Watson: It was a call I wasn’t expecting, I wanted to stay at the club

Here is the final part of the interview with new Billericay boss Kevin Watson:

TK: Contract termination at Ebbsfleet and despite everything that was going on around at the time, had you one eye on planning for next season?

KW: I had more than one eye on it yeah, pretty much before they decided my contract wasn’t being renegotiated. We had the Zoom call between Damien (Irvine), Steve (Lovell) and me, deciding who we were going to keep and who to let go. Steve had the easy job; I had the six difficult phone calls for those we weren’t retaining, something that has to be done if you don’t want to be in the same scrap the following year.

But those boys then messaged and called me two weeks later when I received the same phone call I had to deliver to them, that’s a measure of their attitudes despite not being involved at Ebbsfleet anymore, a sign of the relationship I had with them.

It was a call I wasn’t expecting, I wanted to stay at the club and have another crack at it with your own squad if you like, but it’s football, I was disappointed at the time and everyone knew that. It was then a case of getting over that disappointment and dusting myself off for the next opportunity.

TK: Being an out of work manager during a pandemic can’t have been easy and as I mentioned I chat to Darren (Currie) quite often, he is quite keen to get back into the game as you yourself were.

It’s no secret I championed you, Ian Hendon, and Andy Hessenthaler for the Barnet job at the end of the summer pretty much because I saw what you did at Ebbsfleet in the way you turned them around from a fractured team into a togetherness as a group of players. Did you actually get a call from Tony (Kleanthous) or not?

KW: No! Barry Neville who I got to know through Teddy, represents me and I got through the CV reading stage but that was it, you, and I both know how football works though and I have to say the Billericay one was done so differently and well. I think it went over five weeks in all, three Zoom calls and various interviews with each of the five owners there but they made me feel at ease throughout the process.

And to get yourself in front of 50 or 60 other applicants makes you feel good as a manager or coach especially when you go for a job and hear of some of the other names linked with the vacancy.

The set up though is fantastic, from the first team through the Under 23’s to the ladies’ team and the youth set up each owner has a vested interest in one part of the club to bring to the table, it’s a club that now is moving in the right direction.

TK: The likes of yourself, Darren, Hendo out of work during a pandemic how was it watching football going on but not being involved yourself?

KW: It was difficult yeah I had set myself a target of late November early December when things might start to happen and as it was turned out to be a little bit after that, but there was very little happening. I think there were only one or two jobs coming up in all three divisions, Gloucester I didn’t get to the final stages there, Barnet of course as we mentioned and that was it until I went for Billericay.

TK: Did you get around to many games to watch whilst you were waiting for an opportunity? And when you’ve been in a job do you feel some added pressure when you see out of work managers sitting behind u in the stand?

KW: Oh yeah I had that at Ebbsfleet when I was in interim charge, it was like a who’s who of managers sitting behind me, but then I was thinking what will be will be. Luckily for me the players did well for me and got me the job, but you know why those people are there, either a manager is under pressure or someone is in that caretaker role.

I did get to games, as many as I could but I really wanted to be back in that dug out and for me I was pleased I wasn’t out of the game for longer than a few months.

TK: And of course now back in the game at Billericay Town and despite of course doing a lot for talkSPORT did you feel at any point that the route back into the game wouldn’t come?

KW: At times you do, you don’t want to be out of the game for too long. May to November/December is a fair amount of time and you don’t want to feel you’ve like fallen off the map and will people still remember you and what you’ve done but it’s good when people like yourself who know football still put your name out there and into people’s thinking its then not me spouting off or anything.

In the current conditions we’re playing in, it’s strange, very strange to not have fans inside the stadium, twelve months ago we had all that. You have literally two teams, your staff, their staff, people who work around the ground and the media guys and that is it!

But, as you mentioned when speaking to Smudger there are still three points to play for and of course the games are being streamed so people are still watching despite not being there, but it is weird and I think fans are something that have been taken for granted, we certainly can’t wait to have supporters back in the ground and I’m sure that can’t be any different for any club up and down the country.

TK: The current situation we have with the National League vote and not to get too political with it all, how do you think it will pan out? All three divisions finishing or just the top division carrying on?

KW: I’ll be honest, I have no clue, no clue at all! It changes on a daily basis it’s impossible to predict. I try not to get involved with the technicalities of it all and as a manager and players as players we’d all love to carry on being out there but it literally is politics with the government.

If the funding comes through though as grants we carry on, I have heard murmurs of fans being back in grounds before the end of the season which would be fabulous to see and as we seem to be coming out the other side of this pandemic slowly it’s something we’d all like to do, to welcome them back.

As you are aware our club have gone down the route of fielding our Under 23’s and Under 18’s to protect the future, the first team players are furloughed until things are resolved and they gave a great account of themselves at St Albans, really proud of them for how they played that day.

TK: Is there an eye on what happens beyond this season with all the uncertainty and expectation that the vote will go against playing on?

