It was time for a new challenge.

“Frickley was tough because of a number of factors - low budget, indifferent training facilities - but nobody can ever say we’ve taken easy options and it was another opportunity to work at a higher level.

“We made a good fist of keeping Frickley in the league every season.

“I remember going to FC United, who were a big club in that league, and turning round to our bench and we had four 16-year-old’s who’d never played a County Cup game never mind in the league

“But I really enjoyed it there, and the people involved in the club and the supporters were brilliant. We learned so much about management, dealing with tricky situations. and it was a massive part of our career.”

Heath and Carroll’s next stop was Hall Road Rangers, who were 16th in the Northern Counties Premier Division.

“We like being involved in football,” Heath said. “I don’t think a lot of managers would have gone there because we dropped a couple of levels, and there wasn’t a lot of resources or facilities.

“We progressed them. We reached the East Riding Cup Final against North Ferriby at Hull City’s ground.

“It was going right back to the basics again but sometimes you need to do that.”

Heath and Carroll’s friendship goes back to when they were 10-year-olds at Hull City juniors.

They have worked together since that first day at Bridlington, and make the three-hour round-trip from Hull to oversee Town’s twice-weekly training sessions together.

“He’s a massive foil for me because he’s not a yes man,” Heath said. “He has his opinion on all aspects of the team which you need.

“I don’t think we’d function as well as we do in football without each other.

“We have different views on things but we usually get the right decision in the end.

“We’ve got a great relationship out of football as well - we’ve been best man at each other’s wedding. We can say anything to each other,and usually do.

“He’s been a huge huge part of the success we’ve had.”

The pair’s next move would see their career reach new heights.

“It was a no-brainer,” Heath said. “I lived five minutes from the ground and they were three divisions higher.”

North Ferriby was about to be put on the football map.

“From the moment we walked through the door it just took off. It was the opportunity we’d been looking for.

“It was run really well, the facilities were good.

“Our remit was to keep them in the league as they were third from bottom.

“We finished ninth and won the league cup. We put a disciplined structure in place from day one which had been lacking, but the players thrived.

“Football-wise the club needed a new direction which we provided and the players bought into.”

In their first full season at Ferriby, Heath and Carroll won promotion to the Conference North before defying expectations by finishing second the following season before losing in the play-offs.

The season after that, they beat Wrexham to win the FA Trophy at Wembley, and the season after that, they won promotion to the National League.

The central tenets to Heath and Carroll’s success that were first forged at Bridlington - hard work and a collective spirit - will now be employed at their highest level yet in management with Halifax.

“Our blueprint is pretty much the same from Bridlington,” Heath added.

“First and foremost you need players who will work hard for you, who are desperate to win and want to be at the club.

“There are lots of good players available but you need the players who have a burning desire to win matches. That might sound old-fashioned but you need the right blend.

“You must have quality. You can’t just have a group of players that work hard.

“But we’ve got the mix right because the best footballing teams don’t win leagues 90 per cent of the time.”