By Hugo Varley,
When Heybridge Swifts appointed West Ham legend Julian Dicks as manager back in October it certainly raised a few eyebrows.
The former left-back, who was affectionately known as the ‘Terminator’ by the Hammers faithful, needs little introduction to most football fans.
Dicks spent almost ten years at West Ham, intersected with a brief stint at Liverpool and quickly earned a fearsome reputation among opposition attackers and referees alike.
The Terminator was able to prove himself as a player at the very highest level, but how would he fare in the dugout at Scraley Road?
Three months and 12 league wins later the decision by the Swifts hierarchy looks to have been an absolute masterstroke.
Before Saturday’s trip to Soham Town Rangers, Heybridge were breathing down the neck of league leaders Bowers & Pitsea, having fallen to just one defeat since Dicks moved into the hot seat.
“It’s been absolutely brilliants so far!” the former Grays Athletic boss told The NLP.
“The team were struggling at the wrong end of the table when I came in and if somebody had said that we would be sitting in second place after Christmas I would have told them they were talking complete rubbish.
“The previous manager left a really good foundation and to be honest I haven’t looked to change too much.
“A few players decided to leave the club in the wake of the managerial change but that didn’t really bother me because if anybody doesn’t want to give their all for this club then I don’t want them to be here”.
The Bostik North title challengers’ dramatic reversal in form is best demonstrated by their recent results on the road.
Having previously won just once away from home during the first two months of the campaign, Dicks’ side have returned to East Essex with all three points in five of their last seven games, picking up vital results against the likes of Coggeshall Town and Grays in the process.
Dicks added: “I couldn’t have asked for any more from the boys. They have really raised their performance levels and we have gone toe to toe with the very best teams in the division.
“We can’t sit back and feel proud of ourselves though as we are still miles away from achieving what we want to this season.
“I need to make sure that the players treat every game in the same way because if we become complacent then we will fall right back down the table and everything that we have put in will be completely wasted”.
Known for taking the old-school approach as a player, Dicks has sought to implement a similar strategy in his coaching methods.
The Heybridge boss has ramped up the intensity of training sessions to ensure all players have the physical attributes as well as the drive and determination required to succeed once they cross the line on matchday.
“When the lads are in on a Tuesday and Thursday we make sure that we work them extremely hard at all times” he said.
“This extra work is really beginning to pay off because the fitness levels of the players have come on absolute leaps and bounds.
“During the final few minutes of games the lads are still able to play at a high tempo, which has given us a real edge over the past few weeks and it’s shown in our results.
“The recent results have helped to foster a great atmosphere around the club at the moment.
“We want to make the play-offs as an absolute minimum now, but we can’t afford to get ahead of ourselves.
“I will make sure the players keep their heads down and continue putting in everything for the badge, and we will see where we end up when summer comes around”.