Coaches Corner: Jamie Howell
In the latest of our Coaches Corner series, we spoke to former Bognor Regis Town and Eastbourne Borough Manager, Jamie Howell.
In a playing career that started at Arsenal, Jamie enjoyed more than 10 years playing for Bognor Regis Town raking up over 400 appearances for The Rocks, before becoming manager.
“I worked hard, my attitude was good, I tried everything to try and be as good a player as I can be, and fundamentally, I just wasn't good enough and I can live with that quite well because if you don't have any regrets, I think that's important.”
Jamie speaks to us honestly and openly about his playing days where, despite not making it as a professional, witnessed some great players, played under some world class coaches, and played a good level of football for a long period of time. Now, he continues to make a name for himself as a coach.
It's important to touch on Jamie’s playing career and any influences that may have transitioned him into a coach and he speaks to us candidly about those days.
“I started at Worthing Dynamos under a guy called Barry Barkley. I remember my best friend, Matthew Jarman started down there and he said you should come to football on Saturday morning and wanted to be involved in football ever since!
“I think as you grow up you realise that some things come quite naturally to you and some things don't. I think football did in my case, especially when you realise you can beat a few people and score a few goals.
“I went to Brighton in their Centre of Excellence as it was then. A lot of good experiences, Bobby Nash was down there some really good people and then I went on trial for quite a few clubs and ended up at Arsenal.
“It was brilliant. I think it's probably one of the best experiences I've ever had. I think the older you get you realise the levels. When you're seeing people that have won World Cups, top pros and seeing how hard they have to work, how good and dedicated they are, you notice the levels.
“I think that's the best experience I had despite not making it to the level that I'd have liked, I'd seen first-hand experiences what you needed to get there.”
Jamie can look back on those days with no regrets, but admits it was hard at the time to be let go.
“It was a hard experience. I think it's a hard experience for any player, because you know that there's going to be lots of ups and downs and sometimes when you have a down, you think that it's hopefully a blip, and then you'll come back up.
“So, it's a gradual thing and I think sometimes it just dawns on you. Probably about 21 it dawned on me that I had to make a choice. I wasn't going to make millions of pounds or be a top pro.
“I went to Portsmouth and Notts County after Arsenal before going to Torquay and I remember driving back from there thinking is this what I want to do for the next 10/15 years? If I'm lucky, I'll go from club to club being a journeyman footballer, or do I accept that maybe I play non-league and get a job and come back home and I chose the latter.”
It was probably the best decision that Jamie could have made at the time, one that enabled him to just enjoy football, for a long period of time. Not only that, he was about to work with one of Sussex’s great coaching characters.
“The decision I made was to go to Bognor. I met Jack Pearce, who said to come down. I liked the style of football that Bognor played, and I liked Jack so that's where I went.
“It was great. I just think he's a character and as a manager, and a coach, I've been very fortunate to meet lots of different characters.
“Jack has a very special ability to get on well with people, to make them feel special. I loved playing for him. He's obviously very, very knowledgeable, very colourful, and I learned a great deal from him. I've been a player for him, I've been a coach for him, I've been a manager for him! We're still friends and we speak quite a lot.
“I loved my playing career. I was talking to my son the other day about football and my career and I'm quite pleased because I tried my very, very best to be a good football player.
“If you try and do your best, whatever is meant to be is meant to be so when I went to Bogner, it wasn't Arsenal, it wasn't the Premier League or anything professional, but the experiences I had at Bogner, the friends that I've made there, the games that I've had I had a wonderful, wonderful time.”
Once time came for Jamie to hang up the boots, going into coaching was a very natural transition to make.
“I think when you when you speak to coaches and managers, the one common thing that they all seem to have is that they have a love for the game. I love the game. I love the discipline around football. So, any way that I can continue with that was something that I wanted to explore.
“I was very lucky; I had a guy called Alex Twitching at Chichester who got me enrolled in a course. I was coaching with Darin Kilpatrick who had also been at Bogner for a long time, and was a couple years more advanced in his coaching career.
