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Interview: Martin Allen

19 February 12 interview: Jared Wilson

Some see Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Allen as the epitome of the eccentric, geezerish football manager. But Notts County fans will testify that there is method in the madness, after he saved them from relegation last season. We caught up with him for a chat about Nottingham, posh hotels and a certain League Cup tie...

You’re made out in the media to be an ‘eccentric’ manager. Are you?
I don’t know, you’d have to ask the people that write those things. Sometimes people say that I’m ‘mad’ but a lot of it is press talk and when you scratch the surface you see that there’s more to what I do than meets the eye. Papers don’t always tell you the full story when they tell you a story about me.

Can you give us an example?
There was a piece about me taking a team training session on a roundabout. But the truth was that our team bus broke down on a journey up north and we couldn’t get to the training pitch. It was either that or not train at all before the game. But the journalist left out the fact that the bus had broken down, as it made a better story.

Did you always know you wanted to be a manager after playing?
Oh yeah. My dad was a football manager when I was young and he was one of the top coaches in the country. He used to teach other coaches how to coach and take me along with him. Then when I was twenty-one I set up a soccer school, so I’ve been managing staff, players and logistics since then, knowing that it would stand me in good stead for football management. 

Your family have a long history in football. Your dad Denis, your uncle Les and your cousins Paul, Bradley and Clive all played at a high level. Now your son Charlie is at Notts and your nephew Harry is at Swindon. What is it with the Allen genes?
I don’t know. I’ve looked into my family tree and my grandparents came from the east end of London and were dockers. It was a rough area they were bought up in, but they moved out to Dagenham. That’s where all the Allen family were bought up, in an environment where people like Terry Venables, Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Moore also came from. It was a rough place and difficult to earn a living, so everyone had to work hard. But we all enjoyed a game of football too…

When you all get together as a family do you still have a kick around?
We all used to when we were younger, obviously. But we’re the same as any other family now and we only really all get together at weddings and funerals. Apart from that you just speak to people at different times when you see them. Our paths cross through work sometimes as Clive is at Tottenham and Paul works at the PFA. But it’s just the same as any other family really – how often do you see your cousins?

What were your best moments as a player? The promotions with West Ham? Walking out at Wembley in the 1986 League Cup Final with QPR?
It was neither of those two. My proudest moment as a footballer was making my football league debut. It was against Arsenal at home and I was marking an England left-winger called Graham Rix. I still have crystal-clear memories of that day. Also winning at Anfield in the semi-final of the league cup to get to Wembley and being picked for England under-21s were both great days.

When you took over at Notts, they were all over the place, losing nine games in a row. What did you do to turn it around?
I started with very basic things. I asked the players to tell me what they didn’t like about the
football club. I got a load of black pens and flipcharts and got them to write it all down
anonymously. They could write what they wanted about anything or anybody. I promised them that I would never reveal what they wrote and that I’d try and change those things – which I started to do.  In return I said I wanted to see commitment, honesty and respect between them - and to see if we could make ourselves and the supporters happy.

When you first came to Notts you asked on the website if any fans had a spare room you could kip in because you “don’t like these posh hotels.” Did you get that sorted?
I stayed out with people a couple of times, but in the end it was too much. It’s true that I don’t like hotels – they’re no good for the dog for starters, but the people in them looked after me fantastically. I’m in my own house in Nottingham now and I’m settled. There are still a few things to sort, but it’s going nicely. I’ve got someone who looks after my black Labrador when I go to away games and on long scouting trips, so I’m pleased about that.

What do you think to Nottingham as a city? Any favourite haunts where you go outside of football?
I don’t really go out anywhere. I get up at 7.30am and I don’t usually get home until late. I work very hard and in the small bits of downtime I have I usually sit on the sofa and watch the TV like anyone else.

You write a weekly blog, which is surprisingly good if you don’t mind us saying. What made you start blogging?
I started blogging through Pro FC, a company I set up with my friend DJ Campbell to give young footballers a break. But I enjoy writing, which is something I started doing when I was boss at Brentford. I write all the entries myself and I don’t allow anything to be hanged unless something is drastically rubbish. It just shows people a different side to me and what goes through my head when I go on my long journeys. It always surprises me how many people seem to actually read it.

How will you be celebrating your birthday in August? A night out in town?
More likely a night in with my sons, my sister and my family. Birthdays don’t really mean a lot to me, but I’m still full of energy and life. I love to have a laugh and mess about. I went to a wedding in the summer and at the end of the night it was me that was in a dance-off with a four year-old.

You spent a week in Botswana with Coaching for Hope doing soccer classes with kids this summer. How was that?
It was an awesome experience. The people are so friendly and grateful for a bit of help and just the little things, like food and clothes. It was very humbling, but I was there to teach them how to coach football and I felt very privileged to have the opportunity. I hope that through my work, sport will help to spread through the villages and I feel lucky to have had the chance to do it.

What was the last thing that made you laugh?
I laugh at myself every day. I have plenty of jokes in my locker. People might get this idea that managers are like headmasters, taking a stick to everyone, but I have a good laugh and joke with the players every day in training.

What was the last thing that made you cry?
Three months ago I had some lumps removed from my chest whilst I was managing at Barnet. One of them was particularly big and it hurt when it came out. Afterwards I was given the all clear and told that I didn’t have cancer, just a few days before I joined Notts County. I cried when I heard the news. No-one knew that until now; you’ve got an exclusive there.

What was your reaction when Notts drew Forest in the League Cup?
I was in Botswana when I got the news on a text message. I just smiled a lot, I was grinning like a child. My chest filled out and my fists clenched. I filled up with passion and I tried to explain why to the people around me in this poor village in the middle of nowhere.  I cannot wait for that game of football! It’s fourteen years since one of these games has taken place. I actually asked Forest if they’d play a friendly against us in pre-season, but they couldn’t. It’s much better to do it in a good competition though. It will be a big occasion for our fans and, for me, it will great to go up against a great manager like Steve McClaren.

Is there anything particularly unique about Notts fans? A few years ago they were dubbed the most depressed supporters in the country...
I heard that too, but all I can say is that the fans are great. The highlight of my time so far was at the end of the game against Bournemouth. We were losing 2-0 after conceding in the 87th minute, whilst pushing forward to try and get a draw. I was stood in the dug-out knowing the game was lost, but all the Notts fans started to sing and get behind the players for the performance they’d put in. I turned to John Schofield and said “Schoey, listen to this. We will stay up.” You can’t overestimate how important it is in situations like that to have the supporters behind you.

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