CHRIS DUNLAVY

Our ex­pert re­flects on Justin Ed­in­burgh’s bat­tle to be a top boss

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

JUSTIN ED­IN­BURGH says he’s flat­tered to be linked to the Brent­ford job. He shouldn’t be. Af­ter a decade of drudgery, a bit of recog­ni­tion is the least he de­serves.

To the ca­sual ob­server, it might ap­pear the 45-year-old has come from nowhere. A pro­mo­tion with New­port, a stun­ning start to life at Gilling­ham.

Just an­other bright young thing on the rise. Just an­other ex Premier League star whose name has opened doors and daz­zled star-struck chair­men.

Who wouldn’t be im­pressed by a man who won the FA Cup, played more than 200 top flight games and once sipped cham­pagne with Jurgen Klins­mann?

That’s what Ed­in­burgh used to think, too. He’d watched peers like Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce rocket to the top. When his legs gave out in 2003, he thought the of­fers would come. A bit of coach­ing, a job in League Two.

Reg­u­lar­ity

But they never did. No­body wanted him. No­body even no­ticed. It was a theme that would re­peat it­self with de­press­ing reg­u­lar­ity as Ed­in­burgh ground out a liv­ing the grim way, through part-time foot­ball, ad­min­is­tra­tion, liq­ui­da­tion, tyran­ni­cal own­ers – even the har­row­ing sui­cide of one of his own play­ers.

At Bil­ler­icay, his first club, Ed­in­burgh spent most of his time hunt­ing for places to train, wash­ing kit and pinch­ing pen­nies. Scratch­ing a squad to­gether from lads who could get time off work.

At Fisher Ath­letic, he won pro­mo­tion to the Con­fer­ence South. At Grays, he bat­tled con­stant fi­nan­cial prob­lems and the per­sis­tent in­ter­fer­ence of mega­lo­ma­niac owner Mick Wood­ward to avoid rel­e­ga­tion.

His re­ward? A care­taker coach­ing job at Wok­ing, from which he was sub­se­quently over­looked for the per­ma­nent man­ager’s job. “I did start to think ‘Will this ever hap­pen?’ he ad­mit­ted.

At Rush­den, he faced things no man­ager ever should.The death of goal­keeper Dale Roberts, the guilt he felt at fail­ing to spot the 24-yearold’s dis­tress.The melt­down of the club and re­dun­dancy of its staff. Even so, he guided the club to the Con­fer­ence play-offs.

And, amid it all, he was al­ways avail­able on the end of a phone, world weary but hon­est, help­ful and de­cent – a mil­lion miles from the pam­pered Premier League star.

I was once on a con­fer­ence call with a man­ager who threat­ened to hang me “by the b***s from a gib­bet” if I dared mis­quote him. Ed­in­burgh, who’d been in the room, rang an hour later, telling me not to worry.

Man­aged

Still no­body cared. He even­tu­ally had to fight his way into the Foot­ball League with New­port, fully ten years af­ter he’d first stepped into the dugout. No help. No favours. Just pure graft.

“I’ve never been big-headed and I’ve never ex­pected any­one to hand me a job in the League,” he told me last year. “I wanted to start from the bot­tom and get my hands dirty.”

They must be filthy. Ed­in­burgh has al­ready man­aged 542 games – more than Quique Sanchez Flores, Garry Monk and Alex Neil com­bined. More than Ed­die Howe. More even than his old mate Chris Hughton.

His win per­cent­age is 41 per cent, achieved with part­time play­ers and bud­gets to shame a cor­ner shop. Is it any sur­prise that, given de­cent tools and a bit of sta­bil­ity, he’s taken Gills to the sum­mit of League One? Just imag­ine what he could do with real money and elite play­ers.

Re­peat­edly

The League is full of th­ese richly ex­pe­ri­enced men. Chris Wilder is cur­rently work­ing mir­a­cles at cri­sis-torn Northamp­ton. Steve Davis, who cut his teeth at Nantwich, has re­peat­edly evaded rel­e­ga­tion with an un­der-funded Crewe side.

Th­ese guys get la­belled as ‘lower league man­agers’, just as Ed­in­burgh was once viewed as a ‘Non-League man­ager’. But, un­less you give them a chance, how can they be any­thing else?

Be­ing a Non-League man­ager didn’t stop Martin O’Neill win­ning ti­tles with Celtic.

It didn’t stop Howard Wilkin­son guid­ing Leeds to the First Di­vi­sion. All they needed was a break.

Ed­in­burgh has worked harder than any­one for his. Hope­fully, Brent­ford will be the first of a del­uge of de­served job of­fers. Mind you, know­ing Ed­in­burgh’s luck, they’ll prob­a­bly get lost in the post.

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