SHEFFIELD Wednesday manager Gary Megson has revealed that he once rejected an opportunity to become manager of arch-rivals Sheffield United.
Megson knew that he would never be accepted by Blades supporters and also felt it would have been a betrayal of his love for the Owls.
Tomorrow, over a decade after being offered the job, he leads the Owls into the heat of a Steel City derby against the Blades at Bramall Lane.
Ironically, Danny Wilson – another former Wednesday player and manager – is now in charge of the Blades.
His appointment last summer sparked protests in the club’s car park but a promising start to the season has helped silence the doubters.
The Blades had been seeking a replacement for Adrian Heath when former Wednesday player Megson was interviewed by then chairmen Derek Dooley and Bernard Procter in November 1999.
He was unemployed after an ill-fated spell at Stoke City but his managerial stock was still high after narrowly missing out on the First Division play-offs with unfashionable Stockport County.
Recalling events, Megson said: “I was rang up by Derek Dooley one afternoon saying ‘Do you want to come down and talk about this job?’ So I says ‘When?’ and they said ‘Now’.
“I had to go down in Stoke’s club car because I had only just left and I was looking for a place to park down at the Lane where no one would see me going in. It was then that I just thought to myself ‘This won’t work’.
“My interview was with Derek and Bernard Proctor started along the lines of Bernard saying, ‘I’ve seen you play for that lot over the road – but I’ve never seen you play on our ground.’
“He liked what we did at Stockport but wasn’t ‘so keen’ on the style of football. So my interview was a bit inauspicious initially. I wasn’t prepared for it and I just went and talked.
“But they did ask me if I would sign this contract,” he said. “They put it in front of me and I said ‘No’. It just didn’t feel right for me.
“The reality of going down to the Lane and meeting Bernard and Derek, it hit home that there was no way I could take that job. It’s a great job but I don’t think it would have worked for me because I am viewed as Wednesday through and through.
“I went home and said to my wife Barbara ‘There’s no way I can take that job,’ purely from my point of view. No one else’s. She said ‘you better ring them up and tell them’.”
Megson’s refusal opened the door for Neil Warnock, a lifelong Blades supporter, to land his dream job.
Warnock spent the next eight years in charge at Bramall Lane during which time he led the Blades in and out of the Premier League and to the semi-finals of both the League and FA Cup.
There was another twist to the story when Megson returned to Bramall Lane as manager of West Bromwich Albion in March 2002.
The game had to be abandoned eight minutes from time because the Blades, who were losing 3-0, had been reduced to six men after picking up three red cards and two apparent injuries late on.
Megson was furious and described what happened as ‘disgraceful’.
The Football Association awarded Albion three points and the Blades were fined £10,000. The game has become known as the ‘Battle of Bramall Lane’.
“It irks me when people call it the ‘Battle of Bramall Lane’,” said Megson yesterday. “There wasn’t a battle. One team went and played football and won three nil. The other team ended up with six players and it had to be called off.
“It was never a battle but that’s all forgotten now. In the end the right thing happened and we were given the points. It wasn’t a big deal from our point of view.”
Asked to give his opinion on Wilson’s appointment as Blades manager, Megson said: “He will have known that, having played for and managed Wednesday, there would be a few dissenting voices. But it’s a job, a big club, and a great opportunity for him.
“He wasn’t working, he got offered a club that has a massive wage bill, and that has just come out of the Championship with good players. In terms of a job, it’s a good job.
“I am different to Danny, I played for Sheffield Wednesday for six years and I was brought up steeped in it as a kid. I have had United-ites giving me stick when I have been at Bolton, Stockport and goodness knows where else. It’s fine for Danny – but my old man (Don Megson) captained Wednesday for 18 years and I have been going to games here since I was five. I am Wednesday through and through. They wouldn’t have wanted me and it wouldn’t have worked.”
Despite his lengthy association with the Owls, Megson, 52, revealed that he has never been involved with or even attended a Sheffield derby before now.
“I had two spells over six years but we never played United in the league and we never drew them in the Cup. I played against them in a behind-closed-doors game. Howard Wilkinson (Megson’s former manager) put a game on and he wouldn’t tell us who we were playing.
“He just made us sit in a room waiting to see who pitched up. All of a sudden, (Blades striker) Brian Deane came walking across the car park and it took on a lot more importance. ‘Harry’ (Dave Bassett) brought his mob over and we played them behind closed doors. It wouldn’t happen nowadays, I am sure.”
Megson has rarely been able to attend Sheffield derbies in the past because of his own involement in the game. However, he recalls one occasion, during his time as Bolton manager, when he was able to watch a televised derby with his players.
“We were playing Newcastle and Wednesday were playing United on the TV,” he said. “When Wednesday scored, I made a bit of a fuss. (Kevin) Nolan accused me of being more interested in Wednesday, and celebrating more when Wednesday scored than when we scored which was not true. I was as pleased.”
Although it will be a new experience tomorrow, Megson has played in the Manchester derby for Manchester City and the North-East derbies for Newcastle United. As West Brom manager, he was involved in Midlands derbies against Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Wolves.
“On its own, this is three points and our next game – but that tends to go out of the window when it’s a derby game,” he reflected.
“It’s a normal game of football in abnormal circumstances because the clubs are so close to each other. These games are enjoyable because of the rivalry that exists but the only thing that matters is the points.”