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From Winnipeg, with love. Memoirs of a football manager

Started on 3 August 2020 by bigmattb
Latest Reply on 12 June 2021 by Karter Mitchell
Haha, Duarte seems a little fragile about not being handed a return to the club since his disloyalty didn't pay off quite the way he had hoped.

All to play for heading into the last day. It's fitting that it'll be decided with the two teams facing-off. Quite the way to progress in the cup too. Great character and fight on display.
2020-08-13 23:08#277139 TheLFCFan : Brilliant that Durate came running back and even better you told him where to go. You are really showing him he isn't needed and with three more good performances, it's a league and cup double. Come on!

For sure man, Duarte sure does have a terrible attitude, no way Chris would let that threaten to bring the team down
2020-08-14 10:34#277150 ScottT : Haha, Duarte seems a little fragile about not being handed a return to the club since his disloyalty didn't pay off quite the way he had hoped.

All to play for heading into the last day. It's fitting that it'll be decided with the two teams facing-off. Quite the way to progress in the cup too. Great character and fight on display.

His personality was too big a threat to the chances of a league and cup double, Chris did the right thing!
Chapter 11 – I’m on a mission for commission

2 games and potentially 2 trophies. I’d been here last season, sort of. We’d finished runners up in the league as well as losing in the cup final. I really didn’t want another runners up medal in either competition, neither did the team.

In what was at the time my biggest pre match team talk, I told the team we weren’t favourites to win the league, but we’d exceptionally well to get to where we are. The pressure was all on College Europa, which it was. I felt we could go into the game relaxed and just play to our strengths. The team seemed to agree with me.

As noted earlier in my memoirs, you always remember your first of everything, and this game was no different. This is one that sticks in my mind vividly. As soon as the ref blew his whistle to start the game, I knew. I knew as soon as we had the ball in those opening few moments of the game, I knew we were going to win it. Straight from kick off Garcia played it to Tirada out wide on the left, he ran 8 or 9 yards, passed in field to Walker, who took on the defence, cut inside on his right foot and rifled the ball at the keeper. It was dead center and the keeper should’ve made a routine stop, but he flapped at it and the defence eventually punted it out for a throw. That’s when I knew this is it for us.

It wasn’t long before we took the lead. I just thought if we pressured them we’ll get the upper hand. The keeper was all over the place, he didn’t look confident at all. Any crosses that came in he missed catching them, when he rushed off his line he hesitated, I told the team to put pressure on by not allowing short goal kicks. On a passage of play shortly before half time we got the lead by playing Garica inside right channel, he took it passed the defence and the keeper made his move, but as he did Garcia trapped the ball, looked for the run of Walker inside, as he did the keeper spotted him and Garcia chipped the ball up and over him into the empty net.

During half time I just told the lads I’m happy with how it’s gone, I told the front 2 to keep pressuring the keeper, he’s not having his best day, and the defence really hadn’t had much to do up until that point. From the first whistle to the last in the second, we never looked like losing this one. We added 2 more goals, both mistakes by their defence and keeper, and we were crowned, quite rightly so, Gibraltar Primera League champions, which is Saint Joseph’s first league win since 1996, a full 22 years ago!

Winning this league obviously isn’t that big a deal outside of Gibraltar, but the last year, and for the 12 that preceded it, everyone was expecting Lincoln to be crowned champions again. Well they would’ve done, had it not been for that pesky Chris Irvine and his band of unfancied but totally committed footballers!

After the celebrations had calmed down, I was alone in the changing room, writing in my diary as it happened, and Stuart Rodriguez walked in, with a bottle of whisky and 2 glasses. He told me he knew I’d be the last one to leave, I always made the point of being the first in and last out, and he came to speak to me alone. Without going into too much detail, we finished the bottle of whisky, and Stuart told me how much this league win meant to him and his family, and that he’ll forever be grateful for our efforts this season. He also gave me an envelope, and in this envelope would be the thing that I used to negotiate every contract I signed from that moment on. Inside the envelope was a cheque for 5 thousand euro. I told him I couldn’t accept this, but he insisted on my taking it. He said it was the least he could, Saint Josephs were in for a windfall for just qualifying for the Champions League, and with the money they were going to get the club would have no debt and be able to run on a profit for at least the next 2 seasons. Once I took the cheque I decided there and then from now on, I was going to put an emphasis on bonuses based on competition wins. I figured I’d have more negotiating power if I took a lower basic wage, I jotted down in my diary this was going to my mission for commission. It’s something I’ve stuck to ever since.

