Gillingham’s ‘immediate parting’ with manager Steve Evans on Sunday afternoon had felt a long time coming and marks another new low for one of the EFL’s most notorious individuals.
Evans has split opinion for almost the entirety of his managerial career, ranging from a pantomime villain to an evil force on the beautiful game. His volatile persona on the touchline irritates almost all that cross his path, while his prosecution for tax evasion while in charge of Boston United has had damning and lasting consequences for the Lincolnshire club.
In departing Gillingham after two-and-a-half years in Kent, Evans’ career has gone from being successful against the grain of popularity to yet another largely poor job. Like many successful managers – see Jose Mourinho – it feels like Evans belongs to another era. His split from Gillingham along with long-time assistant coach Paul Raynor has seen most of the blame apportioned to Gills chairman Paul Scally, an equally controversial figure.
The League One strugglers are 22nd in the third-tier table at the time of the duo’s departure, having lost six of their last seven games and being winless in an unlucky 13 fixtures. A 4-0 defeat to Ipswich Town was the final straw for Evans’ time at Gillingham. But should this be the last we see of Evans in football management?
There are two approaches to take here. In essence, there are strong arguments to be made that Evans should never have been allowed to touch professional football again following his behind-the-scenes shenanigans at Boston. Found guilty on a number of counts related to ‘contract irregularities’, Evans was suspended from the sport for just under two years. Such was the leniency of his punishment, he returned to the game as manager once more of Boston within a year and a half of being suspended.
A successful manager in his own right prior to and including that time, Evans’ career went from strength to strength as he continued to play the villain on the touchline. Despite overseeing Boston’s eventual relegation from the Football League a couple of years later, Evans became a promotion expert in the following years, earning two promotions from the National League to League One with Crawley Town and then successive promotions with Rotherham United from League Two to the Championship between 2013 and 2015.
Despite his touchline persona and constant fines and bans for behaviour both behind the scenes and in the public eye, Evans was making a name for himself as an almost guaranteed success in results terms.
But football has changed. Evans famously made over 80 signings for Rotherham in just over three years in charge at the Millers. That short-termism worked perfectly for seeing the South Yorkshire side fly through the divisions, but soon came back to bite them when future budgets were decimated. With the separate loan window scrapped between Evans’ managerial heyday and his time at Gillingham, much of his ability to earn short-term success has disappeared with it.
Just over half a decade ago, those successes with Crawley and Rotherham led to Leeds United handing Evans his first chance at a ‘big’ job. It was a turning point, a fork in the road, the point of no return in Evans’ career.
Despite doing a creditable job, Evans lasted didn’t even make it to a year in charge at Elland Road. His managerial peak was as short as it was memorable. For an individual who made headlines – good and bad – everywhere he had been, this was anti-climactic. It is something that has followed Evans since as he returns from where he came, lower and lower down the football pyramid.
Short stints followed at League Two Mansfield Town and League One Peterborough United before two-and-a-half years with Gillingham. Such were their struggles this season, Evans had attempted to move to League Two strugglers Stevenage to get out of Gillingham. Two months after that move was refused, he has been relieved of his duties and his career continues to head in that downward direction.
Almost two decades after his career was lucky not to come to a complete halt on the back of one of English football’s most farcical episodes, Evans’ time in football management could now end in untypically and uncharacteristically quiet style.
Should that happen, and EFL football continues indefinitely without Evans, there will be few tears shed. Even supporters of clubs Evans has led to success are split down the middle, while you would be hard pressed to find a neutral who thinks football is poorer for not having Evans.