They’ve been best friends since high school and formed a successful two-year spell as a management duo, but tomorrow afternoon Gary Small and Johnny Harvey will pit their wits against each other in the East Lothian derby.
Small took up the reigns at Tranent last Thursday, becoming the third boss at Foresters Park since September after departing Haddington Athletic, where, as assistant manager to Harvey, he helped take the perennial nearly men to the summit of the South Division.
Small joined best-mate Harvey at Tranent as his assistant boss in their first management position in February 2013, before moving to Edinburgh United in June that year.
United had finished bottom of the pile in the lowest tier of the East Region. The club was on the brink of going under before the double act transformed their fortunes and took them to their first league triumph in 28 years.
“If you’d said to me six months ago that I’d be coming up against Johnny as a manager, I would’ve laughed at you,” said Small, who got married in July – Harvey was his best man.
Haddington hold a six-point advantage at the top of the table over second placed Whitburn with just six league games remaining. The Hi Hi celebrated their 75th anniversary last year and are on the verge of promotion to the Premier League.
But Small, who announced last month that he would depart Haddington at the end of the season due to personal reasons, could derail their title bid and with it, his own chances of a successive league winners’ medal, with a result for his new club who are fourth bottom.
A change in circumstances led Tranent boy Small, who attended the town’s Ross High with Harvey, to apply for the vacant position after the departure of James Thomson in January, with Harvey having already agreed to bring in Penicuik Athletic’s David White as his new assistant at the end of the season.
“I was only making training once a week with Haddington due to work commitments so it was difficult,” he said. “I made the decision to take the opportunity not to be involved next season because of the commitment side of it, but then my work situation changed.
“When the Tranent job then came up I couldn’t not go for it. Being a Tranent laddie, having played for the club for years and with being interim assistant manager for a spell there, it was hard to turn down the opportunity.
“It’s a big challenge and I’m so excited to be a part of it. I want to be able to take Tranent on to bigger and better things.”
Harvey insists there is no hard feelings between the two, highlighting the role his former assistant has played in the past two years, but confessed they haven’t spoken much this week – when they have, football has been an off-topic. His side will be looking to bounce back from a 6-0 loss to Rosyth last weekend, although he admits their job will be made harder with man-in-the-know Small in charge.
He said: “Gary deserves immense credit for what we’ve achieved. He’s been a huge part of it and he was the ideal first assistant manager for me because he is my best mate and he’s somebody I could trust. Whatever we go on to achieve this year will be down to Gary as well.
“Gary knows everything about us. He knows the way we set up and I’m sure if anybody is going to be equipped to cause us any problems this week, Gary’s going to be the person.”
Small won’t be in attendance tomorrow, with a pre-planned trip up north for his dad’s 60th birthday, but he’ll be instructing his players with how best to combat the league leaders.
“I wish Johnny and the guys all the best, but I need to do what’s right for Tranent now and I’ll be setting out my team with a plan to hopefully go and get a result. Although I’m not going to be there, they will be under no illusion as to what their jobs will be.”