Tommy, this club has been your life - how does it feel to be leaving?
- I’m saying goodbye to people who have been a massive part of my life, really. John Bonar will tell you that my agreement was a part-time role, but I don’t think I’ve ever been a part-time manager. I think that the direction the football club took when we moved to daytime training – you can’t be a part-time person in that role. If the players are committing more time, the manager is required to do the same. From the footballing side they’ll be sorry to see me go, because I’ve saved them loads of money! But seriously, that, with other factors, has certainly improved the football club and the team. We are solvent, and in a good place.
Can you recall getting the call, back in 2012?
- I was really delighted to land the job because looking from afar, I could see the journey that it was on. It actually mirrored the club I’d been at, Salisbury City, and I just thought – what a great opportunity this is. I have to say the key people I’ve worked with – initially Len Smith, Mick Grimer and Mike Spooner, and more recently John Bonar, Paul Maynard, Lee Peskett – those guys have been remarkable and most people have no idea of the stability and structure that they bring to the football club. They have never, in the wrong sense, interfered with what I have asked or suggested we do, in terms of the football. We have listened to each other, and they’ve been prepared to listen to my advice and plans, coming from the football side, and that is probably the reason I’ve been here as long as I have.
You needed to change a few things – and you were allowed to?
- In management you can often get chairmen or investors who try to take big decisions away from managers – but I have never had that from the people I’ve worked under. I think staying up in that first season was a bigger achievement than people gave the club credit for. Garry was a huge act to follow, and I’ve said before – and not even slightly to the detriment of Garry Wilson – but just at that moment it may have needed someone coming in from outside, unconnected with either the social club or the football club. Coming in with a fresh open mind about the players as individuals, the team as a unit, it was radical but it was needed. Alan Kimble and I worked our socks off to keep the club up in Conference South, and we did it with a game to spare.
Borough might now be seen as the ultimate mid-table outfit. Is that the limit?
- We’ve had a flirt with the bottom end but we’ve also flirted with the top end, and that is where we are settled now. I think we are nearer to the top than the bottom, the club is stable and this is a far, far happier situation to be than very many clubs in non-League or even above. Winning the Sussex Senior Cup last season was an achievement and it also gave the club a taste for more success, and I believe that success is now attainable.
Getting through to the first round of the FA Cup was another target which we achieved and broke that particular glass ceiling, if you like. If you’re a mountaineer, you have a base camp and you have your plans and your stages, but you don’t cross the glacier in a rush. To be champions of Sussex was a great achievement – two pieces of silverware with the Senior Cup and Charity Shield – and we planted that flag.
You’ll have a chance to look from the outside now. How does the world see Borough?
- Eastbourne Borough has respect throughout the county and throughout our league, and you can’t buy that respect cheaply. The recent representative game against the Army, which I had the honour of managing, that was an example of this club’s proficiency – immaculately staged and organised. It’s sometimes easy to be self-critical but you people should pat yourselves on the back too.
Memorable moments on the pitch?
- There are too many individual moments to list, really. Highs and lows, some things that come off and some that don’t. In terms of players, I look for character and I don’t believe I’ve brought a bad lad to the club. Currently we have the best squad since I’ve been here, and I hope that they fulfil each of their individual hopes and ambitions, as well as collectively. I’m not going to be a stranger – I’ll be at the end of a phone to them and I will follow them and the team with interest.
And when whoever is appointed picks the phone up to you, what’s the first thing you’ll say?
- Good luck first and foremost – and I’ll probably say he’s going into a better situation than I did! The structure, the Academy and Youth sections, Borough in the Community, the new 4G pitch. And I will tell him there isn’t a single uncommitted lad in the dressing room. There used to be a myth out there that if you didn’t come from Eastbourne, you didn’t care about playing for the club – but we have dispelled that well and truly. Every one of those guys, whether from Eastbourne or beyond, their heart is on the shirt. Take Mark Hughes, who comes a hundred miles, and look at his outstanding commitment. I think if you want to be a successful club and move higher, you have to open up those circles and not limit your horizons.
Tommy, this Coventry move could be seen as upwards but sideways. In another five years might you go back to management?
- I won’t know that till we get there! People might look at this move and even worry for me, because they see it as a bold move. But you don’t get jobs at bigger clubs when things are going swimmingly well. You get jobs at a Coventry City – a sleeping giant with massive support and a great history – when there is work to be done and an opportunity to be grasped. And I’m grasping that challenge. The manager (Mark Robbins) has come after me personally, and from board level downwards they have made clear they want me, to head up their recruitment – which is a crucial role. Of course I’ll be under pressure, to recruit the players who will reverse the club’s fortunes. I relish that.
You’ve been a big personality here at Borough – and you’ve loved it?
- I certainly have! I love the supporters, and we’ve had quite a ride together, always honest with each other and all of them as passionate about this club as I am. I’ve bought a property here in the town, and you don’t do that lightly if you’re just a ship in the night. Since I’ve come down here, I have realised that there is a perception of “little old Eastbourne” which is not true or valid any more. It is a vibrant town, and this is a great football club run by people with the club’s interests in their hearts. Anyone who doesn’t have that doesn’t hang around very long – but look at how stable we are at the Lane, the officials, the loyal supporters.
Will Eastbourne Borough be different after Widdrington?
- This club has foundations and it’s built to last and it’s still building. I’ll tell you now, that stability makes Eastbourne Borough the envy of the football circuit. It’s probably why I stayed this long – and at five years I’m a short-stayer by Borough standards! We need to be clear: I’ve not fallen out with anyone and that isn’t why I’m going. I have gained fantastic experience in management, and gained a huge list of people I can call friends – whether they have been my bosses, or worked alongside me, or people whom I’ve managed. I owe a great debt to Len Smith, who first appointed me, and now with the changes and the CIC there is a second generation of board and officials. They have been terrific – faith in me and supportive of me, and I hope I have returned that. They have been excellent for me and I am moving now on the best of terms.
What’s the final message, Tom?
Updated 09:40 - 13 Apr 2017 by Kevin Anderson
- I want to wish everyone at Priory Lane all the very, very best. You are in good hands, great hands. Hugo and the staff and players are great guys, top professionals who will see this season through, and then there is another chapter and I know there is more success to write!