Carl Heggs is a man who’s already gone a long way to winning the Notts County supporters over.
From both pre and post match interviews either side of Rochdale on Tuesday night, to the actual performance put in by his chosen squad, Heggs is a man keen to not pull the wool over supporter’s eyes. He knows what’s required on the run in towards the season’s end.
And he can’t wait for tomorrow’s game having been handed the reigns for a second match: “I’m really optimistic, i looked at the effort and the whole of that second half on tuesday the players wanted to prove themselves, to eachother and the fans. We’re all really excited for this weekend, its a massive game.”
Indeed. Dagenham & Redbridge sit fourth from bottom, in the relegation zone – alarmingly just one place below Notts. Defeat for Heggs tomorrow sends County to the cliff edge.
But as he says: “If we win on saturday, we’ve only got to win two, and they’ve got to win three so if you work the maths out it’s massive.The lads are buzzing, they had a great session yesterday morning, and i’ve gone round individually with them, they’re on my side and want to play for me.”
Seemingly all bar one at least, since one of the hotter prospects to come to Notts this season has bailed out with little more than a wimper. “Connor (Clifford) from Chelsea has gone. I tried to convince him to stay but he decided he wanted to go back and i’m not going to keep anyone who doesn’t want to play for the club. The good news is everyone else wants to play for me.
“He’s gone back because of broken promises. I told him he’d play against Dagenham but he chose to go back and play in the reserves – which is disappointing for a professional footballer.”
Speculation obviously has begun already as to nature of those promises, but you would hope these came down from previous manager Paul Ince. None the less the timing is confusing considering Clifford was in pole position to step in for the suspended Ricky Ravenhill having replaced him on Tuesday night.
For all of Tuesday’s positives, it was still another defeat. And rectifying the problems began the very next morning.
“You’re always going to be downbeat because these are professional footballers, but i was back here at 9am watching the DVD, analysing every single aspect, and we’ve put it into training. The players are well aware of what went into that game.
“Training has been light, we’ve worked on stuff. Had a session on throw-ins since Rochdale put in five crosses and two shots from throw-ins so we’ve worked on that. the lads are excited, looking forward to Saturday’s match.”
And Heggs says these are the matches his players want to be involved in: “I know its the wrong end of the table, but you want to play in big matches – which is what this match represents.
“The players were always aware they were in a relegation battle but whats important is they’re now looking thinking there’s eight games left so they’re more aware of it now. Everybody is aware, you’d be crackers if you didn’t.”
Whilst relatively inexperienced in management, particularly at this level, the current gaffer is relishing being given a second bite at managing a Notts side.
“I love it, i’ve done it before at a different level but i’m good with people, i understand and get the best out of them. I can just tell if someone is blagging me, i just have to look at them.”
When questioned about what changes he’s been able to make, it’s evident that psychologically he’s keen to make sweeping changes also: “I’ll always put my little stamp on things but the first thing you need to install is that you need to be passionate about what you’re doing.”
But is he looking beyond Daggers tomorrow, with an eye on taking the manager’s job permanently?
“I’ve never said i wanted the job full time, i think someone twisted my words a little bit. I just said i’ll take it one game at a time. I enjoy it, it’s been a fantastic experience and i’m loving every minute of it. But i’ll take it one minute at a time and whilst i’m manager – i guarantee everyone i’ll try my hardest to be the best i can be.
“I keep my feet on the floor in all situations, i take it as it comes. We’re not in a position to plan anything other than winning a game on saturday. I take it in my stride, i know it doesnt affect the players and i have great relations with all of them – it’s gone better than i ever could’ve hoped for.
“If i go back to being chief scout i’ll still say hi to them all and get on with the job to the best of my ability, otherwise you’re focused on yourself and not the team, and it’s them that matters not the person trying to get the job.
“But i’m over the moon that i’ve been trusted with another game in charge. I keep saying it’s a great club – i’m a Leicester boy but it’s about what this club represents. I think a lot of people forget that. The Chairman and board of directors have been great to me, they’re lovely people. It’s a fantastic honour to be given another game, if nothing else for the rest of my life i can say i managed Notts County for two games, and that’ll keep a smile on my face anyway.”
With such praise for the club and it’s standing, does that bring pressure in itself? Does he feel any weight of responsibility with that? Not a chance!
“What weight of responsibility? I ain’t clever enough to think about that, i’m only thinking about winning a football match. It’s my job to be a flag bearer for the rest. If i come in looking scared they’re gonna be scared, if i come in with a smile on my face we can take on the world.”
Speaking of taking on the world, some of the things Carl says suggest there’s still a hint of the team spirit that dragged the players towards last season’s League Two title – a miracle if the season so far has been anything to go by.
“They’re a great bunch of lads, they’re really good lads. There’s a lot of quality in the dressing room and i just feel they’ve lost their way a little bit. I’m just trying to get them focused on what it feels like to be a succesful team.
“They were League Two champions just a year ago, and most of the players are still here and it’s important that someone tells them every day they’re good. They need to know that what we’re trying to set out to achieve is possible. For some people it takes longer for the penny to drop but others take it on board straight away.
“If you tell some every single day he’s good looking he’s going to think he can nick a bird in a night club.” A touch of the Ian Holloways perhaps?
