Here is the second and final part of my interview with former Barnet FC Head Coach Rossi Eames and in this part he talks about his time in charge of the first team, what went wrong and what could have gone better:
TK: The year we got promoted back into League Two in 2015 you became Under 21 Development Coach; did you still have a lot of those players under your tutelage?
RE: Yes, we took about nine of the Under 18 age group who were too old to play at that level but also Jack Taylor and Matty Stevens playing well above their age groups. A smaller group meant we could push more into them to get them ready and Martin played a few of them that first year, Harry Taylor, Fumi Shomotun scored against Hartlepool and then when we trained Martin would send some down to me and then from the academy some would step up, it was a real togetherness.
The loan moves were very beneficial in helping their development, we sent Harry to Hampton & Richmond and he did really well there which got him his first team chance.
TK: Martin then goes to Eastleigh, was it something you saw coming?
RE: No, I didn’t see it coming at all, in fact he rang me that morning. I think we were nine unbeaten at the time and although as you said some fans weren’t happy at the style of football winning games is what everyone wants whether as a player, manager or supporter.
Martin is a champion, he won promotions. The things I learnt off him were unbelievable, the way he sets up teams to get results, some methods are mad but there are methods to madness, just done in a simplistic way.
Going back to that morning, he rang, said I’m off to Eastleigh and did ask if I wanted to go with him. The money would have been great, around three times more than I was on at the time (below 20K), but I did say I’d think about it.
Then Henry and I got a call from Tony Kleanthous to take the team for the time being and what a whirlwind first ten days. We were out of the FA Cup so had time to prepare but so much went on, there was certainly much more to the job than I envisioned.
Sam Togwell wanted to join Martin at Eastleigh and we had already planned on him playing right back at the weekend as we were short, Gavin Hoyte was out with injury, so we had to adapt and threw in Jack Taylor to that position and he did alright to be fair.
But it was very much a ‘smash n grab’ at Yeovil and on the coach on the way home I was shattered thinking is this going to be how it is every week, my god!
Some great pro’s in that team though, Michael Nelson, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, Curtis Weston but the one I would love to have worked with and didn’t due to his injury was Michael Gash, such a shame he didn’t get his contract renewed.
TK: A reasonable spell in charge with Henry, what changed for that partnership to not work out?
RE: I did hear rumours that there was lots of infighting between us but that was never the case really. There was a game I missed when I was ill, Colchester I think it was and the chairman I think had been mulling things over after the Mansfield defeat and I went back to work after the Colchester game and Henry had gone.
The chairman already had Kevin Nugent lined up to come in, that deal was done and he travelled up to watch us at Morecambe. My regret from that time was I didn’t enjoy it; we were too focussed on keeping that run going to get into the play-offs.
TK: Can you clear up the rumours around that time of Kenny Jackett coming in after Nugent kept the seat warm almost.
RE: We heard the rumours as well but we never knew what the chairman was planning to do, we wanted the clarity as well after five wins, five losses and a couple of draws. But he kept his cards very close to his chest on that one so I don’t know either way.
TK: Kevin Nugent then has the job, one win in twelve and it appears to all fall apart, can you put your finger on why?
RE: I don’t quite know; the players were playing for him working hard in training but late goals we conceded meant momentum didn’t follow and I think that was a lot of it. He didn’t change a lot of things, of course he wanted to embed his ideas and philosophy, but it just didn’t go his way.
The biggest thing I think is the number of players there from Christmas to the end of the season. We signed a few, but not many left the club but keeping them all happy was a problem as it always is. It was unfortunate it didn’t work out and I had the last four games again that season.
TK: Tony then offers you the main job, head coach for the first team. Did you think been here long enough it’s deserved and the chance might not happen again so I’ve got to take it?
RE: Pretty much yeh, I felt it was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities and you have to take it, I’m sure if you asked any Barnet fan they would jump at the chance. I did ‘um’ and ‘ah’, thinking after the first spell is this me, you know.
TK: Did you also think looking at the squad and with the additions of Shaq, Craig Ross and later Dave Tarpey, I’ve got a play-off team here if not better?
RE: You look at the sum of the parts and you would think yes. You’ve got goals, you got defence and a good midfield, young players emerging but there were too many players in the building. I was told send me which ones you want to keep and I’ll move the others on, the latter didn’t really happen.
Some you miss out on too, James Alabi was in while I was away on holiday, then I get a call saying his medical wasn’t completed and the agent had walked out with him, gone. Others too, Marcus Bean, Hiram Boateng, and a couple of others I can’t remember. We did get Richard Brindley in through the door though, great right back.
Shaq initially didn’t hit the ground running but then scored against AFC Wimbledon in the Checkatrade Trophy and off he went. He’ll kick on again, he’s had a lot going on I know, but a great lad and I’m sure it will come good for him.
Tarps was done very late on deadline day. I had a call from his agent Lee Cook (the ex-Barnet winger) and I thought he was on his way to Coventry but seemed not so I said, ‘yeah I like him, proper goalscorer’. I spoke to the chairman who did the deal, agreed a fee, he came for his medical and we sent the paperwork at 10.59:45, 15 seconds to spare!
Confirmation didn’t arrive until we pulled up at Swindon on the Saturday lunchtime and we’d done our prep with Tarps up front with Shaq, that was close! So much was going on that night, Fuad Sale which didn’t get over the line nor Simeon Akinola to Lincoln.
Injuries though then began to cause a problem. Tarps only managed the game at Swindon, then Cambridge the following week and a challenge with Leon Legge saw him land awkwardly, his ACL goes seven minutes in and that’s it.
