I’M READY FOR MY CLOSE-UP

Pres­sures at Hibs are no prob­lem to Ross af­ter liv­ing life un­der the lens at Sun­der­land

Scottish Daily Mail - - Football - By JOHN McGARRY

WHEN Jack Ross agreed to take the reins at Sun­der­land in May of last year, the plan was to make the English gi­ants box of­fice again. It can safely be said that be­ing cast as the cen­tral char­ac­ter in a soon-to-be screened box set was never re­ally in his think­ing.

By the time the ink was dry on his con­tract at the Sta­dium of Light, though, the for­mer St Mir­ren man­ager knew that re­sis­tance would be fu­tile. Like it or not, at the be­hest of the club’s own­ers, pretty much his ev­ery wak­ing hour would be fair game for the pro­duc­ers of the sec­ond in­stal­ment of Sun­der­land Til I

Die — the sec­ond se­ries of which will be avail­able on Net­flix in the New Year.

Given that the sea­son ended about as grimly as your av­er­age Scandi-noir drama for the Wearside club, Ross can be for­given for not count­ing the min­utes un­til its re­lease.

But if he hasn’t ex­actly grown to love the whole idea, he has at least come to terms with it.

The fact re­mains that a sneak pre­view of what has yet to hit the na­tion’s tablets did not ne­ces­si­tate him tak­ing refuge be­hind the sofa and watch­ing through the cracks in his fin­gers.

In ev­ery sense, the now Hiber­nian head coach has lived to tell the story.

‘I’ve man­aged to see some of the episodes of the next se­ries,’ Ross ex­plained. ‘When you make these doc­u­men­taries, there is prob­a­bly a nar­ra­tive be­fore it is even pro­duced.

‘It’s very well done. Just like the first se­ries, it’s very well pro­duced. It’s prob­a­bly less en­joy­able when you are in it than when you are just watch­ing.

‘That’s a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence — that of hav­ing a cam­era crew om­nipresent and ev­ery­thing that goes with that. That’s done now and I’ve prob­a­bly be­come less para­noid about that. If peo­ple judge me from how I ap­pear on a TV pro­gramme rather than how I am first-hand, then so be it.

‘I’m sure ev­ery­one would be the same. A lot of peo­ple don’t like watch­ing them­selves back or lis­ten­ing to them­selves. Well, if you ex­tend that fur­ther and be part of some­thing which is edited and put to­gether, you can be un­sure about what the sto­ry­line will be and how you will come across.

‘You can watch it and pick out lit­tle things, say­ing: “Am I happy with that?”. But, truth be told, you make peace with it. I’m sure peo­ple will en­joy watch­ing it but it’s not some­thing I’d love to be part of again. It didn’t give me a thirst for re­al­ity tele­vi­sion, that’s for sure!’

Sens­ing their new man­ager’s reser­va­tions about the project last sum­mer, the Sun­der­land board sought to al­lay his fears by show­ing him a clip from the first se­ries. It’s fair to say their sales pitch left some­thing to be de­sired.

‘When I first took the job, it wasn’t a cer­tainty that there would be a sec­ond se­ries,’ Ross re­called.

‘I said: “No”, the board said: “Yes”. So the board won. To try to con­vince me to help them with it, they showed me lit­tle bits of the first se­ries.

‘And, for some rea­son, they de­cided to show me the clip where Chris (Cole­man) comes out of the sta­dium af­ter be­ing rel­e­gated (and be­ing con­fronted by an irate fan). I’ve no idea why they showed me that. The prob­lem is: I had started the job al­ready. If they had showed me that be­fore I got it, I don’t know if I would have taken it.’

Re­al­is­ing he would be wast­ing his breath protesting against the film­ing in gen­eral, the Scot sought to at least draw some bound­aries.

‘There was a con­tin­ual de­sire for dress­ing-room ac­cess or tac­ti­cal meet­ing ac­cess,’ he ex­plained.

