A noble loser who has emerged triumphant

John Gregory has shown positivity in the face of adversity.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
Last weekend former Aston Villa manager John Gregory coached bottom-of-the-table Maccabi Ahi Nazareth for the last time.
The team lost 7-0. At home. To Hapoel Ramat Gan – a club which ranks among the worst performers in the top division this season.
Saturday’s result, which confirmed Nazareth’s all-but inevitable relegation from the Premier League, was by no means its first embarrassing defeat of the season.
In recent months Ahi has lost 5-0 to Betar Jerusalem, Maccabi Netanya and Maccabi Haifa.
But despite the desperate state of affairs at the Arab club, Gregory has amazingly managed to come away with his head held high and walk straight into a new job at Ashdod SC.
Ashdod may not be a club with a history and financial backing comparable to the Israeli heavyweights such as Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv, but it is a well-run organization which finished in a more than respectable sixth place at the end of last season.
Gregory’s performance at Nazareth since his appointment in December of last year was an incredible display of positivity over adversity.
Gregory didn’t have it easy. Just a month or two into his time at Nazareth there were rumors that he was thinking of quitting. The club was in a terrible financial state with staff not paid, either fully or at all, for months on end.
He has a tough, never-say-die approach that carried him through to the end of a campaign. More than anything, it was the ex-Wycombe Wanders manager’s attitude rather than results which quickly won him plaudits throughout the Israeli soccer community and led to his appointment as Ashdod coach.
He was simply a breath of fresh air, who contrasted starkly with the coaches here in Israel.
Gregory is steeped in English soccer tradition and it soon became obvious that he wasn’t going to change his ways just because he was working outside of his regular comfort zone.
It was refreshing to see him work with a motley crew of very young and inexperienced players at the club which had found its way into the top flight by winning a playoff at the end of the 2008/09 season after finishing sixth in the second division National League.
In contrast to all the other Israeli coaches who usually dress in scruffy jeans and T-shirts, Gregory always wore a tracksuit as he stood on the sidelines encouraging his team.
He wore his passion on his sleeve, animatedly screaming instructions while obviously becoming frustrated at the weakness of his side.
But the aspect of Gregory’s time at Ahi that really stood out was his relationship with the media and the way he spoke in post-game interviews.
Initially Gregory rarely appeared on television. Suddenly in the last few months, however, he was everywhere, speaking in the most wonderful English soccer clichés as he told interviewers how he was “proud of my boys” and “there’s a long way to go.”
Towards the end of the season he became a regular fixture on the sports television shows, most memorably dancing with Mizrahi singer Kobi Peretz at the end of Sport5’s Champions League studio show following the semifinal between Lyon and Bayern Munich.
Even though the 56-year-old has only a tangential connection to this country, he appeared to have developed a close affinity with Israel in general and Nazareth in particular.
Gregory has had his difficult times, most notably in the years following his sacking by Derby County for alleged misconduct in 2003. The allegations were proved wrong in court, but he was prevented from working as a manager for the three years it took to resolve the case.
Since then he had been linked with various jobs in Israel, yet it was only Nazareth that actually gave him a chance.
Now he has proved his credentials, the man from Scunthorpe could very well have a long and successful career in Israel.
He is an example to all up and coming coaches who would do well to take note of his approach and work ethic.