“I was 27 or 28 when I first did my coaching course at Chichester with Alex, had a really good experience and on the Level 2, and he said, 'I'm putting you down for the for the B licence!'
“I don't think you can try and map things out. I think sometimes when an opportunity arises, you try and take it. I went to Burgess Hill towards the end of my playing days, to play a couple games down there under Gary Croydon and he was looking for someone to come and do a bit of the coaching.
“I was a player/coach there which was great. I liked Gary, he was very knowledgeable and very nice guy. You learn from your experiences; I was there for a year or two and had a great time.”
Talking about his experience on coaching courses, Jamie added: “You have to go in with an open mind, because I think what I thought and what I realised is that there are some people that have got really good, fantastic football knowledge, but might not be able to convey that very well to the players in a learning environment.
“I thought that's what the courses did really well, for me. I went there a little bit, as a lot of coaches do, wanting to impress people with my knowledge. If you've got the knowledge, and you know how then you can communicate that knowledge that is coaching and management, in a nutshell.
“I think the course did that really well for me just to slow it down, just to put it in some kind of structure and context. That was a really good thing for me to go on to those courses and learn that.”
There wasn’t much of a break between Jamie playing and coaching, and we were keen to find out how he managed that transition into management.
“It was interesting, because when I first went back to Bognor, I was the coach and Darin was the manager. After a year, we both had our A Licences, but if I was honest about it, I think Darin was a better coach than me.
“I was more suited to being a manager. I think it's important that you can do a little bit of both, but I felt that probably our skill sets were suited for maybe me managing and him coaching.
“We did a little bit of both, loads of sessions but you need a good partnership, you need a good team, and you need to be able to get the points that you want to make as a management team across to your players. I thought we did that quite well.
“I think it is strange, because I think when I went back to Bogner, we had some players that were teammates that me and Darin were now managing, and we were still quite young.
“Some of those players could have been hard going and made our life quite difficult but they didn't. There were lots of players that were of a similar age to us, but they were fantastic.
“They just knew what needed to be done and they were very, very supportive. I think we got lucky with that because in my experiences later on, sometimes when you when you have changing rooms that are a bit more hard to manage it made me realise how fortunate we were to have that as a first job.
“The club was relegated to the Isthmian South, so we had to bring a whole new group of players in who were younger and because we had a little bit of success, I think the players bought into us quite early. If we were maybe in the Isthmian Premier, or the Conference South and maybe hadn't had the success that you need, players would have thought maybe our ideas were a bit strange.”
One of the reasons Jamie may have taken to management so well was the mentors he’s had over the years.
“I've had a lot of good coaches over the years but probably one who had a big influence over me was Dean Wilkins. He was a very knowledgeable, very thoughtful man who really knew his football.
“Jack [Pearce] as a manager, as a coach, could really teach football and knows it inside out, but Dean was really good. We used to travel in a car, me, Kilpatrick and Dean and we'd just taIk football an awful lot so those were very key people in my coaching career as such.
“Keith Blunt I was with at the FA School of excellence at Lilleshall. I thought he was a really good coach and I liked what he did. Also, Pat Rice, I was very lucky at Arsenal to have Pat as a youth coach. We had Terry Venables at Portsmouth as well down there and that was brilliant.
“Jack taught me in one of his many team talks 25 years ago that you can categorise players in three categories, numbers, one, two, and three. Number ones are self-motivated players, a number two are ones we need to cuddle and give an encouraging word. Then number threes, pretty much do what they want to do! To win something you probably need seven or eight number ones.”
It was a very successful time for Jamie at Bognor winning successive promotions and taking the club back to the National League South. Jamie tells us just how important a good club infrastructure can be to a club’s success.
“I remember we were in the playoffs in the Isthmian Premier midway through our first season there, we went to Enfield away. Our goalkeeper got injured, our two centre-halves got injured and they didn't play for the rest of the season.
“We had a lot of good younger players, people like Doug Tuck, Ollie Pearce, a lot of young lads. The chairman said, 'why don't we use his time to play those players?' To which I said, 'well I think we're going to lose, and lose more than what we're going to win.'
