Watson: It was a challenge, a challenge I enjoyed

It’s been a long time coming but this week I finally sat down with Billericay Town boss Kevin Watson to talk about his time at Ebbsfleet Utd, how it was being out of work since his recent appointment in Essex and what it’s like being a manager under the current conditions, here is part one:

TK: One of the things I noticed is on your CV you’ve got a lot of promotions as a player and a coach; do you think it’s something that surprises a lot of people?

KW: Yeh I think so. My playing career was very successful, four promotions at three different clubs, captained Rotherham Utd to back-to-back promotion campaigns, went to Reading and got another one there as well and ended up at Colchester where I picked up the final one.

I was never brash or ‘out there in your face’ as a player and just did what I had to do, all in all nearly 500 games if you all count all the mickey mouse cups as well, so not a bad career overall.

I finished up at Luton Town under Mick Harford with a six month contract around the time they had the money troubles and financial irregularities but ended up retiring as a player there in Dec 2009 after my achilles and calves had had enough so I became assistant to Mick there, we went to Wembley and won the Johnstones Paint Trophy in front of around 52,000.

From there it was Soccer Saturday with SKY for five years and onto Stevenage with Teddy Sheringham which was an eye opener for me, the first real foray back in the coaching game. Then followed a stint as Bishops Stortford manager where I brought a lot of academy kids through having also worked with them whilst managing the first team, the last matchday squad I had there contained seven boys who had come through with four of them starting that day, that was pleasing to see.

After Stortford it was teaming up with Ronnie Moore at Eastleigh, we were going really well there, 7th in the table and having just beaten Swindon in the FA Cup who were a League One side at the time, and then Ronnie was relieved of his duties which we only put down to a clash of personalities with the chairman and that was me done there.

Hungerford was my next stop as assistant to Ian Herring who to this day has become a really great friend of mine despite us only knowing each other about two and a half years, I actually looked forward to doing the two hour drive there and back on a Tuesday and Thursday night getting back at 1am, and on Saturdays because I loved the place and the people there.

For us to stay in the National League South on the budget we had was like winning promotion and we told the boys that, staying up on the last day of the season.

Then November 2019 I had a call from one of the lads I knew at Ebbsfleet Utd who said he thought Ian Hendon was leaving and there might be an opening there and would I be interested. So I went along, had a chat with Garry Hill, drove to Hungerford that evening and told Ian I would be leaving, it was an opportunity for me.

I took training that night and Ian nicely dropped me in it with the lads ‘Watto’s got something to say to you all’. It was a bit emotional I’ll admit as I felt very comfortable there and grown with those boys but there it was and the next day I was in at Ebbsfleet with Gary.

Then literally ten days later Garry lost his job and he said to me not long before ‘there might be a chance for you here, I’m a couple of defeats away from losing my job I think’, but that’s not the reason I wanted to go there, it was a National League club and I wanted to progress back up the ladder.

I was in interim charge for I think five games, winning three and drawing and losing one each off the top of my head. There were loads of impressive CV’s on the chief executive’s desk, some good names in there and I think that those results put me right at the front of the owner’s mind and that’s where the job came from.

TK: And definitely not the easiest time to be involved at the club either.

KW: No, it wasn’t. We had ups and downs I think it’s well documented, and I don’t think I need to go into it too much but it was a challenge, a challenge that I enjoyed and having taken over when we were on ten points from sixteen games I think we finished on 42 points from 39 games and that last win at Halifax effectively pulled us out of the bottom three.

We knew it was only three going down due to the Bury situation and we felt it was such an achievement for not just me or the staff but the players as well as we worked hard on the pitch, in training, we had a settled team and formation of 3-5-2 which I like so much and we nailed it, won the last three away games and from the last nine that we played we had a better record than Barrow who went up at champions. It was a really good time and we were just disappointed that lockdown came about just when it did.

