In life you make choices and decisions that ultimately dictate the path that you will take on your journey, as a person I have always tried to look at making wrong choices as learning curves as opposed to mistakes or having regrets. We all make mistakes in life that’s just human nature and it’s how you deal and respond to these mistakes that will define you as a person.
It’s been almost three months now since I left my position as manager of Margate Football Club and I have to say that out of all of my life experiences this has been by far the hardest to comprehend, deal with and move on from.
I always knew that at some stage in my life I would go into management although I thought that it would be after my playing career had finished. During my playing career I had been fortunate enough to work under a host of managers that had all been successful and achieved numerous promotions between them (Ian Holloway, Gary Waddock, Terry Brown, Andy Scott) all of these managers were different and had their own skill set and unique qualities but the main ingredient was that they were winners that guided clubs to promotions and titles. Many players go through their whole careers without winning anything or being in a successful environment – I was lucky to have had four promotions with three different clubs so I know what it feels like to be a winner.
The last of these promotions was achieved at Margate by winning the Ryman League Play-Offs in 2015. At Margate there was an expectation and a demand to get promotion that season due to the finances that were being spent on the pitch and although we just about achieved our objective I have to say that it was probably the least enjoyable season I had ever had during my career, I didn’t celebrate the promotion as we had under performed as a team for most of the season and it was just sheer relief as opposed to ecstasy when that final whistle blew at Hendon in that play off final.
I had made my mind up before the play offs that I would leave Margate at the end of the season whether we achieved promotion or not. When I joined the club back at the start of 2014 it was only meant to be for a few games as a favour to Terry Brown who had just taken over as manager and wanted to get a few results and build some momentum for the following season, I had been out of the game for a year or so after leaving Wycombe Wanderers for personal reasons and was ready to get back in and saw a few games at Margate as being the perfect way to get some sharpness back before getting back into the football league with another club that summer. Terry spoke warmly about the club and his excitement about the journey he was starting at Margate which he felt could reach the football league given the financial support the club had driving it forward from its new owner Bob Laslett. I was shown plans of the new ground and training facility and you could not help but be impressed with the vision. That vision convinced me to stay at the club for another season and I am glad that I did as we achieved promotion and the supporters had a day to remember but looking back now that promotion hid a multitude of sins. There were still no improvements to the stadium or training ground and none of the infrastructure at the club had been enhanced at all.
I had spoken to Terry a few weeks before the play offs and told him that I would be leaving at the end of the season when my contract finished, I was honest and told him that I had not enjoyed the season, I had struggled going back to part time football for the first time in ten years and that I did not like the mentality and application of some of the players who had failed to understand that they had joined Margate to win the league and to do that you had to perform week in week out, for me too many were happy to just pick up wages and pick and choose when they turned up.
A week after promotion I spoke to Terry and he said that Bob Laslett and the clubs Chief Executive Chris Pope would like to meet me, I met with them both and they once again impressed me with where the club was going and that there was still so much more to achieve – I explained my concerns about the club but was assured that now was the time that the club was really going to start moving forward rapidly and that all the hard work behind the scenes was about to start taking shape. At the end of the meeting I shook hands on a new one year deal and agreed to stay at Margate.
The promotion winning team not surprisingly given its results over the course of the season was ripped apart and rebuilt in anticipation of another promotion at the first time of asking from the National South, however this would be no easy task given the teams in the league and the finances that many of them were backed with who could more than compete with ourselves. Before a ball was kicked in the 2015-16 season my own thoughts were that given the players we had signed in the close season that as long as those players gelled quickly we would be a contender for the play offs which would have been the minimum requirement from those upstairs at the club who wanted back to back promotions.
We started the season poorly and word had got round the previous season how to beat us and stop us playing and sides knew that we did not have an effective Plan B, we played a diamond which was very narrow without any natural width and teams just sat back against us and then counter attacked us and exposed us in wide areas. In so many games we had the majority of possession but ultimately at the end of the day the only statistic that counts in football is how many goals you score compared to your opposition.
