Below is the text of an extensive interview with Colin by Brian Caffarey from January 2008. Obviously some of what was said has been overtaken by various events. The matchday programme for Saturday's game against Eastleigh will contain more about Colin and tributes to him. Additionally, respects will be paid before the game.
Colin's many, many friends in football may wish to leave personal messages here
What strikes you immediately when you interview Colin Lippiatt is his enormous and infectious enthusiasm, especially for everything ‘Woking FC’. There’s no sign at all that the manifold stresses of coaching and managing for over 30 years have taken their toll. It’s easy to see why he must have been a great motivator of players and everyone else around him. It struck me forcibly how lucky the Club is to have all that enthusiasm, wisdom and knowledge to hand – and all now provided free of charge!
Colin was born and brought up in Hayes and played schools football for Southall Boys and Middlesex Boys before joining the Hayes ‘A’ side, where he played alongside John Sissons, who went on to star for West Ham. Colin started out as a wide player but was converted into a centre-half. Along with his future brother-in-law, Brian Caterer, Colin was offered a trial with Brentford. Even to this day he doesn’t quite know why he didn’t bother to attend. He speculates that, perhaps, he wasn’t quite ‘driven’ enough at that age, noting that he’d got a decent job as an apprentice at EMI. Having spurned the possible opportunity to make a career in the professional game – although Colin doesn’t think he was good enough for that – he went on to play non-League football for Hayes, Ruislip Manor, Uxbridge and Wokingham Town before cartilage problems brought his playing days to a premature end when he was 28. By then Brian Caterer had gone into management at Windsor and Eton and Colin got the invitation to go over and ‘help out’.
First encounter with Geoff Chapple
A local benefactor had put a bit of money into the Royalists and Brian and Colin were able to put together a side which Colin still enthuses about. Success came with the Athenian League championship, reaching the semi-final of the Vase and an FA Cup First Round tie with Wimbledon (a fantastic achievement for an Athenian League side). It was while Colin was with the Royalists that the fateful encounter with a certain Geoff Chapple occurred. Clive Youlton recounts in his book “Geoff Chapple. The Story Behind the Legend” how Geoff, then a young player-manager of Alton Town, wrecked the Royalists’ hopes of winning the Athenian League Cup Final. Colin was impressed and subsequently brought Geoff to Windsor and Eton as a player. By 1980-81 the Caterer and Lippiatt team had moved to Kingfield, taking with them a good number of the Royalists’ best players, including Kevin Mitchell, John Mitchell and Ross McCulloch. Colin tried to recruit Geoff (then recovering from a broken leg) too but, in an ironic twist, Geoff ended up taking over the vacated managerial seat at Windsor instead.
Colin’s first stay – he always comes back! – at Kingfield didn’t last long. Things went well on the field to begin with – the Club was third in the Isthmian Premier League at one stage – but financial problems led to players drifting away and a slump in the side’s fortunes. Brian and Colin resigned, with Colin then joining Ted Pearce at Farnborough Town as coach for a couple of seasons where, again, he enjoyed considerable success.
The glory years
In the meantime, as all true Woking fans know, Geoff Chapple had been appointed in September 1984 to take over at an ailing Woking FC. At the beginning of the 1986-87 season Colin got the call from Geoff to join him at Kingfield and there began the start of that remarkable managerial partnership which led to some thrilling ‘pass and move’ football, three promotions, three FA Trophy wins and some wonderful Cup runs, including the never-to-be-forgotten triumph at the Hawthorns in January 1991.
Those ‘in the know’, of course, have always been well aware how heavily Geoff relied on Colin’s incomparable knowledge of the non-League game, his ability to bring in players and his coaching skills. (Geoff was not renowned for his appearances in a track suit!) Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that this myth is put about that the players were given no direction at all and were simply told by Geoff to go out and ‘do their stuff’. Colin agrees that this is too simple a view. “We were always careful to select players with good technical ability who, we knew, would fit into our playing style. Of course, it was much less sophisticated then than it is now: we didn’t collect loads of statistics about success rates in passing etc, and I didn’t even have a training board in the early days, but we did practise on the training field and the players knew what they had to do when they had possession and when they didn’t. When you’re doing well too you don’t need to over-analyse and highlight everything: if players are playing well and with confidence they will have the ability to overcome, and to some extent conceal, weaknesses and mistakes. I remember once that we had a bad result up at Altrincham after a brilliant run but the flaws weren’t different in that game from previous games – it’s just that they hadn’t been exposed so clearly previously. In that situation it’s important not to over-react and punish the players.”
