THE story of John McGlynn’s rise to prominence in football gets evermore engrossing. From plumbing each day and coaching Lothian United under-13s by night, he has fought his way through the ranks to face Liverpool in the Europa League with Hearts. Sheer toil and graft in the intervening 24 years has clearly paid off.
McGlynn hasn’t forgotten how he reached this stage and remains grateful for the grass-roots grounding which shaped him into the honest, all- encompassing man he is today at the age of 50. He will emerge from the Tynecastle tunnel and shake Brendan Rodgers’ hand tomorrow evening in the knowledge that he has fully earned the right to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Liverpool manager.
Many coaches of greater repute could learn a lot from McGlynn’s apprenticeship. He has cleaned dressing rooms, put up goal nets, washed kit and blown up footballs just like thousands of other volunteer coaches across the country. Extra diligence and determination took him from boys club football to senior football, then the junior ranks and finally into the professional arena. Even then, he served a grounding at youth level with Hearts before managing Raith Rovers and finally returning to Tynecastle.
McGlynn has waited years for a night like tomorrow: the chance to manage Hearts in a high-profile European tie under the glistening Tynecastle floodlights. But he won’t be blinded by the bright lights of the Europa League or the glamour of Liverpool.
He is able to recall days stuck under leaking sinks and mending dodgy drainpipes, plus endless nights in the pouring rain coaching kids and amateurs. Those experiences ensure he will embrace the opportunity in front of him.
“It was a good grounding, very much so,” he said in an exclusive Evening News interview. “When you come up through the juveniles, the junior football and the youth football, you have to get your hands dirty. You need to muck in, clean things up, tidy things up, pack kit away, get kit cleaned and get it back out for the next training session. You find yourself blowing up balls and things like that.
“It’s a very good grounding because sometimes you get a star player becoming a manager who isn’t used to doing those things. He thinks everything is just going to happen for him and that everyone else is just going to do things for him. People do appreciate seeing a manager getting his hands dirty, mucking in and doing jobs no matter what level it is. That sometimes works for you, rather than people thinking you’re a player turned manager who is above and beyond that.
“Folk respect you more if you’re prepared to give them the time of day and spend time with them and make everyone feel part of the football club. You do that mostly when you’ve worked at grass-roots, the very bottom level, and come up from there. You appreciate things so much more.”
Friendships were made and contacts established during those years which McGlynn has continued to this day. Loyalty is one of his best qualities. However, even he is sometimes taken aback when considering how far he has come in football.
“I probably never imagined something like this, it would be beyond your wildest dreams,” he continued. “I didn’t even think I’d end up being a manager when I started out, which was something like 24 years ago. I got involved at under-13 level with Lothian United. I was a plumber at that particular time and I’ve been involved in coaching ever since.
“Over the years I got involved in the professional side with Hearts when Jim (Jefferies) and Billy (Brown) were here. That was back in 1995. At that point in time, I didn’t even think I’d be Hearts manager never mind anything else. I’ve come a long way. I’m delighted to be in a position where I’m the Hearts manager with the prospect of Liverpool coming to Tynecastle. Football has always been part of my life. I eat, drink and sleep football and I always have done. I was like that when I was plumbing. I wasn’t the greatest player in the world. I went down to Bolton when I was 17, only lasted about 18 months and came back up and played for Berwick Rangers for three years. Then I went through the junior ranks with Musselburgh and then Whitehill in the East of Scotland League. I spent a wee bit of time with Easthouses Lilly.
“I got involved in coaching with Lothian United under-13s, taking them all the way up to under-18s. Then I went to Easthouses Lilly as manager and then Musselburgh as manager and then I moved to Hearts. I was always dedicated to football as a sport. I’d do anything to make myself better and make my team better.
“Nothing changes now. You do put the hours in, you do the work and you get the rewards. I was very grateful that Jim and Billy gave me the opportunity to come in and work for Hearts at under-16s. I’d hope they can see that I’ve paid them back with what I’ve done in the game.”
At one time, putting the hours in involved taking muddy kit home to chuck in Mrs McGlynn’s washing machine. Now it’s notably different. McGlynn’s preparations for his next match includes poring over DVD footage of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez in action in the warmth of his Riccarton office. As ever, he is determined to be thorough in attempting to plot Liverpool’s downfall. “I’ve spent a lot of time looking over DVDs of Liverpool and of Swansea last season to see how Brendan Rodgers will make his Liverpool team play. Maybe in time they will play like Swansea but I think he’ll still be trying to get that ethos across to them.
“We’ll be looking at everything and we’ll put some of that information over to the players. I don’t want their heads scrambled with too much, though. We’ll give them what they need to know. You’ve got to be professional. You’ve got to make sure everyone knows their jobs and is prepared for the game. Whatever I did before has gone and it’s in the past, you need to be focused and switched on to what’s in front of you. I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve got my job to do but Thursday will be about the players on the pitch, that’s the key thing.”
Players always will be most important to a manager, whether it’s on a public park, a junior ground or in one of the biggest matches ever staged at Tynecastle. John McGlynn has earned the right to lead Hearts against Liverpool because of years of sheer hard graft. It would be churlish not to applaud his endeavour.