AFC Hornhurch have been handed a huge boost ahead of their return to the Bostik Premier with manager Jimmy McFarlane back in the dugout just five months after he suffered a stroke.
The popular boss fell ill in February with the Urchins running away at the top of the Bostik North.
McFarlane’s assistant manager Colin McBride took over the reins and guided the club home to the title with 103 points, and a return to Step 3, but now the club’s longest standing gaffer is back.
“We didn’t have to go outside of the club to get over the line or change anything, albeit I threatened the players a few times,” McBride explained to The NLP.
“The problem was, when I took over we were seven or eight points clear, I said to the players, ‘don’t you blow it now I’m in charge!’ But my main worry at that time was my mate lying in hospital which wasn’t great.
“The doctors are just amazed at the recovery Jimmy’s made since. I think they said if he wasn’t as fit and as strong as he was, he might not have even been here now, that’s how huge the stroke was.
“At the start of the summer I was going to carry on being the manager and since then he’s been to every training session and been in the dugout for every game. At the moment we’re in a little bit of a limbo where some players come to me, some come to Jimmy but it’s no big deal, we’ve got no egos.
“Jimmy is the manager and I’m just there helping him along. We see a real day-to-day improvement with him. He’s got a rehab of his own where he’s out walking all the time. He played for me until he was 44 and broke his leg three times so I know how strong he is. He’s our manager and long may it continue.”
McFarlane was named the Bostik North manager of the year with his side having led the division from start to finish.
After two play-off defeats Hornchurch returned to the Premier Division the no-nonsense way and now they have their manager, who won promotion with Hornchurch from Step 3 in 2012, back.
Only goalkeeper Sam Mott has not re-signed from their defence which conceded just 35 times last season while the acquisition of experienced striker Sean Marks from Maidenhead will have left other clubs jealous.
“I said to Jimmy about a year or so ago that he’d be a good signing for us when he has had enough of going around the M25 to Maidenhead,” says McBride. “Someone said he had left and I got George Purcell to ring him up because they played together at Braintree, he said he was happy to talk to me.
“I drove up to see him where he lives and we had a long chat. A week or so later he text saying he’d like to come. He was spoken to by 21 clubs and apparently, I was the only one who drove to see him. The first game we played in pre-season at Hullbridge he was useless! But we know what we’ll get from him and I think he’ll be a great signing.”
Hornchurch have made only five additions the with squad put through McFarlane’s old-fashioned approach to pre-season.
Running and more running has been on the agenda but after being the fittest side in the league last season, in McBride’s opinion, why change a winning formula?
“We’ve worked really hard again this summer and we look fit,” he adds. “Ten games in, I’d snatch your hand off now for 20 points. Most of the top sides from last year aren’t in the league now where the new Pyramid system has changed. Hendon, Staines and Leiston have gone across, Billericay and Dulwich went up.
“I think we’ll be ok. Jimmy and I haven’t spoken about where we want to be because like everyone you want to win it. I don’t know whether our budget will be able to put us in that position, if it did it would be a great feat.
“It does make me laugh when I hear all these managers talking about budgets because the only budget I know is ours! I’ve seen a lot of strong signings from other clubs but we’ve made good ones ourselves. We’ll hopefully enjoy the ride.