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Stuart Hammonds column: What you learn once you get to know Steve Evans

BEN SMITH remembers the night well. Tuesday, August 18, 2009. Steve Evans’ Crawley have just recorded a 1-0 win at Cambridge United, the Conference club closest to his Peterborough home and the one whose job he seemed to crave.

“There was a funny incident as Paul Carden, the Cambridge assistant manager, had the ball in front of our dugout when the final whistle went and smashed it away in frustration – accidentally striking it into our gaffer’s midriff,” wrote former Red Devils midfielder Smith in his book, Journeyman.

“This led to all hell breaking loose and was Evo’s cue to scream expletives down the tunnel and outside the Cambridge dressing room, mainly based around the fact Cambridge wanted to offer him the manager’s job but couldn’t pay him enough money!”

I remember the night, too. Having seen Evans bounce down the tunnel like an oversized Ribena berry, I was surprised to see him come out to face the Press within two minutes.

Sweat dripped from him, but he picked me out. Or my three-year-old daughter, who had her head resting on my shoulder, to be precise.

The bile that had spilled from his lips moments earlier was replaced, in a soft Glaswegian tone as he stroked her cheek, by: “Hello darling. Did you enjoy watching the football with daddy?”

Crazy one minute. Nice as pie the next.

I’d seen it the season previous when, after a defeat at Burton Albion, he’d refused to answer my post-match questions because I indicated I wasn’t going to write about his arch-rival Nigel Clough “going on the pitch” trying to influence referees.

I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, so I pursued him around the Pirelli Stadium trying to find out  before having a blazing row in the tunnel.

Though I wasn’t in the wrong, I called him on the Monday and apologised. “I don’t hold grudges Stuart,” he replied. “When are you coming down for a cup of tea?”

Get to know him and, behind the bluster, Evans is as friendly and welcoming as they come.

He would ring to ask my opinion on potential signings, like Kyle McFadzean and Scott Neilson, and we’d chat at length.

When he did make me that cuppa, he told how he would question judges’ marks at his daughters’ ballroom dancing shows on a Sunday, before being shamed into contrition by the reprimands of his “little girls” Nicole and Shannon.

Nicole – aged 14 at the time and a junior British champion, like her mum Sarah-Jane – would get in the car and tell him: “Dad, when the judges have made their decision, they’ve made their decision.” His wife would chime in with: “Can’t you listen to that?”

Of course, the lengthy touchline bans he’s served for matchday misbehaviour towards officials – even a three-game stadium ban at one point in his Crawley days – make him an easy target for the knockers. The suspended jail sentence for tax evasion during Boston United’s 2000-01 promotion campaign even more so.

I wondered if he might have felt similarly embarrassed last Sunday after digging out our columnist, Adam Virgo, in what would prove to be his final post-match interview as Rotherham United manager after victory at Birmingham.

Adam had suggested the Millers – winless at the time he put pen to paper – would not have enough to survive in the Championship.

Two wins in two games following the defeat Adam had watched at Brighton had got the United fans in good voice on Twitter. Evans, always keen to curry favour with his club’s support, would have been all over the social media reaction like a rash.

He had to have a go back, saying: “I pick up the Football League Paper and see Adam Virgo, who watched us once, say I should leave and we should get relegated. It’s quite disappointing to read from somebody who has never managed a team in his life.”

Maybe not, but Adam played in the Championship many times so he writes with authority. And he never said the Scot should leave. That was just Evans’ interpretation.

But the Steve Evans I know would be high fives and bear hugs with Adam the next time he saw him because, deep down, I believe he just wants to be liked.

Maybe it is the screwed-up, angry public face that prompted chairman Tony Stewart to open the discussions that led to the 52-year-old leaving the New York Stadium on Monday morning.

We don’t know because, Evans tells us, both are men of “integrity” and won’t be revealing the reasons. All we know is that they had a cuppa and “there were tears from both sides”, according to Big Steve.

Evans’ on-pitch record is enviable. He took both Boston and Crawley into the Football League for the first time in their histories. He picked up Rotherham in League Two in the spring of 2012 and led them to successive promotions to the Championship.

He will always be highly regarded in south Yorkshire for keeping them there, even if the image of him in sombrero and Bermuda shorts at Elland Road on the final day of last season left him open to ridicule in most parts of the country.

The Scot has this week been linked to jobs in his homeland, where vacancies at Motherwell and Dundee United have come up.

He is still confident enough in his own ability, telling the Sheffield Star: “If you’re a chairman and you want a manager to win you promotion, what do you do? Appoint Steve Evans and put your kettle on.”

He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but he sugars those he makes very well.

It’s whether a chairman can put up with his stir that will determine where Evans’ next chance will come. North of the border might be the only place he’ll find the respect he craves and, going on results alone, probably deserves.

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