Football: Megson tries to play down the romance

FA Cup countdown: Stockport's manager faces his old club tomorrow and risks ruining his son's day
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The Independent Online
WHEN GARY Megson's nine-year-old son watched the FA Cup fourth- round draw he turned to his father and said "oh, you're out", which was not an extreme bout of pessimism or a ritual to bring good luck. He was stating his belief.

Simon Megson, as befitting the son and the grandson of former Sheffield Wednesday players, is blue and white through and through and the minor inconvenience that his father is manager of Stockport County, who play at Hillsborough tomorrow, is not going to test that affection.

"He'll not have divided loyalties at all," Megson said, "he'll be supporting Wednesday. But I won't have divided loyalties either, which is more pertinent."

It is fair to say, though, that Megson would be rooting for Wednesday if their Cup route was barred by anyone else. He lives in Sheffield, he played 250 league games for the club in two spells under Jack Charlton and Howard Wilkinson and his father, Don, was a distinguished left-back at Hillsborough in the 50s and 60s and played in the 1966 FA Cup final.

Even now Megson (middle) spends a lot of time at the club relieving himself of what he describes as "a small fortune" buying merchandise from Wednesday's souvenir shop. Needless to say, they are for Simon.

The links between Megson and Wednesday are strong, and certainly too robust to be broken by his attempt to move the agenda on. "I've been trying to play down anything to do with me but it's proving impossible. I won't kick a ball, make a tackle or get or goal and people should not forget that. It's the players who are important.

"There is romance for an ex-player meeting his old club but for a manager it's not there. To be honest I'd rather be playing a lower-level club on our pitch because we want to progress and make as much money as possible for Stockport. Drawing a Premiership club away is not designed to do that."

As a whole-hearted midfield player Megson reached the semi-finals three times (twice with Wednesday, once with Everton) but a place beneath the twin towers was denied him. That has made him appreciate the Cup more.

"It was galling to come so close and lose the lot and what is worse is my assistant is Mike Phelan, who won it with Manchester United, and he's not shy in reminding me. We tell the players that even if you play a long time you'll be lucky to get 20 gos at the FA Cup, so you have to give everything on the day."

Megson was one of those players who rarely could be faulted on that count and his enthusiasm for work has followed him into management from Norwich to Blackpool and eternally cash-strapped Stockport. Many people would have been reluctant to succeed Dave Jones after his phenomenal season of 1996-97 when Stockport were promoted from the Second Division and reached the League Cup semi-finals, but he took it on.

It was a hard act to follow and the word had deteriorated to impossible when County did not win any of their first seven League games. "It wasn't easy," he agreed, "but the good thing was it was all new, nobody could say we did this or that last time in the First Division. Dave Jones did a marvellous job but nobody really expected Stockport to survive.

"The supporters weren't anti me and if they had been we'd have struggled. The people here don't come in vast numbers but they're not thick, they know that 10 years ago this place was applying for re-election and it doesn't get put right overnight.

"We've survived because of our home form and the fans have to take credit because they make it an uncomfortable place to visit."

To say they survived is to underplay Megson's achievement, because Stockport revived to an extent they finished eighth, the highest rung they have ever reached on the league ladder. This time they are not comfortable but they are five points above the relegation places.

"It's more difficult because of the expectancy. Now it's seen as we're not too clever whereas if we'd been in this position last year we'd have been four or five places above where people thought we'd be.

"I'm convinced it's always more difficult to survive the second year than the first because you haven't got the newness and the enthusiasm. Bradford stayed up the first year, struggled the second and now they're flying."

Megson hopes tomorrow's tie will make Stockport airborne, although he is aware Wednesday have taken wing themselves and beat West Ham 4-0 at Upton Park last week. "If we give everything we've got and still don't win, then fair enough. There's no reason the opposition should work harder than you, be more organised or that their set pieces should be better than yours.

"It's just if the tie turns on players who can beat four players, turn on a tanner, and then chip the ball into the top corner they might have more people who can do that. But it doesn't always work out that way and they shouldn't want it more than my players."

The Megsons will all want to win this match badly. You wonder about the atmosphere in the family home on Saturday evening...