The ex-Sh­effield Wed­nes­day winger on his ca­reer highs and lows

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

IT’S now 12 years since Jon-Paul McGovern scored the goal that set Sh­effield Wed­nes­day on their way to a leg­endary 4-2 vic­tory over Hartle­pool at the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium.

And, while the days of play-off finals, ter­ror­is­ing Cham­pi­onship full-backs and pep talks from Paul Stur­rock are over, the 36-year-old Glaswe­gian is still plough­ing up and down that wing.

“In my head, I’m still 18,” says the former Swindon, MK Dons and Carlisle man, now the in­terim player-man­ager of Scot­tish part­timers Clyde.

“All the lit­tle games in train­ing, all the runs, I still want to be in­volved. That’ll never change, even when I can’t walk!”

Yet one thing McGovern has al­ways been able to do is talk, and here he re­calls how he was poached from his own back gar­den, the day he clat­tered a Brazil­ian leg­end and which un­sung full-back is his tough­est ever op­po­nent.


It all started at Hill­wood Boys Club in Glas­gow. I was ac­tu­ally playing foot­ball in the gar­den, just be­hind where they trained.

The man­ager had seen me do­ing my bits and bobs through the fence. He came round, knocked on the front door and said ‘Is there any chance we can get your son to come and play in a tour­na­ment for us?’ That was me off and run­ning.

We had a dif­fer­ent way of do­ing things in Scot­land. You were free to train with dif­fer­ent clubs up to the age of 16, then you signed an Sform with one club.

My options ba­si­cally boiled down to Aberdeen or Celtic. I wasn’t quite ready to leave Glas­gow, so that made the de­ci­sion.

In terms of ed­u­ca­tion, it was great. It took me a while to grow into my body and they were pa­tient in terms of al­low­ing me to de­velop at my own speed. But, in terms of get­ting ex­pe­ri­ence, go­ing on loan to Sh­effield United was vi­tal.

I went from playing Motherwell or Kil­marnock Un­der-21s to Portsmouth away in my first game, un­der Neil Warnock, along­side guys with mort­gages to pay. Liv­ing at my mum and dad’s to stay­ing in a ho­tel and fend­ing for your­self. It was a fair bap­tism.

At train­ing, peo­ple like Phil Jagielka and Michael Tonge were say­ing ‘So how many games have you played?’ I replied: ‘Well… I’ve been on the bench a cou­ple of times but I haven’t ac­tu­ally played at all for the first team’

“They’d all played 100, 150 games - and they were a year or two younger than me. At 22, I re­alised I’d stayed at Celtic too long and I was hav­ing to play catch-up. For me, the loan sys­tem is crit­i­cal for the de­vel­op­ment of young play­ers.


Grow­ing up, Kenny McDowall at Celtic was fan­tas­tic. If he hadn’t come in at Celtic and taught me the de­fen­sive side of the game, I gen­uinely don’t think I’d have made it as a pro­fes­sional.

He saw I was a bit naive. We hit if off, got on re­ally well and I credit him with giv­ing me the fit­ness and un­der­stand­ing to play the game.

In terms of ad­vanc­ing my ca­reer, prob­a­bly Paul Stur­rock at Wed­nes­day. I remember his first week. He told me and Chris Brunt ‘You two, you’re my wide men. I want you to go home, get some sleep and grow an­other lung. Be­cause you are go­ing to be up and down, up and down, all day long’.

That was my game, and he let me play to my strengths. He did that with ev­ery­one. He was a great man-man­ager who didn’t over-com­pli­cate things.


Big Lee Bullen was a fan­tas­tic cap­tain and a fan­tas­tic man. On the pitch and off it, you could only ad­mire him.

Glenn Whe­lan was a young player, just out of Man City.

But, even at that age, he had a bit of ev­ery­thing. He could smash some­one, take the ball, then hit a 50-yard di­ag­o­nal across the pitch.

Ken­wyne Jones was an­other. He came on loan from Southamp­ton and scored seven goals in seven games. Mind you, it was too cold for him.

He’d step out of the changing room on a morn­ing and say ‘Na, this weather’s no good for me’ and run straight back in. Steven MacLean knew my game re­ally well. My MK Dons team was good – Keith An­drews, Izale McLeod, big Clive Platt. I played with some re­ally good play­ers at that level and it’s hard to pick one.