“It’s down to the individuals to lift themselves, i want 11 captains out there to know their roles and know everyone else’s. If i need inspiration, it could be Darbs coming across and smashing someone in a tackle. Everybody needs to stand up and be counted, i don’t identify with “You’re my senior player, get us going” – everyone gets us going.
“I’m a confident kid anyway, but i think board have seen what’s been happening and the way the lads have reacted and it’s good for your confidence.”
But what of those Champions, a group of players so strong last season yet separated constantly as the season has progressed? “There’s always going to be a problem when a new manager comes in and wants to bring his own faces, but i’m not focusing on that.
“I’m all positive now. As long as i’m here this football club will be positive towards everybody, and they all have a part to play. The canteen woman, the physio, the man spreading sand on the pitch – i won’t have anyone pulling in the wrong direction. I’ll see if they are, and they’ll either get a kick up the backside or be told to leave.”
Heggs clearly sets his own standards very highly, there’s a great attention to detail and he has enough of his own ideas as the club goes forward: “I’ve spent the last three days watching as many games as i can on DVD.
“If you look at all the managers who’re successful they’re all positive, they install an enthusiasm to do the best. If you can get all the players to equally like you, they’re here for the money, but also because they don’t want to let you down. I feel like i have that with the players, they have the look that they’re not going to let us down.”
What direction does he have in mind? “I was speaking to Keith Hill on Tuesday, Rochdale epitomise what i want to do with any football club, to have a togetherness and an enthusiasm to do the best you can do and look eachother in the eye and say i’ve not let anybody down.
“That’s what i represent anyway, i’d be a hypocrite if i did anything other. I was always a hard working footballer, one who lacked talent but was massively enthusiastic about the game. I took as much knowledge as i could and was always fascinated by footballers as human beings. I think the best way to get something out of someone is by telling someone they’re the best, i like them, don’t let me down – and they respond to that. If they don’t, they’re a waste of time and you get rid of them.”
When it’s suggested that the best managers didn’t always make the best players (such as Sir Alex), he’s quick to agree: “If you look at (Jose) Mourinho he started as a translator and he’s won the Champions League. The most important thing is your man management skills, knowing which players you need to do what with. You’ve got to get them to like you, because that’s when they try harder.
“Then get a backroom staff who’re knowledgeable about the league they’re in, and then everyone has a responsibility. That’s what the best managers do.”
On Tuesday against Rochdale, Heggs installed Lee Hughes as captain, a position first offered to him under Steve Cotterill. And there wasn’t a doubt in his mind about who would replace the suspended Mike Edwards.
“I know Lee, and i thought it was important to make him captain because he’s a winner, he’s a leader. If you look back in the history of captains and they’re all leaders of men.
“If you noticed before the match they had a group huddle, there’s a real togetherness there now. In Lee i have a captain as well who not just wears the armband, but i go to him as well as a person that i respect – he deserves everything he gets out of football. He’s a winner, he doesn’t want to let anybody down and he’s a credit to football and himself.”
And so the focus shifts back to Saturday’s game and the very real threat of relegation: “Saturday’s looking alright. It’s a blow having Ravs out but equal to that, it gives somebody an opportunity to come in now – i can’t dwell on the negative side of it, i’ve got to move to the positives and that is that somebody else coming in.
“Whoever that lad is, and i know who it is, it’s his chance now. It’d be hypocritical now if i told him to wear the shirt with pride and then he does well and i take the shirt off him. You take the shirt, you play well, you keep it. There’s no politics with me. You’ve proved to everyone that you deserve it.”
Carl isn’t shy of acknowledging the changes he has made either. He took great encouragement from Tuesday night, in particular that in going 2-0 down his side showed plenty of fight, certainly more than has been present in recent weeks.
“Being honest i’ve given myself a pat on the back because it shows the strides they’ve made in a short space of time, they’re beginning to believe in themselves again. If they were a group who don’t believe in me there’s every chance we could’ve lost by six or seven – in the end with a bit of luck we could’ve nicked something out of it.
“We didn’t create much, we got the ball in the right areas but it was get out of jail football. It was an opportunity to try and get the ball in the right areas and hopefully something would break for us. We hit the post, it bounces the wrong side of Lee Hughes, these are the things that kick start you, it lets people believe that it is possible, but sometimes you don’t get what you deserve out of games and life, but it’s important you never give up.”
The manager offers plenty of food for thought for supporters, he ticks all the right boxes as to what people want to hear – but there’s an honesty that makes it so believable.
He ends by praising the club’s supporters, acknowledging just what they’ve endured this season: “Those people want something to cheer, they really wanted to get on the edge of their seat this season.”
The club’s offer of free travel for supporters is key to the weekend also: “Just travel, however you can! Started walking now if you need to. We need as many people there as we can. I know people say it – but it does lift you. I’d be over the moon if there’s more there at Dagenham than there should be.
“Get your singing voices out and sing as loud as you can, the lads will be trying so sing as hard as you can!”
With Ray Trew and his directors aiming to assemble a short list of potential managers from all their applicants this weekend, victory on Saturday and Carl Heggs would certainly skyrocket to the top of many people’s wish lists.