On December 5th 2015 after a 3-0 away defeat to St Albans which left us second bottom of the table Terry departed as Margate manager. It is always sad when the manager who brought you to the club leaves, Terry has been one of the biggest contributors to my career and the man who took a chance on an inexperienced 20 year old goalkeeper and made him his number one at Aldershot Town. As manager and player we had two promotions together, lost and won a playoff final and had many ups and downs that only football can provide you with. I will always be grateful to him for the positive impact he had on my career. Terry is now at Basingstoke where he is building an exciting young team who I predict will be in with a real shout of promotion next season.
The night Terry left I received a call from the clubs Chief Executive Chris Pope asking me to take charge of the team and to arrange training while the club searched for a new manager, we didn’t have a game for two weeks so the club had fourteen days to appoint a new management team. It was clear that the club would be inundated with applicants for the job as it was a club with good finances a big budget and had aspirations of becoming a league club. I also spoke to Terry when I got home from St Albans and told him I had been placed in caretaker charge and he said it was a great opportunity for me and to apply for the job.
At the time I had only just turned 35 and felt I had another five years playing in me so it was a tough choice to make but Terry was right it was a fantastic opportunity and one that may never come around again. I informed the club that I would like to be considered for the job and sent them my views on the squad and the changes I would make to improve results, the most important thing was that I believed in the squad and made it clear that I did not want to make lots of new signings and wholesale changes which is usually the case when a new manager takes over, the only signing that I would need to make would be a goalkeeper as I made it clear that I would not combine both roles. The club carried out interviews but as the days went by I felt more and more confident that I would be given the chance to prove myself – I had no doubts that I could do the job well.
We made excellent use of not having a game on the Saturday after the St Albans match by training at Barnet`s training ground and working extensively on the shape of the team and a new formation that I felt would make us harder to breakdown and beat. It was after this training session that I was informed that I would be given the job until the end of the season – although it was seen as a massive gamble to everyone both inside and outside of the club I was well aware that if I had lost the first couple of matches I would have been out and given the fixtures I had to start with (my first four games were against sides all in the top five) I knew I had a massive task in front of me. The remit from those above me was that we had to avoid relegation and to stay up at all costs.
The start could not have gone any better with two 1-0 home wins in my first two games in charge. I would be the first to admit they were not great games to watch we played 4-5-1 and abandoned playing too much football in our own half, we got the ball from back to front early and used the pace and trickery of Sean Shields and Christian Jolley on either wing and relied a lot on the physical presence and work rate of Freddie Lapado upfront. In my first pre match team talk before the Gosport game I told the players that I still expected the play offs and that with over half of the season remaining and the players that we had if they all brought into the hard work and team ethos I was trying to create we could achieve it.
I took great pride in the fact that we climbed the table and went on the run that we did in those first two months without signing any players apart from Chris Lewington who replaced me in goal, any manager can go into a club that isn’t winning and get rid of the players, blame recruitment, blame fitness, blame the quality of the players and bring in a fresh squad but is that really managing? I was told when I got the job that resources were available to me and I would be supported in the same way that Terry had been supported but I believed in the squad and they rewarded my belief by winning a lot of matches in a short space of time. It had been a staggering turnaround and as a group we had gone from a being in a relegation battle to being just outside the play offs with momentum well and truly behind us. We were a part time club but it was a full time job for me – I was out watching games every day and putting everything that I had into the role I was like a sponge trying to take in as much information and learn as much as I could; I would go and visit clubs and watch them train and take guidance from experienced managers who had been successful and listened carefully to the advice that they were giving me.
At the beginning of February I was approached by another club who requested to hold talks with me, it was a bigger club in a higher league and the first thing that I did was inform Margate of the approach. At the end of the day I had a family to think about and I had a contract with just three months left to run on it, Chris Pope gave me permission to meet the club which I did. The following day I received an email from Chris Pope offering me a new long term contract to stay at the club and that Margate was the best place for me to be at this stage of my career and it was a club on the rise with a plan in place to reach the football league.
