Big interview: John McGlynn happy to have sleepless nights at Raith

Silence inside the Stark's Park reception area is broken by a director's footsteps on the stony floor. 'What a feeling about this place with him back. Were you there on Saturday? Ah've no' seen us play like that for years.'
John McGlynn is back in charge at Stark's ParkJohn McGlynn is back in charge at Stark's Park
John McGlynn is back in charge at Stark's Park

John McGlynn then arrives to accept keys to a new car from said board member. He has swapped the Champions League for a predominantly part-time third division. If the decision seems bizarre, one look at the re-energised 56-year-old explains why he is back managing Raith Rovers.

He missed the cones, the bibs, the dressing room and the tactics board. Then there’s the thrill of winning games. Raith won 5-1 at Dumbarton on Saturday in McGlynn’s first match in charge since he vacated the role in July 2012 to join Hearts.

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He managed Livingston thereafter but for the past three and a half years he has been scouting for Celtic. That’s scouting domestic and European opponents for Celtic, including Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Manchester City. From the Nou Camp roar to supping tea in a windy corner of Kirkcaldy is quite the career change.

McGlynn led Hearts into Europa League battle against Liverpool at AnfieldMcGlynn led Hearts into Europa League battle against Liverpool at Anfield
McGlynn led Hearts into Europa League battle against Liverpool at Anfield

“It’s probably a job I could’ve had for a few more years. Deep inside me, there was a wee burning desire to go back into management. I always felt I had another job in me,” he says.

“When the Raith Rovers job became available, I made it known I would be interested and they asked for my CV. I hadn’t gone for any other jobs. It was only really Raith Rovers who could have tempted me to come away from my role at Celtic.

“That might sound strange to people but I’ve been 20 years in full-time football. The best time I’ve had as a manager was here. Brendan Rodgers says you join the sleepless nights club when you go into management, but I wake up bloody excited during the night just to get back to training.”

He gives it that husky giggle but McGlynn is deadly serious. “Last Tuesday, when the appointment got announced, I was doing the media and I’m thinking: ‘Hurry up. I just want to get on the training pitch.’ I’m like a kid with new toys. Being around the players and the buzz of it, I always felt this is what I’m best at.”

He first joined Raith in November 2006 when they sat second bottom of the division they currently occupy. By 2011, he had taken them to the Scottish Cup semi-finals and was mounting a challenge for promotion to Scotland’s top flight. McGlynn was named PFA Scotland Manager of the Year that year.

Subsequent spells at Hearts and Livingston left him frustrated. He guided both clubs to cup finals but lost his job before the big event.

“I don’t think many people can say they’ve taken two clubs to cup finals but not actually led the team out on the day. At Hearts, we got to the League Cup final in 2013 by beating Dundee United and Inverness, both on penalties after playing with ten men for a long time. It showed tremendous character. However, four or five bad results later and you’re out of the job.

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“At Livingston, we reached the Petrofac Cup final in the October and Livingston felt we should part company before the final in the April.

“Yeah, there’s a sense of frustration. Even here. We got Raith Rovers to a Scottish Cup semi-final and lost to Dundee United. We were so close. I’ve been kind of knocking on the door. There is frustration that we did so well to get to a final and I haven’t had the opportunity to take a team out to see what would have happened.”

Raith are banking on a more experienced McGlynn taking such exasperation out on the rest of Scotland’s League One. His remit is to guide them into the Championship again using knowledge gleaned during six years of adventures. And there have been plenty of those.

His Hearts team almost took Rodgers’ Liverpool to extra-time at Anfield in the 2012 Europa League play-off. It remains the highlight of his eight-month tenure at Tynecastle Park.

“There was pride in that,” he recalls. “Half the team had gone from the side that won the Scottish Cup – which earned the qualifying tie with Liverpool – so we were having to play younger players like [Callum] Paterson, [Kevin] McHattie and [Dale] Carrick.

“You’re always worried when you go to play big teams in England with massive stars like [Steven] Gerrard, [Luis] Suarez and all the others. Look what Tottenham did to Hearts the year before. You fear a hiding.

“To go to Anfield that night and run them so close was great. Pepe Reina let the ball slip through from Temps [David Templeton] and we scored. I saw a wee picture of that just a few weeks back on the sixth anniversary. It was a great occasion and we nearly created history.”

Then came Livingston before the opportunity to work at Celtic, initially under Rodgers’ predecessor, Ronny Deila. McGlynn admits he learned bucketloads at home and abroad.

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“Over the years, I learned to get my way around Europe quite well. I had it to a tee,” he smiles. “It was a fantastic job and I thoroughly enjoyed it but it wasn’t an easy job. I was away from my wife a lot and on my own a lot.

“You go abroad and you’re watching PSG, Bayern Munich and Anderlecht in the Champions League last season. The year before it was Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Moenchengladbach. It’s brilliant. Then you deliver your report to the manager and his staff. To watch these teams and see how they go about the game, you can’t not learn. So the whole thing was really educational.

“You pick up wee snippets from watching what happens at Celtic as well. Brendan is a brilliant man-manager and couldn’t have been any more helpful when I told him about this opportunity. He was different-class. He knew I still had that desire to manage again.”

Not only manage, but coach, organise, sign and release players, plus negotiate budgets with directors. It is the world McGlynn is used to. Not everything comes flooding back immediately, though. “I’m not used to shouting at training and games any more,” he laughs as his voice momentarily breaks. “I’ve just got that feeling again.

“We are a good few points better off than when I took over in 2006. We respect every team in the league – I’m not the type of person not to – but at the same time we must have a belief and confidence in ourselves that we can take this club back into the Championship.”