Holloway finds relaxed philosophy: no bitchers, moaners or whingers

Plymouth Argyle's manager is a new man after the BBC's 'Stress Test'. Stuart Robertson meets a master of metaphor
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The Independent Football

Employ Ian Holloway and you don't just get a manager, you also get one of the cult figures of the modern game thrown into the bargain. A simple internet search under the term "Ollyism" results in numerous examples of those colourful utterances that have made the new Plymouth manager's appearances among the most anticipated of post-match briefings.

However, while the likes of "I couldn't be more chuffed if I were a badger at the start of the mating season" may cause mirth, there is one thing that Holloway is serious about and that is his desire to become the first man to lead Devonshire's finest to those never-before-trodden pastures known as the Premiership.

Before that, however, there is the small task of shoving Plymouth's posteriors fully through the doorway marked Championship, starting on Saturday with the visit of Wolverhampton to Home Park. "I don't think their [Plymouth's] backside's crossed the line yet," says Holloway in a turn of phrase that totters on the verge of Ollyism territory. "I think their legs took them very quickly to their target. Their chest's crossed the line but I don't think their backside's caught up yet."

Holloway is referring to Argyle's meteoric rise through the divisions and their occasionally precarious first two seasons back in English football's second tier. The Pilgrims' rapid ascent, which is rumoured to have left their success-starved fans with more than a touch of vertigo, began with the arrival of Paul Sturrock at the helm of a club that had started to look rather too homely on the bottom rung for their own good. The former Dundee United manager and player changed all that, building a title-winning machine that obliterated almost everything in its path on the way to reaching the Championship within only three seasons.

Sturrock had set sail for Southampton and been replaced by fellow Scot Bobby Williamson by the time Holloway arrived at Home Park in 2004 with his Queen's Park Rangers side vying with the hosts for the right to enter the Championship with bragging rights as top dogs. A header from that old Argyle warhorse Micky Evans sent Plymouth on their way to title- winning success ahead of Holloway's men, but Home Park's glory days were soon to draw to an end as the Championship prepared to deliver a large slice of reality.

The first season back proved a struggle, as fans became reacquainted with being also-rans at best and strugglers at worst. Not long into the 2005-06 campaign the club's patience snapped. Williamson left, soon to be replaced by the former Stoke manager Tony Pulis, who steadied the ship with some no-nonsense displays which secured the Pilgrims' status with a little mileage still left in the tank.

The Pulis reign, however, always had a certain stopgap feel about it and it was no surprise when he returned to the Potteries at the end of the season, paving the way for Holloway to put away his lawnmower, dust off his tracksuit and return to management from the gardening leave on which he had been placed at Loftus Road when linked with the Leicester job earlier in the year.

"I've only ever been out of work for three weeks before that," says Holloway. "I've sat in my garden being fully paid for five months. I painted my house, every room, got it ready to sell. I tidied the garden, did a fair bit of TV work but I got very frustrated watching my team slipping down the League. Amazingly, I got blamed for it even though I wasn't there, but that's life."

The fact that Holloway can take such a philosophical view is probably thanks to what he agrees was one of the pivotal moments of his life, his appearance on the BBC programme Stress Test, which laid bare the anger management issues which were having such a destructive effect on his home life.

"To be a 41-year-old, as I was at the time, and to be still ranting and raving when I didn't get what I wanted, I felt pretty childish," Holloway recalls. "And what a terrible example to your own children when they can't even hear you [Holloway's three daughters are all deaf] and all they see is you gesticulating like a complete madman. The last thing I wanted was that and it's thanks to that programme that I'm a much better human being. I still don't like it when I don't get what I want, but now I don't take it out on the people around me. All I know is that I've just lost to Bristol Rovers and I've just had the nicest weekend I've had in a long time, so I am learning."

And not just learning, teaching as well, for it was the latter that proved one of the biggest lures in terms of drawing Holloway back into the dugout.

"I've sat there for months thinking, 'Do I want to do this, do I want to go and be judged all the time?' And, to be honest, the answer is yeah, because I miss being with people. I see it as though I'm a teacher and I need to teach people what is right. I get much more out of teaching others than teaching myself because I was always very critical of my own performances and what I was."

In the past, Plymouth's location as the Football League's most south-westerly outpost has created problems in attracting pupils on to the school bus, let alone into the classroom, but Holloway is hopeful that his own reputation as a player at the highest level and later in terms of working with up-and-coming players such as Nathan Ellington, Bobby Zamora and Jason Roberts will overcome the usual "too far to travel" type excuses.

"Yes, we've got further to travel than other people but there are trains, there are planes - it's a very changing world we live in. If that was a problem in the past, I don't think it is now. The way I look at it is that it made me want to come out of my garden and I was sat there being paid. Although I wanted the job, I'm not stupid. It had to be right."

And in terms of those who follow Holloway to the West Country, what can they expect? The conductor may not be waving his arms quite as much but anyone expecting a relaxing trip to the seaside would be very wrong. "I don't like people who wear a BSE T-shirt [blame someone else], I won't have that. I don't want BMWs [bitchers, moaners and whingers]. I want people who will stand up and say, 'Yeah I was wrong there and I should have done this or should have done that'. Everyone makes one mistake. If you make the same mistake twice, you're no good for me and you'll be out.

"Some of the higher wages flying around make the public averse to these bigwig superstars but at our level they're down-to-earth, honest boys trying to make a living, trying to be the best they can so I'm someone who will tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear, and keep it real.

"As long as they realise that and give me a positive straight away - any time a negative happens I want a positive - I don't think I'm that bad to play for."

Ollyisms: The world according to Ian Holloway

After an "ugly" win

"To put it in gentleman's terms, if you've been out for a night and you're looking for a young lady and you pull one, some weeks they're good-looking and some weeks they're not the best. Our performance today would have been not the best-looking bird but at least we got her in the taxi. She weren't the best-looking lady we ended up taking home but she was very pleasant and very nice, so thanks very much and let's have a coffee."

A disappointing run of results

"I feel so unlucky at the moment, if I fell into a bucket of boobs I'd come out sucking my thumb."

After winning promotion

"They say that every dog has his day and today is woof day. That might sound crazy but I want to go and bark!"

On using defensive players in midfield

"It's all very well having a great pianist playing but it's no good if you haven't got anyone to get the piano on the stage in the first place, otherwise the pianist would be standing there with no bloody piano to play."

Thwarted in the transfer market

"I've tried to bring in players on loan but I just get custard pies in my face. I'm sick of the taste of custard."