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Rovers draw on Russell expertise

By Pete Oliver

Jack Russell puts Geraint Jones through his paces for England
Russell is now running the rule over footballers as well as cricketers

Having scaled the heights of world cricket, former England wicket-keeper Jack Russell is now getting his competitive juices flowing with Conference football club Forest Green Rovers.

Russell has always been a supporter of his local team in Gloucestershire and now, with no winter tours to undertake, he is fulfilling a part-time role as a member of Rovers' backroom staff.

Originally invited to The Lawn by former boss Gary Owers, Russell worked alongside goalkeeping coach Mick Byrne in gauging the crossover between the two sports.

"Gary said I might learn something and they might learn something from me," Russell told BBC Sport.


"So I'd go down to training once or twice a week and occasionally throw myself round in the mud."

Then, following the appointment of Jim Harvey earlier this season, Russell was asked to stay on in a brief that also includes match-day duties and brings the professional sportsman in him racing back to the surface.

Russell said: "I sit on the bench, help warm up the keepers and I have learned a hell of a lot from Mick. I see football in a different light now.

"I enjoy it and get a great kick out of it. When you stop playing you lose that adrenaline and that bit of focus of being part of a team and trying to win something.

"I wish I was out there playing, but I know I can't so this is the next best thing.

"All I do now is paint pictures and a bit of wicket-keeping coaching so it's nice to be with a team and on the bench and involved.

"I get a kick out of that and the preparing for a game."

I didn't want to break a leg or do something crazy so I stopped playing when I was about 15 and cricket took over

Jack Russell

Russell admits that the superstitions and rituals he famously followed during his cricketing career with England and Gloucestershire have started to kick in again.

During Rovers' recent unbeaten run he made sure he was wearing the same kit, tracksuit and black hat and sat on the same coach seat.

Fortunately, though, Forest Green's pre-match meals tend to centre on baked beans, sparing him the need for the Weetabix he soaked in milk for exactly the required period to sustain him through long spells behind the stumps.

Russell's attention to detail made him an outstanding wicket-keeper/batsman for his county and country, winning 54 caps and the honour of Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1990, and also paved the way for a second highly successful career as an artist.

Yet among all that, the 43-year-old has maintained his love for football.

Russell watched Forest Green as a boy and played football as a goalkeeper in the winter and cricket in the summer until the latter became a serious career option.

"I didn't want to break a leg or do something crazy so I stopped playing when I was about 15 and cricket took over," he said.

"When it looked like I was going to turn professional I didn't want to risk anything, but I have always loved football.

"Lots of cricketers like their football and it was part of the dressing-room at Gloucester. There was always the banter about it and we would have a sweepstake on a Saturday.

"We used to play football as part of our warm-up and I don't know how no-one got injured."

The interest is reciprocated at Forest Green where there are a number of keen cricket followers in Harvey's squad, which Russell admits can have its drawbacks.

"I really enjoy it there and the lads look after me, apart from when we were losing the Ashes," he said.

"I got a bit of stick then and if we don't do well in the World Cup I'll probably get a blast."

On a more serious level, Russell has tried to blend the two sports together to benefit Rovers.

He sees similarities between the disciplines of keeping wicket and keeping goal and when standing back to quicker bowlers he adopted the "penalty position".

And he believes Forest Green's number one, Ryan Robinson, has the attributes for both sports.

The skills are different but the process is so similar and that's an element I can get involved in

Jack Russell

"He is an exceptional goalkeeper and he would have a brilliant attitude for a wicket-keeper because he is robust and mentally strong," Russell added.

Russell is on hand to make technical suggestions to Forest's keepers but he admits that it is in the mind where he can potentially bring value to a team which has been revived under Harvey's direction.

"If I see one or two things, Mick says 'tell them'. But the area for me is more down to bringing professional standards and pushing limits," Russell explained.

"In terms of wicket-keeping you learn how to push limits, and to get standards right and be consistent takes a lot of dedication and mental power.

"If I see one or two signs of slipping I am allowed to say 'get back into line'. I have experience from that side of things.

"I have experience of trying to win and win consistently and there is a massive similarity between trying to win football matches and cricket matches.

"The skills are different but the process is so similar and that's an element I can get involved in. I understand when they are going through and what they are trying to achieve.

"If I can help out 0.1% in getting a few points then I will be chuffed."

Typically, Russell appears to have fully embraced his latest challenge and the fledgling footballer in him has finally found a fitting outlet as Rovers look like winning their battle to stay in the Conference.

"There is a bit more work to do, but we are getting there. Forty-six points might do it, but it would be nice to get to 50," Russell said.

Harvey could not have put it better himself.

Conference Premier table
Saturday, 2 November 2013 17:11 UK
    P GD PTS
1 Cambridge 17 18 38

2 Kidderminster 17 10 32
3 Luton 17 14 31
4 Grimsby 17 8 30
5 Salisbury 17 6 30

6 Braintree Town 17 9 29
7 Barnet 17 8 28
8 Welling 17 5 28
9 Alfreton Town 17 2 28
10 Nuneaton 17 0 27
11 Gateshead 17 4 26
12 FC Halifax 17 0 25
13 Lincoln City 17 0 22
14 Macclesfield 17 -1 22
15 Forest Green 17 1 21
16 Southport 17 -5 21
17 Wrexham 17 -3 19
18 Dartford 17 -10 18
19 Hereford 17 -6 17
20 Tamworth 17 -9 17

21 Woking 17 -10 14
22 Chester 17 -13 14
23 Aldershot 17 2 13
24 Hyde 17 -30 3

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