Derek Adams wants his Morecambe players to stay relaxed before their League Two play-off final but his message, one that has fuelled the club’s transformation this season, does not shy away from the magnitude of Monday’s occasion at Wembley: create history.
Morecambe can reach the third tier of English football for the first time with victory over Newport County. Promotion would also complete a stunning turnaround under the former Ross County and Plymouth Argyle manager, who arrived in November 2019 with The Shrimps fighting to preserve their Football League status once again. He now hopes to lead them into uncharted waters.
“We’ve used that throughout the season,” says Adams. “Can we get the most wins? Can we get the most points the club has ever had? Can we score the most goals? We’ve used all these targets as we’ve gone through the season. The next target is to take the club into League One for the first time.”
Monday’s play-off is arguably Morecambe’s biggest game since Sammy McIlroy guided the club into the Football League via the same route in 2007. Coventry away on the final day of the 2017-18 season, when a draw kept them in the league on goal difference at Barnet’s expense, comes close.
“They’re the two really big games for the club but this is the first time the club has had the opportunity in a play-off final to get out of League Two into League One,” Adams says. “For the town and the community it would be absolutely massive. It is a thriving town now. The Eden Project is trying to be built in Morecambe and they are trying to get back to the days when everybody would flock to Morecambe for their holidays. Having a football team that gets up the ladder can only benefit the town.”
Morecambe were bottom of League Two when the 45-year-old Glaswegian replaced Jim Bentley. They were 10 points clear of Stevenage when the league was called to a halt four months into his tenure, but finishing positions of 22nd, 18th, 22nd, 18th and 21st over the past five years offered no indication that a 14-year residence in League Two could end this season with promotion. Adams, however, had a clear plan, even on a budget that stretched to only free and loan signings last summer.
He says: “When we came down it was about collecting as many points as we could. We accomplished what we wanted to do. This season was about getting a squad together that could move us on and get us into the play-off positions. It was a difficult time during lockdown because nobody knew what was going to happen. Then trying to sign players during the summer wasn’t easy as well because the money aspect for all clubs was reduced.
“Players were on bigger money at other clubs and we were offering less money, but we were offering an opportunity to get first team football and an opportunity to go to a manager that wanted them. There was the opportunity to play football on a regular basis. Sometimes it is not all about how much money you can get out of a club, it is about how much a club looks after you and how a manager fits you into a system of play … It’s about being happy in your environment.”
Not everyone was happy in Adams’ environment, however, as Kevin Ellison demonstrated when scoring against Morecambe for Newport in March. The 42-year-old striker claimed he was “disrespected” by Adams after nine years with Morecambe and contemplated retiring before joining the Welsh club last year. He celebrated scoring in March’s 3-1 win, Newport’s second victory over their play-off opponents this season, by sprinting to his former manager and screaming in his face. Their reunion provides an intriguing subplot at Wembley.
Adams was not the aggressor that day, although has had a few touchline confrontations in the past. He claims to have mellowed, albeit with the caveat that: “All Scottish managers have to have that fight and that spirit. We come down from Scotland to England and it’s never easy, we have to prove our worth, and I think that’s what Scottish managers do. You only have to look at how successful Scottish managers have been over time.”
Adams’ success with Morecambe has attracted attention and Bradford have been linked with a possible move. Asked whether his future will be decided by the play-off result, the manager says: “No. We are really just concentrating on getting to League One. We’ve shown this year we are capable of beating the best teams in the league. We want to keep the players as relaxed as possible going into the game but we all know the game is massive for the football club. It’s all about getting into League One.”