Fans back Millward to put pressure on Saints

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The Independent Online

If St Helens were ever under the impression that there was a quiet, undramatic way of getting rid of their coach, Ian Millward, they know differently now.

If St Helens were ever under the impression that there was a quiet, undramatic way of getting rid of their coach, Ian Millward, they know differently now.

On Friday night, the Saints fans showed exactly what they think of the suspension and possible sacking of the most successful coach they have ever had. Between two and three thousand of them stayed behind for more than an hour in the pouring rain at Knowsley Road after the comfortable Challenge Cup victory over York.

Their message was as clear as it could be. They want Millward back in his job and, if relations between him and the club's chief executive, Sean McGuire, are past the point where they can be repaired, then in their eyes it is McGuire who should go.

Saints have promised a result from their disciplinary proceedings against Millward early this week. They are now faced with an unappetising choice. Reinstating Millward after they have gone to these lengths to undermine him will amount to a humiliating climb-down. On the other hand, sacking him will bring down the wrath of their followers in a way that will make Friday night's demonstration look like a meeting of the St Helens branch of the Polite Society.

Those fans are not fools. They know Millward is no plaster saint, and you can find those who accept that he was out of order over the weakened team at Bradford last year that triggered the betting scandal. But the current set of charges against him look to them like a trumped-up case, and it is hard to see them being convinced otherwise.

Not even his best friend would claim that Millward is always an easy person to deal with. He is an archetypal short man with a shorter fuse, and some of his tirades have become the stuff of legend.

During his five years at St Helens he has frequently been an irritant to the game's auth-orities, and he has indulged in the occasional outburst at others as well. Sometimes, in the cooler light of day, he has apologised for his excesses.

I was there for one of the three incidents that form the basis of Saints' charges against him. He started off with a fair point to make, but went on to make it in terms that were more colourful than they were edifying. He has since apologised to the woman concerned, and that should have been the end of it. That it has not been allowed to lie suggests a club who are determined to force the issue with him. It is not a matter that would be pursued unless they wanted him out.

What should not be in dispute is that Millward has been an overwhelming force for good at St Helens. He has brought home five major trophies and he has done it with teams who have reflected his own ingenuity and enterprise.

In terms of winning prizes, he is the most successful coach Saints have ever had, but this is a club who have made a habit of getting rid of successful coaches. Shaun McRae, for example, did not have his contract renewed after a spell in charge that turned the club around, and Ellery Hanley was sacked for breach of contract after winning the Super League in his one full season.

Millward's first - and, in many ways, most fundamental - achievement was to abort the plans for rioting in the streets in protest at Hanley's departure. Within weeks, he had put his own stamp on the club, and it was a case of "Ellery who?"

It would take someone really remarkable to pull off that trick once more and persuade the supporters that the current administration are right this time.