Like so many of us, Crawley Town boss John Yems was left twiddling his thumbs over the lockdown period so would have been left with plenty of time to reflect on a career in football that had taken in the likes of Fulham, Millwall, Torquay United, Exeter City, Gillingham and Bournemouth. But we took the opportunity to invite him to join us on a trip down Memory Lane, almost to the start, to chat about his time in charge of the Hornets almost thirty years ago.
Asking the questions was programme editor Mark Wells, who first takes a look at the background behind Yems’ appointment.
Having only avoided dropping out of the Isthmian League by virtue of a two-legged play-off success over Letchworth Garden City in 1990, and after a decade in which the club had suffered crippling financial problems, manager Peter Evans rebuilt and transformed Horsham Football Club on the pitch, taking them to 5th place in the Isthmian League 3rd division and an FA Cup 4th qualifying round replay clash with neighbours Crawley Town in 1991/92.
The good work continued with a 6-0 thrashing of Feltham & Hounslow on the opening weekend of the 1992/93 season, to support their pre-season billing as one of the promotion favourites. But four defeats in the next five league matches soon put a dent in that early swagger, even if three of those losses were by the odd goal in five, and early elimination in both the FA and League Cups saw Evans’ position begin to come under pressure.
Matters weren’t helped when club legend Mick Browning, who had resigned his post as Chairman during the summer, stepped down from his role as Chairman of Directors after a clash of views over the future of the Queen Street ground and, although results were improving slightly, the Hornets found themselves in the bottom half of the table ahead of the visit of perennial strugglers Petersfield United, three weeks before Christmas. So when the Hampshire outfit inflicted a dismal 1-0 loss upon their hosts, in front of their own supporters, it proved to be one defeat too many for the board who agreed to relieve the former Steyning Town boss of his duties.
By coincidence among the crowd that day was John Yems, a former Reading and Millwall reserve team player who was employed on a full-time basis by Fulham to help coach the club’s youngsters. By the end of the day, Yems was set to become the Hornets 4th manager in 9 years.
John, Peter Evans was obviously upset at being let go and it was reported at the time that he claimed there was a conspiracy, that the plan was always to appoint you in his place. Was there any truth in that?
No, there was no conspiracy and to be honest it all came out of the blue really. What happened was that we took a boy from Horsham to Fulham, a lad called Malcolm Shevlin. While he was with us his dad Maurice, who I believe was on the Horsham committee, asked if I’d fancy coming along to help out with a bit of coaching. I said if the manager (Evans) was okay with it then I’d be happy to come along. It was only 35-40 minutes for me to get down from Fulham’s training ground at Epsom so it wasn’t a problem. I came along on the Tuesday, I think it was, met Frank King – and what a lovely guy he was by the way – and he asked me there and then if I’d become manager, which came as a total shock. I’d never met Peter Evans and haven’t since so I’m not convinced he even knew I’d been asked to come down, to be honest.
Why would you, living in Dulwich and already busy with a full-time coaching role with a pro club, want to come down to Sussex and manage a club languishing in the nether regions of the Isthmian League?
In those days you had to go out and learn a trade if you wanted to get on in the game and after speaking to Ray Lewington and Terry Bullivant, two people whose views I respected at Fulham, it seemed like a good opportunity for me. There was also an element of not wanting to take up a similar role in London because if I failed, it might reflect on Fulham.
I was predominantly a coach rather than a manager but I’d been managing Fulham’s reserves and what I guess you’d now call the academy and as long as it didn’t mess with Saturday mornings then it was fine. Looking back, I was massively inexperienced but also a bit of an egotist, a young head who thought he was going to go on and win the European Cup. You know the sort of thing.
How much did you know about Horsham Football Club before you arrived?
To be fair, the first question I asked was where is Horsham? I knew nothing about Sussex football, and told the board that when I first met with them, but I’d watched a few games in that league in and around London so had a fair idea what to expect.
