The final part of our two-part interview with the man behind Steve Evans
In a 25-year playing career, new Mansfield Town assistant boss Paul Raynor experienced many ups and downs.
But, while being the skipper at Preston North End, he can vividly remember his first look at up-and-coming starlet David Beckham as he found himself having to make way for the loanee’s debut.
Disgruntled at that moment, Raynor said he soon saw what all the fuss was about.
“It would probably take me 10 minutes to describe all my clubs from start to finish, there was probably 15 along the way including non-League,” he said.
“I had an enjoyable period at Preston, quite a successful period, and we had this young whippersnapper come from Manchester United.
“I hadn’t really heard of him and he only stayed a month. But he was fantastic. It just shows you the impact he made in that month. Afterwards Preston tried to buy him for about half a million, but Manchester United were never going to let him go.
Click HERE to read part one of our Paul Raynor interview
“The unfortunate thing for me was when he made his League debut for Preston, I was the one that was substituted.
“I was captain, took all the free kicks, took all the throw-ins, took all the corners and then this young lad from Manchester United came and took over my mantle, so I wasn’t overjoyed at that point.
“But when you saw the ability he had got it was self-evident he was going to be very successful.
“What he did actually achieve was unbelievable. He was a nice guy - a real gentlemen. He came back and saw us throughout that season and kept in touch with a few of the guys.”
After starting his coaching at Sheffield United, Raynor has forged a great career as No.2 to Steve Evans, arriving at Mansfield last month.
But as a player he is well travelled, even enjoying a taste of a very different Orient, spending 1997 in the emerging Chinese Jia-A League playing for Guangdong Hongyuan.
“I have been fortunate enough to travel the world playing and coaching – and it’s brought me to Mansfield in the end,” he said.
“I had a period over in the Premier League in China, which was a real experience – very different but enjoyable.
“It was 15 years ago now and they were trying to expand the game – that was probably the start of it over there and I was fortunate enough to play for a team in Canton and you could tell there were signs they were getting serious.
“Now there is a lot of money and big name players and I could see the sprouts of that. The fans are so enthusiastic out there.
“The problem was the players were so enthusiastic they had no ideas of tactics whatsoever. There were games I was playing centre forward and the left back would suddenly run by me and I wondered what he was actually doing up there!
“Now they have brought in a lot of foreign coaches and it’s flying over there.”
Locally, Raynor also enjoyed a season at Ilkeston Town with the late and much missed ex-Stags assistant boss Keith Alexander in 1999/2000.
“I had a year with Keith Alexander, which was fantastic,” said Raynor
“What a real character Keith was – so laid back it was incredible.
“He was a real nice guy and could certainly motivate. You wanted to play for him. He always had us playing with a real smile on our face.
“I had a period at Ilkeston, Boston, King’s Lynn, Gainsborough, you name it. I just loved playing and I tried to play until my legs dropped off.
“The gaffer kept picking me down at Crawley until I was about 43. He kept telling me to go on the bench.
“It was disappointing at times as there were lads far fitter than me that could have gone on there. Now I even struggle to join in with training. But I played as long as I possibly could.”
Raynor can remember the day he first met Evans, the man he was destined to achieve so much with as a duo. But that first meeting was less than cordial!
“It was playing for Ilkeston against Boston,” he said. “I think Boston were flying high at the top of the league about 10 points clear and came to us on a Bank Holiday Monday.
“I was aware they had a good team and the gaffer had got them playing very well. They came to us and we weren’t bad. We had some experienced players with Ian Helliwell, Devon White and myself.
“I think we managed to grind out a 1-0 victory and I can remember the gaffer saying a few choice words to me when I committed the odd foul here and there and was kicking his star players. We had a bit of banter.
“Then he sold his midfield player to Bolton, a lad that went on to have a really good career – David Norris. He then decided I was going to be his replacement. David at the time was about 19 and he replaced him with a 36-year-old!”
As a pair, Evans and Raynor have few, if any, equals in the lower leagues and Raynor said: “I think our record stand up there with everybody at this level and probably even in the Championship.
“People see where Rotherham United are now. That proves how difficult it is with their resources to keep the likes of Rotherham in the Championship. To do that the season we were in there with them was a fantastic achievement.
“Also we went to Elland Road and Leeds United with all the problems they were having off the pitch with protests against the owner - I think the team was 18th when we took over and hadn’t won at home for eight months - and we turned that around. There was a real feelgood factor when we left.
“Now you see that’s snowballed and they are having a successful time on the pitch. We put those building blocks in place and until we left Rotherham we did the same.
“My enjoyment comes when I get my boots on, get my whistle and can go and coach players, get them at it and create winning teams.”
Having enjoyed the taste of success so much the two are determined to add to their eight promotions in 12 years with the Stags.
“You never forget days like when you need to win to get promoted or wins at Wembley, they are fantastic times and I know the fans of Mansfield will remember their day winning at Wembley,” he said.
“We want a lot more of that. There is an opportunity to do that here. We are not going to a Championship club where we are trying to save them from relegation. There is a real positivity here to go and achieve something.
“That would mean promotion and we are certainly capable of that. It’s going to be a tough job, but if people get behind us and the players get behind us and everyone pulls together there is not reason we can’t achieve that.
“What I did say to the players before our first game was how difficult it was knowing you were coming here.
“It’s a hostile place to come and get a result when the crowd get behind the Stags. The fans have embraced us so far and really got behind us.
“We said to the boys before the Blackpool game, you can see the reaction. They want to cheer you, they want us to attack.”