Manchester United, Barcelona, or Real Madrid don’t interest Forest Green Rovers’ Ipswich boy Adrian Pennock, he’s got ambitions of managing the Blues and in the Premier League

Forest Green Rovers boss Adrian Pennock

Forest Green Rovers boss Adrian Pennock - Credit: Gloucestershire Media

Adrian Pennock is living the football dream. Born on the Chantry estate in Ipswich, he carved out a professional playing career and is now climbing the managerial ladder at Conference club Forest Green Rovers. Sports reporter WILL RIDGARD caught up with him to talk about all things football, including Ipswich Town, Norwich City, working under Tony Pulis, and the non-league scene.

Adrian Pennock has certainly enjoyed his playing and coaching career so far, having become a cult-hero at Bournemouth and Gillingham as a player, and serving as a first-team coach for six years at Stoke City under then-boss Tony Pulis.

Now following his management dream, Pennock took charge of Conference Premier side Forest Green Rovers in November of last year.

Ipswich born-and-bred, avid Tractor Boys fan Pennock grew up on the Chantry estate as a keen and talented footballer.

“Ipswich Town runs through my veins,” said 42-year-old Pennock. “My dad and grandad drummed that into me from a young age.

“I used to go and watch them home and away under Sir Bobby Robson, they really were the glory days and I loved every minute of it.

“It was fantastic to grow up and watch that, and when I couldn’t go my ears would be glued to Radio Suffolk.”

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Ironically though, his first professional club was at neighbours and arch-enemies Norwich City, who gave Pennock an opportunity of a lifetime, as he explained: “It was a very strange time for me.

“I was playing for the Suffolk under-15 team at the time, when a Norwich scout spotted me and approached my mum and dad.

“After a trial, they took my dad out and made us feel special. Things progressed and despite late interest from Ipswich – where I said ‘Come on Dad, this is Ipswich’, Dad decided that Norwich had made a big effort to sign me and that was where I was going.”

Although Pennock made just the one appearance for the Canaries’ first-team, a heavy away defeat to Southampton in the Premier League where Matt Le Tissier scored a hat-trick, Pennock was very grateful for his time at Carrow Road.

“It was a great education at Norwich, it really taught me the black and white of professional football, and put me in good stead,” added Pennock, who joined Norwich in 1989 before leaving in 1992.

From there, ambitious Pennock moved to Bournemouth, where he was acquainted for the first time with then-Cherries boss Tony Pulis, someone who would play a key role in his career.

“I owe him a lot – as a player and in management,” said Pennock.

“He gave me my first chance as a player at Bournemouth and then took a massive gamble on me when I rejoined him at Gillingham (in 1996) – I was told my knee was done at Bournemouth, surgeons and doctors basically told me I couldn’t carry on.”

Determined to prove the doubters wrong, and eight operations later, Pennock went on to achieve remarkable success at the Gills – making over 150 league appearances for the club over a seven-year period, including captaining them at Wembley in the 2000 play-off final which saw the club promoted to the Football League First Division for the first time in their history.

Pennock was a renowned practical joker in the game, and caused a bit of a stir in one pre-season match as he recalled: “I can’t remember who we were playing but I was out of action through injury.

“I was sat bored in the stand behind the goal when I saw the sprinkler just off the side of the pitch.

“Feeling mischievous, I turned the sprinkler on to try and get our keeper wet, who I was good mates with – only to drench myself accidentally!

“I was soaked from head-to-toe and a few people saw and recognised me, it was pretty hilarious really!”

Following a brief player-coach role at non-league side Gravesend & Northfleet, Pennock joined forces with Pulis again in a coaching role as Pulis miraculously transformed Stoke from a mid-table Championship side in 2006 to one playing in the Europa League in 2011.

But following Pulis’s sacking in May 2013, Pennock was also shown the door last summer.

“Tony and I keep in contact all the time and he kept saying that a job will come up (following the pair’s exit from Stoke),” said Pennock.

“The summer passed and nothing came up so when the Forest Green Rovers job popped up in November (2013) it was too good for me to dismiss and not apply for.

“I had an interview with the chairman, Dale Vince, and it went really well. We share the same high ambitions, and when he offered me the job it was just too good to turn down.

“Of course, two weeks later, Tony only went and got the Crystal Palace job!

“If I wouldn’t have got this job, I’d be with Tony now, but I have got this job and I was over the moon to get it.

“I’m loving every minute here, I feel privileged to be here and want to repay the faith in the chairman for picking me.

“It’s a great little set-up, we’re full-time, we train every day and we have plans to get into the Football League. This club’s foundations are ready to go into the Football League and we’re not too many new faces away from doing that.”

Following a spate of postponements, Forest Green currently sit in mid-table but could creep towards the play-off places should they win their games in hand.

“The aim is to keep in the league for now,” said Pennock, who has already used his links with Pulis to get talented 19-year-old defender Jerome Williams in on loan from Crystal Palace.

“We’ve got a few games in hand, but we have a tough fixture list of Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, coming up so we’ll just have to see where we end up.”

Rovers enjoyed an excellent 3-2 win over Cambridge on Saturday and ironically face Braintree Town tonight in Gloucestershire.

Pennock added: “This league is a very, very tough one. There are some very good old fashioned clubs about and I don’t see it as ‘the Conference’, I see it as a Division Three League.

“I’m very impressed with the whole non-league scene. There is a lot of quality talent in the Ryman Leagues, but the challenge is to find them – travel and training is such a big commitment and such a big part of non-league football.”

Although more than happy at the Gloucestershire-based outfit, Pennock has bigger management aspirations in the game.

“I’d like to be a Premier League manager one day, of course I would. “I think that’s what everyone should aim for – trying to go as high as you can go.

“I was very lucky to get a chance with Tony, and a chance here. It’s very difficult to get into management but if people like you, you never know how far you can go. Connections are a big factor in what you can achieve.”

And still holding his hometown so close to his heart, Pennock does have one dream job.

“When I agreed to be Forest Green Rovers manager, I said to my chairman ‘I’m yours, if Manchester United, Barcelona, or Real Madrid come in for me, I’ll turn them down and stay. But if Ipswich come in for me, I’m there!’

“I laughed and he laughed, but it would be a dream – besides it’d be too expensive for Real Madrid or Barcelona to afford me, there isn’t enough factor 25 for that!”

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