Vanarama Column March 14 – Dover AthleticChris Kinnear's remarkable journey - by Glenn Moore
Chris Kinnear was 31 when he first managed Dover, stepping up as caretaker with the Kent club between managers. Kinnear, who was still playing for the Whites at the time, thought it was a temporary appointment.
That was in 1985. Kinnear went on to manage Dover for ten years, leading them from the Southern League, Southern Division to the National League (then Conference). He then took a break for personal reasons, scouted briefly for Mick McCarthy at Wolves, then spent a dozen years across two spells at Margate – winning two more promotions into the Conference.
Early in 2013 Kinnear returned to Crabble, Dover’s ground perched on a hilltop outside the town. He soon took them them back into the Vanarama National League. Despite two factors which make it hard to attract and retain players - a small budget by the standards of the division, and geographical isolation - Dover are pushing for another promotion, this time into the Football League. They sit in the play-offs places ahead of hosting leaders Macclesfield on Saturday.
Kinnear is now 63. Throughout his time in management he has been a teacher, at Stepney Green, East London. This is possible as Dover are part-time, one of the few such clubs left in the Vanarama National League. Kinnear has said the day job has helped his ability to manage a football club; many of the people skills are transferrable, and he has even taken ideas from other sports encountered as a PE teacher.
In their three seasons back in the Vanarama National League Dover have finished eighth, fifth and sixth. This despite having to regularly rebuild the squad. Stefan Payne was top scorer the first two seasons. He was out of contract and turned down the offer of a new deal to sign with Barnsley and is now at Shrewsbury Town. Ricky Miller took on the mantle scoring an incredible 45 goals in 46 matches last season. Similarly Miller also rejected the offer of a new deal and made the step up to join Peterborough (he is now on loan to Mansfield having failed to score in League One). Ryan Bird, 30 years old and released by Newport County, arrived. He is top-scorer with 13 goals so far, though Dover’s success this season is built on a parsimonious defence led by former Gillingham centre-back Conor Essam. Only Wrexham have conceded fewer league goals.
Remarkably Essam is one of only three players in the 16-man squad Kinnear has fielded for Dover’s three matches, who were at the club last season, and even he was then on loan. Goalkeeper Mitch Walker was the longest-serving, having joined from Brighton in 2012, while striker Mitchell Pinnock came from Maidstone late in 2015. The rest were newly signed this season, including three loanees.
Last month master-builder Kinnear reached 1,500 matches in management, with a win-rate above 50 per cent. It is surprising a Football League club never took a chance on him, but non-League managers are often typecast. Usually the only way into the league is to be promoted into it. Achieving that with Dover would fulfil Kinnear’s remaining ambition. It could happen this year, but if not, there’s always next year, and the one after.
“I’m a long way from finishing,” Kinnear told BBC Radio Kent last month. “I don’t feel tired by it. I don’t feel different now to when I started, except I don’t make as many mistakes because I now have the experience to draw on.”
For more about Dover Athletic visit: http://www.doverathletic.com
For more about the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/
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