Initially, the majority of players chose to remain at the club with the line-up for your first match in charge, against East Thurrock United on 12th December 1992, showing just two changes from that which played in Evans’ final match. Players like Mark Dunk, Phil Somers, Duncan Green, Steve Breach and Wayne Wren all turned out for you and showed they were prepared to graft as they came back from 3-0 down and almost claimed a point before ending up defeated 3-2. Did that give you a sense of satisfaction that they agreed to stay around or had you already decided to make sweeping changes?
It wasn’t so much a case of wanting to make changes. The players made up my mind for me as most of them left the club after that game. I think the budget at the time I came in was something like £900-£1000 a week but the club was in a terrible state and Maureen Smith (Chairman) and Dave Greenfield (treasurer) told me they had to cut it back to around £430-£450, which we calculated to be about £25 per player per week, with me only on expenses. There were established players at the club who were on £60-£70 a game so they were never going to agree to take such a big drop in money.
To be fair, I would have been completely out of my depth managing players like that anyway. I was only 32 or 33, in my first senior managerial role, and these guys were seasoned players. They’d have eaten me alive, or we’d have probably come to blows! I had a couple of good blokes working with me like Sam Chapman and (physio) Geoff Brittain who was a top, top man. He’d been around a bit and the two of us had a lot in common as we knew a lot of the same people so that gave me someone to confide in and made it easier for me to settle in.
How much of a challenge did the financial situation bring when it came to signing new players, and was it almost a case of selling John Yems rather than Horsham FC?
Oh it was a massive factor. And yes, if I’m honest, it was more me telling the players what I could offer them from a coaching perspective than anything the club could offer. I’m sure some of them thought they were getting a trial for Fulham to begin with. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that the club didn’t come out publicly and announce about the cutbacks as all the supporters saw was me coming in and all their favourites leaving. They wanted to know who this loudmouth was that had come down from London, as if it was all down to me! They thought I was on big money and all the lads I brought in were on the same but they couldn’t be more wrong.
To save a bit of money, and make things a bit easier for the players, I was bringing so many of them down on a matchday that my car looked like a charabanc! I really was more a gatekeeper than manager at times, and other times it felt like I was a Club 18-30 rep rather than first team manager!
By the time of the next match it was a completely changed side. The only players to remain from the Evans era were club stalwarts Mark Stepney and Mark Chaplin, Andy Wright, Graham Porter and summer signing Paul Harris. Dunk, Somers, Breach, Green, Wren, Cliff Cant, John Walters, Lee Mobsby, Dave Clark had all decided to move on and in came the likes of Danny Jacquart, Giovanni Rennals, Junior Streeks, Jamie Ndah, Keith Oakley, Rodney Prosper, Christian Older and Tommy Adlington. You promoted 17 year old goalkeeper Martyn Patching from the reserves, and although your home ‘debut’ ended in a 4-2 defeat to Tring Town, I think most spectators that day were pretty impressed by what they saw from the newly-assembled side. What do you remember about that match?
Look, most of the players you mentioned were kids when they came to us but you were never going to get experience with the budget we had. Jamie was 16 or 17, Danny Jacquart was around the same age, Tom and Graham were teenagers. In fact Steppers was the oldest in the squad by some distance. But they were hungry and gave everything they had and I think the supporters responded to that, certainly in the early days.
Although we had some very good players, I knew we were nowhere near strong enough to push for promotion and told the board that, with such a young side, you’d have to expect them to make mistakes. But I believed we had enough about us to enable us to consolidate. We also had a three year plan and I felt that the team would be fine for 20-25 matches in that first season, which we would then hope to push to 30, maybe 35, the year after and then 40 plus in year three. As it turned out, it didn’t quite go to plan. I didn’t get a third year for starters!
