MEL­LON: I just ac­cept foot­ball’s men­tal

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By Stu­art Ham­monds

SIR ALEX FER­GU­SON’S fa­mous “Foot­ball, bloody hell” quote comes im­me­di­ately to mind when Micky Mel­lon tries to make sense of how quickly the game can flip his rep­u­ta­tion, his team’s for­tunes and a jour­ney­man striker’s sta­tus on the head.

If a week is a long time in pol­i­tics, you could cram at least a month’s worth of con­trast­ing drama into eight days at the Green­hous Meadow.

The Scot­tish ac­cent is sim­i­lar – though the 43-year-old’s ori­gin is from Pais­ley rather than Go­van – and a Fergie-style shake of the head ac­com­pa­nies the de­liv­ery of: “The game is just fan­tas­ti­cally men­tal, isn’t it?”

To re­cap: on Satur­day Jan­uary 2, Shrews­bury Town lost 7-1 in their League One fix­ture at Ch­ester­field, who had not won in their pre­vi­ous ten league matches.

Ninety-three miles away at Pren­ton Park, a 29-year-old who had left Salop in the wake of the Shrews’ League Two pro­mo­tion last sum­mer was kick­ing his heels watch­ing his Non-League em­ploy­ers lose 1-0 to Mac­cles­field.


The in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod saw a pub­lic vote of con­fi­dence in the man­ager from Town chair­man Roland Wy­cher­ley, four play­ers leave and three come to the Shrop­shire club – two of them fa­mil­iar faces, with for­mer loa­nee Jack Grim­mer’s re­turn from Ful­ham the most plau­si­ble.

Fast for­ward to last Sun­day evening and his team, 20th in League One, beat Cham­pi­onship high-fly­ers Cardiff City on their own pitch in the FA Cup third round.

Scorer of the soli­tary goal in south Wales? Andy Man­gan, the ex-Black­pool, Ac­cring­ton Stan­ley, For­est Green Rovers, Wrex­ham and Fleet­wood for­ward, who had started just one match in the last six weeks as a Tran­mere Rovers player.

“Pretty much the op­po­site hap­pened at Cardiff as hap­pened at Ch­ester­field,” says Mel­lon. “Ev­ery­thing went for us, whereas noth­ing did the pre­vi­ous week when we had a man sent off, gave two penal­ties away and suf­fered two ham­string in­juries within the space of a minute be­fore half-time!

“But that’s just foot­ball, isn’t it? I’ve been in it so long I don’t get car­ried away with any­thing that’s men­tal in it any more. I ex­pect noth­ing any more. I just turn up and be ready to try to adapt.

“You have to, be­cause you go on all th­ese coach­ing apps and you move all the wee men around walls – ‘Yeah, you go here and you do that’ – but never, on any tac­tics board, does it say about the wee man’s char­ac­ter. Or if he’s go­ing to have a bad game. Or he’s go­ing to be bril­liant on a par­tic­u­lar day.

“It’s foot­ball. It’s not robotic. No­body will ever have all the an­swers, will they? And do we ever re­ally want ev­ery­body to have the an­swers?” Mel­lon speaks with the en­thu­si­asm of a young player com­ing into the game, rather than a man who made al­most 500 Foot­ball League ap­pear­ances with Bris­tol City, West Brom, Black­pool, Tran­mere and Burn­ley be­fore drop­ping to the Con­fer­ence North to start a man­age­rial ca­reer that has so far yielded three pro­mo­tions in seven years.

Man­gan has been in­volved in the last two – the 2011-12 Con­fer­ence win at Fleet­wood and last sea­son’s League Two run­ners-up spot – but had cho­sen to drop back to Non-League last May to be closer to his fam­ily on Mersey­side.

He had net­ted seven times for Tran­mere this sea­son, but bring­ing in a player strug­gling to get in a Na­tional League side was surely a big risk for Mel­lon, with sup­port­ers won­der­ing how he would shake things up post-Ch­ester­field?

“It was al­ways in my plan to do what I was go­ing to do in Jan­uary,” says Mel­lon.“I was go­ing to rad­i­cally change the play­ing squad and it was noth­ing to do with the 7-1.


“It just hap­pened that was the first game of the new year, and it looks to a lot of peo­ple,‘Wow, he’s re­acted to that game’. But if we’d have won 7-1, I gen­uinely was go­ing to make the changes I had to make.

“I sat down in July and Au­gust with my chair­man, the chief exec and my staff, and we looked at the sit­u­a­tion we were in com­ing up from League Two.

“There were 15 lads who were go­ing to get a go at see­ing if they were League One play­ers.They were go­ing to sink or swim.

“That was agreed be­tween us all. The first chance we’d get to re­pair any­thing would be Jan­uary, and that’s what we did. But foot­ball will never change. I keep hear­ing about ‘philoso­phies’. I’ve done more than 350 games now as a man­ager, and a good 250 games ago I re­alised that it’s just about win­ning games. Th­ese philoso­phies are nice, and there are some peo­ple who are out of work at the minute who have got bet­ter, allsing­ing and danc­ing philoso­phies than I’ve got.

“I’ve never re­ally heard of a man­ager keep­ing his job be­cause he had a bril­liant phi­los­o­phy, de­spite los­ing a load of games.