Wanderers progress to take on Barnet

There appears to be a thinning out of midweek games across these two weeks before Xmas despite the fact a lot of teams are not that far in front for games and with the threat of more lockdowns in the new year you just wonder if a few more could have been slotted in.

One club I wanted to get to this season was Dorking Wanderers, for a number of reasons as there have been for most clubs I’ve tasked myself with visiting. The rise for the Surrey club has been nothing less than extremely impressive, I remember them coming to Wick on a Friday night around 10-12 years ago in the Sussex League Division Two as it was then and winning 2-0 under the club owner and manager Marc White.

Rising through the County League, Ryman League and now well ensconced in the National League South Wanderers are looking well set for another tilt at promotion to the top level. Playing now at Meadowbank, home of the Surrey FA they have a tidy very nice ground for the level with a selection of seating and standing areas for all.

Wanderers were the club who really got behind the #LetFansIn campaign which I promoted through this blog and along with others who also joined, in the end it did bear fruit in getting people back inside stadiums from Steps 3-6, but at their own level they’ve had to wait until this month to have their own supporters back inside the stadium.

As I’ve stated in the past this season I’ve wanted to go to clubs who have helped me achieve the success this blog is becoming, be it through interviews with their managers, players, or chairman. My thought with Dorking for really getting this campaign to work, I’m going to head there and put a few quid in the coffers, least I can do to help out.

And with the FA Trophy putting games into quick succession the visit of Hungerford Town was the opportunity to make it happen. With both sides residing at the same level we were in for a good game, as it transpired we got one but not quite in the way I expected.

Right from the first whistle the intent from the hosts was very impressive, zipping the ball around with an option to pass for every player who was in possession, Hungerford really struggled to get a hold of the ball with the Dorking midfield pairing of Kane Wills and Wes Fogden controlling things in the middle of the park.

The first effort went to the visitors in the opening minute, a blocked shot which resulted in a break downfield and skipper Jason Prior having a header saved by keeper Luke Cairney. Wanderers then dominated the ball throughout the first half, chances created from Nicky Wheeler and Callum Kennedy giving Prior more opportunities, but a combination of good defending and the experienced striker unable to hit the target kept the scoreline level.

It certainly wasn’t looking like Prior’s night as two further chances went begging, another good save from Cairney and a header that hit the crossbar.

The deadlock was finally broken a couple of minutes before half time by Dorking, just when it looked as if they would be going in frustrated at half time, Luke Moore controlling Wills’ pass inside the area and sliding it across for James McShane to slam home and give the home side a deserved lead.

No sooner had the teams emerged for the second half than Dorking were two goals to the good, the impressive McShane finishing off Fodgen’s touch across goal to slide in at the far post.

The goal seemed to inspire the visitors to have their best spell of the game, Slav Huk having to save from both Mike Jones and Ryan Seager in quick succession as Wanderers allowed their guard to slip slightly and it certainly would have been game on had one effort found its way into the net despite the fact Dorking should have been out of sight had the chances been put away in the first half.

Ten minutes later Jake Evans beat Huk, but the Hungerford substitute’s effort clipped the top of the bar. Chances came in the final fifteen minutes for Wanderers to extend their lead, Prior having a second effort cleared off the line having rounded the keeper, while McShane was denied by the post for a hat-trick.

One final chance arrived for Prior in the final minute but headed over the bar capping what must have been a frustrating night for the skipper who on another day could easily had four or five goals to his name.

McShane was quite rightly named man of the match, not just for the two goals but also popping up in the gaps and space all over the final third to make it harder for Hungerford to pick him up.

The visitors definitely found it hard to keep the ball against a side who moved it around superbly and Barnet will certainly find it tough this coming Saturday, especially with the Bees being bang out of form. Even I wouldn’t bet against Wanderers progressing this weekend although of course I’m firmly on the opposite side…………….

NB This article was written before the Government placed Dorking and Surrey into tier 3 from Saturday and once again unable to admit fans.