Monday 31st May 2021
ONE thousand five hundred and ninety-one days ago, he thought he was saying goodbye.
Turned out it was see you later.
Dumbarton had just lost 2-1 at home to Queen of the South. It was his last game in the dugout as assistant manager.
The day before that game, he’d been confirmed as Stranraer’s new boss. That led to hands being shaken, wishes for the best for the future being exchanged, and a hole being left in Sons’ backroom staff.
One thousand five hundred and ninety-one days later, he is saying hello again. Only this time, he’s the man in charge.
He is Stevie Farrell. He is the 12th permanent Dumbarton manager this century. The 11th to occupy the office at the C&G Systems Stadium he shared with Stevie Aitken as his right hand man.
More than four years since he left that office, he’s the one in the big chair. He’s the one telling his backroom team — assistant Frank McKeown and goalkeeping coach Eric Phillips — what to do.
In total, it’s his third journey shuttling between Dumbarton and Stranraer, having now served each as assistant and manager.
But it’s a challenge he is looking forward to.
Speaking to www.dumbartonfootballclub.com, Stevie said: “The club made contact on Thursday and, as professional as they are, spoke to Stranraer first, and permission was given for us to talk.
“Discussions have taken place since then, and they have been positive ones. I have been at the club before, I know it, I know the people and have a good relationship with the supporters.
“So there were a lot of boxes ticked for me. I think League One will be really competitive next year and I’ve a really good feeling about coming back.
“It was hard making the calls to the people at Stranraer after I decided to move on. They are people I have massive respect for, but they understand football is a business that is always moving on.
“It was a tough call to make, but I believe it is the right one.
“I have brought Frank and Eric with me, and the continuity of the understanding I have with them, and they have with me, was important.
“We have a good relationship, and I have a real trust in what they are able to do, and Dumbarton were really supportive of that.”
To add a little irony, Stevie’s last two games as Stranraer gaffer were against the club who, 18 days after the second leg, would unveil him as their manager.
He had spent those 18 days building the Stair Park squad. Now he has to spend the 40 days he has until the first competitive game of season 2021/22 building one at Dumbarton.
Those two games — the two legs of the playoff semi-final won 1-0 on aggregate by Sons — have let him see the squad which is currently on the books.
And one of his first tasks will be to let most of the players in that squad know his plans.
He continued: “I will meet with the existing players today. Some players have already left but others remain on our books and I would like to hear their thoughts on the future.
“We’ll have a chat, they’ll hear what we can offer them, and we will look at who we can bring in once we have done that.
“The only thing against us is time. It is very tight, but that’s where we are. Dumbarton being successful in the playoffs has added a couple of weeks on to the season but we’re confident of retaining some of the squad and building a squad from there.
“Dumbarton have survived through the playoffs to remain in League One, but at some points they were having fantastic results under a very capable manager in Jim Duffy, who I have the utmost respect for.
“But we now have a new season ahead, and we have to look at it as an opportunity for players to create an environment that will give us a good, enjoyable season.”
There will, however, hopefully be one marked difference from that playoff double header when Stevie first walks out at Dumbarton as manager.
Those two games were played in an empty stadium, similarly to every Sons game last season apart from the finale against Edinburgh City which clinched survival.
And the returning supporters are people Stevie looks forward to working with every bit as much as his players.
He added: “I hope I will have a similar relationship with the supporters from when I was assistant here. I had a fantastic relationship with them and I am looking to build on that.
“I’ve got a management team who are committed to trying to ensure we do the very best for the club, and the most important part of any club is its supporters.
“If we can give them some smiles on their faces on a Saturday, everybody will be in a good place.
“And hopefully they will be back in the stadium as well, and people can get back to enjoying football again.”