Big Interview: '˜Plan as you are going to be here forever, but work as if it is your last day'

MAKING big decisions, a prerequisite of his day-to-day life as manager of FC Halifax Town, has never been a problem for Jamie Fullarton.

FC Halifax Town manager: Jamie Fullarton at the Shay Stadium.
FC Halifax Town manager: Jamie Fullarton at the Shay Stadium.

This is someone who, when still a teenager, turned down the chance to treble his wages by joining Dundee United due to believing the move would mean he never left Scotland.

A year later, Fullarton, despite never having even been abroad on holiday, was single-minded enough to know a transfer to French top-flight side SC Bastia was in the best interests of a career that had already brought the honour of captaining Scotland Under-21s.

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“The irony is geography wasn’t one of my better subjects at school and I didn’t even know where Bastia was when I agreed to sign,” recalls the 44-year-old when speaking to The Yorkshire Post earlier this week.

“I turned up at the airport, got on a flight and landed in Marseille. I was then taken round to this little private hanger, where all the smaller planes were kept.

“The only thing I knew was Marseille was in the south of France. So, as we started heading out to sea, my mind was thinking: ‘I am sure I signed for a French club’.

“I had no idea Bastia were based in Corsica or even that Corsica was an island off the south of France. But, within two days, I had signed, all my stuff had arrived and another chapter in my life had begun.”

This no-nonsense approach typified a playing career that began at St Mirren and included a spell in the Premier League with Crystal Palace before ending early through injury at just 30.

Fullarton has brought the same mindset to Halifax since being appointed in late February with the club deep in relegation trouble.

Five victories and just three defeats in the final 13 games banished those fears before the Scot, aided by the Shaymen going full-time during the summer, set about a rebuilding job that means just five of last season’s squad are still at the club.

Results have been impressive and Fullarton’s men sit fourth going into today’s home National League game with Leyton Orient, two points behind leaders Harrogate Town.

Clearly, Halifax are benefiting from an ability to make the big calls that was apparent even in those teenage days with St Mirren.

“A big part of a manager’s role is being decisive,” he says. “You don’t always get them right, far from it. But you have to make those decisions and I have never had a problem with that.

“Going to Bastia at 20 was one of them. Especially as I had never been on holiday at that age. But I felt the move was right for me.

“The opportunity to leave (St Mirren) had come the year before. Dundee United and St Johnstone both wanted me. I would have been considerably better paid.

“But I made the conscious decision to sit tight. My thinking was that I felt if I moved to another Scottish club, and one that was bigger and in the Premiership, I would never get out of Scotland.

“Money was flashed at me but I didn’t want to just got for short-term gain, which is what it would have been in financial terms. I would have trebled my wages with a hefty signing on fee.

“I tried to look a little bit beyond what was in front of my nose. It was the same in Bastia. No-one spoke English there and that made the first three months very difficult.

“But I had French lessons five days a week and, after those first three months, I had grasped the language. That meant I was able to communicate and socialise and feel part of things.

“Going from a small town in the west of Scotland to a French island – not to mention the change in climate – was tough but it helped me mature and develop as a person.”

Fullarton left Corsica in the summer of 1997 and spent the next three years at Selhurst Park.

“I was a Ford Focus in a league of Mercedes,” he adds when asked about playing in the top flights of three countries. “The reason I was able to do that was because I played in fifth gear, at 7,000 revs.”

A return north of the Border followed as Dundee United finally got their man only for the midfielder to suffer a horrific double ankle break that, but for the quick-thinking of the club’s doctor, could have led to amputation.

Only by rotating his foot 90 degrees as it turned black did the medic get the circulation going again. Fullarton was back playing nine months later but injury, this time to a knee in 2005, would ultimately bring an early end to his playing career.

“I struggled at first,” admits the candid Halifax manager. “I had expected to play until 37 and then go into management or coaching.

“I had looked after myself, in fact there is a debate whether I am truly Scottish because I have never played golf and I don’t drink alcohol! So for it all to be over at 30 was tough.

“For want of a better phrase, I ran away. I decided to go on holiday for six months.”

Fullarton owned a property in Marbella so southern Spain seemed the most sensible destination. Again, his decision-making proved astute, as while coming to terms with the loss of his career, the former midfielder set up his own Academy and football club, CF Costa Unida.

He spent the next seven years building up the Academy, whose players attend a nearby international school, before its success brought an intriguing invitation.

“We got various clubs from England to come over and work with the kids,” says Fullarton. “Paul Buckle (Bristol Rovers manager) was one and he asked me if I was interested in becoming their Under-18s coach.

“I had two weeks to make my mind up. I had just bought a house and had two kids, a two-year-old and the youngest who had just been born.

“It was another big decision. I had 250 kids at the Academy and a process that was bearing fruit. But I went to Bristol. I had run away from the UK once and knew if I didn’t take the job I would always be wondering: ‘What if?’

“How things have worked out since has taught me a big lesson. At the time, I was the Academy and doing everything. I washed the kit, did all the admin, coached four teams and also watched every other team.

“For me to jump ship to go to Bristol and the Academy, and the club, to still be thriving seven years later shows that no-one is irreplaceable.

“Now, my thought process in terms of management is: ‘Plan as you are going to be here forever, but work as if it is your last day’.

“All you are is a leaseholder as manager and make sure you are a good tenant. A good tenant looks after that property. Make sure the day you leave the club, be it by your choice or the club’s, it is in a better state than when you first walked through the door.”