Petersfield Town boss Joe Lea: Why I’ve got ‘piece of mind’ that my playing career is over aged 25

Joe Lea in action for Gosport Borough last season.Joe Lea in action for Gosport Borough last season.
Joe Lea in action for Gosport Borough last season.
Joe Lea has confessed he has ‘peace of mind’ that his playing career is over - having only just turned 25!

Instead, the Portsmouth-born midfielder is happy to devote the rest of his football career to coaching and managing.

The former Southampton Academy youngster was playing in the Southern League for Gosport Borough last season - in the seventh tier of English football.

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But he decided to put managing first when agreeing to become joint-boss of Wessex League Division 1 club Petersfield Town last summer alongside his former Gosport colleague Pat Saruci.

Both men were last month offered the chance of a Privett Park coaching return by Boro director of football Mark Molesley.

And while Suraci accepted the offer, Lea has stayed at Petersfield - and is content to remain on the sidelines while doing so.

After two cup appearances, Lea started the Rams’ league game against Fawley at the end of October.

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‘We’d been on an inconsistent run, we weren’t playing poorly, and as I’d been playing Southern League last year I thought I’d try and get myself fit,’ he told The News.

‘But when the game started I wasn’t enjoying it - I said to Pat to take me off at half-time.

‘I knew almost as soon as we’d kicked off, even in the build-up, I knew I would rather be coaching and managing.

‘I thought to myself ‘that’s me done’. I know you should never say never but I’m 99 per cent sure I won’t be playing again.

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‘I’ve got peace of mind that I know what I’m going to do. I don’t have any motivation for playing any more.

‘I was a little bit surprised (at how he felt), but now, not at all.

‘I speak to a lot of people in the game and they say do whatever makes you happy, so that (brief playing comeback) was a lesson learnt for me.’

That Fawley game was the first of an unbeaten nine-match run featuring seven wins which has catapulted Petersfield into third place.

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Earlier this week, the Rams went to Ash United and were 3-0 up in seven minutes, eventually winning 8-1.

Regarding his decision to turn down Molesley’s offer, Lea said: ‘I just felt on a personal level, I’m enjoying myself so much at Petersfield, I really love the group of lads we have.

‘I felt I would be letting them down (to leave); not that I’m saying Pat has, I completely understand his position.

‘I would be lying if I said I didn’t consider leaving, but my role at Petersfield means a lot to me.’

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In half a season of men’s football management, Lea admits he has already learnt a lot.

‘Genuinely the worst I’ve ever felt after a game, playing or managing, was when we conceded two late goals to Fleetlands.

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‘But looking back, I enjoyed that moment because it’s motivational.

‘At the moment we’re having more ups than downs, but that might not last the whole season.

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‘If we’d been mid-table I would like to think I would have stuck around.

‘It’s been a really good test. At this level anyone can beat anyone, so I’m trying to keep as level-headed as I can. You don’t want to get carried away with any success or get too low when you have a bad day.’

Lea also coaches at the AFC Bournemouth and admits he is trying to be as professional as he can when working with Petersfield’s players in the 10th tier of English football.

‘I have principles that I live and die for, and one of them is professionalism,’ he said.

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‘We trained four times over the Christmas and New Year period, and that’s not common at our level. And attendance at training is non-negotiable.

‘I’ve played with many players who don’t really want to be coached, they turn up at training and just want to play a game.

‘That’s not how I want to do things. Pat and I made a conscious decision to try and bring in players who want to be coached.

‘A lot of young players these days, they want to be coached, they want to know they’re learning something, they want to know about styles of play.

‘That’s what I wanted to learn when I was younger.

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‘You take the positives and negatives from every manager you’ve played for and cherry-pick the things you like.

‘It’s never going to be perfect, which is why it’s important to have good senior players. I like to think all our players have contributed this season but we’ve got Connor Hoare and Zak Sharp, players who have won promotions at a higher level, and their experience has been really important.

Marvin Orepo, Hoare and Paul Agbeseyi all scored as the Rams stormed into a 3-0 lead at Ash on Tuesday.

Hoare, the former Gosport, Moneyfields and Portchester midfielder, went on to notch again while Portchester loanee striker Archie Greenough also struck twice.

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Sub Matt Dougan, who played under Lea and Suraci at the Gosport Borough centre of excellence, was the third Rams player to score twice.

Last season Petersfield finished 12th in Wessex 1, picking up 36 points, winning 10 games and scoring 49 goals in 36 matches.

In just 20 league games in 2022/23, they have collected 39 points, won 12 times and scored 47 goals.

Petersfield host Millbrook on Saturday and welcome Fleetlands next Tuesday. Fleetlands make the same journey later this month for a place in the semi-final of the Wessex League Cup up for grabs.

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