Just before the upcoming cup final, Frank approached to say he was going to retire at the end of the season, but before I had chance to reply, he told me he had reconsidered because we’d won the league, and he wanted to be part of the team that attempted to retain it. He was always an absolute professional with me, and I thanked him and told him we would be going all out next season again, but that we’ve got the cup to win first. In the run up to the cup final, the end of the season awards were made, and I had won the manager of the year award, which was a nice honour and well deserved. Liam Walker got signing and player of the year, and Michael Garcia’s 21 league goals made him the division’s top scorer.

We then had the cup final, and I was so determined to win this after finishing runners up last year, I was too nervous to attend my pre match presser that day.

Someone who wasn’t nervous however, was outgoing player, and hat trick hero Jose Verdejo. He was in inspired form, he controlled the game and I was concerned that he was going to be too big a miss next season. But as we were given the cup, and Jose and I shared a moment, he said something to me that will stick with me forever. When I told him how happy and proud of his performance I was, I said it will bring a tear to my eye knowing he’s not coming back next season. He replied with ‘Boss, cry later, but for now let’s enjoy the laughter’ and we partied long into the night.
bigmattb's avatar Group bigmattb
3 yearsEdited
Chapter 12 – Oh God, not my nose!

That night myself, Javier and the team, all 24 registered players had played a part in our league and cup double, had done the next logical thing – party all night! We had a small celebratory party after the league win, but we knew we had the cup game coming up, so we kept it small. After this game though, the shackles were off and we went all out to make it a night to remember.

The chairman had managed to call in a favour and rented out the lounge area of the biggest hotel in Gibraltar at short notice. I happened to get there last out of everyone, very uncharacteristic of me, but when I walked in I was showered with cheers and applause. The general feeling was it was down to me giving the team all the motivation they needed as well as the right tactics and only losing my temper when necessary (see the semi against Glacis for proof!). As I made my way over to the table holding the punch, the DJ came over, shook my hand and asked me if there was any type of music I wanted to be played. I told him I’m a massive synthwave fan, he just looked at me blankly was said ‘okay dude, I’ll play some hard house’. I did get talking to him later that evening and found out he’s from the USA and was doing a tour, mainly the party hot spots Lanzarotte, Ibiza and Benidorm, when he found himself a small job in Gibraltar to pass the time.

As the drinks were flowing, I had the bright idea that as I would soon be having an extra 5 thousand euro in my bank, I might as well splash out that night, so more or less paid for everyone’s night without giving it a second thought. I’m not sure exactly how long we’d been partying, but at some point Frank Heras was on the dance floor, dancing in what can only be described as choreographed mayhem, what else could you say about a 6 foot 4 mountain of a man swinging his arms here there and everywhere? He was getting a bit boisterous, and I was asked to go calm him down. As I made my way over to him, staggering and trying my best to keep my balance, I was caught square in the face by one of those long gangly arms of his. He hit me for 6 and I was out cold.

I was out cold for 5 hours, and when I woke up in the hospital, there was this pretty face just staring at me. In my half asleep half concussed state, I’d never seen such a beautiful face in all my life, I started to think this was an angel Saint Peter had sent to greet me at the Pearly Gates, or that I was in Purgatory or something. As I came to, I realised it was the clubs media relations director, an English lady called Rose Greene. I’d never looked at her twice before, I don’t actually think I’d ever even spoken to her, but I knew who she was. She said the players had carried on with the night as they expected me to be back, but Javier insisted on going with me, she said she’d come with me so Javier could stay with the team. I could barely remember what had happened and when she told me, I instinctively went to rub my nose when she yelled ‘No darling, not your nose!’ and she said it had been broken by Franks big fist, as well as fracturing my cheek bone. I just said oh God not my nose!

She asked why I said that, and I remembered a time during my years at Michigan that my mother had said footballers get a lot of facial injuries, and that I was too handsome to suffer such a thing, and a broken nose would never look the same again, to which I promised her I’d never get a broken nose as long as I was playing. Turns out I was right, no broken nose as a player, but 2 years into management, and here I was with a broken nose!