‘That’s why I was al­ways firm in my stance that they wouldn’t get it. Not be­cause I thought I would change, but the per­cep­tion from the play­ers might. The mes­sage gets di­luted. If there’s a cam­era crew present then maybe the play­ers won­der if you be­lieve what you are say­ing or whether it’s for ef­fect.

‘I was very con­sis­tent in the ac­cess I al­lowed, and keep­ing the nuts and bolts of my work pri­vate.’

Doubt­less, the se­ries will not be with­out its mo­ments but Ross’ time on Wearside was no un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter.

If the bot­tom line is that he failed to get the club pro­moted back to the Cham­pi­onship, he did reach the play-off fi­nal with a win record that most Sun­der­land man­agers in the past 15 years could not match.

De­spite the way things ended, he feels that ev­ery­thing he en­coun­tered there — whether cap­tured by cam­eras or not — was grist to his mill.

‘Deal­ing with the chal­lenges and tak­ing on the re­spon­si­bil­ity ev­ery sin­gle day means I have had to evolve and de­velop in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways as well,’ he added. ‘I feel I am better equipped to come into a job like this be­cause this is a very big job, as well.

‘The ex­pe­ri­ences of the last 17 months or so will help me cope with the chal­lenges here.’

It’s easy, in­deed al­most ex­pected, that any man­ager at­tempts to look at a sit­u­a­tion which ended against their will with their glass half-full. In Ross’s case, you are in­clined to be­lieve him.

‘Just the in­ten­sity of the foot­ball in that part of the world,’ he re­flected. ‘The two clubs in the north east, New­cas­tle and Sun­der­land, are big, big clubs with huge fan­bases.

‘We played Box­ing Day and there were 46,000 at the game.

‘The two Wem­b­ley games, the first, in par­tic­u­lar — the Check­a­trade fi­nal — there were 86,000 there, 40-odd thou­sand from each club.

‘It was re­lent­less and in­tense. We had 61 games last sea­son and trav­elled a lot, so that in­tense na­ture of it was sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent from what I was used to be­fore.

‘But it’s im­pos­si­ble not to en­joy lead­ing teams out at Wem­b­ley or be­ing in charge of a team that’s get­ting 30,000 fans ev­ery other week.

‘There were ups and downs, highs and lows, but tak­ing the op­por­tu­nity to be Sun­der­land man­ager is some­thing I will never re­gret. It was a ter­rific all-round ex­pe­ri­ence.’

The high ex­pec­ta­tion at Hiber­nian com­bined with the big city feel gives his new post a hand-in-glove fit. Hav­ing seen the club lift the Scot­tish Cup in re­cent times and com­pete in Europe, Ross is com­fort­able with the de­mands that ex­ist.

‘Any club that en­joys suc­cesses has a thirst and a hunger for more of it and more of it quickly,’ said the 43-year-old. ‘But I don’t think those ex­pec­ta­tions are un­re­al­is­tic.

‘For me, they should al­ways be chal­leng­ing for top four. They should al­ways be chal­leng­ing for Euro­pean qual­i­fi­ca­tion. They should al­ways be chal­leng­ing for do­mes­tic suc­cess in terms of tro­phies in cup com­pe­ti­tions.

‘The chal­lenge is to do it con­sis­tently, ev­ery sin­gle sea­son.’

For now, though, ex­pec­ta­tions are more mod­est. Hav­ing stag­gered from one poor dis­play to the next un­der Paul Heck­ing­bot­tom, the task is to take a cou­ple of pur­pose­ful strides in the right di­rec­tion.

‘There is very much a tra­di­tion of play­ing the game in the right way here,’ said Ross. ‘That’s ul­ti­mately what we want to get to­wards, but, to get out of the po­si­tion we are in at the mo­ment, we need to win games reg­u­larly.’

Eyes fixed for­ward: Ross is keen to move on with his coach­ing ca­reer af­ter the end of his time at Sun­der­land

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