Alex Dyer On Kilmarnock, Scotland, And Working Alongside Steve Clarke

Alex Dyer On Kilmarnock, Scotland, And Working Alongside Steve Clarke

An interview with Alex Dyer, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You started your playing career at Blackpool and were part of a promotion-winning team at the club. How do you reflect on your time there?

“I have great memories of my time at Blackpool and of Sam Ellis who was the manager who gave me the opportunity to come to the club.

“As a London lad, I knew Sam from his time at Watford which is where I did my apprenticeship.

“It was my first experience of moving up north given my roots in London so it was a bit daunting but I loved every minute of it.

“I broke into the first team at 17 and we won promotion to the Third Division (now League 1) which was pleasing.”

You signed for Crystal Palace in 1988 after a year at Hull City. What was your time at Palace like compared to what you had known before at your previous clubs?

“I enjoyed my time at Hull and that was an important move for me as it allowed me to showcase myself in the league that is now the Championship.

“I enjoyed my time there under Brian Horton and Eddie Gray but when the opportunity came to go to Palace, I wanted to go and Eddie encouraged me to take the opportunity too.

“I was blessed to join such a talented group at Crystal Palace with players such as Alan Pardew, Andy Gray, Ian Wright and Mark Bright.

“We won promotion to the First Division in my first season which was a good achievement.”

Many people associate Ian Wright with his Arsenal days but he was a formidable striker at Crystal Palace too. What was he like as a teammate?

“Ian was brilliant for Crystal Palace. He was different level to everyone else at the club.

“He came into football quite late but he certainly made up for lost time.

“He was hungry for goals and he was driven to succeed. He was a winner and he worked brilliantly with Mark Bright as a strike partnership.

“He wanted to win any contest in training from running to five a sides.

“We played with wingers and we wanted to get as many balls into the box as we could.

“As players, we played for them in many ways as we knew they had that extra quality to win games for us.”

Many people associate you with coaching and management now but I believe you became a teacher upon retirement from playing football.

“That is true although, I initially did a fitness course, became a personal trainer and worked at a gym for a year or so.

“Then, one of the members of the gym told me about an opportunity to go into schools and teach PE.

“I did that for a while and I loved it.

“I got into football coaching from my time in teaching as I was on playground duty one day when my phone went and it was Alan Pardew.

“He told me that there was an opportunity to go into West Ham United as a fitness coach for the youth team if I was interested given my experience working on the fitness side of things.

“I immediately said yes because I knew it was a great opportunity to get back into football at a good club.

“It gave me a platform to go on to do more coaching in the future because I always wanted to be a coach but I did not receive many opportunities to do so upon retirement.”

What were those early months at West Ham like?

“They were educational and enjoyable. I worked under Tony Carr, Kevin Keen and Tony Strudwick whom I learned so much from.

“I would run the warm-ups and warm-downs for the youth teams and monitor their fitness on a daily basis.

“As I always wanted to be a coach, my drills would be game related which Kevin Keen noticed right away.

“He told me that he could see that the players enjoyed my sessions and he encouraged me to take my UEFA B license so that I could move into coaching.

“I did that and the opportunity arose for me to become the coach on the footballing side for the reserve team when Kevin was promoted to the first team.

“I relished that opportunity and that was where I met Steve Clarke for the first time who was the first team assistant manager to Gianfranco Zola.

“I knew Gianfranco because we both completed our A license together and I was at West Ham for seven years in total. I loved every minute of it.

“I would have stayed at the club longer but I received a call from Chris Powell – who is a good friend of mine – who had just got the Charlton job and wanted me to go and work as his assistant manager.

“I had played for Charlton during my playing career and working with Chris was appealing too so the move was a no-brainer.”

You were assistant manager to Chris at Charlton and Huddersfield Town. What was it like to be an assistant at first team level for the first time?

“It was a role that I enjoyed especially as I was supporting Chris in his role as a manager.

“We won promotion to the Championship by winning League One in our first season at Charlton which was a great achievement.

“We then stabilised the club in the Championship before the club decided to move Chris and I on after three years.

“From there, we moved to Huddersfield Town where we stayed for just over a year.

“Working in the Championship with Chris at both clubs was an invaluable learning experience for me as it is a good level of football.

“After leaving Huddersfield, I was out of work for a period of time so I went back to working at an SEN school which was demanding but fulfilling.

“Then, out of the blue, I received a call from Steve Clarke telling me that he was going to become manager of Kilmarnock and that he wanted me to be his assistant manager.

“I jumped at the chance and the rest is history as they say (laughs).”

Steve Clarke achieved phenomenal success at Kilmarnock by taking the club to 3rd place in the Scottish Premiership on a modest budget. What was Steve like to work alongside?

“Steve is the best man-manager that I have worked with. He knows how to handle his players. He is fair with them and family always comes first in his eyes.

“He is also a great coach and someone who is good around the place at any football club. He trusts his staff and will delegate tasks to you as well.

“He has an aura about him and he has a big personality which he does not often show to the media.

“He is a meticulous planner and you have to be fully organised and prepared to work for him.