Kingstonian and Yeovil
Another date that’s seared into the memory of Woking fans is the FA Trophy win over Dagenham and Redbridge in 1997. Not, ironically, because we lifted the Trophy for the third time in four years but because we were shocked to learn soon afterwards that the Chapple/Lippiatt team had ‘defected’ to Kingstonian. Numerous words have been written about that episode – and I shall be asking Jon Davies about it when I interview him! – but Colin emphasises that he didn’t fall out with Jon: “Jon asked me to stay but I didn’t know who I’d be working with and I thought it was best to continue the partnership with Geoff, so I left too.” Colin didn’t stay long at the Ks. He says that it somehow didn’t feel right there. “I think I realised that the partnership had gone stale, dried up, a bit”, he says. Graham Roberts, who was then managing Yeovil, asked Colin to join him as coach. Colin thoroughly enjoyed his time at Yeovil: “a great club, with fantastic supporters”, he says. Although he was only there for a relatively short time, Colin is still held in much affection by Glovers fans. It wasn’t long before Colin found himself in charge after Graham Roberts was dismissed on disciplinary grounds. Colin set to and stabilised the club, bringing in a host of new players, including two Woking legends, Kevan Brown and Steve Thompson, scandalously sold on by John McGovern. In his first full season in charge the Glovers finished 5th in the Conference and had started well in the following campaign. The problem was that the Yeovil Board wanted Colin to go full-time and to relocate to the West Country. Colin now feels that he should have taken longer to seek a compromise solution but reached a quick decision to turn down the request, stuck to his guns and resigned.
Colin returned from Yeovil to Kingstonian briefly to rejoin Geoff Chapple before getting the call, in February 2000, to come and rescue the Cards, languishing near the bottom of the table. The understanding, according to Geoff’s account in Clive Youlton’s biography, was that Colin was just ‘keeping the seat warm’ till Geoff’s contract at Kingstonian allowed him to leave and that Colin would then revert to number two. Colin did a superb job in saving the Cards from relegation, hauling us up to 14th place: a feat he regards as one of his greatest achievements. Accounts then differ over what happened next. Colin accepts, though, that by then, with his Yeovil experience behind him too, he’d begun to feel comfortable being in charge. “I think by then I’d realised that I was quite capable”, he says, “and that I had the attributes to be a manager. I had tended to be over-sensitive and over-react to criticism of me or my players but I had matured a bit as I got older and could handle all that better.” Whatever the truth of the matter, Geoff remained at Kingstonian and Colin soldiered on at Kingfield. However, defeat at Newport County in the FA Cup the following season, on the back of poor league performances, produced a crisis and Geoff (by then sacked at Kingstonian) walked back through the Kingfield doors. Unfortunately, a corollary was the sacking of Kevan Brown, whom Colin had appointed as his assistant manager at Kingfield. Colin very much regrets his part in that episode: “I’ve made some mistakes in my time and this was one of the biggest. I let Kevan down. Of course, I’ve apologised to him since then.”
Clive Youlton’s book contains Colin’s response to the obvious invitation to him to choose his ‘best Woking XI’ from the players he worked with. The line-up is: Laurence Batty, Stewart Mitchell, Mark Tucker, Trevor Baron, Lloyd Wye, Shane Wye, Dereck Brown, Steve Thompson, Mark Biggins, Clive Walker and Tim Buzaglo. A dream team if ever there was one!
Success at St Albans
Some football managers, like some artists and composers, seem to be capable of a late ‘flowering’ and this was certainly true of Colin’s time at St Albans. I suspect that he was strongly driven to prove himself once more after his unhappy departure from Kingfield. In 2004, having taken over the managerial reins at Chesham, Colin was asked to become assistant to Stuart Cash at St Albans. Cash left a week later and Colin found himself in charge. In a feat which paralleled Colin’s remarkable achievement at Woking four years previously, he saved an apparently doomed side from relegation. Even more remarkably, he went on the following season, on one of the smallest budgets in the league, to lead the club to the giddy heights of promotion to the Conference. Colin said at the time that he regarded that success as his greatest achievement in non-League football and he still looks back on that time with enormous pride. That was meant to be his final fling in management but he was persuaded to stay on for the Saints’ inaugural Conference season. Unfortunately, after a bright start, he was unable to prevent City from going back down. Colin could have stayed on at Clarence Park but he had decided that he’d had enough of coaching and managing and wanted to step down.
