‘I feel like I’ll blink and my daughter will be fully grown up’ – why Tom Grice has quit as US Portsmouth manager after just one season with the Wessex League club

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Tom Grice knew his time as US Portsmouth manager was coming to an end when he wasn’t feeling a buzz for next season.

The 38-year-old has stepped down after just one year in the Victory Stadium hot-seat.

Grice said he had no intentions of quitting when the 2021/22 Wessex League Premier Division campaign ended last month, but a period of ‘deep reflection’ has seen him change his mind.

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Primarily, he wants to spend more time with his 20-month-old daughter Sienna rather than being immersed in the weekly regime of training and matches.

Tom Grice has stepped down as manager of Wessex League Premier Division club US Portsmouth.
Picture: Chris MoorhouseTom Grice has stepped down as manager of Wessex League Premier Division club US Portsmouth.
Picture: Chris Moorhouse
Tom Grice has stepped down as manager of Wessex League Premier Division club US Portsmouth. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

‘When we played our last game at Bournemouth (in mid-April) I was completely fine, thinking ahead to next season,’ Grice told The News.

‘But I’ve had a month now with no football and I’ve cherished the time I’ve spent with my daughter.

‘Now I’m thinking ‘there’s only a month left and then pre-season starts’ and I don’t want that month to end. I shouldn’t be feeling like that, it should be ‘football’s back - happy days!’.

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‘But I wasn’t getting that feeling and that’s when I knew I had to make this decision. I should have made it at the end of last season, but I wasn’t feeling like I do now.

‘I can always come back to football; I can’t rewind the time I’ve missed with my daughter. I feel like I’m going to blink and she’ll be fully grown up, and I don’t want to miss that time.

‘I know I’ve only done a season, but I don’t care what other people think - it’s important for me to spend time with my daughter. I’m going to put her first for once.’

Grice said the weekly toll on his time during last season wasn’t helped by a lack of bodies at US.

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‘On the management side, it was just me, Steve Weston and Tom Jeffes, who was still playing. At other clubs there’s two/three/four other backroom people helping. At US it’s not like that.

‘I’m going to stay at the club in some role. Perhaps I can give the support to the next manager that I didn’t get. Perhaps I can go and watch some forthcoming opposition play in midweek and provide a dossier.

‘Perhaps I could be some kind of conduit between the reserves and the first team, to make sure there’s a clear pathway between the two.’

US ended their first ever season at step 5 of the non-league pyramid fifth from bottom, though they would have been finished a place higher had they not had three points deducted for fielding an ineligible player.

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Tipped for relegation by many before a ball had been kicked, due to the mass exodus of players following former boss Glenn Turnbull to Moneyfields, US were never dragged into a battle to stay up.

They ended with a whimper rather than a bang, picking up only three points - all from draws - in their final 11 Wessex Premier games.

Very rarely did Grice have anything resembling a settled side.

‘We had to get a lot of players in after the exodus and give them a chance to show they were answer,’ said Grice, who used 51 players across the 40 league games. ‘Nine out of 10 times, they weren’t the answer.

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‘Everyone wrote us off in pre-season, there was talk among some managers of us 100 per cent getting relegated.

‘But by Christmas it was fairly obvious we wouldn’t be relegated. Ultimately, at the start of the season we set out to stay up and we did that. With the resources we had, it’s got to go down as a success.

‘There were high points, there were low points. Losing 6-1 at Fareham was a particular low point.’

Defence was a problem throughout the campaign, with US conceding four or more goals in the league on 10 occasions – exactly a quarter of their fixtures.

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Higher points were beating Fareham 1-0 in the return fixture and late levellers to earn points against Portsea Island rivals Moneyfields and Baffins.

‘It was extremely rewarding to see the youngsters coming through,’ Grice continued.

‘I learnt a hell of a lot and I learnt on the job, which wasn’t ideal. I learnt a lot about who you can trust and who you can’t trust, and I’ll use all that as a springboard for further down the line.’

With no budget to speak of, US are never going to be able to compete with other clubs in the Portsmouth area for the best players.

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The best they can do is to produce their own talent, provide game time for players not getting regular minutes at other clubs at their level, or persuade players with their best years behind them to come on board.

‘Until we get a budget, it’s always going to be like that,’ said Grice. ‘Your best young players will always get hoovered up straight away.

‘It will be very, very rare for US to have the same 11 from one season to the next for that reason.’