Once I was released from the hospital I was told to take it easy, but Frank was really upset about what happened and offered to repay me, by taking on another night out! Bless his heart, he paid for both our drinks and we had a great time. By 1AM I was in a small bar where there were a handful of people, and 1 of them recognised straight away, it was Rose. She was sat with her friend and I went over, my intention was just to thank her again for helping me out and seeing to me in the hospital. When her friend said she was leaving with a guy she’d been chatting to, Rose asked me if she could stay a bit longer with me. I didn’t’ think anything of it other than she was being friendly, but from then until all these years later, we were inseparable. Vince Irvine, if you’re reading this memoir son, this was how I met your mother.

The cup win was the catalyst for me and the team to prove this season wasn’t a fluke. We were expecting Lincoln to be right back up there after a poor season, as well as the other teams making moves to improve. With Verdejo retiring I made a move to replace with him Tony Hernandez who had let his contract run down at Gibraltar United and jumped at the chance to join us. That signing was followed up by Anthony Bardon joining before 2 more players joined us to really improve our title winning squad.

As Lincoln had gone through 2 managers, 2 caretakers and a really poor season, Callum Driver and Bryan Goncalves grew disillusioned there and also left on a free and were signed by us. They bought into my vision of retaining the league, and were excited by the prospect. Both had only joined Lincoln during preseason last year, and their time there wasn’t enjoyable. Both had a point to prove and I felt both could help us retain.

The club had never featured in the Champions League, so it was Saint Josephs maiden appearance as well as my own debut in the UEFA Champions League. We were drawn against HB Torshavn of the Farore Islands and the first leg was away. The flight there was horrible and full of turbulence, and little did I know but Michael Garcia was petrified of flying. I told him he could either drive his way to Denmark or Sweden, and then take a ferry up to Torshavn, or however else he was to get there. But by car to Denmark was around 34 hours, passing through 5 countries, then however long on a ferry up to the Farore Islands. The logistics of it weren’t viable, especially for a club like ours and with money not really being there, I told him, reluctantly he would have to sit this one out.

As for our first game in the Champions League, we had a goal chalked off early for offside, but that didn’t dampen our spirits as we ran out 2-1 winners. 2 away goals was a great result, and the goal they scored wasn’t ideal but we were happy with the result. The return leg was much of the same as we won with the same score line to record a 4-2 aggregate win. I wasn’t getting ahead of myself but I couldn’t help but think we might just make the groups.

Next up were FK Aktobe of Kazakhstan. This time around we were drawn as the home team in the first leg, and we scraped a 1 all draw, Garcia grabbing our equaliser. The return leg didn’t feature Garcia, but we didn’t deserve to win, but neither did FK Aktobe as we played out a 0-0 draw, meaning they went through on away goals. We were disappointed, but knew without any extra away games to far off destinations might just help us in our conquest to retain our league crown.

Before we could concentrate on getting ready for the new season, Javier Casquero, my assistant and my steady hand for the last 2 years had a chat with me, and it was something I wasn’t ready for. Real Gijon in Spain’s second division had approached him to be their assistant. He knew the manager from their days at Las Palmas, and he wanted to take the opportunity to progress. I was shocked at this, but I didn’t begrudge him. I told him a man’s got to do what he feels is right, and if going to Gijon was what Javier wanted to do I would let him go with my blessing. If for nothing else, it was definitely progression for him and I hoped inside I would be given a similar sort of opportunity. He told me some great things about me and our time together, and he said he hoped our paths cross again in the future.

Little did either of us know at that time, but it wouldn’t too far into the future that our paths would cross again.


I'm going away for a week tomorrow, so there won't be another update until a week on Monday at the earliest. Thanks for reading!
How are you going to disappear with that cliff hanger :( Great job in winning the double and a broken nose to have a memento. Oh and also how you met the wife!
Congratulations on the double. A fantastic achievement given Lincoln's dominance. A good effort in the Champions League too. Two absolutely horrific away trips to the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan - you couldn't ask for much worse.

Quite the story as to how Chris met Rose!
2020-08-14 21:06#277184 TheLFCFan : How are you going to disappear with that cliff hanger :( Great job in winning the double and a broken nose to have a memento. Oh and also how you met the wife!

Ahh yeah I just wanted to let people know there wouldn’t be the update as not taking my laptop with me, but glad you’re still enjoying
2020-08-15 12:25#277202 ScottT : Congratulations on the double. A fantastic achievement given Lincoln's dominance. A good effort in the Champions League too. Two absolutely horrific away trips to the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan - you couldn't ask for much worse.

Quite the story as to how Chris met Rose!

