Belfast Telegraph

Wembley to Windsor for Wilson

By Frank Brownlow

Danny Wilson would love to manage Northern Ireland one day — but it won’t be on the agenda for a long time yet.

Wilson takes his Swindon Town team to Wembley tomorrow to face Millwall in the final of the League One play-off.

And the man who guided unfashionable Barnsley to their only ever stint in the top flight would love to take little Swindon first to the Championship and then on up to the Premier League, a feat once achieved by Glenn Hoddle.

And anyway, as Wilson points out, it could be a very long time until there is a vacancy for a Northern Ireland boss.

“Nigel Worthington is doing a brilliant job and was very unlucky not to qualify for the World Cup,” said Wilson.

“He’s bringing in new players and that can only be good for the future of the Northern Ireland team.

“Whether there’s anything there in the future for me, I don’t know at this moment.

“We never know what’s in front of us or what’s round the corner.”

But one thing Wilson is sure about is how much it meant to him to play for Northern Ireland, the Wigan-born midfielder qualifying through the parental rule.

“I was very, very proud to play for Northern Ireland,” he said.

“My only disappointment was that I didn’t get to play in a World Cup.

“It would have been great to play on that stage but I came on the scene just after the 1986 World Cup finals.

“But it was fantastic to play for Northern Ireland and I am grateful to Billy Bingham for giving me the opportunity.

“The Northern Ireland team I played in was quite experienced with a lot of players operating at the top level but it was perhaps an ageing team.

“Nigel’s getting a nice blend now of a few experienced players with younger lads coming through. It all bodes well for the future.”

Wilson is well travelled as a player and a manager.

And he had a unique grounding in the game — playing under the legendary Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest.

Wilson sums up Clough’s managerial style in just one word — scary!

“But you’ve got to remember I was only a young lad when I was at Forest,” insisted Wilson, laughing.

“No, but seriously, Cloughie was a terrific man manager.

“He really opened my eyes in many ways.

“Cloughie had a great belief in playing football in what he felt was the right way — by keeping the ball on the green stuff.”

And Wilson has always encouraged his teams to play attractive football.

“You take bits and bobs from the managers from your playing days,” he explained.

“I was lucky in that I always played under managers who wanted their teams to play football — I never played under any long ball merchants.

“I have always been taught to get the ball and play and try to entertain. That has always stuck with me as a manager.

“I like to see my players try to play in — what is in my opinion — the right way. That’s my style of coaching.”

Wilson will continue with that approach tomorrow against a Millwall side who start as favourites.

“The experience that myself and my staff possess will be put to good use in calming the players’ nerves before the game,” he added.

“That’s something we will be working on.

“You can’t really toss it away as just another game, because it isn’t. We have to try and put into the 90 or 120 minutes what we’ve been doing throughout the season in terms of playing our football because we have been quite successful with that.

“We must try to re-create this season’s performances in this one final game and if we do that, we can cause Millwall problems.

“We are capable of doing that if we remain calm and focused — and that’s what I’m trying to get across to the boys.

“This opportunity is a bonus because when the season was starting I don’t think anyone thought we would have been in this position.

“Maybe we dreamed of being in this situation but I don’t think that realistically anyone believed we would be.

“But we have gained momentum as the season has gone on and it means a great deal to the club.

Wilson’s own battling qualities as a player are very much embodied in his team, something shown in the play-off semi-final against Charlton which ended in a penalty shoot-out.

He added: “Maybe the chance has come quickly but if it’s there you take it, you grab it with both hands.

“We’ve had these type of performances all through the year. The players have been absolutely fantastic and have drawn great belief from each other.

“The two legs of the play-off semi-final against Charlton illustrated what we have been doing all season so I’m very proud of the boys.

“To get back into the game at Charlton and then have the bravery to win on penalties was a great credit to the players.”

And Wilson points to the success of Blackpool in reaching the Premier League as something for his players to aspire to.

“The underdog came through in the Championship play-off and deservedly so — Blackpool played extremely well,” he added.

“What Blackpool have achieved and what (manager) Ian Holloway has done with his team has been incredible.

“It seems to have been based on a belief in each other, a belief in what they were doing.

“We can look at what Blackpool did in the play-offs and draw on that — like them, we are not the fancied team and not the biggest club but during the match we have as good a chance as anyone else and if we play as well as we have all season I will be more than happy.

“It is much more difficult now to get success at Premier League level than it was even just a few years ago because of the money that’s involved.

“There’s a gap even within the Premier League but the gap between the top flight and the rest is bigger now than it’s ever been. Clubs outside the top league are falling behind in terms of the quality of player they are able to sign, the players that can actually get you promoted.

“You can maybe get one season when everything goes for you, you get a bit of luck and you get the results — maybe that’s what has happened with Blackpool.

“But seasons like that don’t come around too often and they will get fewer and further between.”

Wilson, understandably very much a fan of the play-offs, added: “At the beginning of the season we would have been absolutely delighted with a play-off final so we can’t complain at this stage if we don’t make it through.

“The play-offs are very exciting and are something the fans can look forward to and mean that everyone’s season stays alive for longer.

“You know the situation at the start of the season and you just get on with it.

“Millwall finished third, three points above us. The play-offs are difficult but are a fantastic end to the season.

“We’ve had two close games with Millwall this season and I don’t see this game being much different.

“Millwall are very well organised, very strong and have been together for a while now. They have plenty of experience and work hard as a unit.”

And now it all comes down to one match.

“Walking out at Wembley will be a very proud moment,” said Wilson.

“It will be up there with anything I have achieved in football.

“Our lads have earned the right to go and play there and it will be a fantastic occasion for everybody.

“I will tell the players to try and remember everything they can about the day. But if you win the game your memories will be a lot better than if you lose.”

Spoken as a born winner.

Belfast Telegraph


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