“Don’t Get Too Emotional”

Gary Elphick, appointed as Hastings United manager in mid-November, has taken them to the top of the Isthmian League South-East Division, though a run of eight wins in nine games ended last Saturday. Hugh Sullivan questions him ahead of the ‘U’s encounter with second-placed Ashford this weekend.

What brought you to Hastings in 2019?
I was 33, playing at Burgess Hill but not enjoying it that much. Chris Agutter (then manager of Hastings) persuaded me to join his team, playing a possession-based style of football that would suit my style – and it did!

You were a successful player-manager at Worthing five or six years ago. Why have you decided not to combine the two roles at Hastings? 
My first game as manager at Hastings was the home match against Cray Valley when we lost in the last minute. I got very emotional and felt I was torn between the two jobs. Besides, Finn O’Mara has come into central defence, and I’m seeing a player that’s succeeding and doing everything asked.

Gary Elphick with striker Ben Pope
CREDIT: Scott White

Have you changed the way Hastings play?
Chris had a fantastic win rate, and I’ve learnt a lot from him. I think we play with slightly more risk, we like to go forward quickly with purpose down the flanks. Playing Tom Chalmers at full-back, for instance, has been a great addition to our attacking patterns. 

Hastings have had a remarkable defensive record in recent weeks– only two goals conceded in nine games before last Saturday. Why is that?
I’ve always been a defender and like working on defensive techniques – I have an FA coaching Level 2 badge and would like to go up to the next stage (UEFA B licence). As to our run of results, it makes me nervous, to be honest, and I don’t like taking the credit. I’ve brought in Jon Meeney from Worthing to help; my brother Tom, who recently retired after a pro league career as a defender, also advises. I was taught that we’ve got two ears for a reason.

Chris Agutter spent a lot of time with the Academy, and at the beginning of his managerial reign put great emphasis on youth, though ultimately he relied much more heavily on senior players. What is your relationship with the Academy?
I have a full-time job as a plumber, eight hours a day, and live in Shoreham, so I don’t have time to work with the Academy. I do watch Under-18s and Under-23s matches, though, and my assistant Andrew Brown keeps me informed. We have a good crop of youth players – as well as Tom Chalmers, there’s Alfie Peacock, Jack Bates, Freddie Legg, Harvey Mapstone, Harvey Greig. But I think it’s vital to have strong senior players as models for them.

What are your thoughts about the game this Saturday at Ashford?
Ashford have had a bit of a voodoo over us in recent seasons. But it’s important not to get too emotional about it, we need to stay cold-blooded. We will have a game plan, as we always do, and we should trust the process.

United lost to Ashford 3-1 in the home league match three months ago. Why do you think that was?
The feeling in the dressing room wasn’t right that day. There was a sense that Chris Agutter was going to leave, and the group of players picked up on it.

How have you coped in your changed relationship with the players as manager? 
It’s tough – you’re a friend and a team mate, and now you’re making decisions as their manager. But there is a dividing line in the sand, and I think that leadership comes natural to me. As long as you’re honest and tell people how you feel, they’ll accept you. And the back-room support I get here is outstanding.

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