Over the next few days I took advice from a lot of people that I respect in football along with family and friends and everyone told me that I should leave Margate and move on. They all pointed to the same reasons – still no planning applications to rebuild the ground let alone building works starting, still no changes to the clubs infrastructure and the biggest reason from everyone was what happens when and if the money man walks away? They were all valid reasons and I shared the same concerns as I had done throughout my whole time at the club, by this point I had been at the club for two years and seen no changes to the ground or the infrastructure – all of the money went directly onto the pitch and nowhere else from what I could see.
The deciding factor for me was just a few weeks previous at the clubs fans forum I sat next to Bob Laslett the clubs owner when he told the room full of supporters that he now had a new lease for the ground agreed with the local council and that the football league was still the plan. Despite everyone telling me otherwise I had decided to stay and extend my contract at Margate. I spoke to the other club and emailed them to say that I would be staying at Margate as they had given me an opportunity and that I placed a value on loyalty.
Up until recently I thought that loyalty was a good quality that I possessed and I respected myself for having it but the events at Margate over the last year now leads me to believe that my loyalty could also be viewed as a form of weakness.
With a new contract at Margate agreed and sorted I looked forward to building the squad and achieving my own target of getting into the play offs. I was asked to start preparing for next season and speaking to the players about contract extensions which I did, it was also agreed that with the reduction of the playing budget that I had achieved by moving on a few of the players we should look to bring in 4/5 quality players that that would boost the squad and get us over the line and into the play offs, we identified the need for a couple of strikers and wingers to give us more of a goal threat and a stronger bench with more options to change the game. Actively I began speaking to potential new signings and gave Chris Pope the list of players that had expressed an interest in joining us and really improving the squad. Little did I know that everything was already changing and nothing could have prepared me for the chain of events that were about to unfold.
They say that silence is deafening and in football that is definitely the case. The emails and phone calls between myself and Chris Pope began to dry up; Chris had been excited as anyone about our change of fortunes on the pitch and push for the playoffs so the fact that he had gone off radar was a concern to me and when we did talk I could tell that he wanted to get off of the phone as quickly as possible.
Finally when we sat down and spoke he delivered the first of what would turn out to be many bombshells over the coming weeks. Chris informed me that to enter the play offs the club needed to carry out some upgrades and improvements to the ground and that the club felt it wasn’t worth the gamble spending the money on these improvements in case we missed out on the play offs, at first I was shocked but then became angry as I couldn’t get my head around what I was being told. This was then followed up with news that with the play offs now off of the agenda there would be no point in signing additional players and all new contracts for players would be on hold until the end of the season, it felt like someone had put a pin in me and burst all of my aspirations and excitement. We looked at the league table and although teams had a few games in hand on us with the additional players that had been lined up I thought we still had a good chance of getting in the play offs as many of the teams above us were running on empty and we were full of confidence and hunger however I accepted what was said to me and left the meeting disappointed and despondent. Driving home the more and more I thought about it the more it didn’t make any sense, the whole plan at Margate was to get promotions and climb the leagues as quickly as possible yet for the sake of a couple of hundred covered seats which would have been a drop in the ocean financially given the investment of the playing budget for that season the club was prepared to write the season off? I phoned Chris and asked if there was anything else and he said that everything else was okay and that he was meeting Bob the following week to get the budget signed off for next season so we knew exactly what finances were available.
In the meantime I started receiving strange calls from agents and players some of which were my own saying they had heard that the money had gone, I reassured everyone that this wasn’t the case as was the information given to me but I feared that there was no smoke without fire. Whenever things are going on at a football club it always gets out and bad news and money troubles in non-league football spreads like wildfire.
Thursday 17th March 2016 is a date that I will not forgot in a hurry I was at home preparing for training that evening when I received a call from Chris – his first words were “are you sitting down” which is never a promising start to any phone conversation! he went on to say that Bob was leaving the club and in his words “the gravy train had left Margate”. Chris wouldn’t go into any detail he just stuck to the basics which were that all expenditure will be reined in, no additional spending on the squad as we could lose every game and still have enough points to stay up (this statement nearly returned to haunt him), Freddie Ladapo would be sold and to tell members of the squad who I had spoken with about new contracts that the club had changed its position. When I put the phone down I felt cheated and let down feelings that I would become used to over the next year in the job.
When all of the players arrived at training that evening I called a meeting and I was honest and upfront with them and relayed all of the information that I had been told by Chris a few hours previous. The players had given me everything up until that point and deserved the respect of hearing the truth from me and not someone else, it was my duty to my players to be truthful even though I was fully aware of the negative consequences that this news would have on the squad in terms of motivation and desire. I was now left with a squad that only a few weeks previous had the winning habit and a thirst for success with a clear target to aim at to a bunch of players who knew they were playing for nothing, felt they had been shafted by their own employers, had no future at the club and were concerned that they would not get paid – it was certainly not a recipe for winning games of football. Looking back now had I not known the players as well as I did and hadn’t been there captain only a few months earlier I would not have been as honest as I was that night but morally it was the right thing to do given the circumstances of that situation.
From a selfish point of view in the space of a little over a month I had turned down another job after being convinced by Margate that it was the best place for me to be and committed to a long term contract at a club which was now in total disarray. The “I told you so” comments that I received from so many people who warned me that this would be the outcome were not easy to take, especially the one from my wife which brought about its own stresses and strains on my family life.
The following day I was informed by Chris Pope that Margate could no longer afford to keep me for the following season so a settlement was reached and agreed to cancel my contract that I had only just signed. Chris was in a terrible mood and I imagine that every player had called him that day to seek assurances that they would be getting paid. I was asked by Margate director John Webb who told me that he was taking over from Bob Laslett as majority shareholder and Chairman of Margate Football Club if I would continue to manage the team for the remainder of the season to try and keep some continuity. I was fully aware that there was little or no reward in seeing out the season in charge of a squad that had nothing to play for but I when I took the job I was tasked by those above me to keep the club up and for me I wanted to see the job through no matter how tough it got.
The next few weeks brought more dramas and upheaval at the club, not long after being announced as the new Vice Chairman Chris Pope had also left the club. The fact that he threatened not to pay the players after one game did not go down well and he was lucky to make it out of the ground in one piece that day. Chris left under a massive cloud and in the weeks and months after his departure lots of financial skeletons began to come out of the wardrobe. To this day I still not know who the real Chris Pope was as his mood and demeanour changed so often, at times we had great meetings and conversations about the future of the club and driving it forward but on other occasions he was cold and rude. On the day that he left the club he locked himself in his office and shredded almost everything in it which kind of tells its own story about what had been going on and the problems we would later discover.
Freddy Ladapo had also gone by this point after being sold on deadline day to Crystal Palace, Freddy was a pleasure to work with and helping his progress and playing a small part in his move to Palace was one of the highlights of my time at Margate football club. The downside to his departure was that we now had no goal threat in our entire squad, we managed to sign a couple of young pros from league clubs for nothing on deadline day but these were not the types of players we needed for the situation that we were in and I felt guilty for bringing them into the environment but we were down to the barebones and having to play Matt Johnson upfront as we had no strikers at the club.
Two weeks before the season finished I was asked to meet John Webb and General Manager Ryan Day in Ashford. In that meeting I was asked to stay on as manager and sign a two year contract and greatly reduced terms, we discussed the budget for the next season and I asked what direction the club was planning on going. There was no great surprise that the playing budget had been cut significantly but that did not bother me as I would recruit players based on what we had and make it fit the budget, my main question and concern was how the club was being funded moving forward and I asked for assurances regarding my budget. During that meeting I was shown a breakdown of exactly how everything was due to be paid and the agreements that the club had moving forward. Once again I had to trust the information that I was being given and I made my decision to accept the job based on the information given to me that day and on the promise that my budget would be ring fenced for the duration of the season. All I wanted to do was manage the squad with no interference and no moving of the goalposts in terms of finances and budget.
