What does it take to be a football manager? We all think we can do it: pick a team to win a game, sign a couple of players who looked good on FIFA....I mean, we've all played Championship Manager right? The reality is very few people can ever truly master it, can deal with the torment, the anguish, the pain of defeat or even the blessed relief of victory. And what about putting their families and friends in the firing line of fans, the media and everyone else who has an opinion on how you do your job?
For the last three months of the 2021/22 League One season, this podcast had unparalleled access to the life of a football manager as two teams battled to change their collective stories forever and win promotion to the Championship. From the dressing room to the training ground, the team bus to the technical area, Rotherham's Paul Warne and Oxford's Karl Robinson have worn microphones to record every single critical moment of the job during the tense and eventful run-in.
You'll get to eavesdrop on how the personal reality of football management is a constant gnaw of sleepless nights, skipping meals and missing out on family life. You'll hear how the wives and children have to tiptoe around their disillusioned husbands following losses and you'll listen in to how they rarely enjoy those hard-fought victories.
Narrated by Jimmy Nesbitt, Moment of Truth is an audio experience unlike any other that will give you an answer as to what it takes to manage a professional football club. This podcast is a love letter to our greatest game spread across 15 episodes. It's a rollercoaster ride through the footballing cauldron of League One where you get to sit on the bench of both teams as they battle to reach their Moment of Truth.
15. Kelly's Heroes
The final episode of MOT begins back in January with the transfer window signing of Georgie Kelly, the top goalscorer in Irish football. It then cuts to the touchline at Gillingham with 11 minutes of the League One season remaining as Rotherham manager Paul Warne brings Kelly on for his Millers debut. Leading 1-0 but under heavy pressure, can the former Bohemians striker score a crucial second goal and fire his side back in the Championship at the first time of asking?
After the full-time whistle, the manager spends time with his team, his wife, the fans, and with the Gillingham manager Neil Harris before boarding the bus for the long journey back to Rotherham and the difficult task of releasing players.
The series finishes six weeks later as we catch up with both managers to discuss their respective summers; were they able to get any time off or did the managerial wheel keep spinning on their holidays? For Paul Warne there was the disappointment of losing two of his best players to bitter rivals Sheffield Wednesday during the break, and a never-ending series of phone calls; for Karl Robinson it was the possibility of leaving Oxford as a number of clubs made serious enquiries for his services. Before long, the pair are back in the dressing room addressing their players ahead of a new season.
14. Bring Us Home
In the penultimate episode, it’s all systems go for the final game of the season as Rotherham travel to relegation-threatened Gillingham knowing a win will put them back into the Championship. However, should MK Dons beat promotion rivals Plymouth and Rotherham fail to win, then Paul Warne’s exhausted side will fall into the lottery that is the playoffs.
The manager goes to visit his chairman Tony Stewart to discuss tactics ahead of the game, before a scare at the training ground forces Warne into a tactical decision that could have a huge impact on the outcome at Priestfield.
Ninety minutes before kick-off, Warne and his coaches look back to the last day of the previous season when a win at Cardiff would have kept them in the Championship, only to concede a late equaliser that relegated them. Then it’s time for the biggest speech of his life as he sends his men out into the Kent sunshine in the hope that his side will come off promoted. This is their Moment of Truth.
13. Who Dares Wins
It’s halftime at the Stadium of Light and Rotherham lead by a goal to nil against promotion rivals Sunderland. Inside The Millers dressing room Paul Warne delivers a crucial speech to his team that he hopes will galvanise them for the second half, knowing they’re only 45 minutes away from promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking.
The second half is tight and tense and, at full-time, the manager reflects on a vital night for his side inside the now-empty stadium where once the great Monkwearmouth Colliery stood.
Back in Oxford, Karl Robinson is mining for answers as to why his team fell short at the penultimate hurdle, missing out on the playoffs for the first time in three years. He gathers together his senior coaches – Wayne Brown, Leon Blackmore-Such and Craig Short – for a debrief into what went wrong, and what they need to change for next season.
