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Mr Sky Blue Jeffrey is rocking and ruling in Ballymena

By Billy Weir

Published 26/03/2016

Doing it his way: David Jeffrey has already made an impact during his reign at Ballymena United
Doing it his way: David Jeffrey has already made an impact during his reign at Ballymena United

It's fair to say that the Ballymena Showgrounds hasn't been the subject of so many column inches since the days when the Electric Light Orchestra were being denounced as devil-worshipping rock and rollers, hell-bent on corrupting the children of the Braid.

While Mr Blue Sky was not welcomed at Warden Street, there is a new DJ in town fast becoming everyone's favourite Mr Sky Blue.

The return of the David Jeffrey to Irish League management at Ballymena United is the local football story of the season, a man who was for so long at the helm of the footballing behemoth that is Linfield making his comeback in the game at a club that is more of a sleeping dwarf than Goliath taking 40 winks.

But back he is and he hasn't let the grass grow under his feet. Two games into his reign, he has four points out of six, including a battling draw at the home of champions Crusaders, followed by a suitably dramatic first win on home turf against Warrenpoint Town last week, securing instant hero status.

It wasn't always thus. A well-publicised spat with the Sky Blue hordes during his time as Blues boss made him about as popular as James Nesbitt down Warden Street way but somehow he has managed to metamorphosize from the man they love to hate in the blink of an eye, rolling into town on a wave of charisma, bombastic bonhomie and most importantly a bulging bag of football knowledge.

The man himself isn't as big as he once was but the new, improved, trimmer Jeffrey has lost none of his passion, drive or focus during his sabbatical from the game, grabbing the club by the throat and shaking it to its core and he's loving it.

"To tell you the truth, I'm still living the dream," he admitted.

"It's the most gratifying experience and it's not spin because having been on the other side of the table and wrote a column for nearly two years, people are going out of their way to help and support and do whatever they can.

"It is so humbling. We wanted a sterile area around the changing room, I wanted the players' lounge changed, I wanted a press room as well, no matter what you ask for, people are just dying to do well and it's lovely.

"The only thing about it is that it (The Showgrounds) shuts at 10 o'clock and I still haven't been home before half eleven any night I've been here! It's great, obviously you are self-motivated but you can only want to do well when people are so supportive as well. I am so impressed by how they go about their business. It is a welcome surprise."

The feeling is mutual, vice-chairman Don Stirling, who along with chairman John Taggart was the man tasked by the club's money men to court Jeffrey out of footballing exile, still pinching himself that DJ is leaving everyone in a spin.

Stirling has been associated with the club since the mid-Seventies, estimating that he has worked with in the region of 20 managers in that time.

"None of them have come close to David Jeffrey in how he has come into the place," he said.

"When he enters he takes over the way he wants it, whether it be the players' lounge, a sterile corridor area, press facilities, and to be honest he didn't do anything that shouldn't have been done years ago. He is making us more professional all round.

"There is a discipline for everyone, not just the players and he's certainly making people aware of his presence. He picked up on the problems when he was here as a guest at a corporate dinner, he's a very sharp cookie.

"He'll do a good job, he'll improve the players and as he's shown in the first two weeks he'll improve the club. Ballymena has got more publicity than it has had in 20 years and it's raising the profile of the club. He has been a breath of fresh air and has brought a lot of his Linfield expertise with him and above all, he's a decent bloke.

"There has been a huge swing in opinion, when we interviewed him there was an air of 'we don't want that so and so' from some but suddenly the crowd is eating out of the palm of his hand. Most managers come in and feel their way, sit and say this is how it has been done and I won't rock the boat. David Jeffrey told us what he wanted and there has been no arguments."

Davy McCaig, Chairman of the Spirit of '89 Supporters' Club, admits that the arrival of Jeffrey had left him very much in the 'remain to be convinced' camp, but the early signs are good.

"When it was first mooted that our board were rumoured to be actively pursuing David Jeffrey to replace Spike (Glenn Ferguson) as BUFC boss I have to be honest and say I wasn't too enamoured," he admitted.

"It was no secret that the BUFC fans have had, let's just say a fractious relationship with the big man stretching back a few years. However, the minute he was appointed as manager the overwhelming majority of our fans, including myself, put the past to bed and threw our collective weight into backing him and his management team.

"What we have seen so far in his short tenure, outside of two creditable performances and results against the Crues and Warrenpoint, is the installation of a whole new level of professionalism throughout the entire club which can only be welcomed.

"Our hope now as supporters is that DJ can attract the calibre of players required that can finally ignite the spark which will thrust this club forward and have us challenging for major honours in the near future."

Need further convincing? Then no finer man than BBC Northern Ireland's Jackie Fullerton, a Ballymena boy who has been a fan of the club for longer than he cares to remember.

"I was very excited when I heard he was interested," he explained.

"During his two years out I had done a few question and answer sessions with him, and one of them at The Showgrounds, and he seemed to be enjoying the 'celebrity' lifestyle, he'd lost a lot of weight, he was stress-free and I doubted if he'd ever be back.

"But the infrastructure is there, the training facilities, all of that and I think that helped him make the decision that this could be a good challenge. Ballymena have a lot of good people, the likes of Norman McBurney and Davy Blair who can provide David with the back-up he needs to do the job and compete.

"For Ballymena, who have never won the league, it has given them real hope. He won 31 trophies in 17 years and the profile the club got when he got the job just shows the power of the man, his charisma - you're getting the best in the business.

"Yes, he said a few things in the past but he was defending his and Linfield's corner. A few fans didn't welcome it but this was a chance to get the best.

"I remember Alex McCrae who won the Irish Cup in 1958 when I was a boy and he was revered as manager. Alan Campbell took us to second place in the league. There have been some very good managers and some not so good but he has come in, made changes and will make more and will be totally professional.

"I can see only bright times ahead in the long-term. They don't have a top squad, a few will leave and better players will be brought in and I'm sure there will be disappointments along the way, but we're well used to that at Ballymena!

"It's early days, Jeffrey is too long in the tooth to get carried away on the back of a scoreless draw and a late win over 10-man Warrenpoint, but after five defeats on the spin, things certainly feel better.

"There's no need to go in and rant and rave, it was more about saying 'fellas, this is where you need to believe, these people are busting for you to do well'," he said.

"They were coming off the back of five defeats and that's hard, they're human beings, and a wee bit of belief and encouragement is what they needed. Ordinarily I probably would have let a gulder but there was no need.

"All you can ever do as a manager is give people an opportunity and if you give them that then you're showing a confidence in them, after that the responsibility is theirs to do it on the pitch. It's as simple and straight-forward as that."

In short then, don't bring me down, ELO couldn't have put it better themselves.

Belfast Telegraph

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