There was a real buzz around Ramsbottom United Football Club when Lee Donafee was announced as the new first XI manager on Friday, following the exit of Chris Willcock just 24 hours previously.
Willcock had been approached by Workington to take on their vacant managerial role and the deal he accepted was too good a one to decline. But this left Rammy in an awkward position, just three weeks before the start of the much awaited season, after two null and void ones.
However, there was a man ready to set up into the main role and that was the hugely popular and likable ‘Scouser’, Lee Donafee … or Diego as he is more commonly known.
It will be a first full managerial post for Lee, having been an assistant manager to Willcock at Glossop North End and Shaw Lane before joining him at Ramsbottom in October 2018 although he has been a Lead Coach at both Everton and Stoke City and a player in his time in the North West Counties.
So, when the call came to take over the reigns at Ramsbottom United, Lee jumped at the chance as he explained to us here at RamsbottomUnited365.
“Harry, Tony and myself knew there was a position to take when we knew that Chris was leaving but Harry wasn’t sure what he was going to do. Initially I said that I would carry on taking training but, later in the evening, Harry asked if I would go and see him after training on Thursday night.
“Tony was there as well and they wanted to offer me the position. They knew me from my time here and wanted to give me the chance to take the team on. I am delighted to be appointed and the support has been totally overwhelming from everyone since it was announced on Friday.”
Formerly a player at Salford City “before they had any money” Lee added, and at Winsford United, both while Willcock was in charge, has given him a good footing in non-league football and he is very ready to take the club forward into the new season.
“I am really honoured to have been asked to take on the managers role and it has felt like I was a born-and-bred Rammy man with the reaction that I have had so now it is up to me to turn their faith in me into results and performances.
“Chris and I are total opposites of each other which has been why we have been successful in getting to play-offs, getting to Wembley with Glossop and taking Rammy on that unforgettable FA Trophy run – we got there because we were different.
“We are different in our man-management of the players but I will be looking to build on what we have achieved over the last few years here, playing a similar style. You have to continually adapt to the league that you are in and the way we have played has been 4-3-3 in the main.”
Lee has enjoyed some very enjoyable times with Rammy, including the memorable FA Trophy “which was the best thing I have ever been involved in! I remember that Weymouth home game when we equalised in the last minute and the joy turned to ‘oh no’ at the thought of going all the way down there on a Tuesday night.
“But what a night it was and then the AFC Fylde 5-5 game as well. They were just incredible games and I will never forget them – but I also want to bring those sorts of games and days back to Rammy too.”
We did ask why, given his long standing relationship with the former manager, why he wasn’t tempted to join him at Workington. “There wasn’t a position for me there,” he said. “The package that they offered Chris meant there was already assistants and coaches there so I wasn’t required. I am not sure if I would have gone either.
“We have got a great squad of players here and I am delighted to have been able to bring back Jamie Rainford to the club. He scored 18 goals in 26 appearances for Rammy when he was with us in 2018/19 and scored 50 in 58 when he was with us at Glossop too. He scores goals – and it’s great that I have been able to get him again.
“But I am also very keen to bring some of the talented Academy and Development youngsters into the group as well.”
One such player is Regan Jarrett, who played against the Rams in the pre-season game for Daisy Hill but, “he is a Rammy lad, played for the youth teams and we need to trust the youth and see what they are about.
“There are some terrific lads in the Academy and Development side and we have had them training with us. I have been to see them play and train and I want them to know there is a pathway between the Academy and the first XI and they will tell their mates about what we have, so it is all about progression.
“So things in that respect are not going to change, we want to bring our own players through as well.”
His ambitions are clear – he wants to win the league with a great set of players and a strong and positive pathway beneath him, feeding players into the equation.
“The Chairman spoke to me on Thursday night and told me what he wanted. And I told him what I wanted – I want to win the league. I am ambitious. I owe this club so much and I will stay loyal to this club for as long as they want me.
“I am not scared of losing games but I am scared of letting people down, letting the fans down. The dressing room are fully behind me, they have got someone that they know and we have got a great relationship both on and off the pitch.
“We have signed about 10 players already, including some exciting youngsters like Danny O’Brien and Morgan Moreland and there will be more to come.
“There is three more games to go before the first league game. We have got some things still to work on, but it is about getting playing time in the players’ legs and to work on our strengths and get better on the areas we think we are weaker.
“But I am going to give this everything I have as the club and myself are moving forward.”
His final words show what a breath of fresh air he is – to the supporters, the players, the back room staff and to the media too. “It costs nothing to go and speak to the fans and to support and assist those who work hard for the club, keep the club going. These people are priceless and the support they have given to me in my time here, it is time for me to repay them with performances on the pitch as your manager.
“I am excited by the opportunity. I am not going to let you down.”