In the latest edition of our popular series, ex-Ballinamallard boss Whitey Anderson discusses regrets from his playing days, overseeing the Ferney Park revolution and his love for nurturing young stars.
Q. What is your earliest football memory?
A. Looking back, 1970 was a big year. Whilst I loved George Best and Manchester United, I started following the great Leeds United team. The 1970 FA Cup Final when we lost to Chelsea after a replay was a sickener, but when we beat Arsenal in 1972 that made up for it slightly. What a team. They could play and also mix it up. Dirty Leeds, they were known as. Eddie Gray was my favourite. I tried to emulate him but I failed miserably. The World Cup when England lost to West Germany was also something that sticks in my mind. Two up and they lost 3-2. Peter Bonetti had a nightmare in goals, as did Sir Alf Ramsey in taking off Bobby Charlton. Watching Brazil beat Italy 4-1 in the final was something else. I also loved watching Pat Jennings on Match of the Day. I playing football in school and afterwards when we got home. Two jumpers or bin lids and away we went. I also played a lot for the Boys' Brigade teams in Cookstown and joined Cookstown United's youth programme, aged 14. I made my debut for the senior team aged 15 in the Mid Ulster League. Great times.
Q. Tell us about your playing career.
A. When I left Cookstown to follow a career, I got involved in the Fermanagh and Western League. I played at NFC Kesh and then joined Ballinamallard United in 1985. I think it is fair to say that my actual playing career could have been better. I was left footed, technically as good as most if not better, but simply did not have the other attributes to do better. I was meant to go to Glenavon when turned 17, but I chose a career path after my father Basil died and it took me elsewhere. The same attributes that I lacked are the ones I probably enforced a lot with young players ever since. Poacher turned gamekeeper springs to mind.
Q. What motivated you to go into coaching?
A. In 1992, I got involved in management as player-manager with Ballinamallard Reserves in the Fermanagh and Western First Division. I just loved and still love the game. I always watched it on television back in the day. Match of the Day and the Big Match on Sundays were a must watch. I loved listening to the guest speakers such as Brian Clough. I always wanted the game to be played on the ground as much as possible, and see teams play with some sort of style. I loved the total football Dutch teams of 74, 78, beaten World Cup finalists. I guess I decided to put my money where my mouth was. In 1996, I became heavily involved in revamping the club youth programme and it became a major force and still is today. In 2006, I managed the under-18 team when we won the Irish Youth Cup. We beat Linfield, Crusaders and Glenavon en route to the final. I then became first team manager in the summer of that year.
Q. You were Ballinamallard manager for 10 years, steering the club into the top flight for the first time in 2012. What are your top memories?
A. Where do I start? Firstly, from a personal point of view, I never imagined I would manage in the Irish Premier League and for my family it meant a lot. My late father and late step father, Jim, really would have enjoyed it. As a youngster, I wanted to play in the Irish League and followed it on radio, buying the Ireland's Saturday Night when I could in Cookstown. Whilst I never made it as a player, it was great to manage in it. That first year, standing down the touchline and pitting myself against the likes of David Jeffrey, Ronnie McFall, Stephen Baxter and Glenn Ferguson to name but a few, was special. Ballinamallard had aspirations to play at that level. Some were sceptical given the cost that would be incurred. But you have to chase the dream, and we as a club did exactly that. As for highlights, too many to mention. In the 2011/12 season, we got promoted to the Premier League, the first time a Fermanagh club had reached the top table in over 100 years. The Setanta Cup was a great adventure for the club and in 2013 we finished fifth, beating Linfield 3-1 at Windsor. We beat Linfield three times in four years at Windsor Park. The development of the infrastructure and facilities is something I am very proud of. I was heavily involved in many projects that a lot of people were not aware of. The club is a great example to all and is perfect for what we need. The pleasure that these years gave to so many hard working people at the club is something that means a lot to me.
Q. Why did you step down as manager in 2016?
A. My wife Susan and family got fed up looking at me after defeats. Joking aside, it was simply the right time for both myself and the club. It was in my mind early season that this would be my last and perhaps that did not help. We put together a decent squad, but it just did not work out. It was so close yet so far. We had signed a lot of players and it takes time to gel. The end to the season was dramatic to say the least. Carrick scored two late goals in our last game and we ended up in a play-off with Institute. We won the first game 2-1 away from home. The second leg did not take place until June due to an appeal by Warrenpoint. I travelled home from the Euros and that evening we played Stute at Ferney. We scored within 40 seconds to retain our Premier status. The delay in getting the game played caused tension between us all. We had six players out due to injury, suspension and holidays already booked. It was not easy. You could not have written the script. Some folk said that I had retired. I simply wanted a break, nothing more. Stepping down proved difficult. Once again, I am being honest when I say that I did not deal with it that well, having been involved in so much at the club over the years. Someone also quoted to me in the months after "You cannot be a prophet in your own town". That was so true. For myself and others around the club, it left a degree of tension for a time. Certain things happened or did not happen which left a bit of a sour taste. It was just the reality of the situation and could have been handled better by us all. I am extremely proud of all that we achieved over time. It is still my club and am proud to be a life member. I like going back to watch games and meeting good friends.
Q. Did you continue to do youth work at the club?
A. I helped for some six months, taking on a Head of Youth Development role before heading to the USA. I have carried out some coaching when I get the chance with some of the coaches at the club.
