McDermott: 'I’d be kidding myself if I said it was just a normal game'

Reading’s path to Monday’s Championship play-off final began in a non-descript portable building at their rural Hampshire training ground.

Brian McDermott gathered his players together early in February and challenged them to rise above ‘mediocrity’. Then he left the room and, with his staff, wrote down a list of changes that had to be made. Meanwhile, back in the ‘media suite’, the players drew up their own list. Then they met again, and compared flip charts. Recalled McDermott, in that same room this week, “the players came up with something quite similar to us: lots of little details, things like having belief, living your life right, doing the right things, concentrating.”

This is modern management. No hairdryer. No hauling players in on their day off. No transfer-listing half the squad. Instead it is about consultation, about enlisting the players and persuading them to buy into your core beliefs.

“We had 17 games to go and I felt we needed to change things a bit,” said McDermott. “Somehow we were close, but we couldn’t quite turn draws into victories. I felt we needed to go on a hell of a run to get into the play-offs. We talked about hard work, not talent. I talked about stuff from Matthew Syed’s book, ‘Bounce’. In it he mentions Enron. When Enron went pear shaped it was really interesting. They bought all the talented guys in but nobody did any hard work.

“I watch Man Utd, and look at Sir Alex Ferguson. He talks about hard work and how they train hard, and he talks about Cantona and how he trained hard and all the greats, Beckham, Giggs, all of them, work every day and they practice every day. And it is practice when nobody is watching. That’s when champions are made.”

Looking back to his playing days, and reflecting on the ‘living your life right’ aspect, McDermott added: “Now you have to look after yourself. When I played it was a complete joke. The Arsenal team I was in we went to Cup finals, but in the League the best I did was third. The way the players lived their lives at the time, going out and drinking, was the norm in those days. It’s rare now, but it was kind of encouraged then. It was the late 70s and it was the culture. Arsene Wenger coming to the country, I would suggest, changed an awful lot of thinking.

“I had my first taste of the different lifestyle when I went to Sweden as a player in 1984. I was on my own and I thought I’d have a great time. But for six months I had no drink. It was unheard of for a Swedish player to even have one during the season. It didn’t happen. If you were in a club, and you had a drink, you’d be in trouble. The equivalent here would be like taking drugs in front of people. I remember learning about warming down, and lads doing stretches in the showers. It was a completely different culture, and I was a better player for it. I would suggest that is what you see over here now.”

Reading’s brain-storming assessment of their season worked. The Royals lost their next game, at Norwich, but then took 35 points from 16 matches to cruise into the play-offs. They then beat Cardiff City and now face Swansea City at Wembley for a place in the top flight.

Swansea are managed by Brendan Rodgers, who was manager of Reading before McDermott, and worked alongside him in the club’s academy system. “We get on brilliant,” said McDermott. “We are good friends. I did the Under 17s and he helped me with that, and the Under 19s. Then he was academy manager for a while, then went to Chelsea and ended at Watford. We used to get to the park at eight in the morning to get ready for youth matches. It’s a long way from there to Wembley.”

Rodgers was fired after six months at Reading but McDermott said: “He’s nothing to prove, he’s proved a hell of a lot at Swansea [this season]. He’s done a fantastic job. It was a good fit for him with the style of play and I’m delighted for him.”

Rodgers’ failure was McDermott’s opportunity. “The chairman [John Madjeski] asked me to be caretaker. I said ‘if you want me to be caretaker I want the job’. I asked him for it. I knew – I didn’t feel it would be right somebody from the outside coming in changing staff and players. I felt I knew what was required, and the rest is history.

“I had five league games as caretaker and didn’t win a game, but in the FA Cup we beat Liverpool and Burnley. When he gave me the job I think the fans were thinking “not sure about this”. My first official game as manager was against Barnsley and for the first time I thought, “we have got to win this”. We were second bottom and four points adrift. We won 1-0 and after that I thought we’d be ok. I was always confident in the players.”

Some managers try to treat play-off finals as just another game in an attempt to reduce the sense of pressure that surrounds a fixture worth £60m to the winner. McDermott is treating it like a cup final, which is probably a shrewd decision given his players’ record in one-off cup matches. “We’ve been to Liverpool and won, been to Everton and won, been to West Brom and won, all cup games. That is the experience we can draw on,” he says.

So tomorrow night Reading will move into a hotel. They will leave early for Wembley and soak up the atmosphere. For McDermott it will bring back bitter-sweet memories. He was part of the Arsenal squad that played in three successive FA Cup finals from 1978-1980, winning in 1979, but never set foot on the Wembley pitch.

“I wasn’t allowed, or invited to. I had a nice suit on, but I was in the stand. I was on the bus. I was 17, 18 and 19. But coming up as a youth team player was not easy at Arsenal then, come the big games it was always the big hitters who played. I was in and around it, but never involved properly.

“So when we were at Cardiff [in the play-off semi-final] I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to put pressure on the players, but I wanted just to get to Wembley from my own point of view. It is an occasion. I’d be kidding myself if I said it was just a normal game. It’s one to look forward to and enjoy. That’s important for me. I remember cup finals with the Arsenal and that bus journey to the ground, seeing the fans outside, I think that is part of it. We want to get the atmosphere and sense of occasion on the bus. I think that’s important. But we do want to go there and win. That is the most important thing.”

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
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.

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game