We ended the season by staying up on goal difference (one goal) and the most traumatic and unsatisfactory season of my career had been brought to an end. Now that the season had finished it was time to put last season and all of the dramas to bed and there was a new spring in my step and I could not wait to start recruiting players for the start of next season. One major difficulty that we had was that we had still had four players on contracts for next season that were way over and beyond what we could now afford to pay players so we made the decision to negotiate settlements with the players – we had no choice as paying the four players there contracts and bonuses would have amounted to almost half the budget for the entire playing squad. It was nothing personal against any of the players it was purely done for financial reasons.
Money was extremely tight during the close season and cash flow was not great, I was told that all of the money coming into the club would arrive in July and until that point we would have to get through as best we could, although there are no players to pay during the summer the clubs overheads, staff wages and utilities still all needed paying. We also had an issue with needing to carry out some works to the ground to get our licence for the season, in hindsight me paying for these works at the ground and other bills and invoices when they couldn’t be paid by the club was a huge error on my part but at the time all I was thinking about was being successful and making the club the best that it could be for everyone.
During the close season I was again approached to leave the club and be part of a new management set up at another club, again I took guidance from people but unfortunately once again history will show that I made the wrong choice and once more stayed loyal to Margate as I was led to believe that the troubles were behind the club and it was a chance to rebuild the whole club over time and in the correct manner.
Slowly but surely the squad started to take shape and I was happy with the signings that we made, we didn’t get all of the targets that we aimed for but everyone we did sign came for the right reasons as for most of them they had better offers on the table elsewhere but wanted to come to Margate. A lot of work went into recruiting the players that we signed any many of them had reservations to start with purely based on the perception of the club and that it had financial problems. I gave the players the same assurances that I was given and explained to them that the clubs budget had been set in line with the revenue it was due to receive. At the time I was devastated to miss out on three or four players that we were really close to signing who would have been great additions for the team and who I spend a lot of time trying to bring to the club but looking back now I am relieved for every player that turned us down last summer as they avoided being part of what was to follow a few months later. To put the budget for the season into context with the previous season our top earner for the season would have been the second lowest paid in last years squad.
During my time at the club there had always been a high turnover of players every summer which doesn’t bring the necessary continuity and stability needed to build a successful team and club. The focus in the summer was to recruit young players that had a point to prove and wanted to push on with their careers, we wanted to create a positive environment where the players expected not only a lot from themselves but also those around them. The recruited squad was not a quick fix it and it was going to take time and a lot of coaching for it to reach its potential but I felt that if the squad could be kept together it would flourish – unfortunately we will never know just how good that squad could have been as it was ripped apart within a few months of the season starting. I am also relieved that I held back a good chunk of the budget as a contingency for injuries or to make adjustments to the squad at Christmas if it needed them, it sounds silly to say this now but I really did think that come Christmas time we would be in touching distance of the play offs and a signing or two would help us push into them.
After a promising preseason where the squad showed glimpses of its potential my footballing world came crashing down once more on the night we beat Ramsgate away on penalties in our last preseason match just a week before the season started. In the week leading up to the game it was clear that not all was well at the club but I convinced myself that I was just being sensitive given what had happened the season before.
As I was walking over to the dugout for the start of the game I was informed that an emergency meeting was taking place in Ramsgate board room and that Margate football club was once again in dire straits, those that were there that night would have seen me not celebrating our victory I just walked off the pitch back to the dressing room dejected and wondering how this was all happening again.
After the match John Webb came into the dressing room to congratulate the players and give assurances about their wages – the last thing that you say to a dressing room of footballers that have just joined a club that has had financial problems before the season has even started is to not worry about your wages as all it does it create worry and questions. Long after the players and supporters had left Ramsgate I spoke to John on the pitch and asked for honesty and it wasn’t good news – the budget for the season was no longer viable and there was now a huge financial shortfall that there was no way of filling.
