Luton manager Graeme Jones was let go by Millwall as a teenager, but will have the opportunity to get revenge on Wednesday when the sides meet at Kenilworth Road, live on Sky Sports Football.
Jones reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals with Belgium as Roberto Martinez’s assistant, but in 1986, as a 16-year-old from the North East, he started his journey to the top in south-east London.
Luton vs Millwall
October 2, 2019, 7:30pm
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“I was scouted by Millwall and came down for a trial, but it was too much for me,” Jones tells Sky Sports at Luton’s training ground.
“It was the 80s, I was 16 and living in New Cross Gate, 15 minutes from the Old Den. I was on £27 a week and went round delivering leaflets in Peckham and Bermondsey to earn an extra £5. Some of the places I went, I don’t how I’m alive today!”
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Part-time jobs apart, Jones learned valuable lessons during a memorable time for the Lions. “There was Teddy Sheringham, Terry Hurlock, Tony Cascarino, some great players – they changed the face of Millwall in that era,” Jones says. “There was a togetherness and a mentality that I’ve still never seen in the game since.”
The 49-year-old looks back fondly on his time at the club, having gone on to a successful playing career before moving into coaching with Martinez and then Darren Moore before taking over at Luton in the summer.
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“The best thing that ever happened to me was going to Sheffield University to study education when I was 25. I qualified as a lecturer so that helped me understand the learning process.
“While playing, I was very aggressive, emotional. As a player, you’re allowed to be. As a manager, you need that emotion but the majority of the time you need perspective.
“I’m still not perfect – 95 per cent of the time I operate in the right manner, but five per cent, I can get angry and emotional about the game. People want to see that, they don’t want robots.”
Jones had plenty of offers to step into management before taking the plunge with Luton in May. Promoted twice in two years and back in the Championship for the first time in 12 years, the Bedfordshire club seemed the perfect fit for a sought-after coach. But what differences has he noticed from being an assistant?
“As a manager, the gameplan starts with you and the buck stops with you. So if you are irrational and emotional then you are not going to think,” he says. “You have to be level-headed and give direction and there is no point in doing that in an emotional state.
“As an assistant, ultimately you are not making the final decision whether a player is selected, but I was ready to be a manager and I have never looked back.”
Speaking when he was appointed in May, Jones said the long-term aim for Luton is to reach the Premier League
Three points would equal satisfaction on Wednesday for Jones, as Luton look to continue their attempt to consolidate their position in their first season back in the Championship. He knows his players will be in for a battle against Millwall though as two former bustling Football League forwards go head to head as managers.