Jody Brown – The Hard Work has Begun.
By Leigh Bailey
Ensconced in his office adjacent to the dressing rooms, clad in his club-branded workwear, and deep in conversation with a member of his coaching staff, there looks to be no place that new Billericay Town manager Jody Brown, 42, would rather be.
An initial applicant for the role after the departure of Jamie O’Hara, a run of bad results saw opportunity come knocking once more. He jumped at the chance to take the helm.
“I spoke to Billericay when they gave the job to Kevin Watson. When it didn’t work out, they got in touch with me and said, ‘Would you still be interested? We’re only going to speak to a few people, you’re one of them’. Fortunately, they offered me the job”.
After leaving Dagenham at the onset of the pandemic last year, Brown made the most of the time out to recharge the batteries away from the grind of the game but clearly relishes the opportunity that he now has.
A keen student of the club’s history and traditions, the big attraction for him is the latent potential still to be realised.
“It’s a club with a rich history, a big fanbase, and I think it has the potential to be one of the biggest clubs in Essex if we get it right on the pitch.”
At present, the club are three points adrift at the bottom of the National South table, performances on the pitch have been lacklustre, and the quality of the squad inherited by the incoming boss is clearly not at the level required to sustain success at the level.
Having had several weeks to make his assessment, Brown remains positive. There are still many games to play this season and he is encouraged by the quality of players coming in.
“I don’t think it’s as bad as some people might feel’, he reflects. “But it’s not as good as they were feeling after we beat Slough and Dulwich. It’s probably somewhere in the middle, we’re not playing awfully, we’re lacking a bit in the final third, that’s clear.”
If one of the key issues on the pitch is recognised, Brown’s managerial infrastructure must first be established. Improving selection of players is a key consideration. To this end, one of his most important hires is Head of Recruitment, Steve Pitt.
A knowledgeable, experienced, finder of talent. Pitt has, in the past, occupied a similar role at Chelmsford City under Rod Stringer’s managerial tenure. Brown highly values his long track record in this field in local football and he is also an experienced assistant manager.
Brown has not yet named a second in command. For now, he looks to be adequately supported by the experience of Pitt and first team coach, James Robinson.
An ex-Billericay striker during Craig Edwards’s time in charge, Robinson also played under Brown for over 150 games and provides valued opinion.
Brown’s first task is to improve the depth and range of the playing squad. He acknowledges that what he has inherited is not quite right collectively for the task ahead.
“As a group, I’m not sure we had the balance right in terms of experience, people that are still hungry; and what the players bring, whether its technical ability or athleticism.’
“We’ve got a lot of experienced players. We need different attributes around them and so that’s something I’m trying to change.”
The higher up the pyramid, the more difficult it is to effect change due to the contractual situation of players. Brown remarks that, at Heybridge in step four, the squad could be transformed in a matter of days due to the non-contract nature of that level.
This allowed clubs not only to shed playing staff but also approach replacements with relative ease. It is not as straightforward at step two as he acknowledges.
“You have to find alternative options. You either must bring in loans, which isn’t easy, or you need to get your players to mutually agree to leave or go out on loan themselves’.
“That is a difficult task because where are they going to go on loan? Are clubs in your league going to want them, maybe not? Clubs lower may not have the resources to cover the money.”
Whilst this process can be at times convoluted, and is a substantial absorption of Brown’s time, he is optimistic that progress is being achieved.
In terms of shedding experience, the departure of Jai Reason, to Kent step three side, Cray Wanderers, represented the first contract settlement. Midfielder, Frankie Sutherland, has also moved on to Farnborough on a permanent basis.
Securing the exit of players that have been identified as surplus is one matter. An equally challenging issue is the recruitment of replacements that will improve the fortunes of the team. A switch of club at this stage of the season is riven with complexity.
“All of us are working as hard as you could possibly work. I’ve never been on the phone so much in my life and I’ve been a manager on and off for fifteen years. We’re giving it everything we’ve got but the time of year makes it difficult.”
The manager is adamant that those coming in must be the right players. Not simply those that happen to be available. There is little time to spare due to the precarious League position. The last thing Brown wishes to do is set off another round of squad churn.
“I’m very keen on bringing in the right players. For example, we brought in Jack Munns and Toby Stevenson. They are both players that are still at a very good age, 21 and 27, both highly experienced at levels above this’.
“For me, it’s quite a coup for the club to get them here.”
Stevenson made his debut in impressive fashion at left-back against Welling. A blot of the copybook with a post-match dismissal for dissent should not harm his long-term prospects with the club.
His initial month-long loan is expected to be sought to be renewed on expiry. He is clearly a player of high quality and is very much a part of Brown’s plans.
Munns, formerly of Borehamwood, is a diminutive attacking midfielder. He was selected for his first start in the home defeat to Hungerford but acquitted himself well. He could be a mainstay of the new team.
Similar in stature to former Billericay favourite, Sam Deering, if he can muster a similar sort of impact, the Blues will have a valuable addition to the midfield.
Seeking the right squad balance, as well as making the most of who is available, Brown has also brought in what he would describe as “young and hungry” players.
He goes on, “I feel as if I brought in three good youngsters in Hinds, Denilson Carvalho, and Ekumah. There is pedigree, Carvalho, Arsenal and Huddersfield until he was 21, technically as good as you’re going to see but has not played much football.”
Tariq Hinds, 21, who made his debut at right-back against Hungerford, is a former Tottenham U-23 player. He signed for Billericay after a spell playing in Portugal.
Aaron Ekumah, 21, a versatile defender, came through at Norwich City. He has also played professionally in Iceland before joining the Blues.
“These are boys not here for the financial rewards but they’re here to be part of Billericay and to be tested at this level of football. They come in and they tick every box.’
“They are really hungry and they will only get better.”, he adds.
Despite the progress made, with the goals for column averaging out at less than one per game, Brown is only too aware that securing striking talent is a priority. It could make a big difference.
“I certainly know that in the games I’ve taken we have lacked penetration in the final third. We get down to the penalty area and we’re not quite as instinctive or as confident as we need to be.’
‘I’m trying desperately hard to get the right forwards in.”, he reassures.
The search for a striker has been a frustrating process. Promising prospects have attended training but could not be signed.
Last minute offers from full-time outfits in the National League, and even League 2, provide competition that no part-time side could match.
Persistence does seem to have paid off as Brown recently boosted striking options by securing ex-Barnet and Boreham Wood striker Shaquile Coulthirst, 27.
The frontman made his debut in the away defeat at Chippenham Town, just 24 hours after being announced as a new signing.
Bromley U-23 forward, Finlay Lovatt, also recently signed on one month loan.
The new manager and his team have implemented considerable change since entering the club. Nine new players have been added to the staff, of which four made the starting line-up against Chippenham.
At the same time, two contracted players have left the club permanently.
To date, results have not materially improved although new foundations are being laid. Will it work?
Brown sees the keys to success as twofold. The first involves having the right mentality across the whole club.
“I truly believe the margins are very, very fine. I think if we can change the culture and the mentality from a losing one to a more positive one, that will be a massive bonus and that comes from everyone’
“That comes from the stands, that comes from the people within the club, that comes from the players and the staff as well’, he continues.
The second is more traditional. It comes down to having a good old fashioned prolific striker that can cause problems to the opposition. Step forward, Shaquile Coulthirst!
Brown states, “If we can just find that quality in the final third. Whether somebody manages to step up from the current group, or we manage to get something over the line in terms of a new signing. I think it’s going to make a massive difference.”
He adds, “If you’ve just got a little bit of something in their penalty box, that tight game could go in your favour.”