“I’m a fighter. It’s not me to give up on something. I’ll just continue doing the job until I hear otherwise.”
Those were the words spoken by Jason Lee after Boston United’s 4-2 defeat at Oxford City on September 4.
The club had just lost their fourth match in a row, and the fans were getting restless.
Back then, many hinted that Lee’s days were numbered.
But instead, chairman David Newton stood by his man.
And the club flourished, going on to win five of their next six matches.
In fact, a last-second penalty save was the only reason the other match in that sequence – a loss at Bradford Park Avenue – wasn’t a draw.
The likes of Chester and Halifax, teams tipped for the title, were put to the sword by the Pilgrims and all seemed rosy.
But then, another bad run kicked in and after last night’s defeat at Gloucester City – six games without a win – Newton decided that was enough.
But why? Well, despite what people may like to think, David Newton isn’t a sack-happy man.
He’s a pragmatist.
You couldn’t get a club owner further away from the Roman Abramovich ilk.
After Tommy Taylor, this is only the second manager to be dismissed by Newton, and he won’t have made the decision without regret.
After Taylor was axed, Newton admitted he was sad to relieve a man, one he liked to see as a friend, of his duties.
But he said it had to be done as a ‘business decision’.
And that will be exactly what Newton will call it this time around (you have to remember that attendances less than 1,000 are below what is budgeted and that hits Newton and his Chestnut Homes business as well).
He weighed up the pros and the cons.
Boston were six without a win. Attendances (admittedly, eight home matches from 10 games is ridiculous and didn’t help) were dwindling. United were out of all the major cup competitions.
Newton decided to cut his losses asap in a bid to get bums back on seats and hopefully create a late charge up the table.
Some fans may be desperate for a change. They’ll be sat in pubs discussing what the future holds with bright optimism once again.
But that won’t be the mood in the dressing room.
Many of the players at York Street will see themselves as Lee’s men.
The likes of Tom Ward, James Reed, Charley Sanders and Nathan Stainfield are among those who owe their taste of football at this level, in front of 1,000-plus crowds, to Lee taking a punt on them and spotting their potential.
Then there are the players such as Spencer Weir-Daley, Ian Ross and Ben Fairclough who have close personal ties with Lee.
They shared dressing rooms with him, not just here but at Notts County as well.
Lee attended Ross’ stag do. Not as a boss but as a friend.
That’s why it was no surprise that Ross, after that defeat in Oxford, swiftly volunteered himself to do the post-match interviews.
He sensed Lee’s days were numbered then and wanted to stress that it was the players, not the manager, who should shoulder the blame.
Today Stainfield said the same.
So where does this leave Lee?
Well, as a man who has played in the Premier League and whose reputation is still known across the country (especially in the midlands, where he now calls home) he won’t struggle to find another managerial job.
His name is big enough that one sacking won’t put clubs off taking a punt.
He’ll get interested neutrals through the door, and this isn’t taking away from him as a manager.
I still believe he will do a thoroughly good job in the dug-out.
Eighteen months is by no-means long enough to judge anyone as a manager.
Lee is a consummate professional, with plenty to offer.
His only problem was that his first managerial job was at an ambitious but financially-challenged club.
Oh, and that he took it hot on the heels of Rob Scott and Paul Hurst leaving.
And let’s face it, how many managers have brought that kind of success and a buzz to this club since 1933?
Lee first joined Boston United in League Two in 2004.
He was still known to most supporters as the bloke ridiculed ferociously on Frank Skinner and David Baddiel’s Fantasy Football League for an old hairstyle which (like the laughs those gags brought) is long gone.
But he soon worked his way into the hearts of the fans with his no-nonsense attitude.
He was a warrior on the pitch, a man so hard that former Boston defender Scott Wiseman once admitted marking Lee in training was physically tougher than any match he had competed in.
Plus he had a pair of football’s most feared elbows and pretty much every 40-year-old on the planet wished they were in such good shape.
Lee moved on to Northampton Town, but had a further spell as a Pilgrims player before arriving as manager (and playing just a little bit more).
In total, he has made 73 starts, 26 appearances from the bench and scored 22 times for Boston United.
But those stats don’t tell you how many important defensive clearances he made or how many flick-ons have led to vital goals.
Jason Lee was a team player both on and off the pitch.
That, coupled with his well-deserved reputation, was what got him the respect in the dressing room.
Admittedly, things haven’t gone too well as a manager.
He picked up a winning team and helped them to a play-off semi-final.
But last season the club finished 11th and they currently sit in 10th spot after 17 games this campaign.
As a boss he could get the best out of players.
But not always consistently, and not always against teams who Boston should - and let’s face it, they should - be beating (Skelmersdale, Kidsgrove, Histon, Solihull etc).
Personally, I think it’s a sad way for Jason Lee to end his love affair with Boston United.
The last six games have been forgettable, but it’s not the worst record ever.
Neil Thompson avoided the axe after eight straight defeats in 2002, and how hindsight made so many here wish they hadn’t called for his head back then.
But let’s not remember Jason Lee as the man in the dug-out with the folded arms and a shake of the head as a defeat was suffered.
Let’s remember Jason Lee as the snarling, growling ferocious footballer who led by example on the pitch.
Let’s remember Jason Lee as the man who gave the simplest but most effective of goal celebrations - stood, arms outstretched and with fire in his eyes.
Let’s remember Jason Lee as the man who was everything he said he was after that defeat at Oxford: a fighter.