Gruff Harrison – The man who bleeds Black and White
87 minutes on the clock. It’s 1-1 between Ammanford and Pontypridd. The visitors are three minutes away from securing promotion to Welsh League Division One. Catastrophe. Luke Gullick scores to send Ammanford’s promotion charge down to the final day.
A dagger into the heart of the Ammanford players and fans. With three minutes remaining, promotion was snapped away from their grasp.
Yet no-one would have been more distraught than manager Gruff Harrison. Once the players had entered the changing room, and the officials had left the field, the Ammanford boss sat alone in the dugout for five minutes. Composing his thoughts before rousing his troops for one final bite at the cherry.
Yet we must roll back the clock to 2012 to understand the journey of one young man and his local football team. When Harrison was appointed manager in December 2012, the story reads very differently. After relegation permutations, Ammanford were consigned to life in Welsh League Division Three.
After half a season in the role, Harrison found himself in the hot seat. The club had fought diligently off the field, but their failed attempt to remain in Division Two left the club with an arduous task and Harrison was handed the reigns for what could only be described as a mammoth task.
It was 25th October before the club kicked off their first game of the season. Some two months after the rest of the clubs had got the ball rolling for 2014/15. An 11-0 win over Newport Civil Service. But, the task had only just begun.
Harrison guided his side to a 15 match unbeaten run, before the streak ended against Llanelli at home in front of a bumper crowd.
Ammanford were promoted, despite a massive backlog of fixtures.
What has followed has been consistency, sustainability and a penchant for attention to detail in allowing the club to thrive, as he led the club to two successive top half finishes before this season’s promotion push.
But, this has been down to much more than the goals of lethal striker Craig Frater, the solid defence led by Rhys Fisher and the midfield marshalled by Ben Soal.
It’s about more than just the 11 men he chooses to represent Ammanford. It’s about his tireless work ethic, his determination to see not only his club, but his town thrive.
It’s easy to overlook how Harrison has made the transition from friend to manager so seamless. A typical Ammanford side, consists of at most three non-local players, the majority of which came through the Ammanford youth system.
Yet, often forgotten, is that the 28 year-old is managing his own group of friends. His midfielder, Cerith Williams, was captain of the junior side Harrison played in, and he’s managed players more than two years his senior.
Yet the often forgotten fact is testament to his ability as manager, and something the players themselves recognise.
“He’s been a pleasure to play under. We’ve been given freedom to go out and express ourselves. A no fear approach. Dedicated and lives and breathes football. He has found the right balance to manage his mates,” announced creative lynchpin Mathew Fisher.
There is no ignoring Harrison’s desire to push Ammanford A.F.C. to the next level. The togetherness and the commitment to a club culture has resonated with fans and players alike.
A together stronger mantra would not go amiss at the club under Harrison’s reign and the players made sure to recognise that when speaking about the manager and the club. It is evident that Harrison lives, breathes and bleeds Ammanford.
Captain Rhys Fisher led the praise for the man at the helm.
“Gruff is a people’s person and footballing man! His management style creates an changing room atmosphere that is unique and his philosophy is that our togetherness is our strength and we all buy into it!”
“He’s incredibly proud of not only the club but the town. I feel like that rubs off on people and that shows with player commitment and how we all feel towards the club,” added midfielder Soal.
“To be fair he never switches off about the football club, it’s on his mind 24/7 and this has brought himself success and the club,” added right back Matthew Jones.
Before youngster Nich Arnold, fresh in the first team fold this year, retorted “One thing that stands out about him is his commitment to the club. His heart is 10000% in ammanford and he puts our club above everything.”
Even the well-travelled and experienced Frater, who has experience at Manchester City, Llanelli and Haverfordwest to name a few has bought into the idea of an ‘Ammanford A.F.C. family’.
“Couldnt have given me a better welcome, feel like part of a family here. It’s where I belong! Gruff is a legend, knows his football. And puts us first. Even though he’s young, he’s a role model for any Welsh League manager,” the striker told the site.
This culture no doubt can be applied in principle to the club’s identity of trusting its youth and the current crop of youngsters believe the manager has developed them immensely over the course of the season.
Two players declared he had boosted their confidence. One being two time ACL injury sufferer Brett Enoch and the other being former Manchester City youth player Craig Frater. His management ability is evident, and the young crop of players respect his ability to manage them effectively.
“I’ve been coached by many coaches and most of them have A license badges but as a B license coach he’s up there with the best for me,” said striker Gavin Jones.
Whilst Enoch lavished praise by stating that he as “probably the best [he’s] played under.”
But, the creation of a one-club mantra does not win football matches, despite its ability to unite a group of players.
Harrison has revolutionised the style of play at the club and has introduced an exciting, attacking verve of football. His dedication to the football club is a mentality instilled into the players, with the club going on two lengthy unbeaten runs under his tutelage, includinga 12 match unbeaten run this season between February and May.
Winning streaks require more than a culture. Winning streaks last as a consequence of a culture, but the ability to turn the tables and lead a side to consecutive wins is down to intelligence, ability and the passion to learn. Something Gruff evidently has.
“Ive been fortunate to have played under Gruff since he first took over as manager some 6-7 years ago and it’s been evident every season to us players that he has continued to become a better and better coach. And this seasons success is testament to his dedication and getting the best from us,” stated defender Euros Griffiths.
Five players stated they wanted to achieve promotion to repay Gruff and the coaching staff.
Four men described him as passionate.
Two described him as a football enthusiast.
Two described him as a leader.
Intelligent. A winner. Dedicated. Hungry. Inspiring. Clubman. Perfectionist. Compassionate. Calon. Pride. Togetherness. Competitive. Committed.
These are just some of the words used to describe the man in charge of Ammanford A.F.C.
There is a real sense of unity at the club and a belief in the man in charge, something summed up perfectly by fan Matthew Davies.
“As a fan looking from the outside in, it seems like Gruff is doing a superb job with the squad he has, which is mainly made up of home grown players and players from the local area. I think this shows as to why the players, management and supporters seem to have so much passion and commitment towards the club.”
In the words of goalkeeper James Kirkwood, “there’s something special for me and a lot of others about this club because it’s not often you find a club where every player has such a good bond with one another.”
It’s unironic that Harrison’s favourite club is Barcelona because Ammanford really is mès que un club. Ammanford is a family. No one epitomises that more than the manager.
Tomorrow is D-Day for Ammanford. A draw is all they need to gain promotion to Welsh League Division One.
But, win, lose or draw, it’s pretty clear that for the Ammanford fans and players, there could be no greater man to lead their football club or to represent their local town into their greatest battle yet.
FEATURED IMAGE: Nick Davies