Thanks mate
Chapter 13 – The heat is on.

Before the start of my third season as a manager, Stuart Rodriguez must’ve had too much champagne as he told me he expected the club to win all 3 competitions this season, the league, the Rock cup and as we won the league last season we were in the Pepe Reyes cup, Gibraltar’s version of the Community Shield. I was confident of at least challenging on all 3 fronts, but didn’t want to guarantee we’d win them all. I told the team in our first meeting back that we’d be going all out to win every game, they all seemed on board.

After learning of Javier’s move back to Spain, the clubs chief scout Juanjo Bezares approached me with some ideas on how to approach the season, and he had some good points. We had 2 strikers other than Garcia, Rolando Ghio and Juan Torres, both youth prospects but neither ready to play a full league season, so we decided that we’ll keep Garcia up top on his own with Walker playing in the hole behind. He also gave me food for thought on set pieces, defending and even what side to play the full backs. I just came out with asking him if he wanted to be my assistant manager, and that we can get another chief scout if he wanted the new role. He jumped at the chance and I now had my starting 11 confirmed, my tactics and assistant in place, and the desire to take the league by storm.

Despite doing the double last season, the media still had us finishing second, behind a supposedly rejuvenated Lincoln Red Imps. I could see the reasoning, if Man City or United had a poor season, or if Barcelona finished lower than second, they’d still be considered a big threat and one of the favourites to win their league. What I wasn’t expecting was that Lincoln would carry on where they left off. By December they’d have sacked their third manager in 2 years. Apart from beating us 2-1 in the third game of the season, Lincoln recorded only 2 more wins, 2 draws and 12 losses. They were kept off the bottom of the league on goal difference.

I almost forgot to mention, we’d actually won the Pepe Reyes cup, beating College Europa (again!) as they were runners up in the league and cup, 3-1. One third of the way there to claiming all 3 trophies the chairman wanted us to win.

Our form from the start of the season up to December looked like this:


We were on a roll, and looking like capturing the title again, and confidence was sky high. 14 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses saw us sat atop the league on 43 points, a comfortable 7 points above College Europa in second. Surely it was a matter of time before we were crowned champions.

We continued the good form, beating Lincoln again in the league, despite their new manager winning his first 3 games in charge, and we had safely made passage into the semi final of the rock cup against the same team. Football has a funny habit of drawing teams against each other, but confidence was sky high, Lincoln were in damage limitation mode and I was hungry for more medals.

From January right up until the cup semi against Lincoln, we never lost, and the semi was another poor showing from Gibraltar’s biggest club as we overturned them 2-0, Walker assisting Garcia for both our goals to put us in our third Rock Cup final in 3 years.

There was also the small matter of our league games, and the next one was a game against 7th placed Europa Point. Ironic name really, as we only needed a single point from this game to guarantee us the title.

I told the team not to rest on our laurels, and consistent form is needed if we were going to grab all 3 trophies that year, and by the finish of that match we’d secured 2 of the 3. We had Europa on the back foot all the way through this game, they threatened once or twice, but we were always in control. 1-0 to us flattered Europa as it could’ve, and probably should’ve been more, but we got what we wanted, and that was at least a point, and our second successive league title! We secured the league with 3 games to go, unlike last season where we secured it on the last day. I wasn’t moaning to have secured it, but we never once looked like not winning the league that season.

For some reason, maybe it was because I’d already won it, but this league title felt different than the first one. I was still ecstatic, happy and elated with the win, but it just felt, different. We went and won the final 3 games of the season to give us confidence heading into our third cup final in as many seasons.

In the build up to the cup final, there were questions surrounding my future with the club. Stuart was considering taking a loan out to go with the money we’d made in the Champions League to turn the club professional, and my contract actually ran out in 4 weeks time. Not only that, but this cup final would be my 100th game in charge of Saint Josephs.

I said to myself that even if we don’t win the cup final, I’d already won all there is to win in Gibraltar, but the desire to try and turn Saint Josephs into a proper long term contender to Lincolns crown was there in my mind. If we turn professional, we’ll be able to win more league titles, and the long term objective would be to try and make the group stages of the Champions League. But then the other side of me thought how long will that take? If we go pro, will there be money to build a consistent title winning team? Sure I’d got by on free transfers, but Lincoln won’t struggle for much longer, and I am ambitious and I’ve always wanted more.

