WHEN someone describes themselves as a “wee sh*te from Northern Ireland”, it’s fair to assume he isn’t a big time Charlie.
And in the case of Millwall boss Steve Lomas, there are certainly no airs and graces, let alone bottles of vintage red in the manager’s office.
“None of that nonsense,” he said while managing St Johnstone in 2011. “That’s for yuppies. I am very much a pint of lager person – or a nice Guinness.”
That, in short, is Lomas, the lad from Antrim who came to England at 16, made his debut at 17 and went on to captain every side he played for.
As a player at Manchester City, West Ham and QPR, he was the quintessential midfield slogger, a player who manned the trenches while Georgi Kinkladze and Eyal Berkovic wowed the crowds.
“Steve did a great job for me,” said Harry Redknapp, who signed Lomas for West Ham for £2.5m in 1997.
“He was such a competitive player. It didn’t matter where I played him, whether it was in midfield or back in defence, he always gave me everything.
“Steve was a heart-and-soul kind of player. I would look around the dressing room at West Ham – and we had some top players then – and know that Steve would definitely be one of the lads I could depend on. He always had a go for me.”
Though he won only one honour – the 1999 Intertoto Cup with the Hammers – Lomas was well-respected within the game, largely because his personality reflected the way he played.
It’s why Redknapp made him captain at just 24, despite the presence of grizzled old pros like Neil Ruddock and Ian Wright.
“They knew what kind of lad I was, that I didn’t give any bull and didn’t expect any back,” said Lomas.
For all he made some 300 top flight appearances and won 45 caps for his country, Lomas always felt his versatility – he could play anywhere in midfield or defence – prevented him becoming a truly top-class midfielder.
But it also hinted at the tactical nous that would see him turn to management when he finally retired – after an unhappy spell at Gillingham – in 2008.
Typically, his first foray into the dugout was far from glamorous. Tipped off by old mate John Gregory that a position had opened up at United Counties outfit St Neots Town, Lomas and his old City team-mate Michael Hughes applied for the job.
“Steve is just a normal, smashing guy,” said St Neots owner Mike Kearns. “He’s not aloof to anything and there are no airs or graces about him.
“Despite what he’d done in the game as a player, he was willing to really muck in here, doing all sorts of jobs just to help the club as a whole.
“I paid him peanuts at St Neots. His wages wouldn’t even cover his travelling expenses from home and he was here three days a week. But it wasn’t about money for Steve. It was about getting a job and doing what he loves doing.”
Though he would leave after one season to pursue a Football League job, it was actually St Johnstone of the SPL who came calling in 2011.
It was a tough gig, with Owen Coyle and Derek McInnes both having brought success to the club in recent years. Yet Lomas surpassed them both, clocking sixth place in his first season, third in his second and then securing back-to-back European qualifications for the first time in the club’s history.
His name having been linked to the likes of Bournemouth, Burnley and Doncaster, it came as no surprise when Millwall an- nounced Lomas as the replacement to Kenny Jackett earlier this summer.
“He reminds me of Dennis Wise,” says Lions veteran Paul Robinson.
“He joins in with the banter, but he has that sense of authority about him. You definitely wouldn’t want to cross him.”
And while his start has been unimpressive, Lomas is confident that the experience of playing under the likes of Redknapp – and a friendship with Man United boss David Moyes – will stand him in good stead.
“Some people like to think they’re reinventing the wheel in football, but the problems are the same as 20 years ago.”
STEVE LOMAS FACTFILE
Born: Hanover (Germany), 1974 (Age 39)
Playing career: A combative midfielder, Lomas – the nephew of legendary Man United keeper Harry Gregg – joined Manchester City at 17 and went on to play over 100 games, as well as becoming skipper. After relegation in 1996 (thanks in part to a Lomas own goal) he spent a season in Division One before joining West Ham for £2.5m. There, he finished fifth in the Premier League, won the Intertoto Cup and again became club captain, eventually scoring ten goals in 187 games before leaving to join QPR in 2005.
Two tough seasons battling relegation were followed by a switch to Gillingham, but Lomas made just eight appearances before being frozen out by manager Mark Stimson, retiring in January 2008 aged 34. He won 46 caps for Northern Ireland, scoring three goals.
Managerial career: After a spell coaching at Norwich, Lomas and his old Northern Ireland team-mate Michael Hughes were asked to take charge at St Neots Town in the United Counties League. As player-manager, Lomas led the club to second in the Premier Division in 2009-10, their highest finish for over 40 years.
After leaving to pursue a Football League job, Lomas briefly managed the reserves at West Ham before accepting an offer to succeed Derek McInnes as manager of SPL side St Johnstone in November 2011.
A sixth place finish in 2012 was the club’s highest for 13 years and a third place the following year sealed European qualification for the second year running. In June 2013, he was appointed manager of Millwall, replacing Kenny Jackett.