Brides­maid who fi­nally made it to the al­tar!

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Chris Dunlavy

KEVIN Nu­gent has spent a ca­reer slog­ging in the shad­ows. As a totemic cen­tre­for­ward, he was al­ways the brickie, never the ar­chi­tect.

As a coach at Swansea, Ley­ton Ori­ent and Charl­ton Ath­letic, he was the civil ser­vant, never the flam­boy­ant front bencher.

The kid who dreamed of star­ring for Spurs but ended up at Ley­ton Ori­ent. The care­taker who craved the top job, yet was for­ever over­looked.

From the day he scored on his Ori­ent de­but, in a freez­ing rain storm against Scar­bor­ough in 1987, to the last knock­ings at Swansea two decades later, fans fre­quently ques­tioned his worth and po­tency in front of goal.

Even at Ori­ent, the club he served for more than ten years, Nu­gent rarely re­ceived the ap­pre­ci­a­tion his piv­otal role in Rus­sell Slade’s coach­ing set-up mer­ited. Head­lines were rarely his.

Yet, if Nu­gent’s quiet dili­gence largely passed the pub­lic by, it was never missed by those who worked along­side him.

At Ori­ent – who’d spot­ted him play­ing Sun­day League at 13 – man­ager Frank Clark called the En­fielder “a ter­rific lad, with a ter­rific at­ti­tude”.

Later, af­ter 30 goals for the cash-strapped O’s earned a £200,000 switch to Peter Shilton’s Ply­mouth in 1992, cur­rent Rochdale boss Keith Hill saw first-hand the value of Nu­gent’s mus­cu­lar graft. “Kevin was brave enough to wear that No.9 shirt and, be­cause of that, peo­ple per­haps ex­pected a lot more goals,” said Hill, part of the side beaten by Burn­ley in the 1993-94 play-offs semis.

“But his real value was as a foil. When we had Ste­vie Cas­tle and Paul Dal­ton scor­ing 25 each, the ma­jor­ity of those goals were down to Nuge pro­vid­ing the ser­vice. He was very brave, very brainy, and he played that role ex­cep­tion­ally well.”

At Cardiff, then strug­gling in the Third Di­vi­sion, Nu­gent en­joyed per­haps his finest spell, earn­ing the club’s player of the year award, cap­taincy, a pro­mo­tion in 1999 and made a memorable im­pact on a teenage Rob Earn­shaw.

“Kevin was in the first team when I came through and he was great to me,” said the for­mer Wales in­ter­na­tional, now 35 and coach­ing in Canada.

Em­braced

“He was in his late 20s or early 30s by then and he was great at tak­ing the time to teach you the game. When I was on the pitch, he’d be telling me what to do or when to do it, when to make a run or when to hold back, what to look out for. And he wasn’t shy when it came to putting me firmly in my place.” Nu­gent em­braced se­nior­ity and would con­tinue to do so along the M4 at Swansea, play­ing in the fa­mous 4-2 vic­tory over Hull that averted rel­e­ga­tion to the Con­fer­ence – the leg­endary Great Es­cape of 2003 un­der Brian Flynn. “What Kev did could eas­ily go un­no­ticed,” re­called James Thomas, the lo­cal striker whose hat-trick that day saved Swansea skins. “But not by me. He was the type of player any cen­tre for­ward en­joys play­ing along­side. He would get stuck in, hold the ball up well and you could make the runs off him.

“Though his legs had gone when he came to us, he made up for it in other de­part­ments. He was a cool head, a great tar­get man, and I think in the sit­u­a­tion we were in it was key to have a man like that up top, to keep the ball tick­ing over like he did.”

For his part, Flynn greatly val­ued not just Nu­gent’s abil­ity to han­dle the “rough and tumble” of lower league foot­ball but his calm­ing in­flu­ence on younger play­ers.

So, ul­ti­mately, did his suc­ces­sor Kenny Jack­ett, who, hav­ing ini­tially re­leased Nu­gent in 2004, re-signed him as player-as­sis­tant just a month later.

“I want to learn the trade,” he said of his new life in coach­ing. “I’m start­ing from the bot­tom and I’m sure I’m go­ing to make a few mis­takes along the way. But I’ll work very hard.”

And he did, first at Swansea, then back at Ori­ent un­der Martin Ling, Geraint Wil­liams and – most in­flu­en­tially – Rus­sell Slade. In 2014, the duo took Ori­ent to within 90 min­utes of the Cham­pi­onship.

Im­pos­ing

“He was ex­cel­lent for me,” re­calls Alex Rev­ell, the striker who spent two years at Bris­bane Road be­fore leav­ing to join Rother­ham in 2011.

“You can al­ways tell how good a ses­sion is from the re­ac­tion of the lads and, when­ever Kev put some­thing on, it was great. You could see peo­ple think­ing and en­joy­ing them­selves.

“To look at, he’s this big im­pos­ing char­ac­ter. As a player he was a pretty tough guy. But he never tried to in­tim­i­date any­one. It was all about en­cour­age­ment and pos­i­tiv­ity.

“He never made a big thing out of mis­takes. He just wanted to im­prove peo­ple, which is ex­actly how a coach should be. He wants foot­ball to be fun.

“He im­proved me no end, prob­a­bly be­cause he’d been the kind of striker I am. And it says ev­ery­thing about him that when­ever he sees me, he still wants to chat and find out if he can of­fer any lit­tle bits and pieces to help me.”

Since 2007, Nu­gent has had FIVE care­taker spells – one at Swansea, three with Ori­ent and most re­cently at Charl­ton – with­out mak­ing the step up. Now he has been handed that chance at Bar­net.

“I keep in touch with Kev,” said Hill. “And I know he’s en­joyed step­ping into the breach. He’s done the ap­pren­tice­ship, he’s worked with some good man­agers. He’s more than well-versed in what it takes to man­age and now he’s at a very good club. I’m pleased for him. It’s over­due.”

GRAFTER: Nu­gent play­ing for Cardiff in 1998

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