Friday, 17 August 2012

Interview with Steve Thompson - Part 2 (Taking the Reins)

As we left Part 1 (which you can read here), Steve had moved to Lincoln City in the Summer of 1989 and he went on to play for them in the 1989-90 season.
Steve was still registered as a player at the start of the following season though but, when Allan Clarke was dismissed as manager, he became the Board's choice as his successor and immediately lifted the Club off the bottom of the table to a respectable mid-table finish.

He went on to manage the Imps for 114 League games, registering 46 wins and 31 draws, and left before the final match of the 1992/93 season with the Board announcing that his contract wouldn't be renewed with the Club missing out on the play-offs. Steve was still registered as a player at the start of the following season though but, when Allan Clarke was dismissed as manager (November 1990), he became the Board's choice as his successor and immediately lifted the Club off the bottom of the table to a respectable mid-table finish; losing only three of the last 18 games that season and avoiding a second relegation to the Conference.
You learn from your mistakes early in your managerial career. You get carried away with wins and carried away with your own importance and as you get you older you recognise the mistakes you made.
He went on to manage the Imps for 114 League games, registering 46 wins and 31 draws, and left before the final match of the 1992/93 season with the Lincoln board announcing that his contract wouldn't be renewed with the club missing out on the play-offs. A spell on Kevin Keegan's coaching staff at Newcastle United followed and then three months as assistant manager at Doncaster Rovers. From there he became Director of Football at Southend United, taking over as manager when Peter Taylor left with the club deep in relegation trouble.
Steve led them to 13th place at the end of the season and then left to join Colin Murphy as assistant manager at Notts County in June 1995. County made the play-offs in their first season in charge, but struggled badly the following year in a season that would see the Magpies relegated to Division Three. Both Murphy and Thompson were sacked before the season finished.
We lost in the play-offs 2-0 to Bradford City, who Kammy was managing at the time, and the following season, well you often start with a headache after the pain of play-off defeat. You have to try and lift the players and it is tough. A few defeats and you get a backlash from the fans. We lost three games at home and it was already "Murphy out".

