Had things panned out slightly differently for Mansfield manager John Dempster, he could have been the man conducting interviews, rather than being the subject of them.
Towards the end of his playing career Dempster, as a fall-back option if life in the dugout turned out not to be for him, did a degree in sports writing, something that the crack interviewing team at the Totally Football League Show picked up on when Dempster joined us this week.
“My parents always pushed me to keep my options open and make sure that I had a back-up plan, to have something to fall back on. That was a degree I completed a few years back – it was put on through the PFA and they supported me through it as well, which is really good.
“But my passion’s always been football. I want to work in football for as long as I can. I’ve got no desire to go into journalism because I know what you guys are like!”
Touché. Dempster doesn’t quite have to reach for the laptop just yet, particularly after the last couple of results, a 6-1 thrashing of ten-man Oldham last time out steadying Mansfield’s season after a slightly sticky start.
“We had a last minute winner at Grimsby last week, which was was nice and needed,” he says. “We performed well, but not to the levels that we picked up against Oldham, when we were outstanding. Oldham ended up with two men sent off, but even before that, when we were up against eleven men, we were certainly the dominant force, without being disrespectful. To get back to back wins is massive.”
Next up is Forest Green Rovers, managed by Mark Cooper, under whom Dempster played at Kettering. “It was a brilliant time for me as a player and I learned a lot under Mark,” he says. “He’s certainly evolved as a coach and a manager over the last few years because we were quite direct side, quite physical, quite a tall side.
“Now, Forest Green are probably the best football side in our league. They play out from the back. If it’s not on to go forward, they’ll go back to the goalkeeper. And at times they are a joy to watch. How he’s evolved over the last few years as a coach is fantastic to see, and I expect to see him managing at the top level in the next couple of years.”
Dempster made the step up from coaching the Mansfield youngsters, appointed as first-team boss this summer when David Flitcroft left, which has led to his own evolution as a coach.
“When you’re speaking to an under-18 team or a younger age group, they hang on every word you say, whereas the first-team players are a lot more experienced: they’ve been there, they’ve done it, and you have to deal with them differently.
“We’ve got some good experienced, senior pros, so they know what it takes in our league. So, you know, you don’t want to be patronising in terms of giving them, you know, blatantly obvious details. You kind of lead and guide them and give them the freedom to lead on the football pitch. I think that will be the key to our success this season.
“I think it’s important not to overload the players with too much information so they can go and play with a clear head and play with freedom. At times this season I’ve probably been guilty of giving too much information, but as a young manager you live and learn.”
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