‘If our support helps one person, it’s worth it’
BIG INTERVIEW: JOHN STILL LUTON BOSS BACKING CANCER CAMPAIGN
HEALTH is on the agenda and John Still is in the perfect place to discuss such issues – The Wiltshire hotel, golf and leisure club close to the Cotswolds countryside he loves so much.
The last time his Luton Town side had a free weekend, after playing Shrewsbury in a Thursday night TV game in January, the 64-year-old went to the Wootton Bassett retreat on the advice of his physio to get treatment to cure a long-standing sinus problem.
This time, while wife Barbara enjoyed the spa, Still was recharging his batteries and trying to come up with the remedy to his team’s recent ills, with six defeats in their last seven games affecting their chances of a second successive promotion.
A crippling injury list has played a part, the veteran boss acknowledges, but he can sense improvement before the Sky cameras return for another League Two promotion humdinger at their Kenilworth Road home, which has been renamed The Prostate Cancer UK Stadium for the visit of Wycombe Wanderers on Tuesday night.
“It’s nice to get away, even if it’s only for a night,” Still told The FLP on Friday evening. “We’ve come down here today because we changed the training schedule with there being no game this weekend. The cloud might have affected the eclipse in London, but it’s been lovely here.
“We’ve had a drive out to Lacock and seen Downton Abbey being filmed in the village. Now we’re going to have a bite to eat and a restful night before I’m back on the road to watch a game somewhere.
“You have to take the chance for a change of scenery when you can in this game, however brief it is and especially – I’ll say it before you do – when you get to my age!”
Age is but a number for Still, but it does make him the ideal manager of a club for the Football League’s partner charity to choose to showcase their Men United campaign.
The man who has been managing clubs since taking over at Leytonstone in the late 1970s will be 65 next month, and it is males
and over who are most at risk from a disease known as the Silent Killer.
The Bedfordshire ground has been chosen because its 10,000 seats represent the number of men who lose their life to it every year, and Still says: “Look, we men aren’t so good at getting things checked out, are we? Especially men of my vintage.
“Neil Harris at Millwall has been big on the testicular cancer cause after his own personal battle, and we all remember the ‘Keep your eye on the ball’ posters in dressing rooms and at grounds for that form of the disease.
“We wear the Men United logo on the numbers on the back of our shirts and I am proud to be in charge of the club asked to be the first to give up their ground’s naming rights for the charity.
“There will be many fellas walking into the Prostate Cancer UK Stadium on Tuesday night who have never had it spelled out to them in such a clear way how important it is to get checked out.
“This club does some great things in the community, and if this one helps put one person suffering on their way to treatment, then it will have worked.”
The Hatters have had a whole host of experienced players out for long periods this term due to injury – Mark Tyler, Steve McNulty, Luke Wilkinson, Alex Lawless, Luke Guttridge, Luke Rooney and Paul Benson. Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu and Jonathan Smith have also suffered.
“I don’t believe in luck,” says Still, “but you can’t legislate for missing players as important as them for so much of the season. Add in the fact that we sold Andre Gray to Brentford in the summer, and how well he did in tandem with Benno last year, we have done so well to be up where we are.
“You’re always going to experience a bad run and ours has coincided with a lot of players being out. Of course, I’m not happy with how we’ve played recently and we should have had more points from these seven games than we have.
“But I’m telling you now, coming up into League Two as Conference champions, we’d have jumped
through hoops if someone had said we’d be sixth, still in with a shout of automatic promotion and with a serious chance of competing in the play-offs, with nine games to go.
“This club has come a long way.We lost last weekend, but it was in front of more than 17,000 at a club like Portsmouth, and what also made me proud was our travelling fans.
“No other club in League Two would have sold out their 2,700 allocation and when we went over to them at the end, the reception they gave us was unbelievable considering we’d just lost. They recognise that we are working hard to keep pushing their club back up to a level they should be at, which eventually will be higher than League Two. Just how quickly that happens, time will tell.”
Standing in their way, both in the table and their next game, are a thirdplaced Wycombe side managed by a man Still knows well.
Gareth Ainsworth is one of a number of young gaffers who regularly turns to the ex-Maidstone, Dartford, Peterborough, Barnet and Dagenham & Redbridge boss for advice and guidance.
“I’ve know Gareth since he was a player at Lincoln when I was coaching there 20 years ago,” says Still of the 41-year-old Chairboys manager. “He was all-action, gave everything in every game and was the dream professional to work with.
“He’s carried that attitude on into management which is good because as a young coach you have to have big eyes and big ears, and he takes everything in.
“Last summer we could have been taking Wycombe’s League status, so he’s done a brilliant job to get them into the position they’re in.
“When you’re talking about potential managers of the year, he should be in contention, and I always tell him to enjoy the good times. We’ll have a beer after the game on Tuesday – I just hope he’s not enjoying it as much as I am!”
FRESH FACE: Gareth Ainsworth playing for Lincoln in the mid-90s HOBNOBBING IT: John Still took in the Downton Abbey filming yesterday and visited Lacock, right
ENDORSEMENT: John Still is pleased that Luton are renaming their home The Prostate Cancer UK Stadium for Wycombe’s visit on Tuesday night