The life and times of Ley­ton Ori­ent player-man­ager Kevin Nolan

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

KEVIN NOLAN may be a man­age­rial rookie, but the new Ley­ton Ori­ent boss has al­ways been a leader of men. “Nobby was born to be a man­ager,” says Joey Bar­ton, a former team-mate at New­cas­tle. “He’s al­ways had a wise head on young shoul­ders. He’s the best cap­tain I’ve played for by a mile.

“He’s as good a man as I’ve been with in a dress­ing room. If any­one can make the tran­si­tion from player to man­ager it’s Kev be­cause he’s just a re­ally good per­son.”

Men­tion Nolan’s name, to man­agers, team-mates, even op­po­nents, and sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments will in­evitably echo back.

Rab­ble rouser, spokesman, go-be­tween, men­tor. In an era when man­agers lamented the dearth of gen­er­als and van­ish­ing voices, Nolan was a throw­back to the days when dress­ing rooms man­aged them­selves and shrink­ing vi­o­lets grew up fast.


When Sammy Lee took charge at Bolton and ditched the di­rect tac­tics of pre­de­ces­sor Sam Al­lardyce, the play­ers elected Nolan to voice their op­po­si­tion. He was dropped for his trou­bles, but Lee was soon hounded out.

At New­cas­tle, Nolan was handed the un­en­vi­able task of tam­ing Toon tear­away Andy Car- roll, even tak­ing the striker in as a lodger to keep him out of trou­ble.

“Kev and his wife gave me a place to stay, and they’ve looked af­ter me,” said Car­roll. “They prob­a­bly saved my ca­reer, so I have to say a big thanks to them.”

Later, at West Ham, Nolan would stay be­hind af­ter train­ing to help the young­sters, just as he had been guided through those early days at Bolton by the likes of Fer­nando Hierro and Youri Djorka­eff.

“Youri taught me how to con- duct my­self on and off the field and en­cour­aged me to take what I did in train­ing on to the pitch,” re­called Nolan, who com­bined his time at Bolton with man­ag­ing Sun­day side Ni­cosia in his na­tive Liver­pool.

“He gave me the con­fi­dence to try things that might not al­ways come off, told me I’d be a very good player.

“But, if he thought I was do­ing some­thing wrong, he would tell me to my face. He prob­a­bly pre­vented me from do­ing some stupid things.”

Ham­mers star­let Ol­lie Lee, son of ex-New­cas­tle star Rob, said it had been a priv­i­lege to work with Nolan and couldn’t thank the mid­fielder enough for all he’d learned. No­body val­ued

those quali- ties more highly than Al­lardyce, the man who gave Nolan his Bolton de­but as a 17-year-old in 2000.

Over eight sea­sons at the Ree­bok and a fur­ther five at West Ham, the pair formed an un­break­able bond that Al­lardyce viewed as in­te­gral to both clubs’ suc­cess.

“I see Kevin as a great player and a great cap­tain – on and off the pitch,” he said. “He showed that, not only with me at Bolton, but at New­cas­tle. When you get some­one like Joey Bar­ton al­most cry­ing on the TV be­cause he’s left, it shows you the re­spect he has gained.

“That is not just be­cause of what he does on the field, but be­cause of what he is like off it. Kevin looks af­ter the play­ers and he drives them on. He cre­ates a team spirit within him­self.

“It is not that he comes telling tales to me, he just sorts out the stuff I don’t need to know about. Then, he goes and scores 12 Premier League goals from midfield.”

And that, of course, was Nolan’s other great knack.With 69 strikes in 403 Premier League games, the 33-year-old was one of the topflight’s all-time great goal-scor­ers among mid­field­ers.


Thirty more came in the Cham­pi­onship, help­ing all three of his sides – Bolton, New­cas­tle and West Ham – win pro­mo­tion.

On the face of it, Nolan didn’t bris­tle with men­ace. No pace, lit­tle strength, no sixth sense for a pass. But his tim­ing, po­si­tional play and iron nerve in the box were al­most un­ri­valled.

“When­ever we needed a goalscorer or a bit of in­spi­ra­tion, then Kevin in­vari­ably came up trumps,” said Chris Hughton, his man­ager at New­cas­tle.

Then there was the nasty streak, the red cards and crafty pro­fes­sion­al­ism learned at the hand of old pros like Paul Warhurst and Dean Holdsworth.

Scott Car­son, the Derby goal- keeper, re­cently hailed Nolan as his tough­est-ever op­po­nent. “He knew I hadn’t played too many games and his ob­jec­tive was to try to in­tim­i­date me and get the re­sult,” he said.

“Ev­ery cor­ner he’d come and stand on my toes. He was laugh­ing and jok­ing as he did it. He thought it was bril­liant. There wasn’t any mal­ice in it, but as soon as that ball was kicked he would have you pinned and you weren’t com­ing off that line.”

Yet, if Nolan had the re­spect of his peers, Eng­land recog­ni­tion would re­main tan­ta­lis­ingly out of reach.

Though reg­u­larly mon­i­tored by Sven Goran Eriks­son, his peak years un­for­tu­nately co­in­cided with those of Frank Lam­pard, Paul Sc­holes and Steven Ger­rard. To date, no English player has made more Premier League ap­pear­ances with­out win­ning a cap.

“I think I have de­served a call through­out my ca­reer,” said Nolan in 2013. “When I see the peo­ple who have got caps, I think I should have had a few. Un­for­tu­nately, I was born at the wrong time.”

Now those dreams are gone, re­placed by as­pi­ra­tions of a dif­fer­ent kind. Un­wanted fol­low­ing his re­lease from West Ham in Au­gust, Nolan has joined Ley­ton Ori­ent as player-man­ager – and his old men­tor has backed him for suc­cess.

“I can’t be­lieve no­body signed him,” said Al­lardyce. “But this is a great step for him. He can man­age a sit­u­a­tion as they hap­pen on the pitch and, if he can score the goals [he’s ca­pa­ble of] then it will be good for Ori­ent and for him.”


BORN LEADER: Nolan will do it on the pitch and from the dug-out

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

TOON HERO: Team-mate Joey Bar­ton nearly cried when Nolan left St James’

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