Keith Brookman talks to Marcus Stewart about his playing career and his coaching ambitions and discusses his upcoming marathon for charity.
It's over twenty years since I first interviewed Marcus Stewart for The Pirate and back then he was a talented young striker who seemed destined for greater things.
Whilst I might have been right about his future as a player, there was no way I saw him as someone with future coaching/management potential, yet here we are several years down the line speaking about his current role as assistant manager with Rovers and a marathon he will be running for charity later this month.
When I tell him I never saw him as a player who would stay in the game once he had hung up his boots, he is in complete agreement; "I would have come to the same opinion about myself all those years ago. What I would say, though, is that I always had a really good football brain and a knowledge of the game and how it should be played. As a player I was able to adapt to any formation and play anywhere on the pitch and that's probably why I was able to play until I was 37.
"To be honest I was always a joker and never serious about anything, even though I knew what it took to be a leader. I never became that leader, though, probably because I wasn’t ready for it and because of that I felt it was wrong for me to put my points across when I wasn’t doing the right things myself.
"With age you see things a lot differently and now I live my life a lot better than I did back then. That said, I never hide from the fact that when I was a player I was silly. I will always admit to what I did in the past and, hopefully, help others to learn from mistakes I might have made.
"I think I realised, if I wanted to become a coach, then I had to change a lot of things in my life and begin taking my badges. That moment, for me, came when I joined Yeovil Town.
"It was a conscious decision, on my part, to change things and I think that all players coming to the end of the careers have a decision to make on their future. If you don't stop and think about what you are going to do when you finish playing, then it could affect the rest of your life."
Since Darrell Clarke took over as boss Marcus has added the position of assistant manager, alongside his coaching duties, to his CV and he is clearly enjoying his work; "I didn't know Darrell until John Ward brought him here as his assistant and from the moment he asked me to be his assistant I have trusted him and working with, and for, a manager I trust is very important to me.
"Since that day I feel that I have improved and developed myself and look back on what we have achieved together, and as a club, with a sense of pride. I am very happy in my work and consider myself very fortunate to be working with a group of players who have an outstanding outlook and attitude to what they do, and with a manager who lets me do my job and who encourages and supports me at all times."
So, as a coach, has this season exceeded expectations?; "No, I think the momentum of the previous two seasons has carried us to where we are now and I think there’s more to come from this group of players.
"The core group has been here from day one and it's important that we try to keep those players with us and add more to keep the momentum going."
Hard to believe that some of this group were playing non league football just three years ago and have made the step up to League One with consummate ease, which makes you wonder if there are more who could make the transition.
"I believe there are, but you need to remember that we were fortunate to have a manager who had worked with many of those players and saw what they could bring to this club. He had a good knowledge of that level at the time and, on the back of that, he trusted his instinct and his feelings about what those players could do and how far they could go.
"The fact that more players don't come through to the pro ranks from non league might have something to do with a lack of knowledge and understanding on the part of other managers.
"There are talented players out there, for sure, and while I'm not suggesting that you can fill a team with non league players there are certainly many out there with the potential to make it as full time professional footballers."
When coaching the club’s current crop of strikers I wonder if he sees any that resemble a younger version of himself; “Although he’s no longer at the club, I would have to say that Matty Taylor did. I can work with a great many people and I am always able to get my point across, but if players aren’t prepared to listen then they lose out you lose out. Matty’s strength was that he listened and put everything he could into practical sessions out on the training pitch.
“Different strikers go about the business of scoring goals in different ways, but a willingness to listen to their coaches is a pre requisite.”
When asked where he might be, in terms of his career, five years down the line, he says; “I really don’t know. I enjoy being successful. I was as a player and I am at this moment in time as I am at a club with a manager and with a team that are successful. In terms of my career I want to be around a successful place and that’s where I am at this moment in time, so why would I want to go anywhere else?”
I did mention, at the beginning of this article, charity work and marathon running, and this month sees Marcus and his wife, Louise, take part in the London Marathon where they will be running to raise funds for Rett Syndrome.
“I have always wanted to run a marathon, and to raise money for a charity, but one that, perhaps, people didn’t know too much about.”
I have to confess to being someone who knew nothing of Rett Syndrome, so had to look it up and this is what I found; ‘Rett syndrome is a neurodevelopmenal disorder that affects girls almost exclusively. It is characterised by normal early growth and development followed by a slowing of development, loss of purposeful use of the hands, distinctive hand movements, slowed brain and head growth, problems with walking, seizures, and intellectual disability.’
“A couple of years ago Louise and I were on holiday in Cyprus and we were speaking to a friend of ours who said he had to return to the UK to see his granddaughter who had Rett Syndrome. He explained what it was and so we have decided that we would like to raise awareness, as well as money, to help those suffering from this illness.”
No one, I would suggest, takes part in a marathon without having undertaken the correct preparation and Marcus has been stepping up his running for quite a while now. In order to do that, he’s had to shelve his cycling though.
“The training has gone well, though it’s taken up a great deal of time. There is a risk of injury if you’re a cyclist and a runner in any case, but what with my work commitments, I could only fit in running in any case.”
“Louise and I will be starting from the same point for the marathon and we will see how we go. It’s not a race between us, or against anyone else and now we simply want to raise as much money as we can.
“Our target was £6,000 and we have already reached that so we thank everyone who has contributed, especially one anonymous donor who has pledged the sum of £3,200 which was a complete, and welcome surprise.
“People can still donate, though, at our just giving page and, through this interview I would like to thank everyone for their support to Louise and myself. Everyone has been incredibly generous.”