We actually went on a decent run of form after that Tring defeat, beating Epsom & Ewell on Boxing Day, a strong Peacehaven side in the Senior Cup, walloped Feltham 5-0 away on New Year’s Day and only a late equaliser prevented us from coming back from Camberley with all three points. We then began to pick up a few injuries – Jacquart was out for the season, Streeks didn’t reappear until March – so you brought in striker Paul Sloley, who scored on his league debut in a 3-0 win against Clapton at Queen Street, a performance that again saw supporters applaud the team off the pitch at the final whistle that suggested the fans were right behind what you were trying to do with the team. The same could also be said of Chairman Maureen Smith, with whom you seemed to have a good relationship. What sort of Chairman was she?
Maureen was the first woman chairman I’d come across in football and was great but, like all the directors, she had the club at heart and let that rule her head at times. What I found particularly frustrating, though, was that none of the directors wanted to put their hand in their pocket while I was there. I wanted the club to put Jamie on a contract at £25 a week because I could see he had the ability to go and play further up the leagues, which should have seen us get a decent price for him. But I think they’d got their fingers burned a year or so before over contracts so they wouldn’t agree to do it. As it turned out, he went on to sign for Kingstonian who sold him to Torquay for twenty grand!
They seemed to have some strange ideas about what was priority. I remember once Frank calling me to tell me they had a very important meeting on Thursday that he needed me at. When I told him we had training that night, he agreed to put the meeting back so I could attend. So I drove down there from London only to find out it was about a skittles night. I didn’t even know what a skittles night was! He told me all previous managers had agreed to go ahead with it so I just told him to get on with it, and drove straight back to London! I also remember him telling Ray Clemence that I was a terrible manager but a great coach, but that was Frank!
Arguably the highlights of the fixture calendar that season were the matches against Aldershot Town, who had risen from the proverbial ashes to reform in the Isthmian League having folded and dropped out of the Football League due to spiralling debts the previous season. We put up a tremendous fight against them on their two visits to Queen Street in the space of ten days in the February, first in the Members’ Trophy and then in the League, only going down 1-0 on both occasions. What do you remember of those matches and how did some of the younger players – and there were many – cope with playing in front of a big crowd?
I do remember those matches and we should have beaten them in the first one. I think you could see from those games that lads like Jamie, Rodney Prosper, Graham Porter, Tommy Adlington and Paul Smith had the talent to adapt and that’s why they went on to play at a higher level. To be fair, it wasn’t just the first big crowd most of the players had played in front of but probably the largest I’d been involved in too. The place was buzzing and it made me realise what could happen at the club if we were successful.
We then lost top scorer Paul Harris to injury, in fact he would only feature in two of our final 16 games. How much of a blow was that as he’d scored 15 goals up to that point?
Yeah, that was tough. We obviously looked at bringing someone in but who are you going to get that can guarantee you goals for just £25 a week? In the end we just had to bluff our way through it and the guys we were putting in were essentially just shirt fillers. But it wasn’t just his goals that we missed, Flash was one of the few senior players we had in the side at the time.
Predictably we struggled in front of goal after that and only scored three times in five matches, a run that included a 4-1 hiding at Tring that you labelled as “terrible”. In fact things got so bad that you decided to play yourself for the visit to high-flying Thame. How did the players respond to having you on the pitch shouting at them, rather than from the sidelines?
I picked myself as much out of frustration as necessity because of injuries but, in hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best thing for me to have done. As a manager, if you pick yourself then you’re almost saying “I’m the best player in the side”. I’d played for Palace, Reading and Millwall as a kid until getting a knee injury that ended my career and although I think I did okay, it would have been better to let the players know that I used to play a bit rather than letting them discover I could no longer cut it!
We finally ended our eight match winless run with a remarkable 5-3 win against a Kingsbury Town side whose nightmare journey down from Middlesex saw the kick-off delayed until 8.30pm. We followed that up with a less spectacular, but very welcome, 1-0 victory over East Thurrock United in which you once more put yourself in the starting line-up and were booked for giving the referee some verbals! Were the players fined for picking up bookings back then and, if so, did you fine yourself?
Yes, they were fined so I had to pay up too. I stopped that rule pretty soon after! The funny thing about that booking was that the ref booked me for swearing and asked me what my manager thought of my language. I told him I am the ****ing manager!
