By Matt Badcock,
JAY SAUNDERS is relishing the chance to take on another Non-League club and show his unprecedented success at Maidstone United wasn’t a one-off.
The 39-year-old surprisingly left the Stones back in August after seven years at the helm.
Saunders guided his hometown club to three promotions in four years as they rose from Step 4 to the top table of Non-League football where they comfortably stayed up in their first two seasons.
Their climb up the Pyramid coincided with a move back to their town to a purpose-built stadium and 3G pitch.
As well as FA Cup scalps of League sides Stevenage and Cheltenham in that time, Saunders also saw players like Joe Pigott, Dan Sweeney, Kevin Lokko and Zavon Hines move into the Football League.
The former Margate and Ebbsfleet defender, who also oversaw the club’s youth structure, says he’s had enough time to recharge his batteries but it’s also given him an opportunity to reflect on a successful period.
“We were successful there,” Saunders told The NLP. “We had three promotions, won two cups, had good FA Cup runs, sold a lot of players onto Football League clubs, built the club and moved it on quick.
“It was a really successful period and I’m really proud of it. But it was also the stuff behind the scenes of building the youth up and working in the academy so there was a lot of work that went on.
“So I’ve got to look back and be proud of what I did but the thing is it’s all quickly forgotten when you move on, someone else comes in and it changes. Now I want to prove it wasn’t a one-off thing and I can go and do it again.
“I had the opportunity to go to Macclesfield in the summer but I turned that down – all of a sudden you’re out of work! So it’s been a little bit of a strange time but I can look back and be proud of what we achieved.”
Saunders has no regrets at declining Macc’s offer – a decision he took because of his young family – and has been using the time out wisely. He’s been helping out Neil Smith’s Bromley, while getting out to see as many games and players that he can at different levels of Non-League.
“You’re always learning and I’ve got a lot of time for Neil Smith,” Saunders said. “I’m only 39 so it was good to go and see how they do things and work with them. It kept me on the training pitch and watching games, players and other teams.
“In between that I was going out to watch games down to Bostik South just really trying to watch as much football as I can. It’s given me that hunger back now to get back in and build something again”.
And Saunders isn’t precious about only returning to a National League club.
“I’d love to go back in at that level but it’s tough to get jobs and if that doesn’t come up I’ve got no issue with dropping down because I’ve done it,” he said.
“I’m fortunate, I wasn’t thrown in at the National League level and it’s all I know. Obviously I worked my way up. I’d certainly listen to most clubs and see what offers there are.”