‘Charges Dropped. Time For A New Challenge’ Says USL Coach Of The Year Mark Briggs

by Stel Stylianou

That was year Adidas arrived, starting the 3-year scholarship. Naturally, it was a transition period so we were still cleaning boots, sorting out the boot room and changing rooms, making sure that the whole stadium was clean. Very unglamorous but it needed to be done so we did it. Sometimes we’d work until 7pm, waiting for the coach to check if it was spotless so we could leave.

People don’t see that side of football but it’s important. Some of it should be brought back; it helps the player’s do develop personally, giving them accountability and showing them that if you want things in life, you have to earn them. This doesn’t really happen in the USA, although all MLS sides are developing their own academies. It’s good; they’re taking time to do it right.

I was lucky. Danny Dichio used to speak to me on a regular basis, as did Neil Clement, Derek McInnes and Ruel Fox. Most of them had played at the top level and had a lot of experience, they advised me and helped me to learn what I was doing well and how I could improve. Those relationships are really important in helping younger athletes to develop and gel. 

‘When Ruel arrived at WBA, everyone raved about how fast he was. He had such quick feet and his first touch showed why he stayed at the top for so long.’

I was breaking into the first team squad when they signed Enzo [Maresca]. He scored some fantastic goals for the club. Everyday after training we’d all leave, but he’d stay on taking free kicks… right foot, left foot, practicing all the time. He read the game so well. Young players need to see players like him, it makes them have to up their game.

Living in Denmark was great, but also very difficult. Fortunately, most people spoke English and the club looked after me really well too. They found me a home with with a lovely family, gave me a car...

I remember my first training session. A 16 year old was training with the first team and he asked the coach a question. At that point I’d just come from Gary Megson’s regime where nobody asked questions. He told the coach that he didn’t understand what he had to do. It was a bit of a shock. I was thinking ‘this lad has some confidence to say that.’ But that’s how kids are taught there; they’re encouraged to ask questions all of the time. It’s really important, not only optimising their education, but also making them better players.

I wouldn’t say they’re overlooked, although there definitely aren’t many black coaches in the game. Ultimately people should give opportunities based on talent, not skin colour. The culture is changing and coaches are being judged on their talent. But it can’t be complexly about that – people can talk about skin colour, but look at football, look at the NBA, there are a lot of nationalities and skin colours, so it really depends if those players want to use their experienced to become coaches after they retire, just as much as pure coaches coming up. There are a lot of coaches now, but as the game evolves there will be more interest and understanding of the game, more opportunities...

I hope Darren’s success continues. It’s refreshing to see someone who speaks so openly and genuinely about life and what he wants to achieve. He wears his heart on his sleeve and to be a black coach in the second tier of English football is an achievement, especially for someone so young.

Players can relate to him; he’s been in similar scenarios to them so can put himself in their shoes. So do the fans. He’s a local lad, knows the ins-and-outs of the city, how to be successful within the demographic, the attitudes and beliefs of the club...  and carried that into the first team. A great role model for youngsters. They’ve seen him come through the ranks all the way up to becoming head coach. It shows them they can too.

A lot of people are talking about him lately, but after our friendly against Manchester Utd, Jose Mourinho came up to me to offer his support. It was a really nice gesture; he didn’t have to take time out to talk to me, but he’d read an article on Sky Sports about our season and came to wish me luck.

‘Don’t always believe everything you read or hear. Personally or in the media. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon, but what is a couple of minutes of fun or gossip for you can drastically impact someone else’s life.’

It’s affected me immeasurably in ways I cannot explain. Until you’re put in that position, you can’t imagine just how large the ripple effect is. Little things like not wanting to leave the house or talk to people, you just don’t want to do them. It’s quietly suffocating.

Finding out the charges had been dropped was a whirlwind, it happened overnight. I only realised via the press. I’m glad the truth has prevailed. Anybody who knows me knows that isn’t in my character. I was raised by a single mother and have 2 sisters, so this isn’t me. The hardest thing about it was that nobody thought about my daughter. At no point did they stop to think how this would affect her. My main priority was always shielding her from that.

It’s nice to know that people saw sense, but it’s scary how easy it is for people in the public eye to have these things used against them. If people have made mistakes, then the punishment should suffice, but someone’s hard work shouldn’t be destroyed in seconds because of something someone has said flippantly. Not just for people like me, but also for real victims of domestic abuse. When people make false claims for whatever reason, it discourages real victims from speaking out.

‘It’s hard to take it in when you know you’ve done nothing wrong, yet certain people who have are able to walk away scot free.’

I’m happy to be getting back into my coaching. I love what I do and hope people will base their opinions on my ability and body of work over the last 3 years, not a fabricated story.

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