Back to Kingfield
Another return to Kingfield was in the offing! Colin had been offered a place on the Board at St Albans but decided to ring Phil Ledger just to ask if the Board here could use his services in any way. Colin emphasises that his enquiry was very tentative and he stressed to Phil that he wouldn’t be at all ‘put out’ if the answer was ‘no’. Far from a negative response, the answer came back that the Board would be delighted if he would join them. He met Chris Ingram and Phil later that week and was immediately given the task of leading the selection process for Glenn Cockerill’s successor. Colin is aware that some have criticised the handling of the final announcement, in particular the notification to Neil Smith that he had not been successful, but says that this is unwarranted: “I whittled the list down to a shortlist of four: Terry Brown, Mark Cooper, Frank Gray and Neil Smith. We then went for a final two of Frank and Neil, so we rang the other two at the weekend since there was no point in dragging it out. Frank and Neil knew that they would be phoned on the Monday with the result and that’s what happened.”
Colin’s role as Football Technical Director
Colin went on to talk with evident enthusiasm about his large and expanding role as Football Technical Director. “Frank reports to me but he has the final decision on team selection and the players. I speak to him frequently about players and tactics and he often asks my opinions. I watch every game and sometimes speak to Frank at half-time. It seemed odd at first, sitting in the stand and not being in charge, and I can’t watch a game after all these years and not be thinking about the changes I might make and so on. But Frank, Gerry Murphy and I have a very open and honest relationship and it probably helps too that Frank is fairly easy-going, though a strong character. Sometimes we disagree but it’s without rancour and that’s fine. Frank knows too that I’m his greatest supporter. I selected him. I think he’s done an excellent job so far. We’re definitely progressing: the players he’s brought in, many of whom hadn’t played at this level before, are improving all the time.” Colin is already sitting down with Frank to plan next year’s campaign. “We’ve been given a budget for next year, which is the same as this year’s. We’ve got a group of players who are on contract for next year already and we’ve got other, younger players like Gez Sole and Jerome Maledon who are ‘Bosman protected’ and then there are others whom we need to decide whether to keep or not, plus players we might want to bring in if we can. Frank wants to have all this sorted out by March.”
Colin sees no reason why we couldn’t move on this season to end up ‘tagging along’ behind the play-off teams – which would be a great achievement for such a young and inexperienced side. He thinks the standard in the BSP isn’t very high this season and that there are quite a few big, well-organised physical sides. He believes his St Albans team were an excellent technical side but he adds that “you’ve got to be able to mix it and to win some drab, ugly games if you’re going to survive and prosper”.
Colin’s remit now extends to what he calls the Woking ‘family tree’ of the Academy, the Centre of Excellence and Woking Ladies FC. He works with Graham Baker and Dennis North, both of whom he praises highly, in the expanded Academy set-up: for those who haven’t caught up with this, the Club now has two Academy partners in Woking College and Merrist Wood College, running two youth teams in each of the relevant leagues. Colin believes that it is vital that the Club continues to produce a foundation of home-grown players following in the footsteps of Matt Ruby and others. There are ambitious plans too, which Colin is heading, to set up a Girls’ Centre of Excellence, which it is hoped will be established for the 2008-09 season. Colin is now heavily involved too in supporting Jane Spong and Chris Sexton in the Club’s ever-expanding community work. In addition, he has just been appointed as the Board’s liaison with the Supporters’ Club.
Colin reckons that he comes into the Club on one or two days a week on average as well as attending all games and helping at the Centre of Excellence. But his phone bill must be enormous! Colin is clearly enjoying himself hugely: as he says, although he’s very busy, it’s so much easier when you’re retired from full-time work! Colin claims to have other interests too, although his wife, Frances, disputes that! When pressed, it seems to come down to ‘a bit of DIY and enjoying his holidays’. Frances, of course, has been a great servant to the Club too, assisting, with Hazel Kimber, on the catering side for many years. She now helps Barry Kimber on matchdays in the Sponsors’ Lounge.
Quite apart from the great benefit the Club gains from having on the Board someone with Colin’s vast experience, it’s clear that his infectious enthusiasm and warm personality have given a lift to everyone at the Club and have helped considerably in creating the positive ‘feel’ around Kingfield at present. All we need now is planning approval for the new stand!