I reckon most football fans would answer ‘for worse’ to the above question – not least because of the histrionics that the pantomime villain of the lower leagues often displays on the touchline.
On the other hand, whatever approach Evans takes – it gets results. Our 13 game unbeaten run including five wins at the end of last season has come to an end due to ‘Champions elect’ Peterborough taking all three points in a smash and grab victory at New York Stadium. Good teams usually respond, and respond they did with highly-fancied Brentford beaten on their own patch 1-0 and a routine 3-0 win at York City in the JPT on Tuesday with much of the usual first team missing. We are now sat in 6th place and in the quarter finals with a reasonable chance of a Wembley appearance.
Many would argue that Steve’s abrasive style and questionable history of financial mismanagement, foul-mouthed tirades and all-round unpleasantness has brought the game into disrepute and therefore he shouldn’t be allowed to manage a team again. This chequered past often colours the judgements of my friends and other people I meet when I tell them I’m a Rotherham fan. All they can think of is the red-faced rotund loudmouth when in charge of Boston United and Crawley Town instead of the family-friendly working class lower league club that most fans may identify with.
I often reply to these people that I can only consider how Evans has performed whilst being manager of RUFC. Yes, he’s passionate, he’s an ‘in your face’ character with plenty to say about his team and our fans, and of other teams and their fans. But the key thing that seems to have changed since the days when he made the headlines for the wrong reasons is that this passion and over-zealousness has been used to good effect rather than ill. Emotion still pours out of him but when we were promoted that was in te form of tears in front of the media rather than vitriol. Gone are the confrontations with referees and altercations with opposition managers and players which he was famous for. He still challenges every decision from his dugout but there is no malice in his post-match interviews. He pays the opposition a lot of respect both pre and post-match – OK there may have the odd dig here and there, especially at local rivals, but I for one prefer managers to have a bit of character about them and not sound like they’re reading from a script. The problem with Evans is that he is afforded little leeway to do so because of his past demeanours.
Unfortunately, the big man’s past still plagues him and his reputation even now as Millers boss. After ten games with us he received a 6 match ban for the ‘Battle of Valley Parade’ whilst in charge of Crawley which coincided with our poor run of form last September (and arguably cost us a chance of giving Gillingham more competition for the title). Evans has used his extensive list of contacts and scouting network to keep tabs on potential transfer targets – although very few of them actually come to fruition. He talks a lot about needing to find the players that want to play for the club and are not going to destroy the camaraderie and togetherness within the squad – but is the real reason that the manager’s reputation is preceding him and is costing the club the chance to progress?
I don’t believe this is the case at all (especially considering our league position!) but it is an interesting point. The refereeing decisions now we are back in League One are no better than in League Two (arguably worse), and it is not hard to see why the officials may favour the side playing us due to Evans and Paul Raynor doing their ‘hopping mad’ dance in front of the dugout whenever we are on the wrong end of them. A case in point is our last home game against the Posh which the Millers dominated for large spells and had several shots on goal but lost 1-0 thanks to a controversial penalty. The referee booked five of our players, none of theirs, and let many of Peterborough’s players get away with rash tackles and some blatant time-wasting towards the end of the game.
Some sections of the media refuse to give us credit for our successes under him. All the focus in May was on Gillingham and Bradford for their achievements in winning promotion, and even this season the Football League Show would prefer to gush over the Bantams and will only give us praise through gritted teeth (I’m looking at you, Manish). Our superb new stadium has been open for over 12 months and the Sky Sports cameras have not even been inside yet – why would this be? I wonder!
But the reality is that Steve Evans is a very different man from his Boston and Crawley days. Millers fans were divided on news of his appointment in March 2012, with many questioning the chairman’s sanity in his desperation to get Rotherham promoted. Now the locals are singing his name and there are rumours from across the M1 that Blades fans want him to replace David Weir after their horror start to the season at Sheffield United. Maybe he’s turned a corner…
Written by Michael Whitehead, We Are Going Up’s Rotherham United Blogger
Michael tweets at @mikew_83