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

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn