Six months ago James Ward appeared to have a blossoming managerial career ahead of him after he had taken Albion Rovers to within 12 minutes of a Scottish Cup semi-final place at the expense of Rangers.
Bilel Moshni headed in a controversial equaliser but Rovers, who had beaten Motherwell on their way to the last eight, held out for a replay that was lost 2-0. Ward had granted interview after interview ahead of the meetings with the Ibrox side to help generate positivity around the Coatbridge club, but he now finds himself out of football.
The manner of his exit from the game was harsh in the extreme, as he had called former chairman John Devlin to inform him he was signing a player, only to be told that he was getting the sack.
Ward was taken aback at the timing and nature of the move. “My sacking came right out of the blue,” he recalled. “I was on a training course in London for my job with Youth Enterprise Scotland and I had called the chairman to tell him that I had persuaded Gary Fisher to join us.
“He told me that I was being sacked and two minutes later he announced on twitter that Darren Young was the new manager. It was a strange day.”
Ward had been offered and signed a new contract at the end of last season and had put together a squad of 18 players, with his dismissal coming just three days ahead of pre-season starting. No reason other than a change of direction was given, but Ward believes that if it had not happened in the close-season, it would have happened by now.
Ward said: “I view myself as collateral damage as there was obviously changes in the boardroom planned that have now come to pass. The chairman has also left and whilst I was disappointed that I never got the chance to build a relationship with the new board, I can accept they wanted their own manager in.
“I had players and all our pre-season plans in place, and, to me, everything was heading in the right direction. I felt I had a responsibility to the players that I had re-signed and the ones I had brought to the club and I was not going to fulfil that.
“I also never got to say cheerio to the volunteers behind the scenes and that was disappointing.
“The squad that was built is good enough to win promotion if there are no distractions and it was good to see them at the top of the league before the weekend’s games.”
The League 2 side are also now debt-free, with Ward joking: “Mind you, I think I am due a few pounds as after the first game of last season, which was also against Rangers in the Ramsdens Cup, I came out with £70 less tax. That was my pay when I was the assistant manager to Todd Lumsden and after paying for my own phone calls and petrol I was out of pocket.
“Thankfully for me, the job was never about money it was all about passion and loving the game.
“I only had the one season in charge and the chairman told me that, given the resources we had, he would take that season over any season in terms of the financial benefit it had brought.
“He felt at the time that the intensity surrounding the Scottish Cup run had made it difficult to maintain a promotion push.
“If it wasn’t for the Scottish Cup run I reckon we would have made the play-offs, but a first-ever win over Motherwell, a first Scottish Cup quarter-final place in 80 years, and coming within a few minutes of beating Rangers adds up to a positive contribution to the club.”
Ward insists he has moved on and bears no resentment to Rovers. He explained: “Things happen for a reason and in my case I may have had to give up the job anyway. My mum Alice took ill two months ago and passed away at the end of August. I may have had to make the decision to walk away to be with her in her last few weeks as I could not dedicate the time to football that was needed. Family comes first.”
Ward, who has worked as a scout in the past, is keen to return to the game. He said: “I had a spell out of football when Allan Maitland and I both left Alloa and I filled that by scouting for Crystal Palace and Fulham.
“I told the two clubs to sign Aaron Taylor-Sinclair from Partick three years ago but neither of them could agree a deal with Thistle. I enjoyed doing that and working with both clubs, trying to find them players who can hit top performances in over 40 games a season. Hopefully Aaron can do that at Wigan. I used that time [scouting] to reflect on things and I am using this time for that as well. My batteries are now re-charged and I am ready to be involved again.”