Despite initial assurances that his job as manager was safe, Wolecki quickly found his position being subtly undermined. Black’s former charge at Elgin City, David Robertson, was quickly installed as co-manager in the close season of 2006. He shakes his head. “The first thing Davie Robertson said to me was: ‘I am not a coach as such, I prefer to be in the dugout on a Saturday.’ I’m not joking!”
During a summer holiday Wolecki was informed that in his absence, Black and Robertson had been building a completely new – and expensive – squad. Challenging this on his return to Links Park, he was told ‘You don’t have the experience to sign players at this level’ and had leviathans such as Jered Stirling, Stuart Cumming, and John Adam thrust upon him.
“I was very hurt by that,” recalls Wolecki. “I had worked really hard to build up a squad that I could trust and who I knew would train hard and be as fit as they could be. I was just being pushed aside and, by implication, so were they.
“The worst moment ever came in a home match with Dumbarton. I was standing the home dugout at Links Park as the game started, when all of a sudden this guy who I had seen before at games turned up beside me. Quickly I turned and said: ‘Sorry, but who are you?’ The guy replied: ‘Oh, I’ve been asked to be first team coach here.’ It was the former Albion Rovers manager Jimmy Lindsay. Black had appointed him to the coaching staff and hadn’t bothered to inform me.”
Completely unexpectedly and with his long-term plans in place, Eddie Wolecki was in the final stages of being forced out of Links Park just eight months after being appointed. First team coach Euan Peacock was sacked – on the pitch – whilst warming up the players for a pre-season friendly without reference to the manager, and sports psychologist Malcolm Macfadyen – a key member of Wolecki’s team – was banned from the dugout or from speaking to the players.
“I really felt like walking away, but I took the advice of Kenny Cameron who told me not to. Everyone in the lower leagues knew what was going on at Montrose. The end came when we had a match down at Ochilview. They arranged to pick me up in Perth, and I was shown onto a coach containing directors and a bus driver. Davie Robertson and the first team were on another bus to Ochilview, and I didn’t get to the ground until half an hour before kick off.
“By then the team talk had been done, and the players had been picked and were warming up. We were hammered 0-5 and Robertson disappeared at full-time, leaving me to explain how a team I hadn’t picked or prepared had lost so badly to the press. I saw Des McKeown for a chat. He asked me: ‘Eddie, what is going on here?’ and I just shrugged. Des fixed me with a look and said: ‘Get out. As soon as you can.’
Following a severe beating from Arbroath, Black ordered that the squad be split up in training. Robertson was to take the Aberdeen based players, Wolecki to take a session in Dundee, and Jimmy Lindsay would coach the Glaswegians. The team would only come together for matchday.
“I’d finally just had enough, so on the following Monday I met Black at the Swallow Hotel and agreed a severance deal with him,” sighs Wolecki. “I’ve not talked about this stuff since. The irony is that Montrose were unbeaten in their first four league games, and Davie Robertson won the Manager of the Month award. John Paton – the former Montrose chairman who was still on the board – called me and said that, really, it was my award.”
Montrose barely won a game after the end of August and had an awful 2006-07 season. Robertson was sacked and Jim Weir took over.
Whilst the players Wolecki had signed – the likes of Stephen “Chippy” Fraser and Chris Tawse – were quietly let go for minimal fees, their former manager endured a painful 18 months out of football, working back on the tools as an electrician in and around Dundee. In 2008, he took charge of Glasgow City Ladies on a full-time basis, and has gone on to win five league titles, two Scottish Cups, and three league cups. Even more remarkably, City haven’t lost a league game since 2008. However, the manager still nurtures a strong ambition to return to the men’s game in the future.
“I don’t see as much of the SFL these days as I am so busy with my own work here,” he admits. “I keep myself in touch as I still have a lot of friends involved in coaching and managing in the league. I get to a game occasionally.
“But what I enjoy the most now is going over to Barcelona to study their coaching and training methods and seeing how that’s developed over the years, both in terms of the system itself and its impact on the players who have been through it. I just love that system and it has been proven to work. I am over there several times a year.”
I ask the obvious question: would it be possible, either in terms of the culture change or in terms of the time available, to implement such a system at a Scottish club?
Wolecki becomes animated. “To say you couldn’t do the Barca system here is just nonsense. It’s all about changing the culture at the youngest level. Glasgow City’s young girls train four nights a week. By the time they’re adult players, training four nights a week will be utterly normal for them. When I tried to introduce a third night of training at Montrose, I had a player revolt on my hands. It all starts from the youth system. Players don’t train three nights a week here not because they’re lazy, but because the coaches are lazy and don’t want to take the extra session. I’ve not yet met a player who doesn’t want to train and get better.
“It stands to reason. Training four nights a week, means 16 extra hours training in one month – 160 hours over the course of a ten-month season. Of course players going through that regime will be much fitter and technically better. But it all begins with the youth system and bringing players through in this way so their expectations when they’re adults are higher and more demanding. This cultural difference that exists at present can be overcome in time.
“Wherever I’ve been and I’ve been left alone to build something – Lochee, Brechin, Glasgow City – there’s been success. But it needs time, and you need to make mistakes in order to learn from them. I feel that in the SFL right now, managers are trapped by the need for instant success and winning at any cost, even if they have to forego everything they believe in to achieve it. But while this may work in the short term, in the long term it doesn’t lead to sustained success. People have to realise that it takes time to grow a culture of sustained success. Sure, you’ll take hits along the way, but if in the end you are successful, what does it matter?
“I honestly think standards would improve in the SFL if managers were given more time. We’re in an entertainment business. We remember Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle team for example. Keegan didn’t win anything, but everyone remembers the way that they played. Fans want success, but they also want to be entertained. I always try and build teams that are entertaining to watch, and through being entertaining you will also be successful in the long run.”
Few would bet against Eddie Wolecki-Black achieving success in the future.