Right there and then I made my decision, and come this time tomorrow, win or lose, my future at Saint Josephs will confirmed.
Chapter 14 – The beginning of the end, or the end of my beginning?

As I stood there and watched Liam Walker rifle in a 35 yard thunderbolt with his left foot that 2 keepers wouldn’t have saved, I knew there and then it was time. A fitting way not only to celebrate my 100th game as a manager, but to go out after winning 2 leagues, 2 cups and the super cup in my first 3 years as a manager, I made the decision to leave on a high. I’d not told anyone and acted as anyone would after winning back to back cups. Me and the team partied hard, Frank didn’t break my nose this time, I woke up in my own bed and not at the hospital, and when I did I looked over at the cabinet in the second floor flat Stuart Rodriguez had let me live in for the last 3 years, and saw 2 runners up medals, 2 league and 2 cup winners medals and my 2 manager of the year trophies.

Lying next to me was Rose, who despite neither of us asking, we were definitely more than just friends. When she woke up, we talked and I told her I’d made the decision to leave. She understood my need to move on to progress as a manager and move up in the footballing world, and I was genuinely nervous when I said the next thing that came out of my mouth. I sounded like a 15 year old boy talking to his crush for the first time

‘Look Rose, I don’t think it’s going to be in Gibraltar, my next club I mean, and erm, well, I was wondering, only if you’re not busy, if you’d, you know, come with me?’

I stammered and stuttered my way through a sentence where I was trying to ask her if she’d come with me if I left Gibraltar. Her response made me realise why I loved her so much

‘Of course it won’t be in Gibraltar you silly goose, as soon as we (I love how she always says we!) won the league a few weeks ago, I knew we’d be moving on. We’re a team me and you, I’ll go wherever you go, but promise me 1 thing’

I said yes sugar, anything

‘Make sure at some point in our lives, you take me to Paris’

I made a vow there and then that at some point in the future, whether as a manager or when I retired, that I’d take her to city my father was from.

On my way to Turnbulls Boulevard where the Saint Josephs HQ office was situated to see Stuart, I rehearsed what I was going to say over and over, but just couldn’t come up with the right words. Once I was there and we were chatting, he knew something wasn’t right, and it was him that approached the subject first.

He told me he’d knew it would be hard for him to keep me at Saint Jospehs, after the things we’ve won in 3 short years, he said there’d be plenty of teams outside of Gibraltar willing to take me. I assured him I’d not approached anyone during my time here, I’d not gone and made any contact, and that I was telling the truth when I said I was going to take a few weeks off and relax, and enjoy not working for a short amount of time. We both spoke truthfully and I said I would be forever grateful for the opportunity he gave me, and that no matter where I end up or what I end up doing, I will always have Saint Josephs to thank for giving me that start. Stuart told that my dad came in and made a big impression all those years ago, but it was his son that really changed the club and the culture. Without me he said they’d never have challenged Lincoln, or won what we had won. We wished each other the best in our future endeavors, I shook his hand, and said thank you before leaving his office for the last time.

Privately, I wanted to test myself at another club, and to make sure that my time at Saint Josephs wasn’t a fluke or beginners luck, and that I could make it to a team without my father’s help or reputation helping me.

My record at Saint Josephs was 71 wins, 12 draws and 17 losses. 2 league wins, 2 cup wins and 1 Pepe Reyes cup win. Not too shabby for a first time manager eh!

As noted previously, I made sure to include competition bonuses in my contracts from my third one onwards, and for winning the cup I was awarded 5 thousand euro, as well as a tidy 9 thousand for winning the league, and with this money I spent 2 weeks in Spain travelling from city to city.

Before we left I took a call from my old assistant manager Javier Casquero, and he asked how things were, he’d seen we won the league and cup again, and I told him I’d resigned and would be looking for another job after my holidays. As it turns out, Javier had also got himself a new job, this time not as an assistant but as the manager of CD Tudelano in Spain’s third division. I was happy for him, but I wasn’t surprised, he was a great assistant and motivator, so him getting a job as a manager was always only going to be a matter of time.

Whilst in beautiful city of Zaragoza in Spain, Rose remarked how nice it was and how she’d love to live here. Whilst I was on holiday, I couldn’t stop thinking about the future and started looking at the available jobs in Spain by looking on Fifa’s website. It was amazing to me just how many teams there were in Spain. I noticed teams from places I’d been to but didn’t realise had a team there, Ibiza and Lanzarotte have a professional team and both were playing in the third tier, the Segunda Division B, not only that but Benidorm have a team and they’ve just been promoted to the same division. All 3 of these places I’ve been to but never once knew they had a football team. All 3 had managers though, not that I thought anything of applying.

