QUESTION one: Is Nigel Adkins the most upbeat man in Britain? Here is the Scunthorpe United manager, quoted in the town’s local evening paper ahead of this afternoon’s match against Leicester City:
“We are looking forward to getting back to Glanford Park with a positive energy that surrounds the building.”
Question two: Is there a positive energy surrounding Glanford Park? Well, everyone I encountered in and around the ground seemed friendly enough, so I can only conclude that there is.
It would be easy to mock Adkins for his positive outlook on life, particularly given that Scunthorpe had lost five games in a row before the Leicester match, and that reactionary cynicism is football’s default emotion.
But he has managed to get Scunthorpe promoted from League One twice, so maybe he’s on to something.
Then again, Nigel Pearson got Leicester promoted from League One ahead of Scunthorpe last season. And although Pearson is undoubtedly one of football’s good guys, he is not famous for spontaneous outbursts of over-exuberance.
The conclusion to draw from this? It doesn’t really matter if a manager is charismatic or not, as long as he wins matches.
This season, Pearson has been winning more matches than Adkins – but then Leicester’s budget, their fanbase and their entire infrastructure are considerably bigger than those of Scunthorpe, so that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Leicester chairman Milan Mandaric has long held the opinion that his club should be in the Premier League. Scunthorpe would see Championship survival as a significant achievement. And they would be right to, given how far they have come in recent years.
The last time I visited Glanford Park, Scunthorpe were battling against relegation to the Conference. It was only five-and-a-half years ago. They were playing Macclesfield, also in relegation danger, and I was doing a full match commentary for a Cheshire radio station.
My only memory of that game, other than Steve Torpey’s second-half headed winner for Scunthorpe, is of seeing the players gathering in the centre circle just before kick off when I was already on air, suddenly realising that there was going to be a minute’s silence, and having absolutely no idea why.
“Er, we’re now going to have a minute’s silence,” I blurted out uncertainly, while my co-commentator tried, as discreetly as possible, to find out from someone else in the press box who was being remembered. He came back and announced that it was for a Scunthorpe club official – but neither of us were 100 per cent sure. If we were wrong that day, I can only apologise.
No such embarrassment befell any of the reporters in the press box at Glanford Park this afternoon. Instead, their biggest worry was trying to prevent ISDN radio kits and laptops from flying into the crowd. You see, the desks in the press box tip forwards if you catch them when you stand up. I can’t tell you what comic potential this creates.
Well actually, I can, because I saw at least one laptop, one ISDN box, a couple of notepads and several biros accidentally flung from desks during the afternoon.
I also saw one journalist sent crashing at half-time. He was hemmed in on both sides by radio reporters who couldn’t move because they were doing live updates, and so the only way he could get out was to climb over a couple of desks. He didn’t quite make it. Fortunately, as he fell to the ground, the only injury he suffered was to his pride.
Does this sound as if I’m moaning about the press facilities? I hope not, because Glanford Park does have a bit of character about it. It was the first of the ‘new build’ stadiums when it opened in 1988, but it’s been around long enough now to feel like a lived-in football ground.
And Scunthorpe’s home form this season suggests it is an intimidating venue for big-name clubs – Newcastle, Sheffield United, Preston and Derby have all been beaten there this season, and Leicester were given a heck of a rough ride in the second half today.
Mind you, they should have been out of sight at half-time. Martyn Waghorn, a very quick young striker on loan from Sunderland, outpaced David Mirfin to score for Leicester after just three minutes, and they went on to have all of the first half’s decent chances.
Now although my view of the goal was obscured by a pillar, there was absolutely no doubt that it was Waghorn who scored. And yet, as a journalist, you always want to make doubly sure. Even if Waghorn had celebrated by hurtling up to the press box and yelling “I’m Martyn Waghorn, and I’ve just scored a goal for Leicester”, I would probably still have turned to the reporter next to me and asked: “It was Waghorn, wasn’t it?”
And so I turned to the reporter next to me and asked: “It was Waghorn, wasn’t it?”
Joe Murphy, Scunthorpe’s keeper, then made two outstanding saves before half-time to deny Matt Fryatt and Yann Kermorgant, who tested the keeper with a 15-yard header more powerful than most shots.
Scunthorpe had plenty of possession, but only really started to put Leicester’s defence under serious pressure when Garry Thompson came on as a sub with 20 minutes to go. But by the time the fourth official’s board went up to signal an extra three minutes, the visitors were hanging on for dear life.
Just as those three minutes elapsed, fellow Scunthorpe sub Martyn Woolford drove in a deserved equaliser. There was barely time to kick off again. Scunny’s losing run was over, and Adkins had every reason to feel positive.
In the meantime, I was trying to avoid the many pitfalls that come with hastily rewriting a report on a match in which one goal is scored by Martyn Waghorn and the other is scored by Martyn Woolford.
If it was a good day for the Martyns, it was a mixed day for the Nigels. Adkins felt his side thoroughly deserved a point, while Pearson believed his team should have won. In a weird way, they were both right.
But then it was a weird afternoon. As I left the press room to file the managers’ post-match quotes, I found the route back to the press box blocked by a BBC crew winching down their camera equipment from the TV gantry, having filmed the game as the main match for tonight’s Football League Show. Those of you who have seen what I’ve been up to on YouTube recently would probably describe that as karma.
All the same, I enjoyed my afternoon at Scunthorpe. Adkins’ positive energy must have rubbed off on me. I’ll be back.