KW: No, not yet. I think once we get to that point where the decision is made then we decide that we move on and with our thinking too. If we null and void then it begins and of course my players contracts will be up for most in the summer, those I’d want to keep, to bring in. The young lads who played in that league game have given me some headaches to come into the thinking too, but that’s what I’m paid to do, make tough decisions, and put together a good enough squad for next season.

TK: Touching on that performance at St Albans and having to use the players as you did, are you a bit surprised at the time more haven’t gone down the same route? (since the interview, clubs are now starting to explore the same route)

KW: The owners decided to go down that route as not to impact the future of the club whilst we wait for decisions to be made and resolved. So we have five non-contracted players who we put together with the selected boys from the Under 23’s although the oldest one there is only 20 years old, trained on Thursday and played the game on the Saturday.

I’m open and honest enough to say I didn’t expect to get any kind of result there, but I feel I did them a bit of a disservice as to a man they were brilliant all afternoon.

There are a couple within that bunch that I want to tie down for next season, if we carry on this season I’d like to think I’d have them involved.

And if others decide to go down the same route as we’ve chosen to then we might get to finish the season as a whole with everyone playing but not everyone is going to have an Under 23’s to use so we’ll just have to see.

My thanks to Kev for sitting down and putting this all together with me, fingers crossed the next time will be face to face in an office rather than the endless Zoom calls we’re all involved in at the moment.

Watson: I felt everyone’s hard work had gone to waste

Part two of my interview with the new Billericay boss Kevin Watson is below, Kevin talks about his time at Ebbsfleet and what happened in and round the time the season was halted last year before we went into the lockdown:

TK: I watched you three times last season, firstly at Barnet when we won 5-2.

KW: That was a going over that night!

TK: I think it wasn’t long after that game things started to come together for you.

KW: Yeh it was, that game though! We got back to 2-2 and I thought we looked like the only team to go on and win the game, but we conceded immediately after equalising which deflated us and I had turned to Trist (Lewis) after we scored and said we can go on to win this now because we’d started so well but that third goal really did it for us.

I wouldn’t say it was a one off night either as we got a good tonking at Barrow as well but they were a very good side and that game was probably my lowest ebb in football, sitting on the train on the way back was just the worst.

TK: Then I saw you at Maidenhead, they were going downwards you were heading upwards in the table, the performance that night was very strong and the momentum carried forward into the Halifax game which I sat and watched on TV as it was the only game going on in Europe let alone England.

KW: The boys’ strength of character in that Maidenhead game on a Tuesday night not long after we’d been beaten 4-0 at Chesterfield was excellent. I’d made a point for the Chesterfield game in leaving out both forwards, I felt they were stale, Gozie Ugwu and Josh Umerah, and it was a bit of a kick in the teeth for them but also to the detriment of the team that day.

It was 0-0, nothing in the game until the last twenty minutes. Then Nathan Tyson who I played with at Reading came on and scored a hat-trick and it looked like a real thumping on paper but it wasn’t, a capitulation at the end for sure and the goals we gave away were poor, the final score looked far worse than it was.

What I liked though about that game was Gozie only got ten minutes so no time to affect the game at all, Josh I left out of the sixteen completely but after that game he was sweeping and tidying our dressing room and I thought then he recognised he needed a break, his attitude was superb that day.

Both of them were back in on the Tuesday night at Maidenhead and as you saw they were both unplayable, so I took a little bit of credit for dropping them and losing for the response in the next game, That first half at Maidenhead was special no doubt about it.

 For the last few games after that they were fantastic as a pairing and as a result Josh got his move to Torquay and Gozie is up in Scotland doing well.

TK: Watching the game on that Tuesday night you see the togetherness that possibly wasn’t there when you go back to for example the game at Barnet and at Barrow.

KW: Yeah, we definitely ended up with that. We were a work in progress that did get better and better until the season was stopped. We had setbacks, but we always bounced back from them, I think from the 29 games we played from when I took over we never lost two in a row and that shows some resilience from the players.

It’s a very, very tough league as it’s shown again this season, the top 8 will comfortably compete in League Two. We ran Notts County close in the FA Cup, Stockport at home played very well but lost in the last minute, we competed well in most games, just the odd ones like the Barnet’s and Barrow’s in my mind where we came a cropper.

TK: And then waiting to find out you’d been relegated by 0.002 points to the National League South must’ve have been the toughest point to take after the run of form you had put together.

KW: Regardless of what happened to me leaving the club, I felt everyone’s hard work had just gone to waste, where was the integrity in that when we still had seven games to play?

We were fourth in the form table and were due to play Bromley on the coming Saturday and I said to Smudge (Neil Smith) as they were going the opposite way down the table that he wouldn’t have wanted to play us at our ground at that time, he was probably doing handstands at the time!

Great lad though Smudge, have got a lot of time for him, we were together at Spurs and we’ve shared a few phone calls over the last few months, he did invite me down to Bromley to share ideas while I was out of work, very kind of him.