I can’t remember when it was, but I took a call from Javier again and he had said that his team were due to play in a tour of Gibraltar and would I like to go along with him. I politely declined, the next week was all about relaxing with Rose. But just as that phone call ended, another took place, it was my father, and he had some news.

My father always wanted to give back to the game, and as such became interested in representing players as an agent. He’d done small things like talking to clubs about contracts and bonuses from his own experiences. But in the 3 years of my being in Gibraltar, he’d gained a licence to become a fully-fledged agent. I was overjoyed at this, as I knew it was something he’d wanted to do for a long time, then he told about one of the first players on his books. An aging center forward by the name of Jonathan Forte, who was born in and played his full career in England had hired my dad as his agent. My dad’s company was called Chris Irvine Sports Ventures, and my dad had brokered a deal for Jonathan to join a club in Spain, FC Andorra.

Like San Marino Calcio in Italy, FC Andorra were from the small country of Andorra, and played in the Spanish football pyramid. They had been promoted to Segunda Division B last season, finished just above relegation places and the manager Paco Lopez had left to join a team in Portugal, so there was an opportunity there. During my dad’s time negotiating a deal for Jonathan, he’d been discussing things with the chairman Pelayo Corominas. Not only that, but my dad was in Andorra, and as I was only a couple of hours away, I thought now would be a great time not only to see him, but introduce him to Rose.

By the time I’d got to Andorra a couple of days later, I met my dad at a hotel near the stadium, Camp d’Esports D’Aixovall. The city of Saint Juliά de Lória was beautiful and full of life despite being small in comparison to Spain. I’d introduced him to Rose, met Jonathan who was getting the rest of his stuff sorted and preparing to live in Spain and travel to Andorra each day, before a familiar face walked in. I instantly knew who it was and was a little bit star struck, but he approached us, said hello to Jonathan and my dad and introduced himself as Gerard Pique, Barcelona and Spain defender, and FC Andorra owner! His first words to me I will always remember, and it was the start of a fantastic relationship between us both

‘Hi, you must be Chris junior, I’ve heard a lot about you, and I can’t wait to hear about your time in Gibraltar’ he said in Spanish.

I couldn’t help but think back to my first meeting with Stuart Rodriguez in Gibraltar when talking to Gerard. Except this time I told him all about my time there, training, signing players, being linked to Lincoln three times, and winning the league and cup twice as well. I showed him my pre and post-match notes I’d made in a journal I carried with me, and told him how I always want my team to play to their strengths, not just my tactics. It took me by surprise when he asked me if I ever thought about managing in Spain, and when I said I’m looking for another opportunity and Spain is definitely as good a place as any, he looked me dead in the eyes and said ‘Chris, you’re perfect for us. We’re looking for a steady hand to keep us in the league, and push on from there. If you accept my offer to become our new first team manager, you’ll have my full backing’

So after 4 weeks since leaving Saint Jospehs, a job I got because of my fathers reputation, I was being offered the manager’s job at FC Andorra, on the back of my father’s business relationship with the owner of the club.

Remember when I said I wanted to try and make it in football on my own without my dads help? No, me neither.
A legacy will be left in Gibraltar with Saint Joseph's but now it's time to continue this journey with a fresh, exciting club. FC Andorra seem like the perfect fit!
2020-08-24 14:22#277429 ScottT : A legacy will be left in Gibraltar with Saint Joseph's but now it's time to continue this journey with a fresh, exciting club. FC Andorra seem like the perfect fit!

Gibraltar was the perfect start for Chris, now it's time to try and improve in Andorra
Part 2 – Heading North?...

Chapter 15 – Just a small town guy

On my first official day as FC Andorra manager, I spent time with the chairman as well as Gerard. After the formalities were done, I had to find a place to live, and wasn’t sure whether to try stay in Andorra or a neighbouring city in Spain. After choosing Spain, and travelling to Andorra for work, it was only an hours drive, we settled in Castellbo, a short drive from Andorra and a place where I was sight seeing only a few days earlier.