“He just said, 'I don't mind that as long as we progress.' We didn't win a game for the rest of the season. We came fourteenth. But the year after that, I think we came second, with those same young players who were able to get 20 or 30 games.
“I think those young players then wanted to play for me because they felt I'd given them an opportunity. But I was very lucky that I'd got a chairman and a club that supported that. That gave me the reassurance I could do that without getting sacked.
“That's how I think you can be lucky when you can develop players you need you need good board and good chairman and people that understand football to know how the process works.
“I don't think a lot of clubs usually give you that time and to be honest with you, I'm sure Burgess Hill when I first started probably didn't think I was a great manager and they might well be right. But in my time at Bognor, we were in the playoffs six out of eight years, Sussex Senior Cup Final quite a few of those times as well.”
Jamie was unfortunate not to win any of those Senior Cup Finals and he jokingly adds: “I've never won it, so I don't like it! I always remember Steve Evans, at Crawley who was very dismissive of the Sussex Senior Cup and that was his opinion, my opinion's completely different to that one there. I'm from Sussex, proud to be from Sussex, because we've got lots of good football players in the area.
“Especially now with Brighton, at the Amex, I think it's a fantastic day and we were always desperate to win the Sussex Senior Cup, we never took it lightly. It was a fantastic day, even when it was at Eastbourne. But I think now it's at the Amex, it's a really special day that all the players and the coaches want to be part of, and we think it's a really, really good competition.”
Despite Bognor’s promotion to the National League South, Jamie made the decision to take the vacant managerial role at Eastbourne Borough. It was a move that didn’t wholly work for Jamie, but one he still believes was the right one.
“There'd been a little bit of interest in me from Eastbourne before when Tommy Widdrington got the job and rightly so he was appointed. I was probably too inexperienced, but we had a conversation years back, and I think they liked what I was trying to do with the youth players.
“When that opportunity arose, I spoke to Bogner explaining I have the chance to go pretty much full time which was a dream, to try and do something like that.
“I was really pleased, and I had a great time at Eastbourne. It didn't work out as well as what I'd hoped it to. But it's a very nice club, some really nice people there.
“I still think it was the right decision [to go to Borough]. I'd been at Bognor for 22 years, as a player and a coach and I think, if I hadn't have gone, I would have always regretted that decision.
“I obviously made some mistakes at Eastbourne which can happen and some things there probably didn't help my cause as well. But I thought it was a good opportunity and I've learned more about myself with that experience, than if I just stayed at Bognor.
“I think the decisions that I've made, I probably still would think they're right. Jack Pearce would always say, what do you think the best decision for the football club would be? For me, I probably would have done pretty much everything the same and sometimes it works for you, and sometimes it doesn't.”
Jamie hasn’t managed since Borough but remains positive about his future goals and ambitions after a break from the game.
“I have a football business over Bogner and Worthing way, which was started 10 years ago with my brother in law, Adam Hinshelwood. Bognor's youth system wasn't quite what it should've been, so I've been getting involved there, and I'm also up at Kingstonian at the moment as an assistant manager, it's just good to be back in the game and coaching.
“I think I probably needed a break after Eastbourne, if I'm honest, I was quite tired mentally. It is very time consuming and you're always thinking about teams and players and how to better yourself and you know, so I probably needed a break.
“It was lovely spending a bit of time with the family, but you know when an opportunity arose to go to Kingstonian it's great and to be involved in football. I do the 18s as well at Bogner, we've got a really good youth setup there now.
“I'd love to do more locally if I possibly could, even though Kingstonian has been fantastic. But for the longer term, I'd love to get back into managing I thought I was okay at it!”
It’s always good to talk to a former footballer who has made the transition into management. Jamie has had plenty of success in the short time he has been a manager and it’s been fascinating to talk through his career.
Lastly, he offered advice to aspiring coaches in Sussex: “The best advice I can give is to coach as much as you can. Coach all types of levels, all types of abilities, and I think if you do that and you have a love for the game, enthusiasm for the game, doors will open.
“I’m 44 and I’ve been doing it quite a few years now, and I learn things all the time, even just watching someone down the park. So, just keep that enthusiasm and keep learning as much as you possibly can.”
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