By Greville Watermann
The question has just been asked of Bob Booker, what would you do if you were the manager of Brighton & Hove Albion now, facing the challenge of attempting to establish Albion as a Premier League team?
Evidently whoever posed that question does not know Bob very well as despite working as assistant manager to six different gaffers between 2000-2009 in Micky Adams (twice), Peter Taylor, Martin Hinshelwood, Steve Coppell, Martin McGhee and Russell Slade and indeed acting as Caretaker Manager on two occasions after the departures of Adams and Coppell, Bob never had any desire to become a manager in his own right.
"I have never wanted to be a manager," he confirms. "Being an assistant was a specialist role which I grew into, thrived in and really enjoyed. I was well aware of my strengths and weaknesses and being an assistant manager suited me. I think I could have done the number one job but I really would not have enjoyed it or have been true to myself.
"I was temperamentally unsuited to the role and knew that I did not possess the confidence, drive and inner strength to make tough decisions about dropping and releasing players. Maybe I was just a bit too nice and lacked the ruthlessness that managers require. I did not know enough about other teams and players.
"I was an organisation man and was happy helping and advising the boss, but I just did not want the pressure of taking the ultimate responsibility myself. I also loved bantering with the players and this would have had to stop if I became a manager.
"Some assistants make it clear from the outset that they are highly ambitious and want to move up one day, and that is quite understandable. I was very loyal and never wanted to take the job of any manager I worked for, whereas I was well aware of some assistants who actively plotted to do so, and I had no respect for any of them."
Micky Adams knew Bob inside out – Bob, perhaps, opened up more to him than to some of the other managers he worked for. His verdict was totally clear and unambiguous: "I never saw Bob as a manager because the job requires a totally different set of skills and he was far too nice a guy, which is meant as praise rather than criticism.
"Bob would have struggled with some of the unpleasant tasks he would have faced, such as releasing players. With his personality, the manager's job might well have tipped him over the edge." Adams is spot on in his assessment, proving how well he knew Bob and what made him tick.
Dick Knight is also extremely forthright. "I thought that management was a step too far for Bob and would not have suited his personality. He'd have found it very stressful and I did not think he wanted to take on that much responsibility. I saw him as a vital part of the jigsaw, as he was an exceptional assistant manager who was quite brilliant at his job. Even if Bob had asked me, I wouldn't have appointed him as manager – he was far too valuable where he was."
"It can't have been easy for him to adapt to the personalities and needs of the six different managers for whom he worked," Knight observes. "They were all totally different in their make-up and approach. Four of them had been top players, they were all strongly opinionated, confident and knowledgeable, and yet he managed to win the friendship, trust and respect of all of them, which was no mean achievement and testimony to his ability."
Perhaps Bob lacked the self-confidence to push himself forward; maybe he could have adapted to the requirements of the job, just as he had successfully met every previous challenge he had faced? I believe that Bob was extremely astute and recognised exactly what he did best and, crucially, also enjoyed doing, taking the morally courageous decision to concentrate on making himself the best possible assistant manager rather than seeking to progress further.
Bob was well aware of the consequences of failure as a manager – the sack was inevitable. Why put himself in that position, risking unhappiness at the same time? Instead, Bob served six managers impeccably for nearly eight years, building a new life for himself in Brighton, loving a job that he excelled at and was well rewarded for. Who can say that he was mistaken in his judgement?
For those reasons Bob would never have allowed himself to be put in the position of becoming manager of a club but would instead provide his valuable support, advice and encouragement to Chris Hughton, the man in charge.
"OOH-AAH – THE BOB BOOKER STORY" IS AVAILABE IN THE BRENTFORD & SHEFFIELD UNITED STADIUM STORES, CITY BOOKS IN HOVE AND ON AMAZON AT http://tinyurl.com/y8ea8ovx
Bob will also be appearing at The Komedia Theatre in Brighton on 6th September alongside Mark McGhee