Adrian Chiles: Megson the master of kick-up-the-bum management style

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The Independent Football

On Wednesday morning I woke up and remembered that Gary Megson wasn't my team's manager any more. I couldn't have been more astonished if I'd turned over in bed to see someone other than my wife lying there. As she once said to him during an interview on Radio 5 Live when he was explaining something about the way we played: "Yes, Gary, I know. You're pillow talk in our house."

On Wednesday morning I woke up and remembered that Gary Megson wasn't my team's manager any more. I couldn't have been more astonished if I'd turned over in bed to see someone other than my wife lying there. As she once said to him during an interview on Radio 5 Live when he was explaining something about the way we played: "Yes, Gary, I know. You're pillow talk in our house."

You could say he's been a big part in my life. He's certainly been a big part in my younger daughter's life. My wife gave birth to her precisely nine months after we were promoted in April 2002. Megson seems therefore to have been directly responsible for a rise in my sperm count. And you don't get any closer to man than that.

I first met him, to record a radio interview, on a dismal Thursday morning in December 2000 in his office at The Hawthorns. As usual, he'd driven from Sheffield that morning. As usual he was the first one there. And, as usual, he had plenty to complain about.

He'd been manager since March of that year and had already been accorded some kind of hero status by saving us from what looked like certain relegation to the Second Division. And now we were at the right end of the First Division with a chance of promotion. So, I thought he'd be happy with things. I thought wrong. Once our interview was over, he got a list of his first-team players out and put it on the desk between us. Agog, I looked on as, without a word of explanation, he went through the names on it putting a tick or cross beside each one. There were more crosses than ticks.

My heart sank. It sank further as he launched into a tirade about how he'd be better off managing elsewhere and, in fact, he had a "massive" offer on the table from a major First Division club which he was going to find impossible to turn down. I got back into my car to return to London so dispirited that I barely had the energy to put the key in the ignition.

Apart from anything else I didn't see how I could broadcast the interview that weekend if he was going to be gone by Monday. I called the then chief executive, John Wile. "Oh, he's fine," he said rather tiredly, "everything's fine." That Saturday we beat Forest 3-0.

Five months later we lost out in the play-offs to Bolton. A year later we only had to beat Palace at home on the last day of the season to become a Premiership side. In the week before that game, with a presumption which I'm now embarrassed about, I sent Gary a video - "Living with Lions", the story of the Lions' tour to South Africa in 1997. On it I stuck a post-it note telling him (yes, really) to wind forward to Ian McGeechan's brilliant team-talk before the second Test. For some reason I thought the most gifted motivator I'd ever come across needed some help. We won the game 2-0.

The following Tuesday I was standing in a bike shop holding my bike while the repair man tried to fix the back brake. My mobile rang. "Adrian, it's Gary Megson here from West Brom. I just rang to thank you for the video. I watched the bit you suggested then wound back to the beginning and watched all of it. It was brilliant. I used the stuff from the team-talk before the game on Sunday." There was a crash behind me as the bike fell to the floor with an angry repair man's fingers trapped in the back brake.

I told Gary that he'd given us all one of the happiest days of our life. And he told me how completely fed up he was with the way the club was being run and he'd soon be on his way.

This was Gary all over: a genius for getting us promoted; a star for ringing me and yet full to the brim with anger and resentment - much of it justified, I'm sure - about the bigger picture. I paid the repair man double and cycled home elated and deflated all at once. As it turned out it was not Gary but the chairman who was soon on his way. He resigned a month later.

We met from time to time during our last Premiership odyssey then, earlier this year, I made a programme about him, So What Do You Do All Day?, in which I followed him about all day from when he left his home in Sheffield at 6am to 8pm when he returned.

It was February, our form had been poor over the previous few weeks, and an away trip to our bitter foes Sheffield United was two days away. Gary was brilliant company - honest, funny, intelligent and, as usual, absolutely totally peed-off with everything. Needless to say, that Saturday we won 2-1 and a couple of months later we were promoted with three games to spare.

So how did he do it? The most important thing to understand about Gary is that the characterisation of him as a sergeant-major of a manager turning sows' ears into silk purses on a shoe-string budget is not without foundation, but it's so over-simplified it's essentially plain wrong: he's more sophisticated than his touchline demeanour suggests and he had a more generous budget than the club is usually given credit for.

To succeed he seemed to use his anger to motivate himself and the players. And like 100 per cent of managers, his style suited some players more than others. The thoroughly uncomplicated Geoff Horsfield summed it up: "It's different preferences for different players, but me I need a bit of a kick up the bum and for someone to tell me where I'm going wrong."

The easy conclusion to reach now is that the kicks up the bum stop working when you start working with better quality players. I hope he gets a chance to disprove that one day. But the tragedy for him is that now, after twice winning promotion to the Premiership, he remains unproven as a top-flight manager. I can't see him getting another Premiership job, so essentially he's back to where he was four years ago: on the look-out for another good second-tier job. I envy whichever club he goes to: they'll enjoy the ride.

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