Robbie Simpson: Chelmsford, Coventry and the future

You recently became manager of Chelmsford City having also played for the club during your playing career. How are you enjoying football management and what do you view as the challenges of managing a club such as Chelmsford City?

It is different I never thought when I signed as a player that I would ever take up this role and football management had never really been on my mind and I had done my coaches badges just in case an opportunity like this arose. I don’t think I would actively seek a role in management but I got handed the reigns first on an interim basis when the previous Chelmsford City boss Rod Stringer departed and the longer it went on the more I started to enjoy it and the more the players got used to and brought into the things that I was trying to implement in helping them to get better and the team to get better.

I wanted it to continue so when the Chairman offered me the role on a permanent basis it was something that I really had to explore whether it was right for me and whether I could do it. It is also quiet difficult making the transfer from player to a manager because they are your teammates first and foremost and suddenly you have got to make big decisions which you know will upset some of them and as teammate you never want to upset any of them and the hardest thing is leaving players out.

Credit: Chelmsford Football Club

However, it also has it’s advantages I know the players really well and I got on with the players well and there is a mutual respect so in that sense it helps having formerly been a teammate of theirs. It is exciting and it involves a lot of work a lot more work than perhaps I realized and I know that most players won’t realize how much work it is but it is certainly enjoyable and I am looking forward to the future.

You played two seasons for Coventry City. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?

Credit: Keith Jones

I loved my time at Coventry City. It was my second professional club but what I would consider as my first proper professional club because during my first season at Cambridge United I was actually still at University so I was very fortunate that Cambridge United allowed me to complete my last year at University so I did not actually train with them full time.

By the time I signed for Coventry City I had finished my University degree and it was a big change in my life and the facilities at Coventry City at the time and with the Ricoh Arena and the training ground at the time were amazing and the level of detail that goes into looking after the players on and off the pitch and helping me to find a place to live was excellent.

The club just look after you so well and it was amazing to make that step up and start my career in professional football. We had a really good group of players and I remember my first day walking in and sitting next to Stephen Hughes and the other side of my was Arjan De Zeeuw and they were players that I had watched on TV and Stephen Hughes had won the Premier League with Arsenal and I am a big Arsenal fan so I was instantly asking him lots of questions about the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry who are my idols and it was a great memory.

Credit: Kieran Clarke

I signed after graduating in July and I went on to make my full debut in the League Cup at Old Trafford in game that we won 2-0 so in terms of flipping life on it’s head one minute I am a student graduating from University and two months later I am starting a game at Old Trafford against Manchester United and beating them so it was a bit of a whirlwind within a few months but it was amazing.

We also went on to have a good FA Cup run as well where we reached the quarter finals played Chelsea in the quarter finals of the competition in front of a full stadium at the Ricoh Arena unfortunately we lost 2-0 but we beat some good teams along the way like Blackburn Rovers who were doing well in the Premier League at the time and although we were average in the league we were good in the cups.

The following season we also went on to have a good League Cup run as well we played Newcastle United and unfortunately lost in extra time but I had an amazing couple of years at Coventry City both for me developing as a person and growing up and buying my first property and also in football terms to go on to play alongside the likes of the players I did was incredible.

Towards the end of your career you had a season playing for MK Dons. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any special memories or highlights?

Credit: Beechey604

Yes, I would probably say that having left Coventry City it was not until I signed for MK Dons that I felt sort of difference in a club in how much they look after you because the stadium at MK Dons is incredible and like the Ricoh Arena it gives you that feel of being at a proper big club but not only that they way they look after you at MK Dons and every staff member is there to help you and to make you a better player and in some respects a better person off the pitch as well.

They would literally do anything for you and the look after you so well. In my opinion they are a top Championship club that should be in the Championship and building towards becoming a Premier League club. It was really fitting in professional football was at the club and gaining promotion with MK Dons to League One.

I had come close on a number of occasions to gaining promotion with Huddersfield Town, Leyton Orient and Exeter City only to lose in play-off finals so after a lot of near misses which had evaded me right until my very last season in professional football where I managed to get that elusive promotion with MK Dons and when I first arrived at the club they had been relegated two out of the previous three seasons so to play my part in helping to turn that club around and get them back on the right track was something that I was really proud of and it was a special time.

I also wanted to stay at MK Dons for another season and I was fairly close to staying but it never quiet materialized and to be honest once I knew that was not going to happen I just did not have the drive to go and find a lesser club in my eyes. I thought it was about time that I looked towards the future and with a young family planning for the next 20 to 30 years became a priority and dropping down to part time and semi professional football and starting a new full time career was a decision I quickly made once I knew I was not going to stay at MK Dons.

You played under some very good managers at different levels. Did you speak to any managers before entering into football management and did you receive any specific advice or encouragement?

Credit: Chelmsford Football Club

I did not speak to any managers before I entered football management purely because it happened so quickly with Chelmsford City F.C manager Rod Stringer departing and the next day I was called and asked to take temporary charge but since becoming interim manager and then subsequently taking the role permanently I have had a number of managers message me to wish me good luck and to reach out to them if I need anything.

Russell Martin has done similar to me he was my teammate at MK Dons and after Paul Tisdale departed and Russell was asked to take charge there so he had gone through a similar thing of being a teammate and then becoming a manager so it is nice to have him as a friend and someone to reach out to for advice as he has gone through exactly the same thing as me. He is a great guy and I took a goalkeeper on loan from MK Dons in Laurie Walker so it is nice to have close relationships not only with managers for advice but perhaps utilize the loan market and other things like that.

Finally Robbie, You are still a very young manager. Do you already feel that you have a managerial philosophy in the way you would like your teams to play and looking ahead is there anything in particular that you would like to achieve in your managerial career in future?

I do have a style that I want to play. I don’t necessarily feel that I can implement it fully so far and I am hoping over time that I can get there with Chelmsford City F.C and a group of players that will change in the summer as football clubs do. I could bring in players that would suit my philosophy then great.

In terms of goals in a managerial career first and foremost I want to Chelmsford City F.C to create an identity for the who football club. When I joined the club I was tasked with helping them set up an academy and advising them on what I thought a good academy looked like and that involves education alongside football development. Because everybody knows that the fallout rate from youth players and even young professionals is 70 percent plus so players need to have fall back options and I think football needs to help them have more fall back options and not just use them and spit them out as such. So part of my philosophy for the academy was to have a top quality educational provider alongside some quality football development and if they make it as footballers then great if they do not then we have given them the best platform to go and have a career in something else other than football where they can go on to University for example so that is really important to me and part of the identity of the football club that I want to send into the first team.

I want to help the club bring players through from the academy into the first team, be successful and then go on to have a successful career in football whether that be at Chelmsford City F.C or even if we happen to move them on to bigger and higher clubs. I know that MK Dons for example always refer to Dele Alli as one of their own and now he is one of the best players in the country. If Chelmsford City F.C could do the same then great and if the players can help us along the way. In terms of on the pitch like my own personal playing career promotion has eluded Chelmsford City F.C for many seasons.

They have reached the play-offs the last three seasons and fallen short so I am really hoping that we manage to gain promotion in future and kick on into the National League whether that be with me or not and depending whether the club go full time or not. My goal is to help Chelmsford City F.C get promoted, create an identity and bring players through from the academy that I have helped set up and get them promoted to the National League and then leave them in a position where they can perhaps go full time and become a professional football club.

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