Sharp left for Sheffield United in the summer, and we managed to get hold of Martin Paterson from Stoke City. Paterson never stopped running – and in the season we had him I actually changed the dugouts round because of him. The linesman on our side of the pitch used to stand in front of the opposition dugout, and Paterson would get called for a lot of offsides when he actually wasn’t. So I switched them so the linesman was now stood in front of us – making it harder for the opposition dugout to have an influence.
We had some good results that season – we beat Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United – but we were operating on a League Two budget in the Championship and in the end we were relegated on 46 points. That would have kept us up in a number of Championship seasons, but that year it didn’t. With any relegated side, questions would be asked of the manager. I’d been at Scunny for 10 years, though, and the chairman told me I wasn’t going anywhere.
It was my club, if you like. I had a key to every room in the building, used to open the gates in the morning and lock them again at night.
For the first week of pre-season training, I took the lads to Champneys Springs in Leicestershire and mapped out what we were going to do back in League One. We had sold Martin Paterson and brought in goalscoring machine Gary Hooper.
“The aim for the season is to get to Wembley and get promoted back to the Championship.”
“We were structured, we were organised, we had great attention to detail, but most of all we were a team”
We reached Wembley, but there we lost to Luton Town, after extra time, in the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. We had a young team and the players were deflated, flat out on the Wembley turf, having given everything they had and lost. I picked the lads off the floor, gathered the team together and we had a huddle on the pitch.
“Feel the pain, feel the hurt of losing a final at Wembley. It’s an emotion we don’t want to feel again.” I made the huddle of young players and staff squeeze each other tight. “We are coming back here in six weeks’ time for the playoff final. Remember this moment, remember the tears, and we make sure we don’t feel this way again.”
We had a planned evening in the team hotel in London that night – players, wives, girlfriends, families all together to celebrate the occasion of us getting to a Wembley cup final. We had an unbelievable team spirit that had taken us a long way, and we were determined to come back again and win.
Last game of the league season, we play Tranmere Rovers at home. If they win, they knock us out of the playoff places. At 1-0 down with two minutes to go, we get a free-kick. Cliff Byrne rises at the far post to head home. We’re in the playoffs.
In the semi finals, we play MK Dons. Roberto Di Matteo is in charge of a good side playing fluent football. Two close games. Having drawn 1-1 at Glanford Park, we change the formation round in the second leg at their place. It goes to penalties, and we win 7-6.
When we came in at half-time 2-1 down to Millwall in the playoff final, having conceded one to a wonder goal, the players looked crestfallen. Before we went out for the second half, I cleared a space in the dressing room and got the players to form another huddle.
“Remember the pain of six weeks ago. We ain’t feeling that again, fellas. Squeeze tight, feel the squeeze, feel your teammate right with you, going to give everything for the team. You’re good players, you’re a good team. Now let’s go and win.”
We went on to win the game (below), and this time the feeling was different. This time, the feeling was phenomenal.
Our goal had been to get back up to the Championship, and we had done it. The players knew exactly what they were doing; we were structured, we were organised, we had great attention to detail, but most of all we were a team. Together Everybody Achieves More.