On Thursday afternoon, I travelled west to interview my second National League manager this season, former Barnet striker and current Eastleigh manager Ben Strevens.
Here is the first of a two part blog as we talk about his career as a player and how the fledgling management opportunity is working out:
TK: 687 total games, 144 goals is that the career you dreamed of or better than you imagined?
BS: Wow, I didn’t know it was that many. I’m very proud of that figure, certainly more than I expected to play, not sure I will reach 600 games in management! When you think of it like that it’s very impressive. Had someone said that to me when I signed for Barnet that I would play that many games I would have taken it.
TK: What was going through your mind the day John Still signed you for Barnet?
BS: Well, it almost didn’t happen! I’d obviously scored lots of goals for Wingate & Finchley in the then Ryman Division 3 and I had a few clubs looking at me, Charlton among them, and I was due at Barnet on a Monday for a trial, but I got injured on the Saturday. Being an 18 year old and not really sure what to do I turned up on the Monday and told them I was injured and couldn’t train, I thought the chance was going to be gone, but John said to me they’d seen enough from the games they’d watched me in and the scout reports were really good.
So he asked me what I was earning at the time, which I was gardening back then and not earning a great deal if I’m honest, so I told him and then I was asked if I wanted to earn the same amount as a professional football player, I wish now I’d said I was on more now!
I signed something like a two year deal with a three year option on the same money and then I was a Barnet player.
Turning up to training back then as an 18 year old among the likes of Kenny Charlery and Scott McGleish as strikers, two good goalscorers at that time I knew I had some work to do to make the team so John loaned me back to Wingate for the season as they didn’t have to pay a fee for me and then two more loan spells followed before I was involved in the squad.
TK: That title winning year at Barnet, talk me through your memories and your own personal experiences of the season.
BS: It was the most memorable for me as it was my first promotion and ultimately made me a Football League player again, I was the only player left from the relegated team. We already had the nucleus of a good squad the year before under Martin Allen, but Paul Fairclough identified the players we needed, players like Nicky Bailey, Dean Sinclair, Liam Hatch, Dwayne Lee and Richard Graham and turned Simon King from a left back into one of the best centre halves. We had our experience in (Guiliano) Grazioli and Ian Hendon, Hendo really was a leader on the pitch, great times for the club, players and me personally.
TK; Were there any particular games or game where you thought as a group of players, we can do this and win the title?
BS: Halifax away springs to mind, where we were 2-0 down at half time. Paul’s not one for going mad when things weren’t going right, Hendo though makes his presence known, there were a few choice words at half time between us all and we came out and won the game 3-2. Also Carlisle away, playing in front of what was then the best ever National League crowd of over 9,000 missing Graz and Hendo as well I think and winning 3-1 proved to us as players, we can do it.
TK: For me it was the Morecombe game about mid-September, we went one down in the second half kicking down the slope, then we seemed to step up four gears and rattled in five goals, that for me said we could win and popped a few quid on it which of course came up trumps!
BS: You mention that one, I don’t remember that too well!
TK: Also Exeter away, going there and wining 3-0, very young side but with you as the most experienced player in the side that night, a side that was up there with us and we just blew them away.
BS: That was another great performance we put together. I think people as well forget the goals Lee Roache chipped in with at crucial times, Guy Lopez stepping into midfield too, Ishmail (Yakubu) was only a young player at the time, everyone played their part to win that title.
TK: Paul Fairclough had a huge influence on that squad having fine-tuned it from the previous season’s play-off loss, were you surprised how well the players gelled so quickly?
BS: Not really no, as I previously said the players Paul brought in improved on what we already had. We knew Graz would score given the chances, Ritchie Graham needed a platform to show what he could do, the same with Dwayne Lee. We had goals in Nicky Bailey, Liam Hatch and Dean Sinclair plus myself although I think I spent most of that season at right midfield. I don’t think I had a great relationship with Paul and now being a manager I can see that maybe I was hard work for him. It was great to see him at the Legends Reunited night that Graz organised and be able apologise to him whilst having a good football chat.
TK: Fair to say you’ve had success at nearly every club you’ve played for, what sticks out for you from those memories?
BS: The Barnet promotion of course, but the other one that sticks out for me is at Dagenham. After I left Barnet I wasn’t sure I’d get another crack at League football and then I signed short term for Crawley until the end of the season but ended up fracturing my cheekbone and I thought that was it. But, John (Still) had been checking up on things and found out my contract wasn’t completed properly by Crawley so they put a 7 day approach in and off I went to Dagenham. Shane Blackett and Craig Makail-Smith were off to Peterborough and Stilly wanted me to take over from them.
Of course Dagenham hadn’t played league football before, so it was fantastic to be there to achieve it with them, they had a great group of players and being back playing for John as well. There must have been something about me as a player, Stilly and Martin (Allen) both signed me a few times!