“He holds the highest of standards and demands 100% for everyone around him.

“Although, he also allows you and encourages you to be yourself. We are different characters but he never said to me that I had to change who I am or my manner as long as I worked hard.”

What do you believe was the key to your success at Kilmarnock?

“We had a great time at Kilmarnock by finishing 3rd which was done without a big budget as you say.

“The key to our success was the discipline around training and match days which were bounded by Steve’s high standards.

“He made sure that every player trained as hard as they played. We worked with a great intensity.

“Another key part of our success was how we utilised the loan market well under Steve because we could not afford to buy anyone.

“The players bought into how he wanted to manage the club from day one and once we started winning a few games, they could see that he was a manager who could take them forward as a group.

“That was shown from day one because our first game was against Rangers who everyone expected to beat us but we drew 1-1 and did not give them an easy game which was the case for our time at the club against the so-called big clubs of the league.

“He instilled a great belief across the club from players to staff that we could make progress year on year which is what happened.

“In our first year, we finished 5th then bettered that by finishing 3rd which is no mean feat.”

Steve was the unanimous choice to become Scotland manager in 2019 and he became the first Scotland manager to qualify for a major tournament in over two decades. You were on his staff with Scotland for a period of time. What was that like for you as a proud Londoner?

“You could say it was strange (Laughs).

“However, in all seriousness, once he got the job, he told me that he wanted me to go and work with him even if it was only for a year because he knew that I had aspirations to be a manager in my own right.

“He was brilliant with Scotland when I was with him and he has continued to achieve success since I’ve left too.

“When we went in to Scotland, we had to change the culture around the national team.

“We made it very clear from the get go that coming with Scotland was a time where there would be no messing around.

“I think in the past, some players viewed going away with Scotland as just a little break away from their club sides.

“I am not saying that they did not try or anything of that sort but did it hurt enough if they lost? I am not sure.

“Under Steve, that was never the case. The discipline of coming with Scotland to win and to work as a team in unison was established from our first meeting. We would accept nothing less.

“Steve had a plan to improve Scotland and mould a strong team. He meant business and you can see that now in everything that he does.

“Defeating Spain was no fluke. You can see an organised team who knows what their roles are and how play for one another.

“I loved my time as part of the Scotland staff and I only left because I wanted to become the manager of Kilmarnock.

“If I did not take the Kilmarnock job then I would still be there now but I knew that I could not turn such an opportunity down.

“We are still close to this day and we speak regularly and also after every Scotland game which is always a nice debate about football.”

You managed Kilmarnock from 2020 to 2021. How do you reflect on your time in charge now?

“I loved every minute of being Kilmarnock manager.

“I enjoyed working with the players and with the owner, Billy Bowie.

“The results did not go as well as I wanted them to go or the club wanted them to go.

“However, I know in my heart of hearts, that if I would have stayed in charge until the end of the season that the club would not have been relegated to the Scottish Championship.

“I have been told that by former players who were at the club during that time too.

“We lost games by the odd goal but we were never embarrassed. We still had fight in the group and we could have stayed in the league so I was disappointed to leave when I did and see the club be relegated from afar.

“Ultimately, decisions have to be made and that is football. I have no hard feelings towards Billy Bowie and in fact, we still speak regularly to this day. He is a good man.

“There are many wonderful people at Kilmarnock and I wish the club all the best under Derek McInnes who is a good manager.

“I always look out for the their results and I hope they can remain in the Scottish Premiership because it is a great club.”

You have most recently worked as assistant manager to Alan Pardew in Bulgaria and Greece. What have those experiences been like?

“Working with Alan again has been great.

“My experience Bulgaria at CSKA Sofia was a short spell.

“However, during that time, we finished as runners-up in the reached the Bulgarian Cup final and lost to our rivals Levski Sofia which was disappointing especially given the atmosphere of the fans before and during the game as they were understandably desperate to win.

“Unfortunately, the atmosphere after the game turned sour and I was racially abused on a number of occasions as were some of our players which is why we left the club.

“No human being should be treated in such a way and we had to take a stand which we did.

“Then, an opportunity to join Alan at Aris Thessaloniki arose and I joined him in Greece.

“We had six months in Greek football and I enjoyed the experience because the football is of a good standard and there are a number of strong sides in the Greek Super League such as Olympiakos, Panathinaikos, PAOK, AEK Athens and ourselves at Aris.

“We were competing to finish 5th or 6th which given our budget was realistic but the club wanted to challenge for the title which was a big ask.

“The lifestyle was good in Greece as was the football but I am now back in the U.K. and looking for my next step.”

Finally, Alex, are you looking to become a manager or would you be open to working as an assistant again?

“I am raring to go again as a manager or an assistant should the opportunity be right.

“I have done both roles and I know both roles well.

“I enjoyed being an assistant to Alan Pardew, Chris Powell and Steve Clarke. I learned a lot from each of them.

“However, I also enjoyed my time in management and I want another taste of it.

“I love football, I love working with a group of players and I am open to either role at home or abroad.

“I am eager and ready to go again.”