Unfortunately that was as good as it got that season as we suffered back-to-back 3-0 losses to Epsom & Ewell and Kingsbury. That Kingsbury match was memorable for the fact that you threatened to take the team off the pitch for what you saw as overly-aggressive tactics by the home team. Do you remember that?
I do. We’d played them a couple of weeks before that and I think there was a bit of a carry on from that match. They were targeting a couple of our lads and I thought someone would get hurt so I told Maureen I wanted to take them off but she talked me out of it, probably correctly to be fair as I’m sure the club would have got into a bit of bother if we had.
The season came to a close with a 5-1 hammering at Northwood where, ironically, you felt we played some of our best football in months. We ultimately ended the campaign in 14th place, comfortably clear of the relegation places, and with a record under your management of seven wins and four draws from 25 games with five of those defeats coming by a single goal. Despite the disappointing run-in, you must have been fairly satisfied with the way things went?
If you think that we came in halfway through the season, had no pre-season, and got it all done in four days then I don’t think we did too badly. On top of that most of the lads didn’t know each other, I didn’t even know many of them myself, but you could see them improving with the right coaching so that was a real plus.
You always said that you could only truly be judged when you’d had a full season and there was plenty of optimism around the start of the 1993/94 programme despite some indifferent pre-season results. Although Ndah, Prosper, Oakley and Stepney had all moved on, you brought in several new faces such as Chris Brown, Leroy Wilkes, Jamie’s brother Micky, Luke Anderson and Roger Barnes. So how disappointed were you when we went to Clapton on the opening day and went down to a 2-1 defeat?
You say we had some indifferent results but don’t forget we had some good tests that summer. Ray (Lewington) brought a strong Fulham side down, we played Wimbledon too, and Dulwich, but I knew we’d lose our best players as they’d done well the previous season. But we’d got some good lads in during pre-season and I felt we were in decent shape so, yes, it was a massive disappointment to lose the first game.
You came in for a bit of criticism for bringing in a lot of players from outside the area. Did you think that was fair?
No I didn’t think it was fair at all. I was always being told that the County League was cr*p so if the players at that level weren’t worth bringing in then where else was I going to get Sussex players from? It was a bit of a fallacy anyway because we did have local players in the squad. Charlie (Mark Chaplin), Steppers, Andy Wright, Stuart McCall, Paul Harris, Mark Wright, they were all local lads and I think Martyn Patching was from Steyning so that was a load of rubbish. To be fair, any County League players worth their weight were getting paid much more money than we could ever offer so they weren’t interested in coming to us anyway.
You took issue with some sections of the club’s supporters after yet another defeat to Tring when you called them out for verbally attacking some of the players. You had support for your comments from the board but do you think that began a rift between you and some of the supporters that failed to heal over time?
Possibly, I don’t know. I didn’t really know what the fans’ expectations were when I arrived because they’d gone so long without any success and maybe I was too honest with my comments for my own good. A lot of them had no idea what was going on behind the scenes and the struggles we had, so if anything I just felt they should be directing their comments at the club, or me, certainly not the players.
There were days when I was at Fulham’s training ground at 9am and not getting back home again until close to midnight because of my Horsham commitments, and most of the players were coming down from London after work or college or whatever, for very little money, so I thought the criticism was harsh. But I suppose that’s all part of being a football supporter. Whether you’re a Horsham or Real Madrid fan, the passion is exactly the same and they invest so much emotion into following their side. I’m not saying the club should have been completely open with what was going on but I’m sure the fans would have been a bit more sympathetic if they’d have known the circumstances.
Obviously the best way to respond to the shouts is to put in a good performance and you got that in the League Cup tie with Worthing at Queen Street. I remember it being a cracking match that we only lost in extra-time, despite Worthing playing two divisions higher than us at the time.
We always seemed to play better against the better sides and I think that showed what good players we had. The trouble is, as I said before, we were only a 15-20 game a season side so we never really found any consistency but then it was a learning curve for us all.
