Fixtures between Rotherham and Bradford are haunted by an incident involving the rival managers 18 months ago, ugly scenes the two protagonists hope to forget. Nick Westby reports.
Steve Evans insists he has a “good professional relationship” with Phil Parkinson and that the two managers respect each other.
The comments from the Rotherham United manager come on the eve of the third meeting between the two men since the ugly scenes that marred the end of a League Two game at Valley Parade on March 27, 2012.
Evans, who was in charge of Crawley Town at the time, was found to have used abusive and insulting words and behaviour with a reference to gender following a brawl at the end of the game which resulted in five players being sent off and a sixth dismissed retrospectively.
It is an incident that will forever dominate the agenda whenever Evans and Parkinson cross swords, no matter how both men attempt to put it behind them.
Since Evans took over at Rotherham just a few weeks later, the after-effects of that Spring night have intensified the Rotherham and Bradford rivalry.
That they have matched each other blow for blow since then, with both winning promotion from League Two last season and starting their third-tier campaigns brightly, has merely fanned the flames.
But yesterday as he set the scene on an FA Cup first-round tie he believes to be the pick of the draw, Evans spoke highly of his opposite number.
“I have never had an issue with Phil,” said Evans. “I have a good professional relationship with Phil Parkinson, always have had.
“When I was at Crawley, before they were taken over and had a chance of success, Phil was one of the managers when he was at Charlton who I was on the phone with begging to bring his team down for a pre-season game. A healthy gate would mean an awful lot for us and he brought Charlton on a couple of occasions.
“He knows I’ll always be grateful to him for doing that.”
Evans says the two men chatted at length at a recent awards dinner, but being the cheeky Scot that he is, he couldn’t resist yesterday turning that admission into a subtle dig.
“We had a long chat and Phil was openly speaking about what a good season they’re having and how they’re enjoying playing. And so he should be, because I’ve seen them play,” said Evans.
“But they’re just two points in front of us and we’re frustrated at how things are for us.”
For the record, Rotherham’s early-season momentum has been checked and they haven’t won for five games. That analysis also applies to Bradford, who have also not won for five games after coming out of the starting gate like a bullet from a gun.
Yet despite the recent levelling out of expectations at both clubs, Evans believes it will be a contest to savour in front of a packed house at the New York Stadium.
“It’s the tie of the round,” he said. “Why the television cameras aren’t here is a mystery.
“But we do understand that in the early rounds the non-league clubs get the chance and having been in that position myself, I know how invaluable the rewards are that come with it.
“But here we have a Yorkshire derby, two clubs doing well in League One, two clubs on the back of a promotion last season.
“It’s two special sets of supporters and two very, very good squads. If I was the manager of Bradford, or Phil walked into the Millers tomorrow, I don’t think many managers would walk into here and not be happy with what they’ve got.
“Bradford have been in the Premier League, Rotherham have been in the Championship. Both clubs would grace the Championship but you have to earn that right.
“Both chairman have a fantastic relationship.
“Both managers respect each other and both sets of players respect each other.
“We won’t like each other when it comes to the match, but we’ll respect each other the rest of the time. It will be a fantastic tie.”
The Crawley brawl aside, Evans has only good memories of pitting his wits against Bradford.
He has won four successive contests, including the two last season when the Millers won 4-0 at home and 2-0 away, a victory that proved a catalyst for their surge to promotion.
“We beat them 4-0 here last year but it could have easily been 3-3 at half-time because they had a couple of chances and so did we,” said Evans, whose side were denied a win last Saturday when Colchester equalised in the 95th minute with a goal that barely crossed the line.
“Bradford’s chances didn’t go in that day, ours did, and we got a deflected goal.
“It is fine margins, as it was that day, and as we learnt on Saturday. It can be half an inch between victory and a draw.
“We’re still playing fantastically well. We’ve won games in the last year playing average to poor.
“We’ve only had two spells where I’ve not been happy; I wasn’t happy at Swindon in the second half, and I wasn’t happy with the first half at Leyton Orient.
“So that’s just 90 minutes of action where I’ve not been happy. You have to believe it will turn, but there are no concerns unless it continues.”
Echoing Evans’s words, Parkinson was also in concillatory mood yesterday as he prepares to take his Bradford side to South Yorkshire.
The City manager said: “We have had a very similar 12 months, with both clubs winning promotion last season and then having a decent start this time around.
“I am sure Rotherham are looking forward to this tie as much as we are. It is a good tie and one that I am sure both sets of supporters are excited about.”
Asked about his Millers counterpart, Parkinson added: “I would not say we are best mates or anything like that.
“But we had a good chat at a dinner recently. We both appreciate what football is like and come 3pm on Saturday we will both be desperate to win.
“Rotherham will want to win this, just like we are.
“That is what you want, as it means we should be in for a good tussle.”