Graves emerges from the shadows to take Hucknall Town hotseat

WATNALL ROAD GLADIATOR -- Hucknall Town's new boss Andy Graves.
WATNALL ROAD GLADIATOR -- Hucknall Town's new boss Andy Graves.

For a man who once worked on the TV show ‘Gladiators’ and alongside stars such as Bob Monkhouse and Nigel Lythgoe, it’s a surprise that Andy Graves has always shunned the limelight.

Not for much longer. Graves (49) might be largely unknown, even within local football circles. But he is the latest boss to be handed the poisoned chalice that is the Hucknall Town hotseat.

And he might need to replicate the feats of Gladiators such as Saracen, Wolf, Hunter, Cobra and Rhino if he is to succeed.

Graves worked on the ITV blockbuster, which ran from 1992 to 2000, by devising games and challenges for members of the public to take on Gladiators in trials of strength, speed and stamina.

These days, he works in more calm climes, running his own bookbinding, restoration and paper conservation firm, Sycamore.

But he has also emerged as the man charged with the resurrection of Town after ten years working quietly away behind the scenes at the Watnall Road club.

“When I first joined, helping out with the youth teams and the soccer schools, Steve Burr was manager,” recalled Graves, who has lived in Hucknall since the age of five.

“Since then, there have been 14 first-team managers, including five in the last year, so I have certainly served my apprenticeship!

“It has been hard and tough. I have been in the background, watching the club slide and scratching my head. The politics has been horrendous.

“But I always say never look backwards, or you will never look forwards.

“At least I go into the job with my eyes wide open, well aware of the financial constraints.”

In recent seasons, Graves has been responsible for the development of Town’s up-and-coming youngsters and was always highly thought of by previous manager Des Lyttle.

Last season, he took a team of youngsters into the Central Midlands League’s South Division. And although they finished next to bottom, winning only three games, they did acquit themselves well, considering their lack of experience and the fact that some key players left to play at a higher level.

“From the halfway point, we virtually got a point a game,” said Graves. “Our nemesis was an inability to put the ball in the net.

“As Linby found out, the CML is a better standard than many expect. There are some clubs with big resources.”

Now Graves’s kids must turn themselves overnight into Town’s first team. But with those key players, such as Alex Arnold, Sam Sims and Joel Goodacre, set to return and much sought-after trio Jeremy Moran, captain Cameron Davidson and goalkeeper James Bedingham set to stay, the new boss is confident they will do much better than last term. He is also hoping to sign one or two more experienced players, including an ex-pro.

“We have 19 players signed on, with another seven in the pipeline,” said Graves.

“There will be peaks and troughs because it is a young squad. It will be a bumpy ride and I am making no predictions about winning things.

“I have told Liz Morley that the ideal season would be for us to avoid relegation and for the club to pay off their debts. Until we do, the club cannot move forward.

“However, I can promise that we will be professional and as long as we keep improving as a team, I will be happy.

“Making people happy and getting them smiling again is one of my main aims.

“The money is immaterial to me because I have never done it for the money.”

A defender by trade, Graves’s own playing days go back to the original Hucknall Town Colts side back in the 1980s and another former Hucknall outfit, Westville.

He also played for John Player and Stapleford Villa in a career dogged by injury. When he turned to management, he initially found success in the Notts Sunday Combination with Print 4, who won successive promotions.

Now he has taken his coaching badges and intends to go on a course run by the League Managers’ Association.

Graves’s assistants will be local duo Phil Henry and Paul Stevenson, while he has also enlisted help from 21-year-old coach John Whetton, who is one of the leading freestyle footballers in the world.

The new-look Town’s first major pre-season friendly will be at home to Hucknall Rolls Leisure on Thursday August 1, followed by a trip to AFC Mansfield on Saturday August 3.

The CML season begins on Saturday August 10, with the first fixtures set to be released next Thursday (July 25).

Among Town’s rivals will be local sides Linby and newly-promoted Bulwell.