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.”

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
arts + entsJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
football

Striker's four-month ban for biting an opponent expires on Friday

News
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
i100
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

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker