The big interview: U’s boss McGreal on his return to Tranmere
Tranmere Rovers was where it all began, for John McGreal, so this weekend promises to be a special one for Colchester United’s head coach.
McGreal returns to Prenton Park for the first time since he was appointed U’s boss, just over two years ago, hoping to plot the downfall of his old club and, in the process, propelling his current charges even further up the League Two table.
The U’s leapt to fourth spot, following last weekend’s 3-1 win at Cheltenham Town.
And tomorrow offers a quick chance to wrap up back-to-back away wins for the first time since last spring, when a 1-0 victory at Stevenage (March 24) was followed nine days later by a 2-1 success at Forest Green Rovers.
Tranmere will provide stern opposition, and there will certainly be no sentiment as far as McGreal is concerned, despite the U’s boss having spent nine years as a senior professional at Prenton Park.
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The Birkenhead-born defender graduated from the youth team set-up at Rovers, and went on to rattle up 195 league games during that time (1990-99), and 233 in all competitions, before moving onto Ipswich Town.
There will even be a familiar face in the home dug-out, because McGreal used to be team-mates with current Rovers boss Micky Mellon (both aged 46) at Prenton Park.
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“They were great days at Tranmere. We were in the Championship at the time and getting into the play-offs,” recalled McGreal, following yesterday morning’s training session at Florence Park, Tiptree.
McGreal continued: “It will be a proud moment to return, as manager of Colchester United, but it won’t be emotional.
“I’ve been back there since, as a player with Ipswich, but I suppose it will be a bit different as a manager.
“I know I’ll be asked lots of questions, and it will be a chance to meet some old faces, but this weekend is not about me.
“Of course I’ll be pleased to go back, and I was delighted to see Tranmere get back into the Football League (play-off win over Boreham Wood last May).
“Micky Mellon has done really well there over the last couple of years, and I’ll be speaking to him soon because I need to get lots of tickets for my family and friends!
“But as I said before, it’s not about me, it’s about our football club, Colchester United,” confirmed McGreal.
Rovers are well-placed in ninth, on their return to the Football League. They are unbeaten in their last three league games, and are only two points adrift of the U’s going into this weekend’s match-up.
Furthermore, Mellon’s men have won two and drawn the other of their first three home league fixtures.
“They are one of the biggest clubs in our division, full-stop,” continued McGreal.
“They are tough to play against, especially at their place, where they have 6,000 or 7,000 fans cheering them on.
“It’s a brilliant club, a family club, and they have a big hardcore following, home and away. I certainly think they have the capability to go back up the divisions.
“For me, I have to mention Warwick Rimmer, because he was responsible for a whole production line of good young players coming through the club.”
As a player, Rimmer chalked 597 league appearances for Bolton and Crewe (1960-79), but he went on to have a massive influence at Tranmore by founding the club’s youth section in 1987. It was that new youth set-up that spawned the talent of McGreal.
The U’s boss continued: “Warwick has had a huge part to play in the success of Tranmere. He allowed us to manage our own dressing room, from such a young age. He was the backbone of the club, teaching how to deal with all the highs and the lows.
“John King (Tranmere manager from 1987 to 1996) was a brilliant man. He would come after you, if you failed to perform, but we were also able to express ourselves.
“It also helped to have a player like John Aldridge (future manager, from 1996 to 2001) scoring 20-odd goals a season for you!”
Back to the present and the U’s have taken five points from three games on the road, with draws at Notts County and Mansfield, and last Saturday’s victory at Whaddon Road.
“We want to keep our good away run going,” insisted McGreal.
“It was a terrific shot in the arm, to win at Cheltenham last weekend. We have leapfrogged up the table, as a result, and it should give us a good deal of confidence going into the Tranmere game.”