It’s been a challenging start to his career in the dugout for Torquay United player-manager Kevin Nicholson, not that he has spent much time on the touchline.
Following the departure of Paul Cox(pictured below left) in late September, Nicholson stepped into his first managerial role and immediately went on a sharp learning curve.
Player departures, a club in the grip of a financial crisis and having to contend with a small budget compared to many Vanarama National League sides, Nicholson was given a crash-course in management in the early days of his reign.
Improvement has been made on and off the pitch.
Saturday’s impressive 1-0 FA Trophy win over Wrexham marks a high point of Nicholson’s four points in charge and although the club remain in the relegation zone, he admits that he is loving the challenges that are being thrown his way.
“I have loved it, I have loved the actual job, I have loved the challenge. A lot of it I expected, a lot of I didn’t. It has certainly been a test and a lot of things cropped up that I hadn’t expected.
Finances are obviously very tight but the job itself is great and you’re on the training ground everyday, dealing with people and your’re dealing with players. There is never a dull day, let’s put it that way”
As well as contending with managerial issues, Nicholson has found himself playing on a regular basis.
The former Notts County defender has been pressed into action, as he admits, through a lack of experience in the playing squad and not being able to bring players in to rectify that issue.
However he admits that he hopes to be able to take a regular position on the touchline in the near future.
He said “I have enjoyed it, I haven’t found it a problem playing and managing.
Obviously it takes a certain amount of energy but I am young and enthusiastic enough to manage that. You are always evaluating where I may want to take myself out and take a look at it from the sidelines but, for one reason or another, there never seemed to be enough players in the right positions to do that.
So I have found myself having to play and one thing we lacked when I came was experience. We lacked the funds to go out and buy it, so I have brought that to the table myself. I certainly think the lads have got their heads around it now as obviously player managers are a bit rarer than they used to be in the past and I think many of them won’t have had one in the past.
It is working pretty well at the moment so hopefully, with one or two more signings, I will have that option to take myself out if I want to”
Those signings are slowly starting to materialise.
In the last week the Gulls have signed experienced frontman Shaun Harrad(pictured below right), Dover Athletic winger Toby Ajala and forward Nathan Blissett following his release from Bristol Rovers.
Despite those three additions, Nicholson has found manouvering in the transfer market a tough task, with things “not as simple as black or white” as they seem.
“When I came in the budget was virtually gone so I have had to try and shuffle the deck a bit. Unfortunately that means some lads have had to move on and in the process freed up some money for me to use elsewhere.
That’s just football, everyone knows how it works, it just takes a bit of doing. It’s not as simple as black or white and I saying I want this player or I want that player. You have to move things around to allow it”
One player leaving the club, eventually, is goalkeeper Dan Lavercombe.
The young stopper, a product of the Gulls now disbanded youth system, has secured a move to SkyBet League Two side Wigan Athletic, although will remain with Torquay until the end of the season.
Nicholson believes that the move shows that the club must look to bring back their youth system in the future and hailed Lavercombe’s move to the Latics as a deal that “works for everyone”.
“It is great for the lad himself, it is a good thing for our club.
Unfortunately we don’t have the youth system anymore but we did and he was a product of that. It is probably a sign of, if I can get it right this season, that youth system has to be something I can get back up and running. I would love to be here long enough to do that.
But for Dan personally, it is a great achievement. He’s signed a two and a half year contract, he has that security and he has a few years to grow. Next season he will go there and get some top class coaching with some excellent players, so it works for everyone”
The Gulls currently sit second from bottom in the National League table, seven points from safety, although do have a game in hand on twentieth placed Boreham Wood.
With only one win in their last ten league games, Nicholson and his side seem to be up against it.
That stance is hardly surprising given the off-field troubles the club has been put through recently but Nicholson insists that he remains confident that he can lead the club into a brighter future.
“Without wanting to over dramatise it I doubt there are many managers out there who are having to cope with the things I am at the moment.
But at the same time I have a very supportive board and chairman.
We have all become close-knit because we have all had similar problems to deal with. These guys who have taken over are big Torquay fans, there only hope is that things are done right by the club.
There are no hidden agendas, they are a group of Torquay fans who want Torquay to do well.
I will do everything I can to get things right because I see vast amounts of potential for the future of the club. We have had a tough few years but I feel that I am the guy and these players who are with me are the people who can get us out of it and get us going again”
He remains realistic about the task in hand.
Despite the Trophy win over Wrexham, and the subsequent last sixteen place, Nicholson was adamant that National League survival has to be the number one priority for him and his squad.
“We are still in the Trophy so there is a nice little carrot there if you can get your form going.
The problem I have is that everyone I have signed is cup-tied, so I am severely lacking in numbers for that competition. At the same time it is a cup competition and each game is a one-off game and anything can happen.
But by far, the priority is staying up. That is all that matters to Torquay United and it is all that matters to me. If we stay up next season is a whole different thing.
For the club, as a business, from my point of view as a manager, I can set the budget as I see fit and then I feel like I will be in a position to be fully judged.
However, this is a results business and I have to make sure we stay up or I may not get that opportunity”
Interview: Mark Carruthers