Gillingham manager Mad Dog Martin Allen now a canny old pussycat

Allen has thought better of his old fire-breathing style of management – and Gillingham are firing

When word spread that Martin Allen had been diving into the English Channel with his new charges at Gillingham it seemed like "Mad Dog" was up to his old tricks again. Nearly a decade after his management techniques came to notice with a plunge into the icy waters of a river near Darlington, he was making his players do it as well.

What else, one wondered, was Allen inflicting on his League Two squad? This is the manager who issued Brentford players with a booklet detailing fines for such misdemeanours as ordering room service after 9pm (£50), failing to wear a tie and buttoned collar on match day (£20) and taking newspapers into the medical room (£5). The 2012 Mad Dog is, though, a different animal, more of a pussycat and not the big one allegedly roaming Essex. He is a living embodiment of the Football Association coaching department's progression from teaching a "command" style approach to one aimed at giving players "ownership" of a session. It looks to be working: the Gills have won all four matches this season to be joint-top of League Two with Oxford United and be, in Allen's eyes, favourites to defeat Championship club Middlesbrough at Priestfield Stadium in the second round of the Capital One Cup tonight.

Allen, who joined Gillingham last month, said yesterday: "We had a policy from day one that no one – including myself – would criticise anybody. The players have made all the rules – in fact, there are no rules. They wanted to be treated like adults. There were signs in the cafeteria: 'Please don't eat on the sofas.' I took them down and said: 'I'll tell them once and they won't do it again.' They haven't.

"In the dressing rooms there were all these signs – 'Don't clean your boots in the showers' and stuff. It was like a prison camp. They've gone. We've said to the players: 'If you are late you'll pay a tenner, if you're continually late we'll have a chat and find out why.' I also said to them: 'I don't want to know what we are doing that's good, but if you have a problem or are unhappy come and tell me.'

"Before our first game I showed them the DVD of the first four minutes of our friendly with Watford then left the players with the remote control, a flip-chart, paper and pens. We gave the players the ownership and got them to think about what they can do, what we can do better. They filled out the chart with what they thought was wrong in that four minutes. Then I sat down with the coaches to put some sessions on to work on that."

It obviously worked as Gillingham won that match, against Bristol City at Ashton Gate, to earn tonight's tie. For a club that have missed the play-offs by one place in successive seasons their league start is even more significant. "The players have been fantastic," Allen said. "Normally when I get hired it is to change the culture, hit hard, sack people, but there was not too much wrong here."

Allen is seen, not entirely to his liking, as a lower-league, Red Adair-style firefighter, notably at Barnet, who account for three of his nine jobs in 10 years. Aside from four matches in the Championship at Leicester City, where he fell out with owner Milan Mandaric (probably on who chose new signings), a player who spent most of his career in the top flight with QPR and West Ham has managed off-Broadway.

He wants and believes he can manage higher, and if he doesn't it will not be for want of effort. The 47-year-old has taken the Uefa Pro Licence and the League Managers Association's Warwick University qualification, and regularly attends courses and symposiums such as Leaders in Football. He has run coaching schools, an initiative aimed at getting rejected young players back into football, and been to Botswana for the charity Coaching For Hope. Contrary to his image (which arose when he shaved his head at West Ham in solidarity with his son, who had alopecia) Allen's is a restless, enquiring mind.

"I have obviously done things wrong in the past but I have tried to adapt," he said. "It is not managing the players and the staff, it is managing myself, maintaining a good relationship with the chairman, the director of football, not letting frustration get in the way. It's about building better communication and being more patient with people. Perhaps I have challenged too many bosses, that's probably why I am not working at the top level.

"I have changed a lot, society has changed. When we were growing up head teachers could give you a stick or a slipper. The generation growing up now, 16-18-year-olds, have not been shouted at, not been disciplined. Management methods have had to change. I have undertaken courses to look at leadership, being more open-minded. It wasn't like that for me ... It was 'This way or the highway'. An infamous saying of mine was FIFO – Fit In or … Off. Not any more."

What about the swimming? "We would run along the beach at half-seven in the morning then I'd lead everybody into the waves. Three of them couldn't swim, but the other players supported and encouraged them. It helped bond everyone. We did three sessions a day with curfews at night and no alcohol. For some reason the players loved it. I heard one say it was the hardest pre-season he has ever done, but he's never laughed so much in all his career. I don't think we could have had a better compliment."

The target is to end the season on the beach as well. Allen said: "The chairman [Paul Scally] has promised everyone a trip to Benidorm if we go up. The cheapest two-star hotel, cheapest 4am flight. We will have a great time. I don't want to go to Vegas – it's bring on Benidorm."

Mixed bag: His clubs

Barnet, March 2003-March 2004 Reached top of Conference table

Brentford, March 2004-May 2006 League One play-offs in 2005, 2006

MK Dons, June 2006-May 2007 League Two play-off semi-final

Leicester City, May 2007-Aug 2007 Left after just four games

Cheltenham, Sep 2008-Dec 2009 Club were near foot of League Two

Barnet, March 2011- April 2011 Left after just three games

Notts County, April 2011- Feb 2012 Avoided relegation from League One

Barnet, April 2012- June 2012 Avoided relegation from League Two

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links