I was totally devastated leaving Ramsgate that night and on the long drive home all I could remember and think about was all of the meetings that I had with the players before they signed where I assured them that the financial problems at the club were in the past and that it was a fresh start for the club with a bright future. Once again I was left with a huge decision to make and placed in a position that no manager should ever be put in.
During the next few days I had lengthy discussions with John and he felt that there were people in the background that would come forward to invest money into the club so for the time being it was business as usual and I was to prepare for the new season that was only days away in the best possible way. By this time the rumours had got out again and gone round the football community and I would receive daily calls from both my players and staff about the situation at the club as some of them were worried and they had every right to be. We won our opening day fixture 1-0 at home to Bath City but I was still more occupied with events off of the pitch then those on it, I got into a heated argument with the Bath City dugout towards the end of the game and I think it was my frustrations and anger with everything that was going on around me that caused me to lose my temper that day. Our form over the first month of the season was indifferent which is what you usually associate with a new young side that are all still getting to know each other and their surroundings. Things reached a new low when I was contacted by our coach operator the night before an away game and I had to pay for the coach on my card to guarantee that the coach would pick us up as they were also worried about not getting paid so they stopped any credit and all journeys had to be paid in advance.
A couple of days before we played Poole Town away on 20th August I received a call from a club that had heard about our poor financial situation and they offered to sign four of our players – again it was not great preparation for a game and also not the type of call that you want to be receiving less than a month into the new season. I contacted John and informed him of the conversation and he said it would help the club enormously if we accepted and got the players off of the wage bill. No one can imagine how difficult it was for me calling those four players to say that they can leave the club less than a month into the season especially after I worked so hard to get them to sign for the club and I really rated them as both people and footballers. The day before the Poole match the players held talks with the interested club but every one of the four players called me and said that they wanted to stay and didn’t want to leave – for a manager it’s a great thing to hear but the reality was that unless new investment reached the club quickly they would all be forced to leave as we wouldn’t have the money to pay them. It was a tough job finding the correct balance between reassuring the players, keeping them focused but at the same time being honest with them about the situation. There was a real pressure on me to make sure the players got paid each month as it was me that assured the players before they signed that the club was in a good place and they all had bills, rent and mortgages to pay and it was not their fault that they were in this situation so I told all of the squad that whilst they were at the club they would get every penny they were owed.
The most difficult thing to deal with was agents and other clubs calling the players directly and trying to unsettle them, Ali Fuseini was the first to leave after Welling made him an offer that he couldn’t turn down and we were powerless to stop him leaving, I knew that every time a player left I would not be able to replace them with anywhere near the same quality.
As we entered the start of October despite all of the off the field problems and a mounting injury list we continued to pick up results but failed to find consistency which again was not a surprise given the predicament that the club was in and the players not knowing if they were coming or going. There were more changes behind the scenes with Alistair Bayliss coming in as a director and within a few weeks he started bringing his own people in all areas of the club – Alistair was full of enthusiasm at the start and given all of the contacts that he said he knew I was sure that the investment that we desperately needed would be just around the corner but unfortunately it never materialised.
It was made clear to me that unless we reached the first round of the FA Cup then the squad would have to be dismantled with everyone made available to leave immediately, the pressure on reaching the first round was too much for the players and in the biggest game of the season we lost to Harrow Borough 3-1 at home in the replay and put on the most disappointing performance of the season when it meant the most. The players knew going into the match the consequences of a defeat and with Northampton Town away waiting for the winners we never turned up and the £50,000-£70,000 that the win would have given us and the final hope of keeping us all together was gone.
