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Meet Margate's New Manager
He has played for, skippered – and now – Jay Saunders will manage Margate Football Club.
In his first interview as Margate Manager, Saunders reveals his return to Hartsdown Park is one even he could not quite have predicted and how the opportunity to help the club progress was one he could not turn down.
Saunders was appointed First Team Manager earlier in the week and gave an insight into how the move back to the club for who he made over 350 appearances as a player came about.
“I got a phone call from Chris Chambers to have a meeting and once I got the call – given my affiliation and background with the club – I couldn’t refuse the chance to have a chat and see what the options were. It was an opportunity I thought was good for both parties.”
The role at Margate is Saunders’ second managerial post after a meteoric rise through the non-league ranks with fellow Kent club, Maidstone United.
Highly regarded and hotly rated across the tiers on English football, Saunders’ decision to take the reins at a Bostik League side will no doubt have raised a few eyebrows.
Saunders disclosed whilst other options were available to him, past ties and future ambitions played a major part in his decision.
“I had a few offers and in the summer and it was well publicised that I could have gone to Macclesfield to manage in League Two, but things didn’t work out there and football changes very quickly.”
“So, for me it was a case of waiting for the right job to come up and I could have waited until the end of the season. There were not a lot of clubs I’d have dropped to this level for – and that is not being disrespectful to this level – but obviously when you’re managing at a higher level you want to stay around that.”
“But with-it being Margate and my past record, it was the chance to come in and I feel the club overall is heading in the right direction; the direction it has been wanting to head for a number of years. Now, the club is in a position to move forward and I think it is a good opportunity.”
With significant investment made into the club’s infrastructure and facilities over the past 18 months, Saunders believes there is scope for Margate to advance on the pitch too but there is plenty of work to do.
“I am surprised with the squad we’ve got that we are in this position, but unfortunately for Mike there have been a number of injuries which hasn’t helped. I think the immediate plan is to bring in two or three players – maybe more - working within budget.”
“We need to get points on the board as quickly as we can. I’ve said to the board, it is about getting safe first and foremost and we can all sit down end of the season about how we move forwards. Mike and I are working hard to bring players in to bolster the squad as it is very thin.”
Whilst Saunders assesses the squad, he maintains a firm belief there is both enough quality and character to lift Margate from their current position in the Bostik League.
“There is quality in this squad and anyone else in the league will tell you Margate are good enough to be winning games, but injuries have hampered them.”
“The squad is not big enough when you look at the depth and that is proven at the moment. We need depth and we need options.”
“It is not just about the starting eleven, it is about the squad and I don’t think recently Mike has had the options there. So, if we can make the squad a bit bigger that will add competition and keep people on their toes.”
“When you’ve got a small squad, people know they’ll be playing and that can make things lax. There are things that we can change and improve on and hopefully we can do that over the next few weeks and beyond.”
Having played at Margate for a number of years, Saunders was quick to point out the important part supporters can play in turning the team’s poor run of form around.
“I’ve played against some very, very big crowds at Hartsdown Park and even recently about three years ago in the Ryman Prem, I remember going down there with Maidstone and there being 1,200 in the crowd.”
“So, the crowds are there, there is no doubt about it and they’re normally very vocal. We need to make sure they’re vocal for the right reasons.”
“To be fair, you’ve got to give supporters something to make noise about and that will be my job going in, to create a team they want to make noise for. Make no mistake about it, they can play a huge part boosting the squad and I want to make sure in turn we give them something to cheer about.”
Having been to a number of games at Hartsdown Park throughout the campaign so far, Saunders was in the crowd as Margate hosted the team at the summit of the league, on Tuesday evening.
“I watched the Dorking Wanderers game and I was impressed with Margate in the first half. There was not a lot in it and the sending off killed us, but I’ve seen a lot of the Bostik League this year and I don’t think there’s a massive difference in it.”
“There are such fine margins in football and I think we have to look at our forward line and bring goals to the team, as I don’t think defensively we’ve done badly at all this season. If we can do that, I don’t think we will be far off of getting results.”
Whilst Saunders maintains a firm focus on the short-term goals at Margate, he admits the long-term vision for the football club is one that is enthusing and draws parallels to his former club.
“I had a similar situation at Maidstone where the ground was being built and it is exciting. I remember being there years ago as a player and talk about the ground never quite came off.”
“It is brilliant for the club it is happening but for me it is a case of keeping the club up, pushing them up a bit and then I really feel it will be an exciting time going into the off season and onwards.”
Saunders’ managerial debut in the Margate dugout is scheduled to take place next Saturday against Brightlingsea Regent. It is a moment the new manager is looking forward to.
“It will be surreal as I never thought I’d go back as a manager, especially if you had said that to me when I was playing there.”
“But first I’m looking forward to the Tonbridge game. I think it will be harsh for me to come in and say, ‘do this’ and ‘do that’ without really seeing enough of the players in training but I feel from Monday I will really begin to make my mark and look towards that home game and coming back.”
You cannot ask for more from your opening game than a Kent derby, as The Gate make the short trip to Longmead to face Tonbridge Angels, and one of Saunders’ former Blues team-mates.
“I know Steve Mckimm, he is an ex-team mate and good friend of mine and they’ve pushed back into the play-offs so it will be a tough game for us but we have nothing to lose.”
“If we can get to the levels we did first half against Dorking, there is no reason we can’t sustain that and be in with a chance. It will be a difficult test but it is one we hopefully can take a good few supporters with us for and you never know.”
“As we said earlier, it is a tight league and there is not bundles of difference between teams and hopefully we can get a positive result.”
Tuesday, 12 February 2019
By Charlotte Richardson