SFL Focus: Little has big plans for Berwick as he targets place in play-offs

Nobody can claim Ian Little hasn’t waited patiently for his opportunity at Berwick Rangers. Right from the point he moved to Shielfield Park as a player, eight years ago, Little has held aspirations of a permanent move into the Berwick dug-out.

For the last two-and-a-half years, as assistant to Jimmy Crease, Little had an even more hands-on role. It is to the credit of the Berwick board that they turned to Little when Crease’s fourth spell in charge ended in October; with other, more experienced names linked to the post, those directors could easily have held Little partly culpable for poor early-season form and opted for a change in direction.

“It was obviously always my plan to back up Jimmy as much as I could, but the board have always known that, at some stage, I would be interested in taking the job on myself,” Little said.

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“It has materialised that way, okay maybe a little bit quicker than I had anticipated, but it is an opportunity. I was never going to turn that down.”

Berwick have clawed themselves to within four points of the play-off places. At the time of Crease’s exit, Little was as adamant as he is now that no major on-field surgery was required.

“I haven’t got a bad word to say about the players, I think they are good enough,” he said.

“I didn’t see much of a problem with the squad when I took over. Jimmy liked to keep the same team a lot of the time, I like to change it about a bit more, but it was nothing serious that needed done.”

At 38, Little’s Berwick playing days have been cut short by a troublesome back injury – incurred during his day-to-day work running a joinery business – rather than a focus on management.

“I’m still signed as a player, just in case the squad runs into bother, but I’d rather see the boys out there doing it than being there myself,” Little added. “If I’m ever needed to go back and play, I would.”

Little has been handed the Berwick role initially until the end of the season. Whilst that perhaps doesn’t do much for the club’s aspirations of long-term planning, it affords the manager a chance to realise an ambition which he feels is overdue. To his credit, Little cannot be accused of setting low standards.

“If we don’t make it to the playoffs, I would regard that as a failure,” he admitted. “We’ve been aiming for the play-offs for the last two or three years. That we haven’t done it I regard as a bit of a failure anyway.

“The problem this year is how hard the league is. I think there are seven or eight teams who can have a real bash at the promotion and play-off places. Every season, out of the First, Second and Third Divisions there is one that is extra tight; this year, it looks like our turn.”

Little credits Terry Christie as the biggest single influence on his coaching style. Sandy Clark and John Robertson – Little played with the latter at Livingston - also made a positive impression.

“I spent almost ten years with Terry and he was always successful with what he did in management,” Little explained.

“He was very well organised, which you have to be in this job. I’m trying to run a business as well as looking after football business so that all comes back to how you organise yourself.

“I only worked with Sandy for a short time but it was at a spell when I wasn’t enjoying my football very much. He brought the enjoyment back to my training, which I will always be grateful for; it was on account of that, really, that I decided I wanted to move into coaching.”

Berwick hope formally to announce Robbie Horn, their former club captain, as the assistant to Little this weekend. Horn has enjoyed a successful time in charge of Vale of Leithen.

“There was talk of keeping Robbie as a coach at the end of five or six years playing at Berwick but for whatever reason it never happened,” Little said. “He has gone to Vale of Leithen and done exceptionally well. He is a good man and a hard worker.

“But Craig Ballantyne has been working alongside me and I hope he can stay on, as well, because he has been great. I realise it’s a big commitment for Craig and he has a young family as well so we will have a chat and see what he thinks.”