Stuart King: I’m constantly breaking down but Paul my best friend who passed away would say keep going

Carrick Rangers manager Stuart King has been candid about the stress of managing premier league Danske Bank, admitting he broke down on the sidelines last season trying to come to terms with the loss of his best friend who died after a heart attack.

ing was distraught when his close friend Paul Kull passed away on November 23 last year.

Paul was a popular character in Banbridge Town, where King began his managerial career before rising to the top division of the domestic game.

But the challenge of keeping Carrick in the Premier League has taken an emotional toll on the former Linfield midfielder, who has struggled to balance work, family and football commitments.

And the loss of a friend, Denise’s husband and Aisling and Niam’s much-beloved father, hit the 41-year-old man hard.

King, who has been Banbridge Town boss since 2016, took over from Carrick last summer, and the former Ballymena United winger has managed to propel the club to Premier League survival.

He signed a new two-year contract, but before putting pen to paper, he had to think carefully about the requirements for this role.

It has been a challenging 12 months for the man who has won two titles under close friend David Geoffrey at Linfield, as well as the Irish Cup, League Cup, County Antrim Shield and Setanta Cup.

He feels like he is learning all the time and will become stronger in difficult times, but there has never been a lonelier period than when he was stunned by the death of his friend.

“We beat Ballymena United on a Saturday in November and I had a best friend named Paul Cull who is on the Banbridge board. We always talked after games and our families got together,” says Stewart, who led Town to success in the Bob Radcliffe Cup in 2018 and won the County Cup twice.

“On Monday I went to Manchester under my Pro license and he wished me good luck with the trip. I was at Manchester City on Tuesday morning and when my phone was on I found out that he had a heart attack and died. It hit me hard.

“We played Warrenpoint after his funeral and my heart was out of whack. I burst into tears on the sidelines, I just could not stand it.

“The team struggled and I lost my best friend. The staff and the club supported me, but I didn’t know what I wanted.

“It scared the hell out of me. I ended up helping to take care of his family. We were always at each other’s house, and he was the first person I contacted.

“We had a brilliant conversation on Saturday, but the following week he had a heart attack in his car and got into an accident.

“His wife called me and I was stunned. I was with Dean Shiels, Nigel Best and all the guys working on the Pro license. Nigel was great and said I could go home but his wife talked me into staying. I carry his photograph with me all the time and he always looks over my shoulder.

“Every Saturday morning before a game I go to his grave in Banbridge and talk to him.

“I break down all the time, it was a struggle and it was hard all year, but he is a footballer and I know he would like me to continue.

“In Banbridge Town he was both a father and a friend of mine. He was a calming influence and was always there for me, he always supported me.”

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Stuart King with his best friend Paul Call, who passed away last November.

A big Everton fan has always wanted the chance to prove himself as a Premier League manager, but he never thought it would be this difficult. After his team won the title, Linfield manager David Healy took a stab at his doubters, and King can relate to that pressure, even if the mission might be different in the bottom half of the table.

“I found this season very hard,” added King, who is married to Bernice and is the father of Lucy (10) and Charlie (4).

“The prime minister’s management is tough. I think I am a good coach, but management is much more than that. Things are happening behind the scenes that you won’t believe. David Healy is a legend and the manager of Northern Ireland’s biggest club, but that’s his day job.

“I have a non-gaming job, but David and Tiernan (Lynch) have full-time jobs and that’s their life. It can be tough and you need big broad shoulders. I sincerely understood what David was talking about. He won four titles in a row, what more could fans want? People ask him questions, but he did it, and he has every right to get hit back.

“Hopefully difficult times will make me a better manager. Several managers have been very kind to me, including my friend David Geoffrey, whose support I can rely on.

“I can trust some managers and open up to them. I was interrogated and called an aspiring manager, but we achieved our goal, and now it’s about building and increasing competitiveness.

“So many people have spoken to me about how the game can affect your health. In addition, I have a very stressful job outside of football.

