If this week proved two things: it’s football is without doubt a brutal business and secondly, nothing happens in Sussex without Jack Pearce knowing first.
Jamie Howell said he was offered a new contract by Eastbourne Borough but seven days later, he was told by his former Bognor manager, Pearce, that he’s “getting sacked in the morning.”
Unfortunately for Howell, Pearce, as he often tends to be, was correct. Howell was out and Mark McGhee, whose CV at the top end of the game makes impressive reading, was having his MM initials stitched into a new Borough tracksuit. It’s impossible not to feel for Howell. He’s one of football’s nice guys and give or take a few points, he was hitting his targets set by the Borough hierarchy...stay in the division: tick and develop the youth players: tick.
Since Borough were relegated back to the South in 2011, Howell was performing just as well – perhaps better – than Garry Wilson and Tommy Widdrington did. Wilson of course, was dismissed after 13 largely successful years while Widdrington was afforded five seasons of midtable stasis. Traditionally, Borough do not sack their manager lightly – they have had just half-a-dozen in their entire history. But things don’t stay the same.
A new guy, with increasing influence at Priory Lane, arrived recently. Howell introduced himself to this chap and the first thing he said was, “I won’t get too close to you, because I’ll have to sack you soon.”
Now, you want ambition and drive within the club, otherwise what’s the point being involved in competitive sport? But still, that’s a touch on the ruthless side and it didn’t seem a very “Eastbourne Borough way” of doing things – if such a thing still exists. “I love football, but not politics,” complained Howell after his dismissal.
Getting sacked is the norm for a manager. It’s painful but at the top end of the game it stings less. A nice pay-off, take a few weeks and then land another job. The lower down the pyramid you go, there is no such luxury.
Howell gambled, quit his job as a teacher, and went full-time into this role, he will now have to start again. I’m sure supporters and most at the club will wish him well. I certainly do.
All managers, who have been in the job for a while, have had their fingers burnt. McGhee has also experienced both ends of the spectrum throughout his 962 games as a manager. In his first spell at Motherwell, he led them into Europe twice but by the end of his second stint in 2017, he received terrible treatment from fans during a 7-2 loss at Aberdeen. He described it as “horrendous” and “horrific.” He left Motherwell soon after and hasn’t managed in Scottish football since.
McGhee is a big name for Borough. This was a bold decision and one the club made to help move them to the next level. For that, you have to give them credit as they are often wrongly accused of lacking ambition. Paul Maynard, John Bonar, Lee Peskett and management consultant Alan Williams are there to make tough choices and this must have been their hardest yet.
There is much talk of new investment and an increase in the playing budget. Rightly or wrongly, they clearly wanted to entrust someone other than Howell. An interim period for McGhee will give both parties a chance to suss each other out. If it all works out, the club will feel justified in their decision.
What the future holds with McGhee at the helm, we’ll just have to wait and see...but then again, we could ask Jack. Jack probably knows already.