Q. Why did you decide to go to America in 2017 and how have you found it over there?
A. I had never been to America and fancied going and coaching for a few weeks. I was looking to go from September 2016, but the chance then came up in April 2017. I work for Global Premier Soccer who attend the Milk Cup. Philip Mitchell, who many will know, made it happen. It developed from there. I worked in Michigan on and off for some 18 months and will always be grateful to the owners for giving me a chance at their club. I moved to South Carolina, which is a lovely part of the world. I have really enjoyed it over here. It's something I do not take for granted. Working with young players again has been a challenge and a learning curve. It has enabled me to get my coaching head on again and the coach education piece has been extremely beneficial. Having stepped away, you reflect and learn. GPS are aligned to Bayern Munich, sending players and teams to Munich throughout the year.
Q. Would you encourage coaches or players to give America a go?
A. It is incredible how many coaches are here in America from back home. Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland and England are well represented here. So many come on college scholarships and go into coaching at club or college level. Many have got married and settled here. The game is developing well in America, with so many kids now playing the game. The authorities are trying to improve the overall soccer structure, providing a pathway similar to Europe.
Q. Has it been difficult being away from family?
A. It can be, but they are all behind me and support what I am doing. Susan comes out for a month at a time. She plays a lot of golf and there are no shortage of courses over here. I have two grown up kids, Rachel and Richard, with three grandkids. I am extremely proud of my three grandkids. Harvey is nine, Olivia six and Jacob three. At the minute, I am not sure what the future holds with the Coronavirus pandemic now amongst us. I came home just under two weeks ago and am so glad to get back to be with family. When we come through this, sport will come back with a bang and will be appreciated even more.
Q. Could you return to management some day?
A. Parts I miss but others parts I do not. Hard to tell to be honest. Never say never. Management has many rewards on a personal level.
Q. When you look back at your career, is there anything you would have done differently?
A. As a player, I wish I had done more. As a manager or coach, I achieved way above what I ever thought possible. I am grateful for what has happened and only for Ballinamallard United, it would never have been. Having had time to reflect, there are areas I could have done better in. I am self critical and always wanted to learn. I took on too much at the club at times and lost focus with the main job. Dealing with players has changed a lot over the years and something to consider personally if I ever went back into management. Getting too high with wins and not getting too low in defeat is something that many need to master.
Q. What has been the happiest time of your life?
A. Sport and football has been central to my whole life. The two years between 2011 and 2013 were exceptional. My two children both got married during that time and three months apart, so that was very special. I can't forget the birth of my grandchildren whom I miss while out in the States. I loved my time living in Cookstown as a child and being so involved in various sports. Football has been a pure blessing and sport a valuable asset in this life. I have met some great people on the way. It is something that enriched my life and that of my family over the years.
Q. What has been the most difficult time of your life?
A. They say that your health is your wealth. To date, I have been lucky and grateful for it. So many friends and colleagues have not been so lucky and I think of them. My father died when he was 39, I was just 16 and the eldest in a family of three. His death is something that certainly shaped my future and the career path that I took. When you are young, you cannot understand the rationale of losing your father at such an early age. As you get older, you realise that everyone has a story to tell. I believe my father's death spurred me on to be the best I could be in life. My step father also passed away and it was tough on my mother. Also, my son Richard developed testicular cancer but he came through the operation and now has a 'miracle baby', three-year-old Jacob. It was a challenging time for the family but thankfully Richard checked himself and was therefore able to get the treatment he needed. In 1999, Ballinamallard first team manager Greg Turley was tragically killed in a road traffic accident on his way to training. He was such an inspirational character and missed by us all. Greg managed the club's first team to Intermediate Cup success in 1995/96. This was our club's first success outside junior football. My good friend Nixon Kilpatrick, who I have known for over 40 years and was best man at my wedding, died in January. I flew home for his funeral. Nicky had been a member of my backroom teams for 20 years. He was only 57. A great genuine guy and one who will be sorely missed by his family and friends.
Q. Do you have a favourite book and film?
A. I was always a great fan of a good western, but they are hard to find nowadays. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies are something I enjoyed. I know, not exactly Oscar material! The movie Waking Ned is a superb comedy film. I'm not a great reader of books, I do not have the patience. That will be no surprise to many. I did love reading the book by Rinus Michels, Fifa coach of the century. Team Building: The Road To Success.
Q. Your three dinner guests, dead or alive and why?
A. Leaving aside family, I would invite George Best, simply a genius but also articulate; Muhammad Ali, what a sportsman and character; David Jason (Del Boy) for the humour.
Q. Are you confident the Mallards will keep soaring under Harry McConkey and how amazed were you when they reached the Irish Cup Final?
A. Harry is the right man for the job and has proven that. We are still in a good position and if they can close the gap before the split, it will be interesting. Let us hope the football season can be completed. To have top flight football back in the county would be great. It's incredible that we got to the Premier League in 2012 and some seven years later we competed in our first Irish Cup Final, two unique achievements which therefore cannot be equalled, but bettered. It was a great day out at the Cup Final and I'm so glad I flew home for it. It was a great reward for everyone connected with the club.
Date of birth: August 28, 1961.
Place of birth: Limavady.
Current position: GPS Director of Recruiting and Player Development, Charleston, South Carolina.