“If I win, I’m good. If I lose, I’m crap. Now, in foot­ball, that can be in three days! I’ve gone from a 7-1 de­feat on a Satur­day and prob­a­bly ev­ery man in the world – and even my mis­sus – has gone, ‘He’s crap’ to go­ing to Cardiff and beat­ing them 1-0 and ev­ery­one go­ing ‘Hang on a minute!’ How can that be?”

Mel­lon had no wor­ries about his team rais­ing their game on the day against se­cond-tier op­po­si­tion, and nei­ther will he when in-form Sh­effield Wed­nes­day visit in the fourth round on Jan­uary 30.

His squad is lit­tered with play­ers boast­ing higher-level ex­pe­ri­ence, and some – like Ful­ham loa­nees Jack Grim­mer and Lar­nell Cole – should go on to en­joy long ca­reers in the top divi­sions.

Oth­ers, like Man­gan, yo-yo be­tween the divi­sions be­cause “they haven’t been con­sis­tent with their KPIs – win­ning the knock-downs, mak­ing sure the next per­son that

touches the ball is one of your team­mates, win­ning first head­ers, hold­ing the ball up, get­ting on the end of things in the box – on a weekly ba­sis.” He goes on: “Take Mangy. As an all-round player, he’s been noth­ing short of fan­tas­tic for me when­ever I’ve had him. “When we heard we might have a chance, it was a case of get­ting him back be­cause I love work­ing with him, and the other play­ers do as well. “I know the qual­i­ties he’s got, but he’s got to sus­tain it now.

“He’s done noth­ing. He’s ca­pa­ble. He knows it’s last chance sa­loon, so ev­ery day he trains, he knows he’s got to do it.

“He still thinks he’s a kid but time, un­for­tu­nately, well, we’re not mak­ing any more of it. It’s run­ning out for him and he knows that, so his mo­ti­va­tion is there.”

And Mel­lon can have no greater stick with which to beat his of­ten enig­matic goalscorer than a rolledup ver­sion of the Premier League ta­ble and goalscor­ing charts.

Man­gan and a cer­tain Jamie Vardy were Fleet­wood’s lead­ing scor­ers in that ti­tle suc­cess. The for­mer’s 21 goals were bet­tered only by the 34 net­ted by a man who would be­come Non-League’s first £1m ex­port, to Le­ices­ter, at the end of that 2011-12 sea­son.

“Vards isn’t there be­cause Clau­dio Ranieri thinks he’s a nice guy,” says Mel­lon.“He’s not there be­cause Nigel Pear­son thought, ‘Oh he’s sound, him’.

“He’s there be­cause he worked his f***** nuts off when he got there. He worked like it was his last day. He got in the team, he hit a level of per­for­mance, and the man­ager couldn’t drop him. Then, the team were suc­cess­ful with him in it, and sud­denly you’re in the Eng­land team.

“But it’s all about him hit­ting the level and stay­ing there and hit­ting it ev­ery week. On any given day in train­ing or in any given match – and I re­ally mean this – Man­gan and Vardy were as good as each other. But Vardy did it ev­ery week.

“There were mo­ments where an op­por­tu­nity came up, some­body hap­pened to be at the game and Vardy hit the level – bang! Mangs, if we sit down and we’re hon­est, hasn’t been able to do that.

“But he’s now got a man­ager who, when he gets a wee bit sloppy in train­ing or he gives the ball away, is all over him. I take no bad stan­dards from him. I don’t mind if I have to come in on a Mon­day morn­ing and fall out with him. I don’t care.


“Like against Cardiff, he’d just scored and the ball comes into him. He gets hold of it and he tries to back-heel it. We lose it, and they break on us. He came over near me on the bench and I gave him the big­gest mouth­ful he’s ever had in his life. He was reck­less and didn’t think of his team-mates.

“He looked at me and he put his hand up. That’s the dif­fer­ence with the re­la­tion­ship we have.

“It’s not all about Andy Man­gan. He knows I want him to be good, like I do all my play­ers.”

Be­ing good in yes­ter­day’s rel­e­ga­tion base­ment bat­tle with Barns­ley, an­other on Tues­day week with Old­ham and next Satur­day’s trip to high-fly­ing Bur­ton take pri­or­ity be­fore their next chance against Cham­pi­onship op­po­si­tion.

“I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to kill my­self now,” adds Mel­lon,“but if you look at the de­tail of my team: Mark Hal­stead has been in the Premier League with Man United and Black­pool, my right­back Jack is on loan from Ful­ham and has played in the Cham­pi­onship and Scot­land U21.

“An­thony Ger­rard is a Cham­pi­onship player, Zak Whit­bread – Cham­pi­onship player, Nat Knight-Per­ci­val played in the Cham­pi­onship for Peter­bor­ough two years ago, Ian Black played for Rangers in the Scot­tish leagues last year, Lar­nell Cole, just left Man U and [is] a Cham­pi­onship player for Ful­ham.

“You go through the team and they are all Cham­pi­onshi play­ers, so it’s no real big deal to them. They are ca­pa­ble of beat­ing any­body.”

Af­ter beat­ing Le­ices­ter and tak­ing Chelsea close in the Cap­i­tal One Cup last sea­son – Man­gan scored in both – it wouldn’t be quite so “men­tal” to see the Owls fol­low the Blue­birds in be­ing knocked off their perch.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

RE­SULTS MAN: Micky Mel­lon has no time for phi­los­o­phy in foot­ball and, in­set, come­back man Andy Man­gan scores against Cardiff City

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