There’s been a lot of talk this week about points as the title race gathers pace. But the most startling statistic of the week emerges today as David Jeffrey celebrates 16 years in the Linfield hotseat.
Whatever way you look at it, it’s an astonishing story particularly as the manager reminded us all this week that “even friendlies are must-win” games at the club.
Of course, the road hasn’t always been a smooth one and Jeffrey will reflect on the darker times as well as the numerous fairytale moments.
This season has also seen stress levels soar as Linfield failed to sprint out of the blocks with their usual single-minded determination and sense of purpose.
But the story of Jeffrey’s reign at Windsor Park is not simply a tale of building trophy-winning machines and waging a war against the club’s vociferous critics.
The 50-year-old seems to find that extra ounce of strength, hunger and resolve when he’s forced into a corner.
The pressure on Jeffrey this season has been immense but it is no coincidence his men found the inspiration to beat Glentoran on Boxing Day and then Cliftonville this week in a must-win league fixture.
Past glories, while never forgotten, don’t shield a manager from the sack — even one as successful as Jeffrey who has netted 30 trophies, 30 Manager of the Month awards and nine Manager of the Year titles.
‘Win games, win trophies, win contracts’ — that’s how they roll at Windsor whether you are a player, coach or manager.
The fact that Jeffrey is still in charge 16 years on from Saturday, January 4, 1997 when his side won 2-0 at Portadown is reason for everyone to pinch themselves — even the man himself.
“I’m so blessed to still be here,” said Jeffrey. “In a way I can’t believe I am.
“And to do the job on a part-time basis as well. Roy (Coyle) was here for a long time but to be here for 16 years on a part-time basis is extraordinary, but you are only as good as the people around you.
“I’ve had a lot of unbelievable people around me and my tenure here has been down to a lot of good people.
“I possibly do rise to a challenge the tougher it gets. Several weeks ago I was at my lowest point. As a player, manager or coach there may always be that degree of self-interest but I can honestly say the most important thing to me is this club and the performance of this club.
“I’m just looking to continue to serve the club and its supporters as best as I can. I suppose that only comes with age — you get wiser as you get older!”
For a side that won six doubles in seven seasons — an achievement that is not given true value, respect and recognition even by some of the club’s own fans — this campaign has been a turbulent one with the champions now 10 points behind league leaders Cliftonville, with the north Belfast side boasting a game in hand.
No-one has felt the heat at Windsor more than Jeffrey. Not for the first time, he thought his Linfield adventure was coming to an end.
But he’s still in the trenches, as defiant as ever. If the Blues were to somehow win their fourth consecutive league title it would, without doubt, be Jeffrey’s finest hour and who is brave enough to bet against it?
“The first third of the season we were poor and we aren’t running away from the fact that we didn’t play consistently well,” added Jeffrey.
“But in this last period we have done really well and we now want to kick on but we’ve always said here if you win games, you win trophies and then contracts. I set that standard for myself and no-one needs to tell me about it.
“Let’s not be under any illusion — if people want to stay here they will need to win trophies and put performances in.
“We have come through a torrid time and we have had to work very, very hard and dig very very deep. We will fight and battle and fight and battle but it’s going to be a tough ask, there’s no doubt about it.
“We are going to have to go on the most incredible run and Cliftonville are going to have to go on an incredible run, one of victories and one of defeats, and you have to give credit where credit’s due — they are a good side.
“(Liam) Boyce is the standout performer, things weren’t going well for him when he came back from Germany but he works extremely hard while (Barry) Johnston and (Ryan) Catney are two very experienced campaigners.”
And then there’s Linfield’s envious rivals, their bitterness fuelled by the club’s astonishing trophy haul in recent years.
“I can understand people wanting Cliftonville to win the league,” adds Jeffrey.
“I can understand that totally. Darren Murphy (Dungannon Swifts manager) quite rightly said the Irish League needs a change and we want Cliftonville to win it.
“If I wasn’t with Linfield I would want someone else to win it. I think that’s very fair — it’s not a criticism of anybody. That’s just the simple fact of the matter. I’m not going to go as far as saying it’s anybody but Linfield but it’s not a kick in the a** off it.”
Love him or loathe him, the Irish League would be a lot less colourful without Jeffrey. And in these dreary times, the league needs all the colourful characters it can find.
Top three signings
Glenn Ferguson: Joined Linfield in 1998
The former Northern Ireland international is not only a Linfield legend, but an Irish League legend — it’s second highest goal-scorer of all time. He joined the Blues from Glenavon in 1998 for a record £55,000 and helped the club to six league championship and four Irish Cup medals. Jeffrey said: “He has been an absolutely prolific goalscorer. The number of trophies and successes that he has contributed significantly to, have been immense and memorable. I could wax lyrical for a long, long time about the contribution he has made to this club.”
William Murphy: Joined Linfield in 1997
The commanding centre-back has passed the 600 appearance mark for the Blues. Jeffrey said: “It's a tremendous achievement and he is undoubtedly one of my best signings for the club. He came to the club at a time when we had a lot of competition at centre back, but I had no doubt that he would progress and he has made a massive contribution to all our successes over the years.”
Jamie Mulgrew: Joined Linfield in 2005
The former Northern Ireland international made one appearance for Big Two rivals Glentoran before joining the Blues. Glentoran’s loss was very much Linfield’s gain as the creative midfielder went on to win six doubles in seven years. Mulgrew gave some thought to pursuing a career in America, but Jeffrey was relieved to hold onto the a player who has “made a very significant contribution to the club's successes.”
David Jeffrey's roll of honour
1997-98 Won League Cup 1-0 v Glentoran, Co. Antrim Shield 1-0 v Crusaders and Coca Cola Cup 2-0 v Cliftonville
1998-99 Won Coca Cola Cup 2-1 v Glentoran
1999-2000 Won Irish League and Coca Cola Cup 4-0 v Coleraine
2000-01 Won Irish League, Charity Shield 2-0 v Glentoran and Co. Antrim Shield 2-1 v Glentoran
2001-02 Won CIS Cup 3-1 v Glentoran and Irish Cup 2-1 v Portadown
2003-04 Won Irish League and Co. Antrim Shield 2-0 v Ards
2004-05 Won Co. Antrim Shield 2-1 v Crusaders and Setanta Cup 2-0 v Shelbourne
2005-06 Won Irish League, Irish Cup 2-1 v Glentoran, CIS Cup 3-0 v Glentoran, and County Antrim Shield 2-1 v Ballymena United
2006-07 Won Irish League and Irish Cup on penalties v Dungannon Swifts
2007-08 Won Irish League, Irish Cup 2-1 v Coleraine and CIS Cup 3-2 v Crusaders
2009-10 Won Irish League, Irish Cup 2-1 v Portadown.
2010-11 Won Irish League, Irish Cup 2-1 v Crusaders.
2011-12 Won Irish League, Irish Cup 4-1 v Crusaders
David has also won 30 Manager of the Month awards and nine Manager of the Year titles.
He has also been appointed manager of the Irish League under-23 side for representative fixtures.