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Honesty, self-awareness and knowing when to quit

Adrian Pennock’s steadfast refusal to step down as Gills boss had Gills365’s editor Simon Head thinking back to a certain England manager who fell on his sword 17 years ago



Credit: Kent Pro Images
Kent Pro Images

On October 7, 2000 one of England’s great players resigned as England manager in the toilets of the Wembley dressing rooms after a 1-0 defeat to Germany. It was the very first game of England’s 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign.

As a player, Kevin Keegan was one of England’s very best. A two-time European Footballer of the Year, he achieved great success – and legendary status – at Liverpool, became a fan favourite at Southampton and a club legend at Newcastle, who he would later manage. He even played overseas for SV Hamburg, where he helped fire the club to their first Bundesliga title in 19 years.

Public Domain photo

But as a manager, he was decidedly hit and miss. At Newcastle he produced one of the most entertaining sides in Premier League history, but fell agonisingly short of delivering the Toon fans the Premier League title they so craved.

But despite his relative successes at St James’ Park, he struggled to replicate that success in his other club appointments at Fulham, Manchester City and during a second stint at Newcastle.

And as England boss it quickly became apparent that, for all his greatness and pedigree as a player, he just wasn’t cut out for international management. And he knew it.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

To Keegan’s great credit he was honest with himself. He tried, he failed and he had the good grace and selflessness to step down and walk away from the biggest job of his career early enough to allow another manager – Sven Goran Eriksson – to take over and get England to the World Cup.

Eriksson got the plaudits, but he may not have had a chance had Keegan stayed in his post for another three or four games. A more selfish manager may have stubbornly stuck around until he was sacked, which may have come too late for England to qualify.

I was reminded of Keegan’s England departure this weekend after reading and listening to Adrian Pennock’s post-match comments following Gillingham’s 3-0 defeat at Oxford.

Pennock, I’m sure he would agree, wasn’t the same calibre of player Keegan was, and he isn’t the same calibre of manager Keegan was, either. Judging by his post-match comments this past weekend, I’m not sure he’s the same calibre of character, either.

Because while Keegan had the self-awareness and selflessness to step down when he got out of his depth, Pennock is steadfastly refusing to leave his post while the good ship Gillingham careers, seemingly inexorably, towards the rocks and likely relegation to League Two.

“I am not going anywhere unless I get told otherwise,” Pennock told the KM.

“It is tough, but I do think we can turn it around, it has to and if it doesn’t I know what the score is.”

In those two sentences, Pennock exposed his own selfishness, arrogance and an alarming lack of self-awareness.

In saying he’s not leaving Gillingham until he’s told otherwise, he’s basically saying he’s not going until he’s sacked. He’s staying put, even in the face of overwhelming evidence over 30 games that he’s demonstrably incapable of getting results.

It also suggests he’s quite prepared to – and indeed adamant he will – put his own job ahead of the success of the club he claims to love and the views of the fans who pay their hard-earned money to support the team.

And, by saying he thinks he can turn it around, even after 30 games of abject failure to do so, he’s exposed either a total lack of self-awareness or a remarkable level of arrogance. Whichever it is, neither quality is what’s needed when we’re getting the results we’ve been getting under his stewardship.

The calls for Pennock to go are getting ever louder, and it’s sad to see a player who was a cult hero on the Rainham End during the club’s glory days of the late 1990s/early 2000s reduced to a stubborn, out-of-his-depth head coach whose only contribution to the club as team boss could be sending us down to League Two.

Credit: Kent Pro Images

Dwindling support: Adrian Pennock’s Gills are driving fans away from Priestfield (Kent Pro Images)

He’s trotting out the usual soundbytes you’d expect, saying his team just needs more luck, saying things will turn around soon. But look at the quotes and listen to his words. There’s absolutely no substance or conviction to any of it.

There’s no clear plan to turn the club around, no direction of how to do it and, judging by some of his team selections and player deployment, a lack of genuine managerial nous. He’s looking, and sounding, more desperate by the week, and after Saturday’s game he reached the point of no return by turning on his own players. Once you start doing that as a manager, you’re a dead man walking.

The fans have largely already given up on Pennock as Gills boss – the attendances (whether officially announced or not) are testament to that. And there’s now a serious possibility that members of the squad may be following suit after angry words were reportedly exchanged between head coach and players in the Oxford away dressing room.

It’s been suggested the clock is ticking on Pennock. I think the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.

If only Pennock could utter those same words Keegan told FA boss David Davies in that Wembley toilet cubicle 17 years ago.

“I’m out of here. I’m not up to it. I’m going out to the press to tell them I’m not up to it.

“I can’t motivate the players. I can’t get the extra bit out of these players that I need.”

That was Kevin Keegan then, and it’s also Adrian Pennock now.

Keegan was honest with himself and stepped down for the good of the team. It’s high time Pennock was similarly honest and did the same for the good of ours.