My first official meeting with Gerard as manager came later that day, and he said they were short staffed. The previous manager Paco Lopez had taken his assistant with him to Portugal, and the other staff, bar the physio and club doctor had all left. Gerard was new to this kind of thing and knew his first few months were going to be tough. He also said that the media and some directors of the club were expecting him to pump his millions he’d earned so far as a player into the club, and that he wasn’t willing to do that just yet. I told him that thought had never crossed my mind, and that I was happy to build a team as I had in Gibraltar based on free transfers and loans, as well as promoting youngsters. I felt we had a good connection straight from the off.

He did tell me that once the previous manager had left he had received a number of applications for the managers job, but after speaking with my dad and then speaking to me, his mind was made up on me being offered the job. He also had some applications for the assistant managers job as well as a coaching job. Now here’s where my juices got flowing, as he’d said to me that I was in full control over hiring staff as well as transfers, but he understood if I wanted a director of football. He said that he himself is wary of giving his friends jobs as they may take liberties and expect preferential treatment, and that some of his former team mates had approached him about giving some of them roles with his club. My mind started racing, former team mates of Gerard Pique possibly working for me at FC Andorra! Who could they be, Xavi? Iniesta? Messi was still playing so wouldn’t be him. Maybe some former Man United players, Berbatov? Nani? Van Der Sar? Or even Owen Hargreaves who was a coach at Bayer Leverkeusen with a growing reputation.

I never found which former team mates of Gerards had applied at that time, but 2 names that were interested were former Chelsea and Brazil defender, Alex, and former Rangers winger, Spaniard Nacho Novo. I immediately picked up the phone to Nacho and we met that evening. He knew Spanish football inside out, and I felt I saw a lot of Javier in him, so I offered him the job of assistant manager. The next day I spoke to Alex, who was a formidable center half in his day, and I could tell his knowledge would be a great asset to me and the team, so he was offered the role of first team coach. With these 2 on board I was looking forward to my firs training session and to meet the team.

There was a bit of fanfare surrounding my new team, as Gerard was the owner, the media, and fans I thought, were expecting a big name to take over. Real Madrid Castilla, Real’s reserve side, assistant manager and legend of the game Raul was touted as the man to take over at FC Andorra, and bring with him Fernando Morientes and Guti as his staff, but it was mainly unknown Canadian manager Chris Irvine that got the nod, so I felt I had to hit the ground running. The team were all supportive of me from the get go. They all knew with who the owner of this team was and the spotlight he commanded that many eyes were going to be on us, and I just told them in my first meeting to not only enjoy the pressure,  but thrive on it, mould into our game. As a club in the Spanish football pyramid, we’re a small fish in a big pond. But as a club from Andorra, we’re the biggest club here, as the Andorran football system is really small, but I made an effort to go and watch some of the local teams.

The club had never won any trophies, but the only aim was to survive in the Segunda Division, group B, the third tier in Spain. I knew I could do just that, and had told the chairman in my initial meeting with him I was aiming for a top half finish. I also insisted on taking a lower basic wage than what was offered, I was offered 3 thousand euro, I took 1 thousand a week, and nice 20 thousand bonus if we reached the play offs, a top 4 finish. I felt I had the upper had here, as the chairman wanted to just survive, and if I did that then job done, but if we managed a top half finish, even better. I had my heart set on staying here as long as possible, and was made to feel very welcomed by everyone. Everything just felt right in Andorra for me.

With 2 members of staff secured, I wanted to bring in 1 more staff member, and a couple of players to join the team, as a few had left so there weren’t many on the books. Gerards warning about not hiring his friends played in my ear, but I knew 1 person I wanted to hire. Not for sentimental reasons, but because I knew he was committed enough to improve himself, me and the team. I rang Jose Verdejo, who had retired last year after winning the league and cup with me in Gibraltar, and took a year out to spend time with his family. He’d mentioned to me he wanted to be a scout to help unearth young players and be a part of a team to try and bring success. After speaking to him, I offered him the role of chief scout, this was for a few reasons. The first was that he didn’t want to spend too much time away from his wife and new-born twins, so I said as chief scout he would only have to travel once or twice a month, and that he would be responsible for sending our other scouts out and about. The second was that I wanted a trusted face around the club whilst I was there, so I said I wanted him with me as much as possible. Finally, his wife was also from Spain, Barcelona to be precise, so he moved his family into Andorra which his wife was happy with. His wife and Rose got along really well, and I think they helped each other settle. With him as my new chief scout, this was the start of our working relationship, as he would be my most trusted member of staff from here on out.

