(Jay Saunders won promotion from Step 3 with Maidstone)
By Matt Badcock
Jay Saunders says returning to management in the Bostik Premier doesn’t faze him – especially at former club Margate.
The 40-year-old has been out of the dug-out since August when his time at hometown club Maidstone United came to an end in August after seven successful years.
In that time he took the Stones from Step 4 to Non-League’s top table with three promotions in four seasons, as well as some impressive FA Cup runs and saw players move into the Football League.
Now he’s back at another club he knows well having signed for Gate as a 19-year-old before going on to make nearly 400 appearances for the Kent club, while scoring 50 goals.
Margate are in a fight to keep hold of their Step 3 status following a ten-game winless run that saw Steve Brown depart Hartsdown Park.
Joint-manager Mike Sandmann is staying on and Saunders, right, is relishing the challenge.
“I had a couple of offers come up in the last week or so and I had to make a decision,” Saunders told The NLP. “I’ve spoken openly about maybe dropping down a couple of leagues to get back in – which I’m not afraid to do – and I just had to make sure it was the right job.
“Obviously I played nearly 400 games for Margate so it’s a club I know well. I know what a good club it can be.
“With everything they’ve got going on – with regards to getting the freehold of the land – it’s a good project.
“They’ve asked me to go into until the end of the season and then we will sit down and review it.
“It’s an opportunity and I’d rather be back in work and involved than sitting about doing nothing really. I wouldn’t do it for any club but the fact I’ve got a good affiliation with Margate, it’s nice to go in somewhere I know well and help out.”
Saunders was a big part of Margate’s promotions to the Southern Premier League and the Conference before playing for Gravesend & Northfleet, Lewes and Maidstone.
He says returning to a club he holds close to his heart is perfect for his second management job – but he knows he needs to make a swift impact.
“Margate and Maidstone played a massive part in my career,” he said. “I spent a long, long time there and had some really good times. We had some bad times when the ground went so I’ve been through it all there.
“Hopefully we can climb the table and be safe and then at the end of the season we can look at it and go from there. That’s the best way of looking at it and best way of doing it.
“You can look at the long term and there are some really good plans in place. They spoke to me about them and it’s really impressive what they want to do there – I think the club is only going in one direction.
“But, for me, the main thing is getting points on the board because, whatever way you look at it, you’re in a relegation battle. They probably shouldn’t be but, in all fairness to Mike and Steve Brown, they’ve had a lot of injuries to deal with.
“The club have been good and said we can bring a few in so we will look to do that over the next week and we can really start to get out of the trouble we’re in.
“I think there’s enough quality around the squad to do that. It’s just maybe one or two areas we maybe need to strengthen and maybe add some depth to the squad.”
Kadell Daniel arrived on loan from Dover Athletic ahead of Saturday draw with Tonbridge Angels, while players like Frannie Collin, Tom Mills and Alex Flisher were part of Stones’ success under Saunders.
The new boss says his phone has been “glued to his ear” since his appointment as he looks to get the team firing – and the fans smiling.
“Whenever I go back and watch games there I always get a nice response from the supporters and they’ve always made me feel welcome – even when we were going for the title against them with Maidstone!” Saunders added.
“That’s nice and I hope we can get the results because they’re a good crowd there and good support. They do get good crowds when things are going well so hopefully we get results, the crowd will pick up and enjoy the end of the season.”