STEVE Evans has grown up as a football manager but admits his behaviour may still cross the line.
The Glaswegian is one of the most controversial characters in lower league football and his arrival at Rotherham United is sure to liven things up at the New York Stadium next season.
But whatever mistakes he may have made in the past, Evans is now viewed as the ‘man of the moment’ by Millers chairman Tony Stewart.
By steering Crawley Town to the brink of a second consecutive promotion, the 49-year-old captured Stewart’s attention and opened the door to this new chapter in his career.
His colourful past includes a conviction for tax evasion, a 20-month ban from the game following an investigation into Boston United’s financial affairs, and a string of touchline bust-ups with officials.
Only yesterday, the Football Association hit Crawley with a fine of £18,000 as a result of a post-match brawl between players at Bradford City last month.
Yet for all his critics, Evans still boasts an illustrious list of friends and admirers. Leeds United’s Neil Warnock is among them along with arguably the greatest manager in British football, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Speaking to journalists after his official unveiling yesterday, Evans hailed both men as inspirations. He also asked Millers supporters to reserve judgment on his suitability – aware of doubters whose perceptions may have been clouded.
“The chairman was the first to say ‘You have made a mistake in the past and paid a heavy price’. Which I did,” he reflected. “But that’s nearly a decade ago now.
“I think if you make a mistake in life, like I tell my kids, you have to put your hand up and apologise. How many times can you hit them with the same stick?
“I have been hit with a stick and I took it on the chin. The chairman addressed it as quickly as that and we moved on.
“There were doubters when Jose Mourinho went in at Real Madrid,” he observed. “But not many people are doubting him now.
“There will always be doubters with any manager and there will be some who question why the chairman has appointed me in preference to some outstanding candidates. But the reality and the facts are they don’t have the track record for winning matches that myself and (my assistant) Paul Raynor have. To those fans, I just say ‘give us a chance’.”
Evans, whose playing career ended prematurely at the age of 28 due to injury, started his managerial career in Lincolnshire with non-league Stamford.
After winning promotion to the Southern Football League, he moved to Boston United and won promotion to the Football League. He moved to Crawley five years ago and, backed by some of the biggest investment in lower league football, achieved yet more success.
His disciplinary record has also improved but he remains mindful of a need to keep control.
“The last two years have been exceptional in terms of not giving any money to the FA. That’s good,” he said. “Things had to change in the last two-and-a-half years and they have changed – but we still go ahead and kick every ball, we are still passionate and appeal for every decision, and we are still vocal to our players.
“When Bruce Winfield took over at Crawley, he said he would clear £1.4m of debt and made it absolutely clear that he wanted me to sign a longer contract. He loved my passion and commitment and wanted me to go to the line.
“Occasionally, as a manager, you will still go over the line – but it needs to be occasionally. You ask your players to go to the line but if you go over the line you deserve what comes and you take your punishment. Like I have.
“The last two years have been good but that has to continue. It’s on-going. You need to work on your controls all the time.”
Evans is unashamedly proud of his passion and, make no mistake, it was one of the reasons why he appeals so much to the Millers.
“That’s how I am,” he shrugged. “But go and watch some of the best managers, take the crowd away, and you will be amazed how vocal they are. Neil Warnock is a good personal friend of mine. Take the Leeds United following away and you would hear that Neil is louder than me.
“Neil is not only a friend but an outstanding manager. You see and hear the type of passion he has. People display passion in different ways. Some can be more controlled – we are just very vocal with our passion.”
Evans may not have consulted Warnock before taking the Millers job but the pair are now likely to continue a friendship that gathered momentum in the south.
“I first met Neil when he was manager of Notts County,” he recalled “I went to watch a little team called Runds near Peterborough and there were only 25 people there including Neil Warnock. I introduced myself and we have met at games since. The rest is history.
“Sometimes, when Neil talks to me, I need to phone up a psychologist to know what he means. But he’s won seven promotions. That is somebody to listen to.
“He’s told me many times recently that sometimes – when you get a ‘big’ job – it is not with a club that is at a ‘big’ level. This is that type of job – I think.
“I can also remember what Alex Ferguson told me after we (Crawley) played Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. ‘If you are ever going to move, Steve, pick your next club by your chairman because he will back you or he won’t’. And he’s right.
“I am very honoured and privileged that this chairman wanted to chat with me. He is willing to invest and have a right proper go at promotion. That is fantastic.”