News of Billy Irwin’s decision to step down as manager of Dunston UTS ends a 19-year association with the Tyneside club – and puts at least a temporary pause in one of the longest careers in the Northern League.
He moved to Dunston Fed, as they were then known, back in 1997 after several successful years playing under Billy Cruddas at Durham City. A rugged, reliable centre half, he was never afraid to take decisive action under pressure – and honest enough to take his full share of responsibility at the back in those strong mid-90s City teams that should, perhaps, have had the chance of Northern Premier League action. At Dunston he enjoyed further success, captaining the team to a league and cup double in 2002 before taking over as manager. On appointment, reportedly, he told the club “Trust me lads, I’m a winner”. In 2012 he proved it in fine style, leading them to Wembley victory in the FA Vase – his proudest moment in a career full of triumphs.
It’s an impressive CV, both in terms of success and loyalty to Dunston and the Northern League. He remained with the club throughout the uncertainty that followed the loss of Federation Breweries as a major sponsor – a change of circumstance that again denied him a likely chance to compete at the higher level his talents suggest he was capable of. Not surprisingly, then, he’s a hugely popular figure at the UTS Stadium, where he fully justifies the status of club legend.
So what’s changed? The current season started brightly for Dunston, but the excitement of an FA Cup run and especially an away victory over Evo-Stik Premier outfit Skelmersdale Utd after a 2-2 draw at home masked a slowdown in league form. Some painful defeats against the title contenders in the Northern League – conceding four at Morpeth, five at home to Shildon and Marske and then six against Seaham Red Star – suggested a cup hangover. For Irwin, that was the cue to step aside and let someone else take charge before things blew up into a crisis.
It’s a decision that says much about the man. No misplaced pride or stubborn insistence that his way is the only way. No clinging on, awaiting the return of the magic as expectation dwindles into hope and finally desperation. Instead, a simple, honest statement that he felt he had “lost his drive and hunger for the job”, proving, once again, that he was man enough to own the responsibility and take decisive action.