GOOD, BAD & UGLY
Ex-Shrewsbury midfielder Paul Evans tells us about his career
MIDFIELDER Paul Evans played for a host of Football League clubs in a 16year professional career and was known for his rocket shot, even scoring from the halfway line for Brentford.
Now working as first-team masseur at Leeds United, he tells us about his early days with Shrewsbury Town, why Bury’s Darren Bullock was his toughest opponent and how representing Wales was the pinnacle…
Shrewsbury Town. I was playing in a schools tournament and got scouted there, but then they forgot about me. Later, I was playing for my local team, Oswestry Boys Club, and we were invited to Shrewsbury Town because we’d had the result of the weekend.
The manager, Ian McNeill, said ‘Why aren’t you here?’. I joined on schoolboy forms when I was 13 or 14 and then became an apprentice. I made my debut a couple of months after my 17th birthday.
It was against Stockport County and that big unit, Kevin Francis, was playing for them. Thankfully, I came on with 15 minutes to go when we were already 4-1 up.
I’d have to say Ray Lewington and then Steve Coppell when I was at Brentford.
I liked the way they talked with the players, the way they tried to pass things on. They were the same with every player.
They were very knowledgeable and I really enjoyed playing for them.
It was a massive standard of coaching. I had never really been coached before. I would get a DVD and watch Premier League players like David Batty.
I also had a short spell at Swindon with Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet. They knew their stuff.
Gavin Mahon. We roomed together at Brentford and he taught me how to iron! Gavin was very under-rated by people outside the club, but not inside.
All the players knew how good he was and he had a great career, captaining Watford into the Premier League. I should also mention Paul Gerrard at Nottingham Forest. We signed on the same day and hit it off. He was at a different level to most in how professional he was.
He hated getting beaten in shooting practice. He would give the forwards stick and they would give it back. A genuine guy.
It was from Division Three with Shrewsbury in 1993-94. It was my first year as a professional and the season started brilliantly. I played 14 15 games early on and then we played Blackburn Rovers away and I got dropped.
I just didn’t get back in after that. It was gutting not being involved, but we won the league and I did get a medal. I’d played my games at the start.
Later, I won promotions with Brentford (Division Three champions in 1998-99) and Swindon (League Two in 2006-07), so I’ve got some good memories.
Kyle Nix at Bradford. He was chopping gear up and doing all sorts. He would put deep heat on your boxers. When people cottoned on, he’d put it on your tracksuit bottoms or jeans instead.
He caught me out once. I was on fire!
Alan Rogers was a loose cannon at Nottingham Forest. No-one was safe.
It was probably funnier for everyone else, rather than for me. It was away to Preston and Dickson Etuhu was playing for them. We had been going at it all game. Then he dropped down on his knees and started talking to me. He was still taller than me. That was a nightmare!
It would have to be playing for my country, Wales – that was unbelievable. I was at Brentford at the time and a month or so before they were trying to sell me to Bristol City. One day, Steve Coppell said ‘congratulations’, but I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere’. Then he said, ‘No, you’ve been called up for the full Wales squad’. I got my boots and went to Cardiff as quickly as I could. Mark Hughes (manager) and Eddie Niedzwiecki (coach) said, ‘We didn’t expect you until tomorrow’. I said ‘I wanted to get here before you changed your mind!’.
I made my debut in a 0-0 draw against the Czech Republic and played in one more friendly. I was in the squad for about six months. It was amazing.
I’ve had a few! A few years after winning the league at Shrewsbury we got relegated (1996-97). Getting relegated to League One with Nottingham Forest (2004-05) was also hard to take.
At Brentford, losing the play-off final to Stoke (Division Two, 2002) was very sad.
No one gave us a prayer that season, but Steve Coppell moulded a very good team, largely from a bunch of free transfers and loan players.
We just missed out on promotion on the last day of the season against Reading and then lost the play-off final.
A lot of players were out of contract, so the team broke up after that…
TOUGHEST PLACE TO GO
I never enjoyed playing at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium or Chesterfield’s old ground, Saltergate. In the reserves at Shrewsbury, we seemed to play them five or six times a season.
Walsall was a new ground and Saltergate was falling apart, but I just never enjoyed playing either of them.
Bury’s Darren Bullock. I remember them kicking off and, within about ten seconds, he’d taken everything out of me.
Brentford manager Ray Lewington and coach Terry Bullivant were laughing. They knew he would do me, but they didn’t think it would be that quick!
As a Shrewsbury player, I also had to man-mark Steve McMahon when he was player-manager at Swindon Town.
At half-time he said, ‘You might as well come in our dressing room, you’ve followed me all game’.
We beat them 1-0, and that was the season (1995-96) they won the Second Division title. Years later, he signed me on loan at Blackpool.
FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO
I loved playing at Forest’s City Ground.
Paul Gerrard and I signed when we were in the bottom three in 2003-04, but it was still selling out. We beat some good sides and stayed up. Seeing the European Cups there was pretty impressive, too. I also loved playing at Brentford’s Griffin Park.
My ambitions are to stay healthy and to see my daughter, Ava Darcie, who was two in February, grow up and be happy.
Best team-mate: Gavin Mahon ROCKET: Paul Evans was known for his fierce shot at Brentford Funniest player: Kyle Nix Toughest place to go: The Bescot
Toughest opponent: Darren Bullock Favourite ground: Forest’s City Ground