IF you’ve played in the Premier League, big jobs in management will simply fall into your lap. At least that’s the theory.
Yet for every Roy Keane or Alan Shearer, there are hundreds of men like Justin Edinburgh, forced to start at the bottom and haul their way up inch by inch.
He is now at Newport County in League Two after victory in last season’s Conference play-off final, and nobody could dare suggest that the former Spurs full-back hasn’t earned his crack at the big time.
In the ten years since he took charge of Billericay Town as player-manager, the 43-year-old has been an assistant, worked under – and been sacked by – tyrannical owners, and seen Rushden & Diamonds liquidated on his watch.
He also had to pick up the pieces after the tragic suicide of Diamonds’ young keeper Dale Roberts in 2010.
It’s a world away from the days when he was winning FA Cups, playing in the Premier League, and swigging champagne with Jürgen Klinsmann at Spurs. But while it has taken a decade, Edinburgh wouldn’t have done it any other way.
“I started out with the aim of being a League manager,” he says. “It’s taken me longer than I’d envisaged and there have been plenty of trials and tribulations along the way. But I’ve never been big-headed and I’ve never expected anyone to hand me a job in the League. I wanted to start from the bottom and get my hands dirty.
“From Billericay to Newport, I’ve learned about every aspect of a manager’s job and exactly what it means to the volunteers who put so much time and, in many cases, money into making their club run. It’s been a fantastic grounding.”
That said, it isn’t the first time Edinburgh has had to fight his way up. As a teenage midfielder at Southend, the Basildon boy cut his teeth in the rough and tumble of late-eighties Division Four, quickly building the physique that would see him nicknamed “Musselburgh” throughout his playing days.
Paid just £75 a week, he was moved to left-back (due to a lack of any left-footed players in the squad) and his attacking instincts from defence swiftly caught the eye of Tottenham boss Terry Venables.
He would spend the next nine years at White Hart Lane, winning the FA Cup in 1991, the League Cup in 1999 and making more than 200 appearances before seeing out his playing days with Harry Redknapp’s up-and-coming Portsmouth side.
Perhaps the most famous team of that era was Ossie Ardiles’s crazily attacking side of 1994-95, which saw Jürgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham, Nick Barmby, Darren Anderton and Ilie Dumitrescu deployed as a roving front five.
As a result, the defence was woefully exposed, meaning they regularly bore the brunt of fans’ frustrations.
“They were known as the Famous Five,” recalls David Kerslake, part of that side and a close friend of Edinburgh, who now works with Malky Mackay at Cardiff. “The rest of us called ourselves the rubbish six!
“But as full-backs, we weren’t really supposed to defend. If Justin went forward down his side to put in a cross, Ossie demanded that I was on the run to meet it in the penalty area and vice versa. They were great days. Justin and I have been close since.
“We became the best of friends almost from the moment we started playing together at Spurs. That has never changed and it’s great to see him doing a terrific job at Newport.”
In fairness, Edinburgh’s managerial record is hard to beat. At Billericay, he won promotion to the Conference South. At Grays, he surmounted growing money problems and the interference of owner Mick Woodward to avoid relegation.
Joining Conference Rushden & Diamonds in 2009, Edinburgh led the club to finishes of 11th, 4th and then – amidst financial implosion and the traumatic impact of Roberts’ death – 14th in 2010-11.
When he took charge at Newport, they were battling relegation. Barely a year later they were celebrating promotion to the Football League.
“I think if you look where we are as a club it speaks for itself about the job Justin has done,” said Newport chairman Les Scadding.
“To achieve what he’s done in such a short space of time is just brilliant. When you’re a man-manager like he is – that is what makes a good manager.”
JUSTIN EDINBURGH FACT FILE
Born: Basildon 1969 (Age 43)
Playing career: A youth product at Southend, Edinburgh made his debut for the Shrimpers aged 18 and went on to make 47 appearances in two years, first as a midfielder and then at left-back. Signed by Terry Venables’ Tottenham in 1990, he immediately became first-choice and won the FA Cup in his first season. He was also called up by England Under-21s, but never played. In ten years at White Hart Lane, Edinburgh played over 200 league games and also helped the club win the League Cup in 1999, although he was sent off. Joined Portsmouth in March 2000 for £175,000, playing 35 league games over the next two years before joining non-league Billericay.
Managerial career: Appointed player-manager of Ryman League Billericay in 2003, Edinburgh left to join Fisher Athletic in 2006. Led the club to third in the Premier Division in season 2005–06 and beat Hampton & Richmond 3–0 in the play-off final to win promotion to Conference South. Left to join Grays Athletic as assistant to Andy King and took over as manager on 4 January 2007 following King’s resignation. After a stint as assistant at Woking, he joined Rushden & Diamonds in 2008, leading them to fourth place and the play-offs, where they lost to Oxford in the semi-finals. Appointed manager of Newport County in 2011, he helped them avoid relegation from the Conference and then won the play-offs in 2013 to seal promotion to League Two.