Despite having a decent career in the EFL, former Albion defender Andy Whing has had to wait until he moved into the dugout as a manager to experience his first promotion.
In his first full season in charge, the 37-year-old has led Banbury United to the Southern League Premier Division title after a 1-1 draw against Tamworth last Saturday. They sit 19 points clear of Peterborough Sports with six games to play.
“It’s been a fantastic season,” Whing said. “I joined two years ago a few months into the pandemic, we only played 13 games before the season was curtailed, but we managed to get to the first round of the FA Cup for the first time in 50 odd years.
“This season has been my first full season with the club and we got the first round again and were live on ITV against Barrow, which was another huge achievement. Then to go on win the league with a number of games to play is an outstanding achievement. This is the furthest the club has ever got in its history - the staff and players have made history, it’s top drawer.”
With tongue in cheek, Whing describes his playing career as being ‘boring’, having never experienced a promotion or relegation.
He spent the best part of four years with Albion, picking up the 2008/09 Player of the Season award as the Seagulls staved off relegation on the last day of the season thanks to a 1-0 win over Stockport County.
It was his committed, heart on the sleeve style that will stick in the minds of Albion supporters when they think of Whing and it’s a characteristic he taken into his managerial career.
“I was pretty boring as a player! I had one of those nearly careers. I never got relegated, the closest I came to that was with Brighton in the 2008/09 season. I played in the Championship with Coventry and finished eighth, that was the highest I got to.
“But I will take a boring playing career for a glittering managerial career all day long!
“Being a manager is completely different. That feeling of relief on Saturday was massive. I’ve got to think about staff, the players, the board, the fans and the volunteers. That rests on my shoulders, I take it personally. I’ve got all those people to make happy and get them all pulling in the same direction.
“When you achieve something there’s a massive high, but there is always something just around the corner to bring you back down to earth. You can win a game of football, but there might be someone who was disappointed they didn’t play and then when you lose you feel like the whole world is against you.
“You feel every emotion as a manager, 100 times more than you do as a player. It’s quite lonely at times, but I have good people around me.”
A popular figure during his time with Albion, the former right-back is still in touch with a number of former teammates and colleagues.
“I loved my time at Brighton. I am from Birmingham, had played for Coventry but never moved out of Birmingham. Brighton was the first time I spent time away from home in a different part of the country. I found some friends for life, it was a fantastic place to be.
“I got player of the season in 2008/09, we had a difficult season but it was great to be recognised by the supporters. There were a few managers through the door after that and I didn’t really get my chance from then on.
“I’ve only got fond memories of the club and I still speak often with people like Adam El-Abd, Tommy Elphick, Kerry Mayo and Guy Butters. Hopefully I can visit the club in the next few years.”
Having enjoyed a promotion party on Saturday, Whing’s attentions now turn to his team playing in either National League North or South next season.
“We worked so hard. We had 1,800 supporters on Saturday and we wanted to win it in front of our own fans. The overriding feeling was achievement and relief more than anything.
“Our fans have been absolutely fantastic, the last few months we’ve had hundreds of supporters coming to the away games, it’s been a party every weekend. There was a party on the pitch after the game on Saturday, in the changing rooms and in the club house, then into the town, I bet there were a few sore heads on Sunday morning!
“There are some massive clubs at the next level up, the budgets are really big and so are the stadiums. I’ve been to watch a few games when we haven’t had a Tuesday match and you can see the tempo is a lot higher to what we have been playing at.
“There is a lot of work to do, but we want to keep as much of the squad together as possible, not make up numbers in the division and give it a right good go.”