By contrast, we suffered a nightmare at Lancing, going down 2-1 in the FA Vase on an afternoon on which the club’s new fanzine, Supporters’ Scene, made its first appearance. There was some controversy over its fan-written content that saw programme editor Maurice Shevlin resign and Chairman Frank express his disapproval at some of the points that were raised. Do you remember the fanzine and, if so, how did it go down with you and the players?
I thought it was quite comical. I used to get on with the lads that did it and, let’s be honest, the fanzine is something produced by the fans for the fans so they can do what they want with it. The risk you run with those sort of things is that if you try to sensationalise it to cause problems then that’s the wrong way to go about it, in my opinion. But if it’s done in the right way, as I think the Horsham one was, it can be a worthwhile tool. There were certain things that needed changing and obviously they thought the programme was one of them. It was a shame for Maurice that he felt he had to resign but then Adam (Hammond) came in and completely transformed it.
There was a real debacle that season with the nonsensical decision by the league to send us all the way to Royston for a Wednesday night fixture. You were one of the many staff and players that were unable to make the trip, along with the likes of Anderson, Porter, Ndah and physio Geoff Brittain so were spared the near four hour journey through the rush hour traffic. We ended up drafting in a player from Mark Wright’s Sunday side for the match that began at 8.35pm due to our delayed journey. Yet we so nearly upset the league leaders, only going down 2-1 and further showing that we could compete with the teams at the top – if not all the others!
That match just summed up the madness of the league. Horsham didn’t have money to put on a coach to take them up to Royston midweek and to guarantee getting there in time for a 7.45 kick-off, most of us would had to have left work at midday. It was ridiculous but that’s why a lot of these clubs who are tucked away miles from anywhere tend to do so well. By the time the opposition get there they’re either knackered or missing key players.
For the first time, you admitted publicly that you were beginning to find things a bit of a struggle as manager of the club. The reserve side had been disbanded, funding was limited at best and, as well as continuing your role at Fulham, you had also been appointed coach of the Sussex County side. How difficult was it to juggle all those things at the same time?
Extremely difficult. The main reason I took on the County side, working with Jim Thompson who was a terrific fella, was that I hoped it might help me attract players to Horsham but it didn’t pan out like that. I really enjoyed that, though, and it paid me a lot more than I was getting at Horsham. Again, it was all part of my own development but it was tough.
You complained of ‘Bully Boy’ tactics used by Southall in a 0-0 draw with the London club in the October. There were a number of, shall we say, uncompromising teams in Division Three at that time but do you think teams intentionally set out to intimidate what was a pretty young Horsham team back then?
Intimidate? Yes and no. Some of the teams tried to bully us but, don’t forget, we had boys who had grown up in Brixton and Peckham so they were never going to shy away from anything like that. What we did see, though, was a lot of snidey things like leaving a foot in, an elbow in the ribs, off-the-ball stuff, things like that. In a way it helped some of the lads grow up a bit but it wasn’t good to see at times and I didn’t think we were getting much protection from the refs.
For me, one of the darkest memories of my time as a Horsham supporter came on October 27th 1993 and that Floodlight Cup tie at Portfield. Six goals down after 46 minutes to a side that were a mediocre County League Division One side was utterly unbelievable so to come away with ‘just’ a 6-1 defeat was something of a blessing. Yet you weren’t overly concerned. I think you labelled it as a game we didn’t want yet fully expected us to turn it around in the second leg.
And we did! We scored five goals but the trouble was, Portfield scored two so they went through. We made a lot of changes for the first leg and, let’s be honest, we probably all thought we just needed to turn up to win. We got a massive shock that night and, you’re right, we were grateful just to get away from there having only conceded six!
In between those two matches we enjoyed a fine 3-2 win over Leighton Town, the highlight of which was a superb dipping volley from Luke Anderson. He was a very promising player who went on to enjoy a decent career at Dulwich Hamlet and have a trial, along with Micky Ndah, at Barnet.