The most vivid memory of my entire time as manager was when I received a call on pay day in October from the club and I was informed that we had £167 pounds in the club bank account and no means to pay the players their wages. I remember sitting in my office and once again asking myself what I had done to deserve this and how it had got to this point – I made another choice that day and that was to pay all of the players and staff myself as they were owed money and I would not break my promise to the players that they would all get every penny that they were owed. I began texting the boys the asking for their bank account details so that I could transfer their wages to them, I also transferred enough money into the clubs account so that they could pay the staff who worked hard for the club. The only person at the club who didn’t get there wages that month was me.
Not long after this John Webb left the club and in under a year as manager at Margate I was now working for my third Chairman and third owner in Alistair Bayliss and probably on my tenth different budget which was getting lower every week. Out of everyone that let me down at Margate John Webb is the only person that I feel sorry for and hold no resentment or bitterness towards, the only thing that John was guilty of was that he trusted the wrong people.
At the end of October the majority of the players had now left and with no money it was a case of trying to fulfil fixtures and try to be as competitive as possible whilst keeping the club in business. When people make comment about the amount of matches that we lost in a row and the lack of goals that we scored it is worth noting that once I had lost the squad that I put together they were replaced by players that were picked up from the following clubs Loxwood FC, Lambeth & Haringey, East Grinstead Town, Windsor FC, Whitstable, Three Bridges FC the rest of the players we signed were unattached without a club and had not played all season. Our recruitment policy was simple – if you were willing to join and not get paid you were in. I must have made hundreds of calls to football league clubs begging for favours but it was clear and understandable that they did not want their young promising players going into an environment like ours so our pool of players to recruit from was minimal.
The National South is two leagues below the Football League yet for over three months we were fielding a squad of players whereby most of them were not getting paid or receiving expenses – it was costing those players money to turn out for the club. The players were not up to the level mentally, physically or ability wise but they all possessed a heart of gold and despite the fact we were losing every week it was a pleasure managing a group of players that gave there lot every week it was just a shame that they were not good enough individually or collectively. We were operating on a budget that would not have been competitive in the Ryman South let alone the National South but for some people it is so easy these days to sit behind their computer screens or mobile phones and give their opinions and judgements without being in possession of the facts or the correct information. Truth be told the squad that I had for the last few months of my tenure should have got been on the receiving end of heavy losses week in week out but they were not and that’s because despite being in an impossible situation with no sign of any light at the end of the tunnel myself and my staff still prepared the squad and organised them in the same professional manner that we had always done we just didn’t have the necessary quality at both ends of the pitch to turn those narrow 1-0 defeats in draws and wins but we never stopped trying and giving everything we had and I am proud of that as the easiest thing would have been to sulk, moan or just quit and walk away. In November we were almost stopped from training as the training ground had not been paid for over four months this was highly embarrassing when the manager of the facility where we had trained and somebody who I had always got on well with with informs me in front of the players that unless we paid immediately there would be no training, we were becoming the biggest laughing stock in non-league football and everyone loved it as that’s how people react when clubs with money run out of it.
I dug in and took all of the criticism and stick from those that had no idea what was really happening as I wasn’t a quitter and wouldn’t leave the club in the state that it was in, I was also assured month after month that investment was coming but whether it be a Maltese consortium or various other investors that came and went without putting money into the club we were running out of time and more importantly games to survive.
By the time the new consortium came in and were actually in a position to proceed with the acquisition of the club after weeks and weeks of delays for me it was already too late and there was no point in wasting tens of thousands of pounds on a host of new signings with no chance of staying up. To have stayed up with a dozen or so games to play given the position that the club was in we would have had to display top three form and hope other results went our way, for me it made more sense to save the money for next seasons budget or use the money to finally provide the supporters with some shelter down at the bottom of the ground. Having had no money for months and having to watch every penny and hold our breath every time pay day arrived in the hope we had enough to pay everyone there was no way that I could be part of just throwing money down the drain in an impossible attempt to survive. At the end of the day if you miss a train it doesn’t matter if you miss it by ten seconds or ten minutes the end result is the same you still miss the train and that’s how I viewed relegation.
