STEVE KING is back as manager of Lewes Football Club – three years after suffering the heartache of being removed from the manager’s job just as he had guided the club to the top flight of non-league football, writes Brian Pollard.
King was sensationally unveiled as the new boss of Lewes Football Club after the Board of Directors at the new community owned club felt he was the stand-out candidate from the 25 that had applied for the job.
It marked a remarkable turnaround after King was ousted from the manager’s role in 2008 just as his team were celebrating promotion to the Blue Square Premier, having walked the Blue Square South by a nine-point margin.
King, who was until a couple of weeks ago manager of the Farnborough team that only just lost out on promotion to the Blue Square Bet Premier, told the Sussex Express that he didn’t think he would ever be back as manager of the Dripping Pan outfit.
He said that after his departure from the Hampshire club, he had a number of job offers from clubs but said he was drawn to returning to Lewes because of the new Board at the club and also the warm welcome he has always received from the people of Lewes.
King said: “I didn’t think I was going to come back. To be fair I was the manger of a team that was going for back-to-back promotions until recently, so I didn’t think I’d be leaving Farnborough, to be honest.
“I has a number of different offers to come back into management straight away, and I thought long and hard about it.
“But I was sick of being kicked in the proverbial by clubs and I wanted to come to somewhere where I was really, really wanted. And I think they (the Board) have made me feel unbelievably wanted.
“Everywhere I have been in Lewes this week, it’s been unbelievable. People have been fantastic.
“I nearly knocked a postman off his bike, and when he was about to turn around and have a go at me, he saw who it was and said: ‘You’re coming back! I’m going to come back (to watch the team) now!”
King added: “I wouldn’t have come anywhere near the club if the old Board was still here. The new Board are people who were standing in the crowd as fans when we were winning the Blue Square South, cheering us on. They have an affinity to me that I feel I can have to them.”
King has wasted no time in trying to overhaul the squad that so disappointingly got relegated from the Blue Square Bet South last season. He has been busy all week using his famous contacts book to make enquiries about available players across the non-league spectrum.
But King has made it clear to David Wheeler that the fans’ young local hero is still very much part of the new Lewes manager’s plans.
“I had a meeting with David Wheeler and told him my position,” he said. “And I also offered him a new contract, so we’ll see how that goes. And I spoke to one other player.”
And many Rooks fans who remember with great fondness King’s title-winning side of 2008 will be hoping that at least some of that squad which played under him at Farnborough last season will now join him at the Pan. Paul Booth, Gary Holloway, Steve Robinson, Dale Binns, Jay Conroy and Michael Jordan all played significant parts in Farnborough’s rise to second in the BSBS in 2011.
King said: “I will have to wait and see on that. What you have got there is what any team wants – they are winners. And everybody wants winners, so they’re not easy to get hold of. But I’m talking to certain individuals who used to play at this club, so we’ll see.”
The issue of player budgets has followed King around since 2008, when he was forced out after the then existing Board at Lewes said it could no longer keep the squad and manager at that level of expenditure. King has always flatly denied the playing budget of 2007/08 was anywhere near the level some had suggested, and insisted he has always worked with the budgets he was given at every club he has been at.
Of the present Lewes FC Board, after they had offered King the chance to return as manager, he said simply: “They set a budget and I said I’ll work with it.
“It’s no different to any club I have worked with – including Lewes.”
He said the budget he had been given for Lewes ahead of their first stint in the Ryman Premier next season was a “mid-table budget for that league”, adding: “it’s down to me to make that (budget) look better than it actually is.
“Players know what they get with me. They have got a realistic chance of winning something.”
And although King admitted his arrival in mid-June meant it was probably now too late for him to arrange the high-profile pre-season friendlies for which he had become famous, he said to look out for one or two big names coming down during the 2011/12 season, before adding that July 2012 would feature “one hell of a pre-season programme.”
And he urged fans who have stayed away from the Dripping Pan in his absence to come back and enjoy “the rollercoaster ride”.
He said: “You can never promise to win things; I always say our aim is to try and make those play-offs and anything more than that is a bonus.
“I don’t want people to think we have got this magic wand and it’s all going to turn around.
“It’s going to take a big effort from everybody, for the fans to turn up and come back more than last season, and we’ll try and deliver on the pitch the best we can.
“What I can promise is that we will make sure we put the smile back on peoples’ faces. I just want the whole town to get behind us.
“The fans here have been fantastic; I’ve always said that. They’re like having a 12th man. So what I say to the fans is ‘get back on the ride’. It’s going to be a rollercoaster, there are going to be ups and downs but it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
“And I’m sure there are good times around the corner, and people know the style of football we play will be entertaining. We always score lots of goals. The crowds have been fantastic, even looking from afar – but I think the next two or three years we can really make an impact again like we did the first time we were here. The first game back here will be something else.”
King is joined in returning to the Pan by assistant manager Justin Skinner and kit man Ray ‘Pav’ Bugg.