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Ben Smith stands down as manager of Isthmian Premier club Herne Bay after defeat at Corinthian-Casuals

Ben Smith has stepped down as Herne Bay’s boss.

Smith last season led Bay to a historic promotion from Isthmian South East through the play-offs, beating Ashford 2-0 at Homelands in April’s final, but the club have struggled to get going in their inaugural season at Step 3.

Ben Smith, pictured lifting the trophy after Herne Bay's Isthmian South East play-off success last season, has stood down as the club's manager. Picture: Ian Scammell
Ben Smith, pictured lifting the trophy after Herne Bay's Isthmian South East play-off success last season, has stood down as the club's manager. Picture: Ian Scammell

They are now second-bottom, level on points with basement boys Corinthian-Casuals who beat them 3-2 on Saturday despite Maidstone loanee Tushaun Tyreece-Walters and substitute Rory Smith finding the net while the hosts were reduced to 10 men in the latter stages.

Herne Bay chairman Stuart Fitchie paid an emotional tribute to Smith, previously Bay’s under-18s manager, in a club statement on Saturday evening.

“It is with real sadness that, following a conversation after the game today, I have to inform you that Ben has decided to step down from his role as first-team manager with immediate effect,” Fitchie said.

“On a personal note, I am gutted. I would not be chairman of Herne Bay FC if it was not for Ben. He introduced me to John Bathurst right at the beginning and we have soldiered through three-and-a-half testing years together.

“We’ve battled and battled, and given our hearts and soles for the betterment of Herne Bay FC.

“We speak on numerous occasions each day and the topics are wide ranging. A friendship that has developed into much more, which makes this for me a tough one to take, but I understand where Ben is right now and respect his decision.”

Divisions at the club had already appeared this season, though, with Smith last month saying he wanted more understanding - from a section of Herne Bay’s own fans.

But with Smith appointed in 2019, after the arrival of a new consortium at the club, he leaves with Herne Bay in a much better position than he found it in.

Fitchie added: “First thing first, Herne Bay FC would not be where it is today without Ben Smith - fact!

“The most successful manager in recent history and [he] guided us to promotion following the completion of the 21/22 season via that famous play-off final win against Ashford United. A day we will remember for the rest of our lives. Something for all involved at Herne Bay FC to be proud of and an achievement which will be etched in the club's history forever.

Herne Bay chairman Stuart Fitchie
Herne Bay chairman Stuart Fitchie

“The love he has for the club is immeasurable. There are things Ben did for the club on a daily basis that most people would not know so could not appreciate. The club always [was] his first thought.

“He gave everything to Herne Bay FC and deserves respect from us all. Bullish at times and a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, we’ve had our fair share of moments, but there is always the mutual respect that got the best out of those situations.

“He has given the Blue Army something to sing about after many challenging years.

“To end. Ben, it has been an absolute pleasure. You have done a tremendous job and you did the unthinkable and should be incredibly proud. Where the club is now from where you picked it up, unfathomable.

“Ben Smith’s Blue and White Army! Love you mate, Stuart x.”

In an interview on the club’s YouTube channel, Smith confirmed he had resigned at Corinthian-Casuals - in a nine-minute interview where he answered a single question.

“It’s very disappointing to have to step down but I’ll be stepping down today,” he said.

“I’ll support Stuart and the board behind-the-scenes to help make sure that they get the right person next because it was never about me. It was always about the players - when we got promoted, the players did a fantastic job. We supported that behind-the-scenes.

“It’s now the case we have to move the club forward. The two-year plan was to be fighting at the top of this league. We have not started well this year and I can make five or six changes that’ll make a difference, but they will take two or three weeks.

“It’s too long and it can’t always be everyone else’s fault.”

Smith says he leaves with his head held high, though.

He added: “I played a splattering of games for the club and I ran a youth team at the club, I was successful at youth level.

“The club was in a hole. I was, after a bizarre finishing at Canterbury City after what we did there, [out of a managerial role] so it was the perfect time to come into the club to try and turn it around and get it into a place where it could A) Function and B) we said when we came in, within two years, our aim was to get promoted.

“If you take away the Covid seasons, we did it within a year. Obviously with Covid around then, there were some seasons half played and that sort of stuff, but I certainly leave with my head held high.

“It’s not the way I wanted to leave. Looking back, I should have left maybe after the play-off final. But we are addicts, we are addicted to the game and we are addicted to that winning feeling.

“At the moment, I don’t think too many of the players are addicted to that winning feeling. They don’t know what it takes to go and win. That’s that.

“Obviously I’ll do my best to help the club get the right person in next.

“I certainly have no ill feelings towards the club at all. I feel honoured to have been part of changing the club around but I can’t keep coming with excuses. I have come up with a lot of excuses - and a lot of them are valid - but ultimately, it’s about results.

“I think the change needs to be made now. I’ll spend time with my family, which you sacrifice - it’s more time and more work - and hopefully, I’ll join the supporters at some point and watch the team, hopefully, have some success moving forwards.”

Others have been quick to praise Smith for the job he has done at the Winch's Field club.

“Honestly, not many people in football like @bensmith88,” midfielder Kieron Campbell wrote on Twitter. “Untold commitment to the cause.

“Untold calls and messages to benefit everyone else, apart from himself. Thank you for everything gaffer.”

Young striker Kymani Thomas added: "Ahh man. I just want to thank you for the opportunity you've given me this season gaffer, you will be missed @bensmith88."

The news follows the recent departure from the dug-out of long-serving manager Neil Cugley from Herne Bay's rivals Folkestone.

Bay are next in action on Tuesday night at home to Steve McKimm's Carshalton in the league when injured midfielder Mike West, assistant Ben Brown and coach Joe Radford will take charge. They host Canvey Island next weekend.

Applicants will need to submit their interest, as well as a CV, to stuart.fitchie@btinternet.com.

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