The Football League’s most divisive manager, Steve Evans, is looking to bag himself a Premier League scalp this weekend as his Gillingham side host West Ham who looked a team transformed under the returning David Moyes. The two Scottish managers go back a long way and have shared a friendship since the age of ten when they were both part of the Celtic Boys Club.
Evans told the Daily Mail: “We played in the same team for a number of years," says Evans. "He was a gangly centre half from Bishopbriggs, the posh part of Glasgow, and I was a striker from a place called the Circuit in Cambuslang.
“I went off to Bolton and David signed for Celtic, which for me will always be the pinnacle. Then he moved south and played at Preston with my assistant manager Paul Raynor. So we have a great affinity.”
An old friend will become a rival on the touchline for ninety minutes this weekend but a lot has changed in both managers’ careers since they began their journey in the dugouts in 1998. Evans took charge of Boston United and lead them on a remarkable journey which saw them climb from the Southern League to the Football League.
At the same time, Moyes was cutting his teeth at Preston North End but Evans’ management fairytale would soon come crashing down. In the lowest point of his career, it came out that the club had financially deceived HMRC and the FA and Evans was heavily fined, banned for 20 months from football and handed a suspended prison sentence.
Evans returned in 2004, disgraced, but with the same passion for management. It is that ‘passion’ on the touchline which often turns into aggression and is why the Glasgow-born boss has built up such a fearsome reputation. In 2006, he was escorted from the pitch by police at half-time after an abusive verbal assault on the fourth official while battling relegation with Boston and when in charge of Crawley he was banned for ten matches having been sent to the stands of four separate occasions throughout the season.
It is this hot-headedness that has marred Evans’ career. During his spell at Rotherham, he was banned for a further six games after acting inappropriately towards a female member of Bradford’s City’s staff but his conduct has improved as he has matured.
Now aged 57, Evans has admitted he has slightly mellowed the longer he has been in the game. “Probably in my early career it was win or nothing, win at every cost. If I could turn the clock back, would I be as vocal or as confrontational? No, I wouldn’t. I’m not now. I still appeal for things I think are mine but I’ve stopped appealing for things I know are not.”
This is what makes Evans so divisive and dislikeable. If you can see past the bans, the bad language and the dodgy dealings in the past, every now and then he will come out with a gem - and his managerial record speaks for itself.
After keeping Rotherham up with a game to spare in the Championship at the expense of Millwall, Evans didn’t hold back.
“A Millwall player said we've not got bottle. I've got 12 bottles of pink finest Champagne and we'll be drinking them for about a week. Look forward to League One, son, and keep your trap shut."
Then a week later he kept his promise and turned up to Elland Road in a sombrero and shorts to celebrate the Millers’ survival. Perhaps his most memorable image was the one of him sprinting down the Wembley touchline, just about holding onto his trousers, following Alex Revell’s equaliser in the League One play-off final.
What he would give to recreate those scenes at Priestfield on Sunday night, against his old pal.