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Mark McGhee’s got a new Priory engagement – Euro star rocks up at Eastbourne Borough

By Matt Badcock

A European Cup Winners’ Cup, a European Super Cup, four Scottish Premier titles, five Scottish Cups and three promotions with three different clubs as a manager.

But last week Mark McGhee had that same buzz preparing a team in Non-League for their National League South match against Wealdstone.

Eastbourne Borough have lured the former Scotland assistant into their Priory Lane dugout for the remainder of the season.

The Sports decided to move on from Jamie Howell – despite recently offering the former Bognor Regis Town boss a new contract – at the weekend.

McGhee, 61, brings a CV packed with trophies from his time as a player in Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary Aberdeen team that took on Europe’s elite, with Celtic and later as a manager at Reading, Millwall and Brighton.

The Scot still lives on the south coast so when Eastbourne picked up the phone, there was no reason not to accept.

“It’s until the end of the season, 11 games. I live in Brighton so geographically it’s handy so when it was suggested, that made it a bit easier,” he tells The NLP. “I’m looking forward to it.

“I don’t want to be sitting at home doing nothing. I’m a football guy, I want to be working with football players, regardless of the level. I’m quite prepared to do it, I’m not sort of proud – I’ll enjoy it and I’ll do my best to help them as much as I can.”

Having been away from the dug-out for just over a year following an ill-fated spell in League Two with Barnet, McGhee is looking forward to a different challenge.

They don’t come much more experienced, however. Having learned his trade under and alongside some of the biggest names in football, McGhee’s longevity shows. When it’s under your skin, is that what you miss?

“Absolutely,” McGhee says. “I’ve been doing this since 1991, it’s a long time. I’m nearly 1,000 games – it’s 970-odd – so it’s what I do and what I want to keep doing.

“You’ve got to be successful. Most of the jobs I’ve been at I’ve been there for three and a half to four years. During that time I’ve had promotions and play-offs. You’ve got to keep doing that, repeating the success, you get another job and you go again.

“This is different. It’s at a lower level but it’s a good set-up. The people who run it are totally dedicated to it and enthusiastic. They were enthusiastic about me coming, and that was good enough for me.”

Management is a precarious occupation these days and McGhee has seen the shifting landscape in the professional game over the years.

“I don’t think it’s changed at this level,” he says. “I think it’s changed at the higher level where you have owners, chairmen, chief execs, directors of football – the process is slightly different. I played in Germany for two years and it was like that then when I was at Hamburg. Gunter Netzer was the manager if you like but he was never on the training ground, he was only ever in the office.

“He did all the signings and the business side of it – he was probably what you’d now call the director of football and Ernst Happel was the coach. It’s now reached here where you have chief execs and directors of football, so it has changed.

“The financial side of it now is so critical. Clubs expose themselves, and if they think it’s going wrong one way, they think they can change it and so change the manager. Players are under contract so it’s not easy to change that but I don’t think there’s a manager in the world who goes into a job not knowing that and therefore doesn’t worry too much.”

While it’s an interim appointment that made people sit up and notice – something Eastbourne hope to be doing a lot more of going forward – many may forget McGhee’s humble beginnings.

A trainee architect by day, a striker on the pitch, his playing days really began at Greenock Morton where he was part of the Scottish First Division winning side before Ferguson made him one of his first major signings at Aberdeen.

It was there, the story goes, that the legendary boss would be delivering his team talks, a hand would go up with a question.

“Uh-oh,” the Aberdeen manager would mockingly lament. “Here we go again. It’s McGhee and his big words.”
Perhaps it’s why he isn’t afraid of a challenge and taking over a part-time club that haven’t hit the heights they’d like to so far this season is far from daunting.

His approach is as you’d expect. When Howell left, McGhee was quickly linked to the opening and he’d already been doing his homework. What does he think of Non-League so far?

“I went to the game at Wealdstone on Saturday because I had a hint I’d maybe be asked to do it,” he says. “I went along and I thought the game was a good game and I thought the standard was decent.

“Two teams who were well organised, athletic, there was a good tempo about the game. It’s not rubbish football! It’s good.

“Living down here I’ve been to Worthing, I’ve been to Lewes often enough to see games. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know Non-League players inside out but I have people around me who do, so that’s fine.”

McGhee has brought in his former Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Charlie Oatway, who is also waiting for his next opportunity in the pro game.

“I’ve got Charlie in with me who is a very seasoned assistant. He’s worked with Gus Poyet at Brighton, at Sunderland, in Spain and China. Charlie’s done a bit as well and he’s come in with me until the end of the season.

“We’re both in the same situation. We’re both waiting to get another job. I’m like Charlie, I’ll probably take another job going in and working with somebody. I probably won’t go back in as a manager, I’ll probably go back in to assist a younger guy. So we’re both waiting for the same thing.”

On Tuesday and Thursday he took training, which included a reunion with Boro midfielder Sergio Torres who has often recalled his first experience of English football after arriving from Argentina.

It was during a trial at Brighton, managed then by McGhee, that Torres realised what he needed to do if he was to make a living out of the game in this country.

“I remember,” McGhee smiles. “He was talking to Charlie about it and saying how when he came to training at Brighton he got kicked to bits by the likes of Charlie Oatway and Guy Butters!”

Eastbourne Borough’s Step 2 opponents might be a world away from beating Real Madrid – McGhee set-up John Hewitt’s winner back in 1983 – but McGhee couldn’t be happier. And he knows the situation.

“They’re in a precarious but not catastrophic position,” he concedes. “They’ve got a couple of games to win so we’ve got to go in and work hard.”

This article was brought to you by The Non-League Paper, the UK's best-selling football title on the newsstand, on-sale every Sunday.
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