12. Deflection Tactics
There are two games left in Rotherham’s season and manager Paul Warne knows he needs a single win for his side to be guaranteed promotion to the Championship. But his team must travel to playoff-chasing Sunderland for a difficult Tuesday night fixture, which fills the manager with self-doubt. Not only that, he has to deal with the fallout from one of his players handing in a transfer request.
Warne’s emotions are contrasted with those of his captain Richard Wood. In the late autumn of his career, “Woody” discusses what the manager means to him personally, and how difficult it would be for the club if he were to walk away in the summer.
Ninety minutes before kick-off, the wives of the Rotherham coaches – Kerry Hamshaw, Tracy Barker and Rachel Warne – get together to talk about what it’s like to be married to a manager/coach, and how it affects their families because of the pressures of the job. The trio then watch on as The Millers and the Black Cats battle for a vital three points at the imposing Stadium of Light.
11. The Game
It’s crunch time for Oxford and Rotherham as they face each other in a critical League One match-up at the New York Stadium. Rotherham need a win to carry into the final two games and maintain their bid for automatic promotion – while, for Oxford, three points is an absolute must if they’re to continue in the race for the playoffs.
There’s a reunion of sorts as Karl Robinson and his former MK Dons assistant – now the Rotherham assistant manager – Richie Barker meet up again on the touchline ahead of the game, before the two teams kick-off and the pressure mounts in what turns out to be a very even game.
Issues in the crowd around the away bench become a focus for the authorities as abuse is hurled at the Oxford coaches, forcing Robinson to take it up with stadium authorities and the police as he threatens to have the game called off. After full-time, the two sets of coaching staffs meet in the Rotherham manager’s office for a debrief and a drink.
10. A Family Affair
Despite the glorious afterglow of Oxford’s victory at Fleetwood, the club’s season is still in the balance. With three games left they sit eighth in the table, four points off the play-off places. With anything less than victory in their last three games spelling the end of Oxford’s season, Karl Robinson’s side must face his old team from Milton Keynes, where he and his family still live.
In the moments before kick-off, Robinson is tense as he addresses his side. His pleas for them to stick together and play at their best, however, fall on deaf ears. The boss grows increasingly irate on the sidelines at the team’s lacklustre performance. At half-time he reads them the riot act, singling out individual players and tearing strips off them for their unacceptable errors and seeming lack of desire, which he says are costing the coaches and support staff their livelihoods.
For Robinson, the match is personal. He was sacked by the chairman of MK Dons after six years at the helm and the ripple effects on wife Ann and daughter Jasmin were profound. In a fascinating portrait of family life with a football manager, Ann details how Karl’s ‘addiction’ to football saw them uproot their lives from Liverpool and nearly cost them their 18-year marriage. She says how much she dislikes “football Karl” as opposed to “husband Karl” and how difficult it has been navigating their lives alongside Karl’s job. The abuse the family has faced has particularly impacted Jasmin’s childhood. She suffered bullying at school over the performance of her dad’s teams and has learnt to avoid her dad after losses. Karl tearfully remembers the lowest point in his life after the death of his close personal friend Andy King, which drove Karl to the edge of despair.
Back at the Kassam Stadium for the second half of the MK Dons match, tension is relieved by Billy Bodin’s late winner which keeps Oxford’s play-off hopes alive – and inadvertently helps Rotherham stay second, despite their defeat to Burton. The two sides will face each other next, in the following episode. Karl reflects on their victory over his former team. “It’s amazing how quickly things change in football,” he says.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
Was recommended this by a friend and was blown away. Hard to put into words just how good this is. The access and honesty are utterly astounding and each episode is like a good box set in that you simply have to do another and another and another. The culmination is almost unbelievable given the drama. If there’s ever been a better insight into elite sport then I’d be astonished, either on TV, radio or podcast. Drive to Survive wishes it was this good. Bravo to Warne and Robinson because this is special.
From a fan of another League 1 club, this was an enlightening view into the non-stop world of football management and the inner workings of the 2 leadership teams. Thoroughly honest and involved throughout, it covers the peaks and throughs of all aspects of the running of both clubs. Hats off to the production team and both clubs.
Go To Bed
Fantastic, engrossing listen from start to finish. Really enjoyed it. Simon Clancy is a nice man.