Sh­effield Wed­nes­day, 2005. I’d only joined that sea­son, but I started ev­ery game, scored in the play-off semis, then the fi­nal. I couldn’t have been any more steeped in it.

I remember my mum com­ing to the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium and say­ing it was my Roy of the Rovers mo­ment.

She saw what it meant to all those fans.

Do I remember it? Only parts. Sit­ting in the show­ers af­ter­wards, hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with some of the older play­ers, Paul Heck­ing­bot­tom say­ing ‘Lis­ten, en­joy this, take it in, be­cause it might never hap­pen to you again’.

You try your best to take it in, but days like that are such a blur.


Big Guy Branston’s got to be up there. I remember see­ing him pick up Lee Bullen’s dad and phys­i­cally use him to open the door of a bar. Si­mon Ferry at Swindon is an­other. Con­stant ban­ter, lively in the dress­ing room, al­ways some­thing to say. He made it very easy to come into train­ing. Billy Paynter was the same. He was my roomie at Swindon and ev­ery­body there will have a few sto­ries about him.


I know it’s been said a few times, but noth­ing will ever beat Hecky’s sprint down the mo­tor­way with the play-off tro­phy in 2005. It’s one of those things that al­ways brings a smile to your face, a com­plete one off mo­ment. But I’ve got to men­tion Billy Paynter as well. We went to the races at Chel­tenham and he bet the boys he could jump the last fence.

We had a whip-round and off he went. He ac­tu­ally did pretty well, not just to jump the fence but to evade the stew­ards who were chas­ing him!


Pro­mo­tion with Wed­nes­day stands out. My son still lives in the city, and even now peo­ple stop me to say thank-you and tell me what a great day it was.

It’s quite em­bar­rass­ing some­times. You’ll be in a restau­rant

and a guy is there with his wife and kids, say­ing how you gave him the best day of his life. You’re think­ing ‘Thanks but what about th­ese guys?’ On a per­sonal note, last­ing so long in the game is some­thing I’m proud of. I started at 16 and I’m still go­ing at 36. It’s easy to for­get that thou­sands of play­ers don’t last that long.


Def­i­nitely los­ing to Mill­wall in the play-off fi­nal at Wem­b­ley with Swindon in 2009-10. I didn’t play well enough, or give enough for the team. I felt like I’d let ev­ery­one down.

It was a feel­ing of numb­ness, the com­plete op­po­site of be­ing at the Mil­len­nium. Even now, I can’t bring my­self to watch the footage. The strip is packed away. It was a very sore one.


Mill­wall is a hor­ri­ble place to go. I don’t mean the peo­ple – they do their bit for the team. They make it in­tense, they let you know how much they hate you.

That ranges from a boy of eight to an 80-year-old man. They’ll all give you their own ver­sion of a wave as the team bus goes by. You al­ways knew it would be hos­tile.


At Swindon, we played a pre­sea­son game against Galatasaray and they had Roberto Carlos at left-back. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence. I went down the line and thought ‘I’m go­ing in hard here’.

When we both stood up, he gave me a lit­tle wave of the fin­ger as if to say ‘No more of that’. A few min­utes later there was an­other 50-50 and I could hear him breath­ing be­hind me. I thought ‘Maybe I’ll let this one go’.

Jan Ver­tonghen was in­cred­i­ble. I played against Spurs for Carlisle and I couldn’t get near him. If I went tight, he knocked it round me. If I tried him for pace, he was too quick and strong.

But, in terms of some­one I played reg­u­larly, I’d say Dean Lew­ing­ton. He had that knack of al­ways be­ing there, mak­ing it tough to get across or be­yond him. He was also very good on the ball so you had to worry about him go­ing the other way.


Ob­vi­ous I know, but Hills­bor­ough. I’ve al­ways been well re­ceived and I’ve got a real affin­ity with the place. When­ever I go back, it feels like home.


Man­age­ment just came by chance. Long- term, I’d rather be an agent. I’ve been tal­ent-spot­ting for an agency called Shoot­ing Stars. I un­der­stand agents get a bad press, but, ul­ti­mately, it’s a short ca­reer. You need some­one look­ing out for you.

Best man­ager: Paul Stur­rock 2005 First pro­mo­tion: Sh­effield Wed­nes­day Best team-mate Lee Bullen

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

YOU BEAUTY: JonPaul McGovern celebrates af­ter scor­ing against Hartle­pool in the play-off fi­nal Tough­est place to go: The Den (Mill­wall)

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