At times, it probably seemed more like a punishment than an apprenticeship.
But Chris Wilder has admitted that spending more than 300 games in charge of Halifax Town taught him more about management than 1,000 coaching courses at Warwick University or St George’s Park.
Wilder, who returns to The Shay with Sheffield United this evening, was forced to overcome a range of diverse problems during his reign at the non-league club including the loss of training facilities and unpaid wages as a financial crisis, which eventually led to its meltdown, began to bite.
Eight years and four postings later, however, he is reaping the benefit of all those crisis meetings and sleepless nights.
“I’m looking forward to going back, “Wilder said. “Being there taught me so much because we were at the sharp end of everything. “People can talk about doing their badges and being ready for management. Yes, they help, but being there, with everything that was going on at the time, really prepared me, looking back.
“When you are at a club like that, where your fingerprints are on everything that happens, it’s a real education. Obviously it wasn’t nice for those concerned but, in a career sense, I don’t think you can put a price on that.”
Having taken charge of United during the close season, Wilder is putting some of the skills he developed at Halifax to good effect now, not least, after inheriting a team which finished 11th in the League One table last term, how to lift spirits behind the scenes.
United, including new signings Jake Wright, Jack O’Connell and John Fleck, flew back to England on Friday after a week-long training camp at La Manga where, the former Alfreton, Oxford and Northampton Town chief revealed, science and old-school methods were mixed to good effect.
“I’m not saying this for PR or anything like that but, really, all of the lads have been great,” he said. “Usually, when you come in somewhere, you think: ‘We’re going to get one or two who are going to be a problem or be a*******s.’
“That’s not been the case and, genuinely, we’re all really encouraged by it. They’ve applied themselves and thrown themselves into it, which has been great to see.
“We tested them and they all mucked in. There was one day when we went for a run in the heat. They weren’t expecting it but they all followed the captain who led from the front.
“We let them have a few beers that night. I think some of them were a little bit surprised by that but, so long as they were all back by 11 and didn’t abuse it, we didn’t see any harm. You’ve got to enjoy yourself. If you do, you usually put more in.”
Tonight’s friendly against FC Halifax Town - formed following Town’s liquidation in 2008 - is the third game of a pre-match programme which also sees United encounter Grimsby Town, Derby County and Handsworth Parramore.
Stefan Scougall, who has impressed during victories over Stocksbridge Park Steels and a Murcia Representative XI, is expected to feature while goalkeeper George Long should receive the all-clear after recovering from a foot injury. Billy Heath, Wilder’s opposite number, is without defender Matty Brown who has had an ankle operation.
Wilder reached the Conference Play-off Final with Town in 2006 before leaving, two years later, to become Alan Knill’s assistant at Bury. Knill, of course, is now Wilder’s number two at Bramall Lane.
“Lots will have changed, including people,” Wilder said. “But it will be nice to go there again, yes.”