In all of my time in football which is approaching twenty years I would have to say that in my last few weeks as Margate manager and the weeks that followed my departure I have never been treated so badly, the way that some people went about getting me out of the club and doing things behind my back were unforgivable. Those people know who they are and unfortunately non-league football has a long history of attracting people that talk a good game but ultimately do not have the first idea about football and running a succesful club but they drift from boardroom to boardroom thinking they are popular and powerful when the reality is the complete opposite and as much as a dislike these people I actually feel sorry for them as getting into football is the only way they can get any attention and have their egos massaged. As much as I wanted to see the season out the final straw for me was when I found out that the club were talking to a new manager and attempting to sign players without my knowledge which just showed a complete lack of respect, I did not want to sign certain players as like I have already spoken about they were not good enough to keep the club up so why waste paying them all decent wages for ten weeks? Despite this these players were still being spoken to by other people at the club and the writing was on the wall and enough was finally enough, with the takeover all agreed I knew the club was no longer under any financial pressures and the time was right to leave . Upon my departure the majority of the squad that cost little or nothing were replaced with those same players that I had been offered to sign but refused and although they were a lot better than the players I had they were not good enough to win the amount of games needed to stay up and this was proven correct by them winning only one of the last nine matches and finishing further adrift from safety then they were when I left despite bringing in over ten players from clubs in both the National and the National South that would not have come cheap. The one comfort I take from those who have treated me badly and let me down is that in life it doesn’t matter who you are and what you have or don’t have the one thing that you can never run or escape from is Karma as it will always catch up with you.
At the start of this blog I refereed to choices and decisions and in hindsight I made several of the poorest decisions that I have made in my life throughout my time at Margate Football Club. Having read all of the above you will probably all think that I regret making the choices that I did but you couldn’t be further from the truth – the experience at Margate has made me a better person and pushed me into situations that otherwise I would never have encountered, in just over a year of management I had every bad situation and worst case scenario thrown at me imaginable but I survived and am stronger for it. In August I am off around the world with my family to recharge and spend time with those that mean the most to me, you only get one family and never take them for granted or forget to tell them you love them. When I get back I will be returning to football and using all of my experiences at Margate to motivate me to be successful in my next job. My appetite for the game is stronger than ever.
All I ever wanted to do was manage the players and concentrate on tactics, scouting, recruitment and training but in all my time as manager of Margate I can honestly say that apart from those first few months in charge and a spell in pre-season I was more of a trouble shooter, fire fighter and administrator then I was a manager. I did all of what I did to try to keep the club in business and make sure that the fans still had a club to support, I spent many years as a player at Aldershot Town and I know the hurt that they went through when there club folded in 1992. The biggest crime for me in everything that has happened at Margate over the past couple of years is that for all of the money and millions that were spent on the playing field in wages nothing went on building a legacy or the infrastructure of the club for the next generations to enjoy. You only have to look at Billericay Town at the moment to see how it should be done, everyone has their own opinions on their new owner (Glen Tamplin) and the wages that he is paying his players but the fact is he has owned the club for less than 9 months yet he has already started to build a new stadium, set up an academy and is spending over £500,000 alone this summer on four state of the art pitches for the youth teams and academy to use. Glen Tamplin is not talking about what he is going to do he is actually doing it and if and when he does decide to leave Billericay Town at some stage in the future those facilities and the infrastructure that he leaves behind will benefit generations to come and will have an enormous positive impact on the local community and for that he should be greatly respected.
My last words are to the supporters of Margate Football Club who were amazing towards me as both a player and manager and it saddens me that I never got the chance to say goodbye or thank you properly, the support that you gave me during my darkest times and when I needed it the most was something I will never forget. At all times I represented your club to the best of my abilities and I was proud to have represented you both on and off the pitch. I was a young inexperienced manager that wanted to learn and be the best that I could be and in different circumstances I know I would have brought you the success that you all deserve. I wish you all the very best of happiness both on the pitch and in your personal lives. One day I will return and write the next chapter as I feel that I have so much unfinished business left with the club but until then…
Thank You – Up the gate!