Ian Holloway needed to change things, so he’s back in management, with the help of Mary Poppins, a pair of grumpy pants and his unending enthusiasm…
It’s about three minutes into his interview with the Totally Football League Show that Ian Holloway starts singing.
The new Grimsby Town boss is pretty happy with life, having returned to management on New Year’s Eve and despite only taking a couple of training sessions and one game so far, his good mood is such that he is moved to song.
“I watched Mary Poppins over Christmas with my grandchildren. It’s such a brilliant film. There’s some sublime messages in there. We all have to work hard, and we all want to care for our children. But sometimes when you’re in the bank worried about the owners and worried about your position, you don’t take them to fly their kite, do you?
“I’m trying to encourage my children, with their lovely offspring, to make sure that they’re the most important thing. Yes, you need to feed them, but you also need to feed them with love and attention. Now I’ve got the biggest family in the world at the moment because I want them to all understand we’re here because they’re our family.”
And then he breaks into a rendition of ‘Spoonful of Sugar.’ So far, so Holloway.
“That’s why the wind’s changed,” he said when Caroline Barker asked him if he’s ‘the Mary Poppins of Grimsby.’ “Let’s see what happens.”
It was something of an eyebrow-raiser when Holloway was announced as the Mariners’ new boss. Holloway left his second spell at QPR in May 2018 and has, from the outside at least, seemingly been relatively content for the last 18 months doing media work and making the odd appearance back at Loftus Road.
But while his public image is very much that of a ‘character’, Holloway is clearly a man who thrives on coaching, and is fundamentally dissatisfied when out of work. “I feel like I’m a teacher and I’ve got no-one to teach,” the 56-year-old says. “Every day I’ve got people to try and try and leave a mark on.
“My wife bought me a pair of pants at Christmas, the first present I opened. It was only a joke, she said, but they had Mr Grumpy written on them. And then she bought me some pyjamas, with brussel sprouts on them…because I’m a vegan and it’s sort of changed everything but…don’t be downwind of me, that’s all I can say.
“And then I thought: is that what I am now? A grumpy, flatulent old bugger? Well, that ain’t me. I’m not even old yet. So I’ve got to change my life around.”
And part of that change is getting back into management. But why Grimsby? A club a long way from home who were only a place outside the relegation spots when he arrived. It was partly because it reminds him of probably his greatest managerial feat, a decade ago at Blackpool.
“My wife summed it up: it’s another adventure. And when when we came here and we were on a pier having some fish and chips and we could hear the seagulls, it didn’t half remind us ten years ago. When I researched the club and the people…it just rang some bells for me, you know?”
It’s easy to be irritated by Holloway, to file him under ‘wacky’ and think his personality is all about affectations, but if you strip all of that away then you get someone who is just an extremely positive person, who loves the game and is never happier than when he’s in it. And you have to be in a pretty grumpy mood not to find that quite endearing.
Thursday should bring news of a new signing for Grimsby and, while Holloway wouldn’t name names, he did say it was a player he’s worked with before. Try and work out yourself who it could be.
“It’s one of the younger ones at the time who was totally frustrated with me and the situation because he was desperate to play. I kept picking everybody else and I kept digging him out for moaning.
“I’ve got him until the end of the season, and he’ll need to prove [himself] to me again because I haven’t seen him play. But it’s his personality that I’m bringing. I want us to believe. I want us to be fresh. I want hungry, hungry people who need to run, not want to run. It’s a big difference.”
Holloway’s second game in charge will be against Leyton Orient this weekend, and they’ve had to apply for extra tickets for their travelling support, with an estimated 2,000 fans reported to be travelling to London.
“Last weekend [when Grimsby beat Mansfield 1-0 despite playing for 80 minutes with ten men] moved me so much because they’re so honest and so hard working. They’ve had no luck over the last 12 weeks. They got three draws and no wins. It was so, so, soul destroying. And yet they’ve realised they can win even with only ten men. That’s huge when you see the glint in their eyes. We have been extremely unlucky, in my opinion.”
Who knows whether this will work out for Holloway or Grimsby. But you can be sure that they wouldn’t get a more enthusiastic manager to get them moving in the right direction.
“I want to bring a bit of positivity. It’s only been eight days now. I’ve only trained twice. I’m absolutely loving every minute of it.”
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