It was me who brought Luke to Dulwich when I was there. He was real quality. But like I said, we produced a lot of good players at that time. There were so many strong sides around in the London area back then, like Dulwich, Croydon, Slough, Carshalton, all clubs with fantastic players so our boys couldn’t get a look in which is why they were happy to come down to Horsham to get a game. We just missed a trick in not putting any of them on contract.
An example of how naïve we were as a club came when we were playing somewhere, I can’t remember where, and Ray Clemence, who was manager of Barnet, came into the boardroom and told Frank that he liked the look of our full-back, Paul Smith. Frank had no idea who he was talking to and told him how I’d brought a few good players to the club but that they weren’t under contract. Clemence must have been rubbing his hands and, two weeks later, Smithy had gone to Barnet and we didn’t get a thing for him! Luke and Rodney went on to play for Crawley, Jamie got into the Football League with Torquay, Graham Porter was with Ebbsfleet in the Conference and Tom Adlington went to Dartford in Connie South so we must have done something right to help them along the way.
Perhaps the humiliation of that Portfield debacle took its toll as we failed to win any of the next six games, a run that was ended by a 3-2 victory at your old nemesis Tring that was our first away success in twenty attempts and was a fitting way to mark your twelve months in charge. Was it a relief to finally get that monkey off your back or did the players not realise the significance of the result?
To be honest with you, although I remember us winning up there because we’d gone so long without an away win, I don’t recall too much about the match. I do remember it being a bit of an eye-opener that somewhere like Tring even had a football club. The same could be said for places like Flackwell Heath, Bracknell, Camberley, Cove, all small towns or villages that had decent sides that were able to compete well.
By contrast, the New Year’s Day reverse at East Thurrock produced your famous quote that the players were “three parts drunk” as they went down 3-0. Did you really believe that, and did that prompt you to make changes?
Ha ha. Did I really say that? I was probably four parts drunk myself as I don’t remember saying it!
You brought in John Carey and Mark Munoz from Fulham, and Munoz made an instant impact when he scored on his debut in a 3-1 win versus Cove. He was also instrumental in our 3-0 defeat of Clapton that made it two wins in four games to move us up to 16th at the end of January. Munoz never really struck me as a ‘team player’, more an individual. Would that be a fair assessment, and were there any others like that in the squad?
He wasn’t good enough to be selfish so I wouldn’t say he wasn’t a team player! And if I thought he wasn’t then he wouldn’t have hung around for long. The lads all got on pretty well and had a good bond. What you have to remember was that a lot of these kids had gone from being at Fulham one minute, thinking they’d made it, and the next they’re playing at Horsham so it was a bit of a shock for some of them. But that’s what helps build character. Munoz was a decent player though and another who went on to bigger things, with a couple of seasons playing in Spain.
We made it a hat-trick of cup exits to County League sides when we were hammered 5-0 by Langney Sports in a replayed Senior Cup tie that the WSCT dubbed a “Nightmare in the mud”. Perhaps less surprising was the defeat at Northwood although that result saw you admitting that you weren’t enjoying the role. “My worst experience in football, both on and off the pitch” is how you put it. Can you explain what you meant by that?
That Langney game was a complete farce. The first match had taken place before I came to the club, that’s how long we’d waited to replay it, and it was p*ssing down all afternoon. First it was on, then off, and it continued like that all afternoon so those of us coming from London didn’t know whether we were coming or going. To be honest, the club should have called it off but we discovered just how powerful the County League was as I think they just wanted it played because it had dragged on so long.
I think a lot of people made more of that result than any other but Langney were a team on the up – they eventually became Eastbourne Borough, don’t forget – paying big money, the pitch was atrocious and we were missing four or five of our regulars. The club was coming under pressure to sell the ground and it didn’t help that I’d lost my mum that Christmas. If I remember rightly my missus was expecting so there was so much going on, on top of my football commitments, and my head was all over the place. On top of that, our treasurer, God bless him, had been taking money from the company he worked for to help pay the players and almost ended up in prison so it was all a bit of a mess.
