Gillingham manager Steve Lovell is set for an emotional return to Swansea this Saturday.
Lovell, who won six caps for Wales, was born and raised in the Welsh city and it’s a club that holds plenty of ties for the 58-year-old.
The Gills manager got his first taste of professional football at Swansea’s old Vetch Field ground, taken there by his late father Alan, who was a professional at the Welsh club himself in the 1950s.
While Steve’s footballing career eventually took him to Gillingham his father was a season-ticket holder for a time as the Welsh side moved to their impressive Liberty Stadium.
Alan died in 2013, but Steve’s mother and sister both remain Swansea residents and it’s sure to be an unforgettable weekend for the family.
“I said before the draw that it would be a dream draw to get Swansea and for it to come out was unbelievable,” said the Gills manager.
“My dad had a season ticket there for a few years before he passed away, it will be quite emotional going back from a personal point of view. I will have quite a few family members there, it will be a good weekend and hopefully we can get a result and make it even better.”
Lovell grew up in the Swansea suburb of Dunvant and attended the grammar school in nearby Gowerton.
Now, like then, it’s a school whose sporting curriculum is dominated by rugby. As a kid, Lovell played both rugby and football, describing himself as “quite a decent inside centre” but there came a time when he had to choose between the two.
Recalling that moment, Lovell said: “I had a trial for Wales rugby and a trial for Wales football and I had to make a decision of which one to go to because it was on the same weekend.
“I remember sitting in the car with my dad and him saying ‘you have to make a decision where to go’. I said, ‘I want to play football’.
“I used to love running with the ball as an inside centre at rugby but I went to the football trial and everything else panned out.”
Lovell’s dad was a professional for Swansea and was a big influence in his son’s early footballing years, before Crystal Palace came calling in the late 1970s.
Speaking about his dad, Lovell said: “He didn’t play many games for Swansea but he played for Wales Schoolboys at Wembley against England Schoolboys and he was in their squad.
“He used to play for the reserves and there were 50,000 people watching those games, they were big. He was a pro and funnily enough he was also a pro at Stockport, another of the clubs I also played for, it’s amazing really.
“He used to coach me, all the way through my football, until I went to Crystal Palace. It was a big decision to leave home but Palace had a great youth set-up.”
That young Palace team, under the management of John Cartwright, went onto win back to back FA Youth Cups and many of the players signed for the first team under the management of Terry Venables.
After turning pro with Palace, Lovell went onto have loan spells in America, with the Memphis Rogues, and then Stockport before a move to Millwall under George Graham, where he was converted into a striker.
His time at Millwall came to an end in 1987, signing for the Gills, but only after Keith Peacock hijacked his move to Swansea, where he had been on loan. Lovell had scored his one and only goal for Swansea, netting in a Friday night game against Burnley at the Vetch Field.
A deal was on the table to sign permanently but it would mean re-locating the family again, having already moved south to Rainham with his wife and two young sons. A call from Peacock and a move to Gillingham was ideal.
“It was brilliant for me that Keith Peacock called because I was living down here,” he said.
“I didn’t want to move, it wasn’t so much I didn’t want to move to Swansea but it was all the upheaval and everything, it was something we didn’t want to do. “I signed for Gillingham and I have been here ever since. It’s amazing really.”