The Ian Culverhouse years - too much, too soon?
- Credit: Ian Burt
Ian Culverhouse's exit as manager of King's Lynn Town has been on the cards for a little while now - CHRIS LAKEY looks at his time at The Walks
In February, 2017, Stephen Cleeve pulled off something a coup when Ian Culverhouse was named as King’s Lynn Town manager.
A former Premier League player and assistant manager with Norwich City and a highly-regarded coach, Culverhouse replaced Gary Setchell.
While his appointment raised more than a few eyebrows, it did sit comfortably with club owner Cleeve’s assertion that he wanted the club – which he acquired from Buster Chapman in May 2016 – to be playing in the Football League.
Two promotions and two Culverhouse eras later, they’ve gone from the Evo-Stik League Southern Premier to the National League. Probably far too quickly.
Culverhouse inherited a team that was 13th in the table, 21 points adrift of the play-off places.
He saw the season out – they finished 13th – and then set about building his own team. In his first full season he took Lynn to the brink of promotion, losing to Slough in the play-off final – but he had already handed in his notice, his relationship with Cleeve having broken down.
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Cleeve appointed Simon Clark while Culverhouse went to Grantham Town. Clark was the wrong fit and surprisingly, given the circumstances of their split, Cleeve persuaded Culverhouse to return.
It ignited the place: Lynn ended the 2018-19 season second in the table, beating Warrington in a super play-off final to reach National League North. Season 2019-20 ended early because of the global pandemic and after a lot of dithering, the league decided Lynn would be promoted automatically on a points per game basis.
Last season was equally as disastrous, but Lynn opted to carry on playing meaningless games, rather than start this season like Dover have – with a huge points deduction.
In the summer, Culverhouse and Cleeve agreed King’s Lynn Town should go full-time. It was a contentious decision and many believe it has led to the situation the club is now in - second from bottom of the National League.
By necessity, out went influential and experienced players like Michael Gash and Ryan Jarvis. In came new faces, moving into rented accommodation in the area, travelling to training at Heacham.
Culverhouse still believes the timing of the move to full-time football was correct.
"I think so,” he said. “If you compare it to last year when we were getting out of games really, really early and we were out of our depth I think.
“It’s given us a fighting chance and only of late …. I haven’t stood on the side of late and though we are out of our depth here and it has given us the opportunity to be competitive, but what we are not doing is showing that competitiveness in terms of results and that falls heavily on me.”
Culverhouse, and the club, may have paid a heavy price for that double promotion. The club's evolutionary process skipped a generation. It wasn’t ready, the fan base expected a lot more than they got. Managing expectations was impossible.
It mustn’t be forgotten that they compete alongside a whole clutch of former league clubs who historically attract big crowds and have good revenue streams – Stockport attracted 4,500-plus fans for the game against Lynn last midweek.
The summer recruitment must not be ignored. Criticism must come with a sensible caveat – bringing National League standard players here is difficult. Relocating is sometimes a sticking point, finances most definitely are.
Did Lynn recruit well? Not really. The much-vaunted strike duo of Junior Morias and Gold Omotayo never took off. Morias departed for Dagenham, Omotayo is way off the standard.
A few of the others have question marks over them – and there are inevitable comparisons to former players who sweated blood for the cause.
And that issue was down to the manager. He recruited them, they haven’t been up to it. It’s easy to dismiss it with the rider that recruitment is the hardest part of the job, but every manager has to do it.
And Ian Culverhouse the man?
A brilliant coach. Perhaps needed more help. Quiet, doesn’t like the spotlight, didn’t relish media interviews but, despite a run-in or two, usually fronted up. After the Aldershot defeat he spoke honestly about his position. No anger, just realism.
He’s been around the game long enough to know the score, and long enough to know there is another job out there somewhere if he wants one.
This will hurt, because he wanted success as much as anyone. He hadn’t downed tools, but the parting of the ways became inevitable.
His place in the club’s history books is guaranteed.