The race for the hot seat at Priory Lane is heating up

Mark McGhee
Mark McGhee

The season is over, and the search is on. Eastbourne Borough hauled themselves over the line last week with their National South status intact – and a managerial vacancy to fill.

Whoever takes charge, a major rebuild is in prospect. Jamie Howell’s 20-month reign at the Lane ended in February after two seasons of false starts and unfulfilled hopes. Interim appointment Mark McGhee could only look at the short term, as he steered the club to safety with just a little to spare.

“We were all disappointed, officials, players, supporters,” said chairman John Bonar. “We all burn for success, and we want to feel elated at five o’clock on a Saturday, not deflated. But, looking at it coldly, if you finish eighth or eighteenth, you still start next season at the same level, with another 42 National South games in front of you.”

But that new season – which incidentally begins absurdly early on 3rd August – will surely see a major rebuild of the playing squad, and very possibly a new face leading the management team. There is talk of a raised playing budget as well as incoming investment and ground improvements.

Had the Sports slipped to relegation, the ambitions would have been reined in, with one or two former players in the frame for the manager’s job, but now the club need the right man to lead them next season in a formidable-looking National South that will include the likes of Aldershot, Havant and Maidstone.

Borough directors invited applications some weeks ago, and the process is moving rapidly. “We are now at short-list and interview stage,” revealed vice-chairman Paul Maynard after Saturday’s final home game with Concord. “The calibre of applicants is extremely high. We know that supporters will be eager for news, but the process has to be proper and entirely confidential.

“We have been interviewing candidates this week, and there might be an announcement early next week – but no promises! We need a right decision and not a rushed decision.”

McGhee has not ruled himself out. The Brighton-based Scot counts Albion, Reading, Leicester City and Derby County on his managerial CV, and he has brought experience and gravitas to Priory Lane in recent weeks. But Mark and the club rather like each other, and what began as a blind date might just turn into a long-term bromance.

Stopping short – but only just short – of a declaration of intent, McGhee told the Herald last week “I wouldn’t rule it out. There are good people here at the club who are doing things in a very professional way, and that is what we want to build upon – whether I am here or not.” McGhee (above right) would face strong competition. Club officials have not revealed the names on their short list, but it includes managers with National League and Football League experience. The post attracted wide interest, including from some stellar names. Another former Albion manager, and Manchester United legend, Steve Coppell was spotted at the recent Dartford game, but he is not thought to be among the final candidates.

In football of course, whether National League or Premier League, every fan is an expert. And many terrace experts locally will be on King Watch. The popular and sometimes controversial Steve King (above left) currently has his hands full with Welling United’s play-off campaign – and there is no word publicly on whether he has applied for the Borough post.

Eastbourne resident King does divide opinion, but his record in play-offs and promotions is impressive, and some supporters have long regarded him as heir apparent at the Lane. But the powers behind the throne will make their own decision. It will be measured and thorough, and it will take the club into the next decade.