Published: 00:00, 12 January 2018
Steve Lovell thought his chance to manage Gillingham was over – moments before it began.
It’s a tale that highlights the unpredictable nature of football and one that turned 2017 into a fantastic year for the Welshman.
He said: “It is something I never thought I would get to do. I thought my chance had gone.”
Lovell first applied for the Gills job back in 1993 but Glenn Roeder got the nod ahead of him. He’s been interested ever since but the break never came.
Even after being part of the successful four-man caretaker team, in the wake of Peter Taylor’s sacking two years ago, he was overlooked.
“To have been given the chance and the way it happened was amazing,” said Lovell, as he looked back on what had been a rollercoaster end to the year.
“I was driving home with my wife and we were talking about it. This is when Ady Pennock had gone and Peter Taylor (by then back as director of football) was in charge (as caretaker). I was helping Peter.
“I said, ‘you know what Mary, I think it’s gone, that’s the last chance for me.’
“She just said, ‘carry on, what will be will be’. I got out the car, put the key in the door and the phone rang. It was the chairman (Paul Scally). He said, ‘Loves, I have got some good news and some bad news, I was like, ‘OK’.
“‘The bad news is that Peter Taylor has gone, the good news Loves is that you are in charge for Saturday!’ It was so unbelievable.
“We had just been talking about never getting that opportunity. I got off the phone and turned to Mary and said ‘I can’t believe what has just happened’. She said ‘you’re joking!’”
Lovell guided the Gills to a 1-0 win at Peterborough in his first match in charge and the good form has continued. On New Year’s Day he became the first Gillingham manager to win at Charlton.
The turnaround under Lovell has been impressive, lifting the side clear of the League 1 relegation zone, losing just two matches during his time in charge.
His planning for games means he is ready to make changes whenever necessary, often tweaking his formation several times in a match.
“There will be times when I make the wrong decisions but it won’t stop me from making them,” he said. “If they go wrong you can go back the other way. It is just moving bodies around. If people understand where they are being moved to and understand what to do, it’s not a problem.
"It is all work that is done on the training ground. Everything is done there.”
Lovell has worked under some great managers. Terry Venables handed him his senior debut, at Crystal Palace, while he counts George Graham as a man who he draws inspiration from.
Lovell was Graham’s first signing at Millwall.
“He was brilliant, absolutely fantastic,” said Lovell of the manager who turned him into a striker. “I take everything from him, the way he did his shape, the way he was with people.
“He was a disciplinarian but he didn’t show it too often, it was the words he used, the way he did it - you don’t have to be shouting and balling all the time.
“He had the players at heart, he always did. If they did it for him he would look after them.
“He always said, ‘if they aren’t going to do it for you then it isn’t worth having them around’. He is so right."
Lovell is clearly the boss but he’s not afraid of listening to others and making changes.
He said: “I sit down with the senior players on a regular basis in the office. I will ask them if they are happy, if there is anything we can do. You have to keep players happy.
“We haven’t had to change anything because they have said everything is brilliant, they don’t want to change anything. That is pleasing to know but I am not afraid of change.
“They are understanding, learning different systems and different ways to play. It has all been good.”
What has taken a dip, however, is his golf.
“My handicap is going to go up,” he joked. “But if it is a toss-up between doing this job or playing golf, you know what it is going to be. I love this job, love what it entails and I just want us to progress up the league.
“There is no better feeling coming off at the end of a game, knowing you have got another three points towards a target you are aiming for.”
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