Last week I ventured west to interview former Barnet striker and current Eastleigh manager Ben Strevens. Here is the second and final part of the interview:
TK: Was coaching and managing on your agenda once the playing career was over?
BS: To be honest with you, no! I think most of the players I’ve played will probably say exactly the same. It’s not something I had thought of going into, I’ve done a Sports Science degree in the past whilst at Wycombe and have a back plan of being a PE teacher or maybe working in a club academy, I’d love to work with kids in football.
When I left Barnet, I didn’t have a club lined up so I went to work with my dad whose been a butcher all his life and worked with him three days a week, but my god I couldn’t do that forever! I was pleased to get back into the game with Crawley.
I sort of ended up in it to be honest, a little bit before Ronnie Moore came here and then I went to join up with Richard Hill again at Whitehawk as player-assistant, but it was never the plan to stay there. Once Martin arrived at Eastleigh and Richard had left Whitehawk I re-signed back here as a player, despite big interest from Maidstone Utd, before becoming Andy Hessenthaler’s assistant and then obviously in the manager’s seat after his departure to Dover.
TK: John Still and Martin Allen, two big influences on your career I would say, have you bought some of that into your own coaching career?
BS: Yes massively! I’ve played for both two or three times, John giving me my first break and then twice for him at Dagenham and Martin I played under at Barnet, Gillingham and here at Eastleigh. I still speak to both often; Martin sends me a text and we spent a lot of time when he came here last season with Chesterfield. John always calls from an ‘unknown number’! When I see that come up on my phone, I know it’s him, always been the same! I regard Stilly as a father figure, he’s hard to please, he doesn’t offer shower people with praise so if you get a ‘well done’ or ‘you’ve done good’ it’s high praise indeed, I was always trying to please him.
Martin just makes you feel good, a great motivator and believer in team spirit. He’s very detailed from the food you eat to the coach arrangements for away games, every player knows what he is responsible for. There’s as aura around him, just like Stilly, but if he doesn’t fancy you as a player you soon know it!
As a young manager it’s great I can speak to either of them for advice or help, the same with Hess and Darren Currie too, we share a lot and being a manager can be a lonely thing at times, speaking to Hessy just last week I found out that is normal to feel like that and that made me feel it’s not me alone in it, others feel it too.
TK: Strong season at Eastleigh last year, took a while to get going this time around, do you feel the team is now in tune with things your way?
BS: Yeh, we knew it would take a while to bed in. Last summer we knew we were likely to lose 4-5 of our starting team, some were on good money from old contracts and I knew the budget was going to be less than it was last season, still competitive but obviously I have to live within those means.
When Stewart Donald was here, the wage bill was crazy and while the new owners would love to have a bigger budget for me, they can’t afford it and it’s not worth risking the future of the whole club to do so.
We lost a lot of goals in Paul McCallum, Joey Jones from midfield, creativity in Mark Yeates, the keeper we had on loan from Reading did really well for us and also Josh Hare was fantastic. So, it has taken a bit of time and now we seem to be heading in the right direction and three points off the play-offs with 20 games gone of the season.
TK: Are things more stable around the club but still with the same vision and aims?
BS: The vision is still to be a Football League club and we were close to achieving that aim last season. Hessy and I said we would finish in the top 10 and then build from that this season, so we achieved that reaching the play-offs. I’d love to be the manager who takes the club into the Football League for the first time, having been a league player I know how much it means to the fans to win promotion.
I know we have to keep on producing results for me to keep my job, but I believe in the boys and what we’re doing, there’s other managers in this league who are probably thinking the same thing.
TK: Whats the secret behind Danny Hollands scoring form this season?
BS: I think this season he’s just been able to play further forward this year, last year Joey Jones was very much a forward thinking player and Mark Yeates very similar and not very defensive minded, so Danny had to do the hard work for them. This year we signed Jack Payne to play in the middle of the park which gives Danny license to get up the pitch, but even he’s surprised how many he’s got so far.
TK: Who’s impressed you in the National League this season and surprised you by not doing so well?
I think the fact that probably about fourteen of us managers would have said at the start of the season we can win promotion shows how open it is this year. Neil Smith is doing a great job at Bromley, he probably has the best budget the club has ever had but he’s spent it well on the right players.
Darren will expect Barnet to be up there, I don’t think either Solihull or Fylde will be far away come the end of the season. Yeovil, Harrogate, Barrow, all been on a run and like us with our current form it can propel you up quickly as fast as a loss or two can send you down to 18th.
Woking are starting to level out now, momentum comes with you after promotion and now maybe teams are finding them out. A learning curve I found out last season was how teams will park the bus to frustrate you and you’ve got to find ways round that.
TK: How about Chesterfield?
BS: I think the issue both Martin and John Sheridan have found is the atmosphere inside the stadium. We’ve been there twice in the last six months and both times we’ve seen how quickly the crowd can turn on them if it’s not going their way. If the place is rocking with the size their ground capacity is then it’s an extra help.
Similar to when we played at Orient last season, a full house there and before anyone says anything I’m not bigging up Orient, I’ve been a Barnet player so they’re not in my thinking, but we had them pinned back losing the game, the frustration you could hear around the stadium and then they equalise and all of a sudden they become that twelfth man and get behind the team and they go on to win. I said after the game how good their fans were and I look at here where we’re not full every week, maybe the same for Darren at The Hive, when grounds are full, they rock and can carry the players.
TK: Looking at yourself, aims and ambitions as the season goes on and beyond?
BS: Well, the aim as I mentioned is still the Football League. For me personally short term to do the best I can as Eastleigh manager and keep improving. Long term, well who knows! It’s still too early to say whether I will have or want a long career as a football manager, at the moment it’s just concentrating on what we do this season and then move on from there.
I appreciate the time Strevs gave up last week, absolute top man to speak to and I’ll be back at the Silverlake Stadium later in the season to see how Eastleigh are fairing.