“Managing Premier League football at a club like ours is the biggest pressure I have ever faced.

“Managing Carrick is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

“People give clubs to coaches and players, but they don’t know what’s going on in their lives. My players and staff have been great with me.

“We got off to a good start but got injured and went on a losing streak. I have never experienced this before in my career. My staff are young but they were great with me.

“I have learned a lot and I must admit that I will not win every Saturday. I carried my emotions home and to work, and it was really hard.”

While on this emotional rollercoaster, King appreciated the advice and support he received from other managers, including his close friend David Jeffrey.

“People are full of advice, but your eyes don’t deceive you,” adds King, whose impressive career also included spells with Glenavon and Preston.

“I have to find a middle ground where my wife and two children don’t get hurt.

“I sincerely asked myself if I wanted to continue as a manager. I have a job and a family and I’m not going to leave them.

“My wife was very supportive of me. I’m 42 this year, I’ve been in football for 25 years, and David (Geoffrey) told me that “thousands of people were making pins and wanted my job.” Why would you give it up after everything you’ve achieved?”

“I signed a new contract after thinking things through. The club approached me in February and we discussed it.

“I have aspirations and aspirations to become a full-time manager. I’m not content with just doing good things, I want to continue and build the club.

The Crusaders were able to recover from the elimination and Steven (Baxter) is another coach who has worked great with me. He was honest and told me it was going to be hard and there would be times when I hated it, but he knew I had the drive and it could turn out the same way for him.”

King remains an avid Irish League fan, even if he probably wished the money in the modern game was around when he played.

“Of course we cannot compete with clubs that pay big salaries. I wish I was a player now, I would be rich!” he adds. “Some of them get ridiculous amounts of money and fair play, but are they all worth it?

“I think the league has improved a lot and it has even taken some by surprise.

“Players like Chris Shields are excited to be here and that says a lot about our league.

“Many players stay here full-time, while others return home to play in the league. My contacts in England are happy to send kids here to play competitive football, rather than having them play under-23 football in a non-competitive England.

“This is men’s football and they need to learn how to win. The Irish League is a great starting point for players. Look at Shane Lavery, Trey Hume, and now Patrick Kelly. The league level is very good. I got my professional license with other coaches in England and now the league is so well represented that our boys are showing a lot of interest.

“Games are broadcast live and the full-time aspect is critical. Look at Chris McKee moving to Linfield who can offer him a full-time deal.”

When asked which of the two Irish League players he would sign, one name might surprise some people.

“No doubt Conor McMenamin and Robbie Weir,” he says.

“Conor is pure quality, he scores goals, he is a threat and he can play on both flanks. He was great and deserved his international challenge.

“I like Robbie because he is a leader. I watched the Crusaders against Dungannon before the Irish Cup final and he was amazing in central midfield. He talked to all the kids and kept him on his toes all the time. You could see his drive and the experience he gained in England. He is a great player and was an outstanding player in the Cup semi-finals. I sincerely believe that every club would love to have a player like Robbie.

“He doesn’t try to be smart, he makes it easy and he’s just a great player.”

As for the future, with the signing of a new two-year contract, King looks to the future with optimism.

“I was getting uncomfortable, but I’m excited again,” he adds.

“I owe a lot to Carrick, they believed in me and I want to repay that and lead the club forward.

“If I could work full time, I could take a break from work. I am a part time manager but if our club wants to compete with the best they should consider going full time.

“You could have an academy offering coaching and education. Clubs don’t have to be very wealthy to operate on a permanent basis.

“It’s not an easy job, but now I’m more educated. The managers on the right end of the table think they have a problem, but they should try to manage the club on the other end.

“I remember having a good chat with Barry Gray and learning a lot from him. This game can be ruthless but there are so many good people in the league and we have a well run club with good people.

“Volunteers in our club continue to work, and they are not appreciated enough. I wanted everyone in the club to feel needed and valued. We’re in this together.”