By Kevin Anderson
“Ridiculous result. Eastbourne had one shot and they won with an offside goal. We absolutely battered them.” Who do you think I’m quoting?
It was with words to that effect, anyway, that Steve King summed up Tuesday night’s dramatic action at Priory Lane.
Actually, Borough had several credible goal attempts, and the decisive Lloyd Dawes strike was onside, but never mind. The Welling United manager, and local resident, was not wrong about the battering – just, perhaps, overlooking the disciplined and unbreakable defensive barrier which his Wings team never breached.
In some ways, Tuesday was a tale of two managers as well as two teams. King has no shortage of sceptics or of outright critics. Some will point to a longish list of clubs to whom he has brought short-term success rather than long-term stability. Others, like seagulls following the trawler, simply gather and caw, and wait to swoop if things do go wrong.
This reporter is not with the scavenging seagulls. Quite apart from anything else, I deal in words and not figures, and I have no inside track on football club finances. I covered Steve’s very first match as a manager, in about 2003 at the Dripping Pan, when Lewes were floundering somewhere in Isthmian Division Three. And I’ve watched Kingy build team after attacking team to light up a football field. I’ve been handed team-sheets listing about eight forwards, two defenders and an overlapping goalkeeper.
He may have mellowed a bit over the years, but King still assembles front-foot teams who play exciting football. He is doing exactly that at Welling, and as the season unfolds it will be surprising if they are not challenging for the title. Have a smile if you like, and some friendly banter, but let’s stay friends and not enemies.
Now then, his Borough counterpart is a different character altogether. Jamie Howell doesn’t do outspoken and doesn’t do controversy. If he and you were both competing for the last empty space in the supermarket car park, Jamie would wave you into it. He is principled, measured and usually quietly-spoken. At least, that is the public face.
But over the recent weeks, Howell has been much more than everybody’s nice guy. He has worked relentlessly to build the new season’s squad and he has had to drive some hard bargains. There is a steel behind the courteous facade. Behind the closed door of the dressing room, you can bet your life that Jamie is well capable of giving both barrels.
I even glimpsed it in a first-team training session last week, when a couple of quite senior players were making a dog’s breakfast of some set-pieces, and Howell sorted it with some brisk and scathing words. They got the next one exactly right. You don’t argue with the Gaffer….
Actually the supporters got a glimpse of it too, in the recent clubhouse Q&A. Under a little bit of pressure – this was before the clutch of late and excellent signings – Jamie produced an inspirational set of answers. His words were like Montgomery to the D-Day troops. Back me, he said, and we will deliver. We are one team, he said, and you supporters are vital members of that team.
Well, on Tuesday night Howell’s team certainly delivered. The supporters loved it, acclaimed it, and that old Spirit of the Sports was back.