We already knew that even if we were to finish bottom that season, due to clubs elsewhere within the pyramid either dropping out or folding, there would be no relegation so did that take some of the pressure off and do you think the club would have been forced to find the funds from somewhere to help strengthen the team to avoid dropping into either the County or Combined Counties League?
I don’t think there were any funds to find from anywhere. I think the board had relied on a bit of cup money coming in but we went out of the FA Cup and Vase at the first hurdle so that was a blow and even Frank, who was always upbeat about everything, was beginning to feel it.
We then beat Clapton, drew at Kingsbury, and lost at home to Harlow but suffered a bit of a setback to moral when we conceded twice at Hornchurch to lose 3-2 in what was a bit of a six-pointer. Do you remember that match?
Yes I do. Enough said!
Umberto Oliva came into the side and scored on his debut, a 1-1 draw with leaders Cheshunt that was as deserved as it was unexpected. Would you say that result summed up the inconsistencies of the side that season?
It’s like I said earlier. We had players capable of playing in the big matches because the better teams tended to give you a bit more time and space on the ball so you could express yourself a bit. Cheshunt was a bit different as they were a strong, direct, side but we were able to compete with the top teams, just not enough throughout a long season.
Sadly we were unable to build upon that performance and would pick up just one point from the next eight matches. There were a couple of hard luck stories during that time, like pushing title-hopefuls Oxford City, with Mark Lawrenson in their defence, all the way and were a goalpost away from beating Royston who were sixth. But equally we suffered some demoralising defeats, none more so than the 5-0 reverse at home to Camberley, our heaviest home defeat for more than six years. You admitted that the situation was starting to affect your family but big demands were also being made on you by Fulham so was it an easy decision to make when you announced you were leaving the club, four games from the end of the season?
It was really. I didn’t want to leave but I just couldn’t do it anymore. Fulham had just sacked Don McKay and Ray Lewington and I were asked to be caretaker-managers of the first team so I just couldn’t give Horsham the commitment the job needed. It was a shame but I just couldn’t make it work.
You’ve since gone on to enjoy a decent career in the game, being among the coaching staff with Millwall at the time they reached the FA Cup final and part of the backroom set-up during Bournemouth’s rise to the Premier League, working with Eddie Howe. Ironically you’re now back at Horsham every day, with Crawley using the Camping World Community Stadium as its full-time training base. What do you think of the facilities?
They’re absolutely fantastic. The club’s gone through a lot of upheaval over the last decade or so, so its brilliant to see them not only back in the town and in their own ground again, but with one of the best facilities in the county. We always make a point of bringing any potential new signings down to the ground to have a look around and they’re blown away with the place.They can’t believe it belongs to a non-league club.
Do you ever look back at those 16 months at Horsham and, if so, do you have any regrets or think what you might have done differently if you had your time again?
Yes, of course I do. I’ve walked out at places like Old Trafford and Anfield yet still look back at that season and a half fondly because it was a huge part of my development. I still speak to some of the team from back then and they always say how much they enjoyed it, even if it often didn’t go our way. Would I have done anything differently? I’m not sure I could. It was a very tough league back then and, like I’ve said, we were really bound by the budget and as money and quality players don’t just appear out of nothing, we really just had to try and make the best of what we had at the time.
But for all the good players we had, even if we’d kept them together for that second season I think we’d have struggled and what really saved the club from going into oblivion was the regionalisation of the leagues. Without that, I’m certain they would have dropped into the County League within a year or two. I did find it a bit strange, though, that when Mark Dunk came in as the new manager, the club suddenly found some money. And look what happened. Two years later, he won the league! Looking back, I think I had the right players at the wrong club at the wrong time. But football is too small a community to hold grudges or any animosity.
My biggest regret, if you can call it that, was that I didn’t live locally so it was ironic that, two years after leaving, I moved down to Horsham! In the end, I had developed a real affection for the club. There were some lovely people involved, all good club people.