As we approached the new season back in July it seemed an appropriate moment to speak to Brightlingsea Regent manager James Webster for our Bostik Friday Interview feature. Seven years, four promotions and a first ever Bostik Premier Division campaign to look forward to, the interview presented a man at ease with the world and very focused on his role at The Taydal Stadium. Whilst he talked of having ambition to manage at a higher level, there was no sign whatsoever that he was thinking about jumping ship.
Perhaps this was why it was rather a surprise when Aveley FC announced him as their new manager at 10PM on Tuesday night- less than half an hour after Webster's Regent had hoisted themselves into ninth place in the Premier Division with a win over Kingstonian.
This morning we caught up with James to find out what had convinced him to drop down a division. It was a rather emotional discussion.
Brightlingsea Regent- North Division champions 2016-17
You've had a fairly busy 36 hours. How has it gone?
I haven't had a lot of sleep, it's been a bit mad. I have such mixed emotions, Brightlingsea have been such an important part of my life. After we beat Kingstonian on Tuesday night everyone was so upbeat, but then I had to sit the players down on the pitch at full time and tell them I was leaving, and go around the club and say goodbye to the staff- my friends. I've been there a long time, we're a family, and to say goodbye... I don't want to over-dramatize the situation, but it was almost heartbreaking.
You were being announced as Aveley manager at 10PM, but your squad at Brightlingsea didn't know that was coming?
No. Only the chairman, Terry Doherty, knew. We discussed whether it was right for me to take the game, but he trusted me to handle the situation sensibly and knew that I was entirely focused on ensuring that we got three more points. Credit to him. Perhaps other chairmen might have made a different decision, but he trusted me to do the job the way I've always done it and I was delighted with the victory. But having to look at the players- some of whom have been part of my squad for as long as I've been at the club- and tell them I was going, it was so difficult.
So why did you do it? When we talked in the summer you mentioned your ambitions to work at a higher level in the future, but you've gone from 9th place in the Premier Division to 18th in the North Division. Isn't that a backward step?
I've been asked that question so often over the last 24 hours. It's a long story. I suppose I'd been wondering for a while whether I could really take Regent any further, whether we'd reached a natural level, but I'd put it to the back of my mind. I'd had a couple of other offers and turned them down, not even gone to speak to the clubs involved, but then when Aveley contacted the club on Sunday I thought I'd go and take a look, hear them out- but if I'm honest, even then I didn't expect to be going. But it was a revelation.
I was so impressed with the plans laid out by Craig Johnson and Graham Gennings. The facilities are exceptional, and it will be a joy to use them, but they want a team that can do justice to the new stadium, play an attractive brand of football and take the club to new heights. They were so passionate and committed, and you only have to look around you at Parkside to see how far their hard work and ambition has already taken them. They sold the club to me in such a way that I just knew that I wanted to be involved in the future of Aveley, that it was, perhaps, the right job at the right time. I hope that I can be the manager who can fulfil their dreams- and in doing so, fulfil mine.
So what have they asked you to achieve?
They've put me under no pressure. It hasn't been demanded that we get promotion this year, get to the playoffs, anything like that. They want me to oversee a long term project and are happy to give me time to plan, to make changes if necessary, to build a squad that can challenge for promotions, for honours, whilst playing attractive football. I think I'll be putting myself under more pressure than they will, as I have high expectations. I suppose, in a nutshell, my job is to make the club as good on the pitch as it is off it.
On to your playing squad then- are you looking to make sweeping changes?
I haven't even met them yet- the first training session is tonight. But no, I don't expect that I'll need to do anything revolutionary. I watched them for the first time on Monday night, and there was a great deal to be impressed with. There's a lot of potential, and whilst there might be a need to strengthen I won't be steaming in and making wholesale changes, bringing in a collection of new players- I want to give the boys we've already got a chance first. If they've got the same attitude and philosophy as me and we can all pull in the same direction then none of us will have too much to worry about.
I need a coach, first and foremost. Whilst my assistant Chris (Smith) came with me I didn't want to destabilise Regent by undermining their structure, it would have been entirely wrong. My head coach Ryan (Salter) has taken over as interim manager at regent and he'll do a great job whilst the club decide on what they want to do in the long term. I've a few people to speak to this week and I hope that I'll have a coach in place at Parkside shortly.
What now for Regent?
I hope very much that Terry can find the right manager to move them forward. The club has come such a long way in such a short time, and I've been only a part of that. I have such affection for them, always will have, and I hope that progress will continue. I was just convinced that I'd done all I could. I'd love to see them go on and do even better without me.
Craig has done a very good job as interim manager- two games, one win and a draw. Are you worried he's going to be looking over your shoulder and thinking that he could do better!
I think he's quite happy not to be in the dugout, but yes, he's put me under pressure! He's got an enormous amount of work on his plate, planning for an academy, ensuring that the facilities are used to their full potential to generate income for the club. But it's a measure of the man that the players responded so well to him.
Aveley host Soham Town Rangers at Parkside on Saturday. Go along and witness the first act of the James Webster revolution!