Steve then joined Nigel Spackman's coaching staff at Sheffield United and following Spackman's resignation in March 1998 he was made caretaker manager. Manager of the club he had both supported and played for.
When we were on the cup run that season, Garth Crooks came to interview me for the BBC. I used to room with Garth on occasions whilst at Charlton and he said; “Tommo you used to bore me silly with all my Sheffield United talk and you must keep pinching yourself to find you’re in the job you are in.” He was not wrong.
I got so much pleasure and enormous gratification from managing the club, albeit for just 16 games. On an afternoon I would often just go for a walk around the pitch and then sit in the stand and think; “Flippin’ heck, I never thought this would happen in my lifetime”.
As a lad I used to get the 71 bus up Prince of Wales Road, down over Norfolk Park, getting off at Silver Blades ice rink and leg it through the backstreets to the Lane. That was my Tuesday night and Saturday afternoon when United were at home. Then I’d do the same routine in reverse at full time. And here I was, managing that same club.
I have had lengthy spells at Lincoln and I watch them now with my job, but Sheffield United has always been my club. You hear from managers who tell us that they supported the club they manage and that they stood on the terraces as a kid. I am not sure they all have, but I know I was there.
A dream job for Steve, but his job was made more difficult than it ought to have been thanks to the turbulent relationship between board and fans and also the circumstances around Nigel Spackman's departure.
It was a very difficult time. I remember getting a call on the Tuesday morning of the game at Ipswich to say that Nigel had resigned and I was going to have to take charge. There was only Fred Eyre (Chief Scout) and Russell Slade left. We lost 1-0; I think it was a deflected goal in off Shaun Derry.
I had been very friendly with Willie Donachie who had been Nigel's assistant prior to leaving earlier in the season for Manchester City. I spoke to him when the job came up and he said that it was a great chance and I should take it. Some people thought I had stabbed Nigel in the back when I took the job, but that was far from the case, he left of his own accord. I remember being there when Mike McDonald and Kevin McCabe tried to persuade Nigel to come back and see it out to the end of the season, but Nigel felt he'd been let down badly.
I brought Jim Barron in to assist me and Russell was brilliant. He had little experience of first team coaching at the time; he had been working with the youngsters, but really helped. I wasn’t totally inexperienced at that level; I’d taken charge of Southend so it wasn’t totally alien to me. The experienced players deserve credit; David Holdsworth, Nicky Marker, Alan Kelly, Simon Tracey and others helped keep it going to the end of the season.
United had spent big in the preceding years under Howard Kendall and Nigel Spackman, but belts were being tightened and the expensive, big name players were being sold. The sale of Jan Aage Fjortoft and Brian Deane on the same day had led to Spackman's departure. With a promotion push starting to drift, Steve was only given limited funds to work with.
Yes, I managed to bring in Chris Wilder for a second spell and brought in Paul Devlin and Ian Hamilton. I also gave Curtis Woodhouse and Lee Morris their debuts which was great.
A big blow that season was losing Dane Whitehouse to the injury that ended his career. I still see Gareth Ainsworth around Lincoln where he is still revered (Ainsworth's horror tackle, whilst playing for Port Vale, caused Whitehouse's injury) and I tell him I can't forgive him for that. I was sat in the dug-out and it was a bad, bad tackle.
Dane, along with Mitch Ward were coming through at United when I was there as a player and you could see then Dane had what was required to be a great player.
Probably the highlight of Steve's time as manager was the penalty shootout victory over Coventry City in a FA Cup Quarter Final replay.
We had gone to Coventry on the Saturday and nobody gave us a prayer. They were in a division above and obviously we were going through a tough time, but Marcelo got us an equaliser.
That Tuesday night, the replay at Bramall Lane, if I could relive that in my dreams a million times it wouldn’t be enough. David Holdsworth hooking in an overhead kick to equalise in the last minute, nobody would put money on that! Then Katchouro missed his penalty...
It was a terrible penalty from Katchouro. What sticks in my mind as well as Alan Kelly’s save, was the fact that the penalty takers were not always those you would have expected; Wayne Quinn, United’s left back scored the winning penalty that night.
I remember a fella that night jumping on my back saying “Tommo, Tommo”, he was a big guy with a beard and a bald head. “Tommo, Tommo, do you remember me?” I said “Nah”; I thought he was going to break my back! Anyway, he says “I went to Junior School with you!” I said, “Ah right, you didn’t have a beard and bald head then.” To which he says; “Have you got any tickets for the semi?”
Quinny was a great lad. I remember when Newcastle came in for Wayne and god bless him he didn’t know whether to stick or twist. He didn’t want to leave United. I said to him, I know you love United, but Newcastle is a massive club and off he went. He never really fulfilled his potential there, which was surprising.
United went on to face Newcastle in the semi-final at Old Trafford and to a lot of Blades fans the match felt like an opportunity missed. That if United had taken the game to them more there might have been a different result. In the end United lost 1-0.
To lead them out at Old Trafford was amazing and I still maintain to this day that we were unlucky not to get a result. Wayne Quinn had a one on one and Petr Katchouro missed a great chance, I know they had a few chances but really we were done by Alan Shearer. The header came from Shearer who leaned on Lee Sandford and got the header in at the far post, it was something he got away with for years.
Steve stabilised the team and saw United through into the play offs in 6th; although it was very tight with United edging out Birmingham on goal difference.
We had lost away at Stockport and had to wait for other scores to come in to be sure we got in the play offs.
They then faced Sunderland in the play-offs and a 2-1 win at Bramall Lane perfectly set up the second leg in front of a 40,000 crowd at the Stadium of Light.
I played against Niall Quinn (then Sunderland striker) when I was at Charlton. I think we played them four times in one season and he got three hat tricks! He was having a fitness test before the first leg at Bramall Lane and I said; “Big man, are you playing?” Quinn said “No, he’s saving me for Tuesday night; I’ll probably score the winner then.” He didn’t, but he was back in the team and a thorn in our side.
When we went up to the Stadium of Light, Peter Reid greeted me on arrival and said he had just been to the referee’s room and we had no chance as the ref was “shitting himself”. He was right, that night the referee (Mick Pierce) just couldn’t handle the game or the pressure and the noise and atmosphere that night was unbelievable. A deflected goal off Nicky Marker and a Kevin Phillips goal and Sunderland were in the final. Given the changes at the club and the limited money I had to spend, I was proud of the lads for getting there.
Having guided the Blades to the play-offs and the semi-finals of the FA Cup, it would have been fair to assume that Steve had a fair chance of getting the job full-time, but that was not to be the case.
Mike McDonald was saying you can apply for the job, so I did and got an interview and went through the process, but I wish they had said straight up what the situation was. Maybe I should have read the script. It was a fake interview. The club was a plc. the share price had dipped from the issue price  and the board wanted a big name to get the price back up. That man was Steve Bruce and it was obvious he would want to bring in his own people; Lou Macari, John Deehan and it was obvious that I wasn’t going to fit in.
There was a time earlier that season when Hull wanted me, although I think Stephen Hinchcliffe was the chairman so it might not have worked out well, with what I had done at United I might have found a club that summer, but stayed on. I should have perhaps realised that he would have wanted his own people.

In Part 3 tomorrow we look at Steve's spell as manager at Notts County, his radio punditry and he offers a few thoughts on Lincoln and Sheffield United's prospects for the new season.

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