Going back to Luton first home game of the season we lose Elliott Johnson with an ACL as well, Harry Taylor off injured needing stitches, that’s both our wing backs. Brindley of course had his injury problem which meant we never saw him until the back end of the season.
The way we wanted to play that year with wingbacks meant it caused us a massive problem not having either of them available. John Akinde out from pre-season as well was a very big miss for us for a while, in hindsight did I bring him back too quickly? Yes I probably did. He wasn’t destined to play long at Carlisle but that wet pitch, his leg gave way and his hamstring went and put paid to the plan of him and Shaq together. We weren’t allowed loans at all and I do understand those reasons of not wanting to develop other club’s players, but some of that was down to the bloated squad size.
I can say now I did make mistakes, there are things I should have done better at the time in terms of players, players who weren’t playing or injured and in training but at the time you try and take a stance on it. There are always things going on behind the scenes that aren’t known about that you have to deal with, mentally I wasn’t in the right frame of mind myself.
I was going through quite a traumatic time away from the club, away from the game and it wasn’t pleasant. We drew at Yeovil and then got smashed at Colchester and at the time I felt that was it for me. I’d driven practically home to Bromley and then I get a text ‘come and see me in the office please’ so I had to drive all the way back to The Hive.
The chairman decided he wanted to change things up a bit, my head was pretty much gone anyway. With what was going on away from the game, the team not winning I was really struggling to see the wood from the trees so to speak. Was I out of my depth? Maybe I was, but I felt I had contributed a lot to the club.
Paul Tisdale said to me after the Exeter time of Jack Taylor, ‘that kid will win you and lose you games, but he’ll be your best player’. He’s done it himself with Ampadu and he who I won’t name who wins penalties now at Villa.
TK: In hindsight now looking back, would you have done anything differently like a change in formation against your beliefs or going to see Tony about what was going on away from the game?
RE: I spoke to him three or four weeks beforehand but no conversation was allowed, was dismissed straight away. But in hindsight yes, Dan (Sweeney) Alex (Nichols) and Ryan (Watson) should have been back in the team earlier. I trusted Jack (Taylor) and saw a future there. Fair play to Nelse (Michael Nelson) he said why don’t you play Dan at centre half, I should have done, he’s a good player, but there were other things like we needed to get on better.
You have to look at it and hold your hands up at times to making mistakes but there are some non-negotiables as a manager which you can’t go back upon which don’t happen on the pitch. I learnt so much from that time but it also took a long while for me to get back to me, it wasn’t how I wanted my nine years at the club to end.
TK: So then Mark McGhee comes in and you move to Head of Player Development?
RE: Well a title! Fair play to Mark he asked me a few times to come and work with him, but I was in such a dark, dark place is the best way to put it so the weekend after I took a few days away.
Gamedays I didn’t want to be around as it didn’t feel like it was me anymore and I needed to get away.
Most of the fans were brilliant throughout my time, I’ve no idea what actually happened after the Blackburn FA Cup with someone and my dad, that was supposed to stay within the club but then got portrayed in a Q&A later on, that wasn’t right to me.
I basically went back to the Academy side of things to see what players were coming through I had lost sight of that. James Callen was Under 12 at the time and has now come into the first team squad.
I didn’t really have a job spec as such so I took the Under 18’s with Lee Johnson till the end of the season, Antonis Vasiliou was in there and reminded me a lot of Luke Gambin, we had Rio Connell, Dwight Pascal, Benji Aghadiuno, Martyn Box, had a good little group there again.
I stayed well away from the first team when Graham (Westley) came in and then of course Martin (Allen) came back.
So first day back I’m in early as I knew he would be, he asks me to come and work with him, so I was honest and said no, too much going on and not really enjoying being around The Hive. Martin said that’s fine, just do the weekend game for me against Crewe, sit behind the dug out and give me the feedback.
We won 1-0 I think (2-1 win), and that week he knew my heart wasn’t in it. He was great about it and I still went for meetings with him as he wanted to know about the youngsters coming in etc.
The final game against Chesterfield I made arrangements with him to leave five minutes before the end of the game just in case there was any backlash from the fans towards me so I made sure I was out of the situation.
Then I was given my notice, went away for the summer and then got a call to say we need to sort out you staying on, which confused me given the first part, but I’d already had an interview lined up at Manchester City, got told though the club would want compensation for me if I went despite the fact I was on notice.
I didn’t get the job however and then had a call from a mate at Chelsea, so I went there to coach the Under 8’s and do a bit of scouting for them.
I look back now and a lot of good memories replaced more by the ones from the end, but I appreciate the support I did get and the staff and players I worked with.
TK: Are you surprised to see the club where it is now or do you think it’s been a never ending spiral?
RE: No I’m not. I think it’s been going downwards since Martin left for Eastleigh. We went through four managers that season, then another four when we got relegated and now four is it this season? No consistency, that’s what you need to be successful and progressive. At the end of the day though it’s the chairman’s football club and his money and in theory he can do what he wants.
He does have some good ideas but you need to stick with them. I haven’t really taken too much notice of this season, a covid year for everyone and tough for every club without fans inside watching them.
Going back to Underhill times, the Tuesday nights under lights were fantastic. I can go back to Edgar’s (Davids) debut, the place was bouncing. Another one was when Martin first came back and we drew 2-2 with Chesterfield, that bounce again.
The business model for The Hive is correct, it just lacks that soul that Underhill had. Underhill was nostalgic and reminded me of growing up as a kid watching Chesham Utd, but with The Hive being so open it takes away a lot of the acoustics which doesn’t help, but it needs to become somewhere, find it’s place.
My thanks to Rossi for his time, there are a lot of stories on the audio but converting all of it into blog’s would have taken about four pieces instead of two so the fantastic Beespod will be hosting the full two hour audio over the next week or so.