YOU must excuse me if I’m a bit bemused by Reading caretaker-boss Brian McDermott’s sudden rise to prominence as Liverpool’s FA Cup nemesis. Only the last time I encountered McDermott, he looked as miserable as I’ve ever seen a manager after a game.
It happened 10 years ago next month, the last time McDermott managed a visiting team on a cup trip to Merseyside. On that late February afternoon in 2000, McDermott was in charge of Conference strugglers Woking as they were thumped 3-0 at Southport in a ridiculously one-sided FA Trophy fifth-round tie. While Southport, then managed by Mark Wright, played well enough, Woking were worse than rubbish.
And afterwards McDermott, who still had hair in those days (but didn’t wear glasses), looked and sounded like a man who knew he was about to lose his job. And as it turned out, he was right.
I have four memories of that afternoon:
1) It was very, very windy.
2) I was so cold, my hands turned blue.
3) I spent so long waiting for the two managers to emerge for the post-match interviews that I almost got locked in the ground.
4) McDermott almost got locked in the ground too.
I used to keep all of my newspaper cuttings in those days, because I was still training to be a journalist, and so needed something to take with me to all the job interviews I was hoping to get towards the end of my course. That’s why I still have the match report I wrote on the Southport-Woking game for the Lancashire Evening Post, for whom I was working part-time during my studies.
Reading the report back, I see that I described McDermott’s demeanour after the match as “disconsolate”. (This comes as a relief, because I had somehow got it into my head that I had called him an “ashen-faced supremo”, Private Eye style.)
“I’ve got things to think about over the weekend,” McDermott said, giving every impression that he had already given things plenty of thought. “I’ve never been in a situation like this before.”
It was to get worse. Having conducted his interview, he asked the three reporters for the way out of the ground. As two of the journalists had travelled up from Surrey and the third – me – had never been to Haig Avenue before, none of us were able to help him. We pointed him in the direction of a large metal door a few yards away that, when McDermott tried it, turned out to be bolted shut.
“That would just about sum up my day,” he said. It was heartbreaking to watch.
Mind you, a few moments later, my work done, I found I couldn’t get out of the ground either. Panicking somewhat, I eventually managed to find a club official who helpfully showed me to the exit.
(You’d be surprised how often this happens to journalists, as we often leave an hour or more after the crowd, when most of the exit gates have been locked. It took me a good 10 minutes to get out of the Riverside at Middlesbrough a couple of weeks ago, burrowing along corridors, up and down flights of stairs and through various executive lounges before arriving in reception completely by luck.)
I wasn’t surprised when McDermott left Woking on the Monday after that cup defeat. A few months later, he pitched up at Reading as chief scout, and he’s been at the Madejski Stadium in one role or another ever since. He had worked his way up to reserve-team manager by the time Brendan Rodgers was sacked last month.
I must admit, I was surprised when I saw McDermott’s name crop up again, as he took charge for their 1-1 Championship draw at Bristol City, saying he’d like the job on a full-time basis.
Reading haven’t won a league game since McDermott took over (two draws, one 4-1 hammering at Plymouth), and I’d be amazed if they brought that run to an end at in-form Nottingham Forest on Saturday. I would also be genuinely surprised if McDermott got the Reading job full-time – although stranger things have happened in management circles over the last six or seven weeks.
But I would like to think that, for McDermott, last night’s astonishing extra-time FA Cup win at Anfield was some kind of payback for the misery he suffered at Haig Avenue almost a decade ago. After that, I reckon he deserved his night of glory.