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

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
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent