Jamie O'Hara: Billericay boss on FA Cup, mental health and managerial quest
Billericay player-manager Jamie O'Hara says they are trying to "take away the cloud" around the club after being taken over by a local consortium.
The former Spurs and Wolves midfielder has been in charge of the National League South side since September and has guided them to another appearance in the FA Cup first round.
The club regularly made headlines under former owner Glenn Tamplin, who signed Paul Konchesky, Jermaine Pennant and O'Hara.
"Glenn had the whole country talking about a non-league team," O'Hara told BBC Sport.
"At the end of the day it went really well. Yes, we had big names and people were getting paid good money, but we had a great team spirit and won things."
Tamplin invested more than £2m in nearly three years in control of Billericay, overseeing promotion to the sixth tier and twice making the FA Cup first round - in which the Essex side will visit League Two leaders Forest Green on Saturday.
He appointed himself manager for the 2017-18 season - leaving a game 20 minutes early to attend a business meeting - while his players infamously sung R Kelly's 'The World's Greatest' in the changing room.
"He was definitely misunderstood. His personality on social media came across as arrogant but he really wasn't," said O'Hara.
"He would do anything for anyone and has done a lot of good for a lot of people behind the scenes - which people don't see and care about - they just want to see the controversy surrounding him."
Cup final memories, reality TV and managerial quest
To reach this stage of the FA Cup, Billericay had to negotiate three qualifying rounds - unfamiliar territory for O'Hara, who always had a direct ticket to round three during his professional career.
He played Premier League football for Spurs, Wolves and Portsmouth, where he was an FA Cup finalist in 2010 under Avram Grant.
"It was incredible. To get there with Portsmouth, a team which was struggling really - we got to an FA Cup final through desire and determination, it was a special, special time to be involved," O'Hara recalls.
"I've lived the dream that everyone probably wants to live - I played for my boyhood club Spurs, England Under-21s, been at some fantastic football teams and they were the best times of my life."
O'Hara's playing career was not all plain sailing, though.
Injuries caught up with the midfielder after starting the 2016-17 campaign with Gillingham, leading him to step away from the game.
"At the time I was going through a bit of a difficult spell mentally and I wasn't in the right frame of mind to keep playing professional football," he said.
"You can put up a front but behind closed doors you might be really struggling, and I went through that - that experience has helped me as a manager in how I deal with players."
O'Hara spent the start of 2017 on Celebrity Big Brother, an experience he says made him get back into football.
"It was just a situation where at the time I was injured, I didn't have a club and to be honest I needed the money," the 33-year-old said.
He initially joined Billericay as a player, lining up alongside fellow ex-Premier League players Konchesky, Pennant and Kevin Foley - all of whom have since moved on.
"I've done all my badges, I'm studying football 24-7 and coaching - I do some bits in the media, I love all that - but my love and dream is to be managing in the Football League.
"If I do things right, be professional and things go your way, there's a career there for the next 20-30 years, which is something I'm really passionate about."
- Watch all of the latest FA Cup highlights and reaction here
- Watch highlights of the FA People's Cup first round here
Keeper's 'Shearer' moment keeps cup run alive
O'Hara's first match in the hot seat was Billericay's FA Cup second qualifying round win over Essex rivals Basildon, and victory over Bath followed in the next round.
But a stoppage-time header from goalkeeper Alan Julian was needed to force a replay against Sutton, with Billericay then seeing off their National League opponents 5-2 to reach the first round for the third year running.
"Apparently Alan said to one of the boys while he was in the box 'what shall I do' and they said 'make yourself busy'," O'Hara told BBC Sport.
"I was like 'you didn't really make yourself busy mate, you leapt like a salmon and scored a header from 15 yards out' - it was like Alan Shearer."
The Blues have never made it past the first round and are only facing Football League opposition in the competition for the second time, having lost to Swansea in 2007.
They are 12th in National League South, 59 league places below opponents Forest Green.
"We play better against better teams, so for me it's a good game. A lot of the boys I've got have played League Two football so they'll know what it's about," said O'Hara.
"I love the FA Cup, it's such a big thing. Now I'm managing in non-league you see the magic of it even more and how much it means."
The multi-millionaire owner and star names, O'Hara aside, may have gone - replaced by new local owners who took over last month.
But is this the end of the showbiz Billericay, who have taken up many a column inch over recent years?
"They're making it sustainable - the budget's obviously going to be a lot less than what it was, and it's going to be run like a National League South team," O'Hara added.
"We're trying to take away the whole cloud that comes around Billericay and do our stuff quietly, off the radar, and do things right."