Three months to the day since he was sacked by Glentoran, Eddie Patterson wants to set the record straight.
Angered by comments that he left an unmotivated squad behind and upset that his reputation was tarnished despite masterminding two Irish Cup wins during his three years at the helm, Patterson today reveals he felt undermined at every turn by chairman Stephen Henderson during a series of quarrels which included:
What’s more, the ex-Oval gaffer — who was given his marching orders in the immediate aftermath of a 2-0 victory over Carrick Rangers on October 17 — has expressed his regret at not going through with his threat to walk away following last season’s Irish Cup success.
The support of other board members and agreements over the security of his backroom team encouraged the 47-year-old to pen a new deal in the summer, but managerial frustrations continued as a number of transfer targets slipped through the net — including one high-profile acquisition which Patterson believed was virtually a done deal.
“After I left and the new manager came in, I was ticked off reading comments from the chairman such as ‘the new manager will galvanize the squad’, so I want to set the record straight,” says Patterson.
“I had a great time when I was allowed to do my job unfettered and I hope my experience at Glentoran hasn’t harmed my reputation, because I think that’s what such comments might suggest.
“I should have walked away after the Cup Final win last year, that is my biggest regret, but I would love to get back in the game again because the bug is starting to bite.”
Appointed as Scott Young’s replacement in February 2012, Patterson reflects: “I had a fantastic time at The Oval. The majority of fans supported me even though I was working under probably the lowest budget in the club’s history and I had an excellent rapport with chairman Terence Brannigan when I arrived.
“He never interfered with my work and told me outright ‘we will leave it to you to deal with matters on the park’.
“Aubry Ralph was spot on as well, he helped me get new players like Jay Magee, Marcus Kane and Stephen McAlorum in.
“But when Stephen Henderson took over at The Oval, things changed and got so bad that I regret signing a contract extension last summer.
“I feel it was personal because I spoke my mind and challenged him on things I felt were not right at the club.”
Tensions first bubbled in the build-up to the 2013 Irish Cup Final against Cliftonville when, with Mr Brannigan having promised that the prize money for winning the competition would be shared between the players and staff as bonuses, Mr Henderson implemented a change of policy.
Patterson explains: “Ater the semi-final win over Portadown, Stephen came to me and said ‘we as a board take a different view about the chairman’s agreement with you about bonuses; you will get 50% of any prize money won’.
“The players, especially my senior players, were up in arms and I had to speak to them. I recommended that we accept it and get on with the game, which we won.
“Paul McLean of our sponsors McLean’s Bookmakers wanted to do something for the team and threw in almost £10,000 as a bonus. We assumed this was over and above the bonus the club was offering, but it wasn’t.
“It was incorporated into the club bonus and so the club only had to pay £3,000 in bonuses.
“From that point, I wanted everything sorted at the start of the season and agreed that any bonuses would be for everyone; playing staff, coaching staff, physio, kit man and manager — the same as the first Cup Final we won. That was agreed between myself, our captain Elliott Morris and Stephen Henderson.”
Even so, on the eve of last season’s decider with Portadown, a familiar frustrating pattern began to emerge.
“Two weeks before the Final last year, after we beat Crusaders in the semi-finals, it came out that the bonus money was for the players only, not the backroom staff,” adds Patterson.
“When I spoke to Stephen, he said ‘you didn’t negotiate for the coaching staff, only the players’, but Elliott was able to back me up.
“It was agreed that £13,000 from the Cup Final was for everyone involved — including David Howland, who didn’t feature due to injury but was still part of the squad.
“Paul again very kindly threw another 10 grand in and it was agreed with the board that this money would be on top of the club bonuses this time.
“Another 10 grand bonus came in when it emerged that UEFA payments for qualification to Europe had risen substantially, but Stephen told me that neither the manager nor the coaching staff were eligible for this, just the players.
“Fair dues, senior players like Elliott, Stephen McAlorum and Niall Henderson and some others said ‘if there’s money coming in, either distribute it to everyone or keep it’, and Stephen said ‘do what you want with it’.
“It was then that I thought ‘f*** it, this guy is after me, I’ve had enough’. That was the Thursday night before the Final, our last training session, and I thought then that the Final would be my last game.”
A discussion with board members Simon Kitchen and Kevin Milhench — who gave assurances that “everything was sorted” — helped ease tensions but, even in the throes of revelry less than 24 hours later, Patterson could not bring himself to share a celebratory embrace with his chairman and recalls: “I shook hands with Stephen but it was a cold, limp handshake and I said to him then ‘don’t do a Judas’.
“I thought it was my last game but I was offered a contract extension, to appease people in my opinion, and I signed it for several reasons.
“I felt I was going along the right lines in my job, I felt I had the support of the majority of the board and I wanted to do the right thing for my backroom staff.
“Then, at the start of this season, I was getting brassed off by comments made to me about playing matters such as personnel and formations, things got worse and I felt the end was coming.”
Having overseen the integration of youngsters such as Kym Nelson, Calum Birney and Willie Garrett to the first-team squad, Patterson had hoped to add to his panel this summer, but was told that funds from the £50k sale of Jordan Stewart — another graduate from the underage ranks — would be made available just two days before the closure of the transfer window, leaving precious little time to recruit the level of quality that the manager had targeted.
Twelve months on from missing out on moves for former Linfield duo Michael Gault and Mark McAllister, both of whom subsequently signed for Portadown, Patterson was convinced he had done enough to persuade Michael Carvill to sign up at The Oval this summer, only for the deal to collapse at the last minute, ahead of the 27-year-old joining Crusaders instead.
Having repeatedly requested that he be judged when he had a “full team” at his disposal, Patterson was shocked to be dismissed at the end of a week in which his injury-ravaged squad performed magnificently in a 1-1 draw with Linfield and recorded back-to-back victories over Carrick Rangers — but believes a pre-match episode at Windsor Park may have been a decisive factor in his sacking.
“Prior to the Linfield game, I put Stephen out of the changing room so I could do my team talk,” he explains.
At the time, Mr Henderson commented: “There was no argument whatsoever.
“I fully respect that is it for the coaching staff and the players and whatever is said in there is between them.
“So I can categorically state it had no part to play in the decision to relieve Eddie of his responsibilities.”
Patterson, however, contends: “I think that was the catalyst. My door is always open until 1.30pm on a matchday.
“After that it’s my time with the players, it’s time to work and I have always been like that.
“Stephen would have come in before but never stayed. I don’t regret it, I would do it again — only by the scruff of the neck this time!” he jokes.