In the latest of our Coaches Corner series, we spoke with the former Worthing Co-Manager, Crawley Town Coach, and current Hastings United Assistant Manager, Jon Meeney.
For most young players in the Brighton & Hove Albion Centre of Excellence, the only thought in their mind would be making it all the way to the first team and advancing their own game.
Yet for a young Jon Meeney, his mindset was rather different.
“Looking back, I class my time there as the perfect football apprenticeship,” said Meeney, “from being in the under-9’s to the under-16’s, I was getting a fantastic introduction to coaching from the likes of Martin Hinshelwood, Vic Bragg and Les Rogers, all of whom shaped the man I am today.”
Born in Worthing, Meeney, 32, still credits much of his current coaching inspiration to those days as a young man playing for Rogers.
“Les and I had such a special relationship,” said Meeney, “he was the one that first gave me the captaincy, and he was the first person to put that trust in me.
“In my coaching today, I always see the connections and relationships you have with your players as one of the most important things.
“Les got people's personalities and everyone wanted to play for him. That’s something you can’t get a qualification in, and I’m sure if you spoke to everyone involved with Brighton over those years, nobody would have a bad word to say about him.”
Whilst a scholarship wasn’t meant to be at Brighton, Meeney left the club with a clear idea about where his future in the game lay.
“I’d always watched football matches differently to my mates,” said Meeney, “whenever I watch a game out in a social setting, I’d always go home and re-watch it, because that’s just how my mind works.
“And even as a young player, when the coaches would be delivering a session, I’d always be asking ‘why?’ so when my time at Brighton came to an end, I knew that I wanted to go on and learn as much as I could.
“I spent some time at Worthing as a youth player, but I also went over to Chichester College to do football studies, and from there I went onto to do my FA Level 1 and then my Level 2, which gave me a real insight into the hands-on nuts-and-bolts of coaching out on the grass.”
“When I was playing, I had no idea of the aspects to coaching outside of just delivering the sessions, such as the safeguarding, how to plan, how to evaluate, the sports science aspect and the analysis side of things. It was a real eye-opener.”
Now looking to leave the classroom behind and gain his first coaching experience, good fortune favoured Meeney, as his cousin, the Chairman at East Preston at the time, invited him to take on the Assistant Manager role, alongside Paul Bird.
“That really was a quite daunting experience,” said Meeney, “as a 20/21-year-old going into that dressing room I was incredibly naïve.
“I was tasked to help keep the team up, and I did that, and we played some lovely possession football, but I overcomplicated it.