Ex-Sunderland man on being sacked, returning to management and winning at Arsenal

Ex-Whitby Town manager Darren Williams. Picture by FRANK REID
Ex-Whitby Town manager Darren Williams. Picture by FRANK REID
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The brutal reality of being another statistic in football’s unemployment queue struck Darren Williams last Saturday afternoon.

“Last weekend was my first free one. It hurt,” says the former Sunderland defender.

It’s less than a fortnight since Williams was sacked as manager of Whitby Town and the wound dealt by the non-league outfit remains fresh.

The pain is understandable.

Four years of service, at a level where the remuneration makes a mockery of the ‘part time’ contract, was rewarded with a dismissal via telephone which lasted less than 60 seconds.

“I just felt it was the wrong way to do things, especially after what we’d done,” he said.

Darren Williams scores against Middlesbrough in 1997

Darren Williams scores against Middlesbrough in 1997

Whitby’s fortunes have been on a par with Sunderland’s this season in the Evo Stick Premier Division - the same league where Darlington 1883 and Salford City compete - with the Seasiders in the thick of the relegation battle.

Williams accepts that. He only has to look at the club where he made almost 250 appearances to see that negative results invariably prompt a change in the dug-out.

But the 38-year-old points to Whitby’s crippling injury list and the progress he had made during his tenure - saving the club from relegation in 2011-12 and then subsequently finishing comfortably in mid-table on three successive occasions.

This is not a role akin to managing in the professional game either.

I just felt it was the wrong way to do things, especially after what we’d done

Darren Williams

Whitby’s training kit was funded by Williams’ initiative. More tellingly, so was the summer signing of striker Mikey Roberts for an undisclosed fee from Spennymoor Town.

That’s the reality of non-league management. It’s a Jack-of-all-trades love-of-the-game task, which is often a thankless one.

Williams said: “Everyone thinks it’s part-time, but it’s full-time in reality.

“You’re always on the phone, arranging training, meetings.

“This year, we managed to arrange training kit which was financed through ourselves from local companies.

“I was able to buy a player, but again that was money I sourced - going out networking with people to get them on board.

“You’re doing all that stuff, you get the injuries and then get sacked with a quick phone call.

“I’m just disappointed with not getting extra time.”

Williams is eager to immediately return to football and is open to offers at youth or senior level - and that understandably includes at Sunderland.

And while he is yet to coach in the professional game, the ex-York City man - signed by Peter Reid for £50,000 in 1997 - believes working in non-league gives him an advantage in the critical area of man-to-man management.

He said: “I’d love to get back in straightaway. I’m keen, eager to get back in.

“I want to test myself a bit higher, see if I can get into the pro game and do a job there.

“I’d be happy to work with the Under-21s, coaching or managing at that level.

“I want to be a manager, but I’m the kind of lad that likes to get my teeth into it and work hard at it.

“I’ve got a lot of experience from my playing days, worked under some fantastic managers and I’ve learnt more as a part-time manager with the things you have to do.

“You probably become a better man-manager at part-time level then you would full-time.

“You might have a team in your mind in the morning, but when you’re on your way down at tea-time, it might change when lads get stuck in traffic or can’t get out of work.

“At the end of the day, football is not the bread and butter for those lads.

“You’ve got to man-manage players as best you can.”

Williams kept an eye on Sunderland’s fortunes even during his employment at Whitby and he appeared as a pundit on BBC Newcastle this week to give his thoughts on the club.

He has been heartened by the turnaround prompted by back-to-back wins, which have propelled Sunderland out of the relegation zone for the first time since August, and sees no reason why the Black Cats cannot maintain their momentum with a positive result at Arsenal this weekend.

Williams was part of the Sunderland side who last triumphed at Arsenal 13 years ago - a 3-2 League Cup success in one of the few highlights of Howard Wilkinson’s tenure.

“They’ve got a massive platform going to Arsenal,” he added.

“The lads’ confidence will be growing a little bit and they don’t look as wide-open as they had been.

“Nobody will expect them to win the game at Arsenal, so if you’re going into that game with no pressure and confidence from the last two games, it can only stand you in good stead.

“There’s been very, very surprising results all season and there’s no reason why they can’t go there and get something out of it.

“Hopefully it will continue, because being at Sunderland so long, it’s my team that I look out for first and foremost.”