Then and now: the madness has gone but the fun's still there ... Rotherham United boss Steve Evans

They come as a pair ... A sombrero on final day for Rotherham United boss Steve Evans after the Cardiff City match. Picture: Jim BrailsfordThey come as a pair ... A sombrero on final day for Rotherham United boss Steve Evans after the Cardiff City match. Picture: Jim Brailsford
They come as a pair ... A sombrero on final day for Rotherham United boss Steve Evans after the Cardiff City match. Picture: Jim Brailsford
I USED to love Thursday press conferences.

Saturday ones, not so much. I always had a knot in my stomach.

I'm going back ten or so years ago now, to when Steve Evans was first blazing a trail as manager of Rotherham United.

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He was a whirlwind. Successful, driven, in control, out of control, a warm friend to some, a cold enemy of others.

Pre-match pressers at Roundwood were my favourite time of the week. Relaxed two days before a game, Evans could be brilliant company.

He had off-the-record gossip you thought he was making up but always turned out to be true, he could step away from his weekend caricature and poke fun at himself, he name-dropped loosely, laughed loudly, told great stories.

Pressers following games were different. Minutes after the heat of the battle, the Scot's blood was often still boiling. You were only one badly-phrased question away from copping for it. Sometimes the question didn't even have to be badly phrased.

That was then, this is now.

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The 61-year-old is back for another spell in the hot-seat and promising that age and experience have mellowed him, that measure has replaced the madness.

Many are pleased to see him back, some aren't. Whatever their view, no-one can deny that his return has lifted spirits and raised hopes at a club that had been in desperate need of both.

It took him two minutes of his unveiling press conference to mention Sir Alex Ferguson and only a little longer to talk of a promotion bid next season following the Championship relegation that had been confirmed before his second coming.

And in doing so he completely changed the mood around AESSEAL New York Stadium.

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Suddenly, most people are considering what might be possible rather than focusing on what isn't; suddenly, the training ground which had sparked so much debate is no longer an issue; suddenly, a depleted bench can be overcome with a stirring 5-2 last-day victory.

He came in at exactly the right time, with just enough of a wretched season left to allow him to make assessments and with all of the summer to come to act on what he's seen.

In that respect he differs completely to his predecessor who arrived with too much of a tortuous, injury-ravaged campaign still to negotiate and paid the price for failing to slow the slide in his fourth months at the helm.

Leam Richardson would have been a good man for League One but he never got there,

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Evans was in his element holding court in the New York boardroom on his first day back.

“When I was considering leaving Crawley Town to come here the first time around I phoned Sir Alex Ferguson for advice,” he told reporters. “Sir Alex said to me: ‘With all due respect, you're the only Crawley manager I know, but I know all the past Rotherham ones.’”

Most of us had heard it before and smiled, not least the chairman sitting beatifically at his side. The reunion has lit Tony Stewart's fire again.

He signed off for the close season with that morale-boosting victory over Cardiff City, talking up his bond with director of football recruitment Rob Scott, showing appreciation for Stewart's support, intent on reviving the club where he says he's spent the happiest times of his career.

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“How many days off are you having?” I quizzed him. “None,” he replied.

“We'll come back regrouped, recharged, with some changes in personnel on and off the pitch,” he added. “We'll have a real positivity about ourselves. That's all our chairman asks.

“We have certain DNA at Rotherham United. It goes back to the days of managers like Tommy Docherty, Ian Porterfield, Emlyn Hughes. These are historic names. We need to lick our wounds, let them heal and come back stronger. That's what the club has done for years.”

It was a roller coaster ten years ago, it's going to be some ride again.

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Back then, Evans used to say to the media pack: “I'm good for you guys, I live life on the edge.”

He still sweats more during a game than his players, still kicks every opponent and heads every ball, but he does, genuinely, appear to have stepped back from the precipice. He hasn't even criticised a referee yet.

His past achievements with Rotherham are his to own forever. He didn't fail at Leeds United, Mansfield Town, Peterborough United or Gillingham and performed similar heroics at Stevenage to his first reign at New York.

There is no guarantee of promotion next term, of course there isn't, and he knows that better than anyone. But he believes it. Importantly, he makes others believe with him.

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And, so far, Big Steve Mark II after-match pressers have been as enjoyable as Thursday ones.

Actually, I told you a lie earlier. There was one Saturday a decade ago when the knot wasn't there, a sunny day when I skipped into the New York media suite with a lightness of foot and matching lightness of heart.

Evans had pulled me to one side after the previous Thursday's press conference because he needed to have a word.

Instances like these are very bad or very good for journos. Either you've written something a manager doesn't like and a row is about to ensue or he's seeking a favour, in which case you're only too happy to oblige and earn yourself a few Brownie points.

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He wanted to say something positive about the chairman. “No problem,” I replied. “I'll ask about the pair of you at the next presser.

So, two days later, I did. Only he'd forgotten the plan.

Instantly, he bristled. “You're questioning my relationship with Tony Stewart?” he thundered, his eyes and nostrils flaring in unison.

And what followed was the kind of hairdryer treatment that Sir Alex himself would have been proud of.