The backroom staff was taking shape, and I signed 1 last coach, former Lincoln Red Imps goalkeeper Raul Navas. I was certain he’d be a great asset, coincidentally once he’d retired from playing is when Lincolns demise started. We also made moves for some reinforcements to the playing squad. Ukrainian center half Ivan Zotko joined on loan from Valencia for the season, and Cape Verdean winger Jovane Cabral joined us on loan from the famous Sporting Lisbon academy. Both players would be starters for me.

My first 3 weeks flew by. We’d had a handful of friendlies against local sides, as well as playing a game against Real Zaragoza’s reserve side, and we all felt fresh and ready for the start of the season, in which we’d be playing 38 games, my first full proper season as a manager.

My first game was against Athletic Bolboa’s B side at our home stadium. Nerves? What nerves?
Chapter 16 – The name of the game is inconsistency.

I vividly remember Jonathan Forte telling me he was nervous heading in to the game against Athletic Bilboa, he’d been used to playing in England, and as a back to goal center forward. But in Spain he felt the pressure to perform, I’m not sure why, all the pressure was on Bilboa. But I told him I felt the same way, and I was a bag of nerves as well. I really wasn’t, but I wanted him to feel at ease. The result? A man of the match performance from him as he controlled the game up top, got an assist to strike partner Cifu as we won 1-0 in my first game as FC Andorra manager. This win meant I continued on with my own little record of winning the first game of each new season.

Whilst I wasn’t nervous before that game, I was certainly a nervous wreck in our next game, an away trip to Tudela to face Deportivo Tudelano, who’s manager was my former assistant, and friend Javier Casquero. They were the favourites for the game, and I was nervous about facing a friend in a competitive game for the first time. In the build up to the game we met up and chatted and not once mentioned the game. As soon as the players left the tunnel and went to the pitch, we locked eyes, shook hands and then Javier looked at me and said ‘Sorry Chris, this is where the student beats the teacher’ to which I replied, quite mockingly ‘Believe me when I say, we’re not going to lose’ and we took our seats.

The thing that we had that Tudelano didn’t, was an aging winger by the name of Fernando Cudrado, who was coming into his 35th birthday and into his final year as a player. From right wing he controlled the game, it was like he was 23 again as he didn’t miss a trick and scored the opening 2 goals for us. He scored either side of half time, and grabbed 2 assists as well as we rounded out 4-0 winners. As soon as the game ended myself and Javier shook hands and we never spoke of this game again. I told the team how good I thought they were and that performances like that are going to mean a good season for us.

The next 4 games were very up and down for us as we lost 3 and drew 1, but that only meant we were sitting 8th by the end of my first month in Andorra. I felt a bit of consistency was needed as soon as possible, but it didn’t come straight away, as we lost the next 3 games which put us as low as 18th (of 24 teams) at one point early on. We had team meetings to address this form, and decided that we’ll focus on defence first, and adopt a counter attacking direct style of play. This was down to the 2 of the clubs strikers, Cifu and Marong both being your typical target man builds, so we played to their advantage. We worked on set pieces and from October onward we really showed the league what Chris Irvine and FC Andorra were made of.

11 wins from October to February, with a solitary draw thrown in meant we were unbeaten in 12, and we had some big scoring games, 7-0 against Ebro, an incredible 6-4 away win over Atletico Astorga and a 5-2 win over Logrones meant we were also the leagues leading scorers.

During this run, we were forever conceding stupid goals, and I had lost patience with the clubs first choice keeper Manuel Mendoza. He was given a free transfer and I signed my keeper at Saint Josephs, Jamie Robba who would be an inspired signing. Also during January Tudelano made the decision to sack Javier Casquero, who had only won 2 games in his time as a manager. I rang him to offer my condolences, and he confided in me that he felt he wasn’t up to the task of being a first team manager, and was thinking of going back to being an assistant or coach. I told him it was nonsense to think like that, and that he just had a bad run, I was sure he’d be back in the hot seat of a club before long.

So with a new first choice keeper and the team playing well, I was confident of progressing, and the next 4 games were against the teams around us in SD Leola, Guijuelo, Leonesa and Sestao River. We beat all teams comfortably, 4-0, 2-0, 2-0 & 2-1 respectively, which meant we were sitting second in the league on 62 points with 8 games to go. That 20 thousand euro bonus was looking like coming my way!

In a surprising twist of fate, a day before my 34th birthday Rose told me she was pregnant. I was soon to be a father, and life was good for now.

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