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History

Once an Iron... Mark Lillis

16 April 2020

Despite spending just two years at United as a player, Mark Lillis enjoyed relative success in claret and blue and even began his coaching career at the club.

During the coming days, we'll republish past interviews with former Iron players from our matchday programme.

Born in Manchester, Lillis first signed professionally for Huddersfield in the summer of 1978 and played more than 200 league games for the Terriers.

He left in 1985 and signed for Manchester City before later joining Derby and then Aston Villa in the late 1980’s.

But after struggling to hold down a regular place in the Villa side, Mark was made aware of a number of clubs that were interested in signing him and it was Scunthorpe who managed to acquire the attacker’s services.

He told us: “I was at Aston Villa with Graham Taylor in 1989 when Mick Buxton contacted Villa with a view to signing me and at the time I wasn’t in the team so obviously that played a big part in my eventual decision to leave.

“Mick also offered me the opportunity to get my coaching career up and running which appealed to me because I’d known for a while that that was what I wanted to go into after my playing career.

“There were a couple of other clubs interested in signing me but I just thought that working with Mick, who I’d played with at Huddersfield for a number of years previously, would be a good move for me and I ended up moving over to Lincolnshire with my family in 1990 and lived there for 17 years.”

After playing in the top division of English football, you’d expect Lillis to have been involved in a number of fiercely contested games with plenty of goals for the paying customer to take in.

But few would have been as entertaining as his debut for the Iron as he explains: “My Scunthorpe debut was against Exeter in September 1989 at home which we won 5-4.

“I remember we were 3 or 4-1 down at one point in the game and I was wondering what I’d let myself in for after leaving a relatively successful Aston Villa side but thankfully we did go on and win the game!

“That was a fantastic match to have been involved in and I really enjoyed all of my time at the club as a player so it’s hard to just pinpoint one or two isolated moments.”

Lillis appeared 68 times for United before departing for Stockport County in 1991 after the club decided not to renew his contract.

And at the age of 31, Mark knew the time had come to start focusing on life after football and turned his attentions to coaching.

“Bill Green decided not to renew my contract in 1991 which meant that I had to move on,” he continued.

“I joined Stockport and played a few games there but my main focus at that point was on the coaching side of the game and making inroads with that.

“After Stockport, I played at Macclesfield for a while before going back to Scunthorpe in 1996 as assistant manager which was another brilliant chapter in my time the club.

“I was working with the youth team at Huddersfield Town along with Brian Horton and got a call from Mick regarding the possibility of going over to work with the senior players at Scunthorpe.

“I still knew a few of the players there which made the transition a lot easier and I was at a time in my coaching career when I wanted to challenge myself and work with first team players.

“It was a fantastic opportunity for me and I then worked with Brian Laws after Mick left in 1997 which was also great and I just really enjoyed every minute of it.”

Lillis was part of the backroom staff that helped Scunthorpe achieve promotion to what is now League One in the 1998-1999 season, following a 1-0 Play-Off final victory over Leyton Orient at Wembley.

And that occasion is one that leapfrogs to the front of his mind when remembering his time as a coach at the club.

“We were 1-0 down following the first leg of the Play-Off semi-final against Swansea and so to have gone on and won the tie in the return leg was very special,” he explained.

“That’s definitely one of the highlights of my coaching career in general because to have reached Wembley with a club like Scunthorpe was a phenomenal achievement and it’s something that I am proud to have been a part of.

“Winning a Play-Off final at the old Wembley with Scunthorpe and then winning one at the new Wembley with Morecambe were both unbelievable and those two occasions really are two of my best memories in football.

“I’ve got loads of mates in Scunthorpe and I really enjoyed my spell as both a player and a coach at the club.

“Even now I get people talking to me about the great occasions that I was a part of and thanking me for my contribution which obviously fills me with pride and it’s really nice to feel appreciated.”

Following that success as a coach in North Lincolnshire, the next step for Lillis was to find a route into management.

His first opportunity arose in 1999 and Mark opted to join Halifax Town, though he did admit that it was hard to leave the club that gave him his first shot as a coach.

He added: “We’d just achieved promotion at Wembley and as a coach, the next step up for me was to challenge myself on my own as a manager and after I’d weighed up my options I decided to go to Halifax Town.

“I had a word with Brian and he understood that I wanted to further my coaching career and the only way to do that was to make the switch to management.

“I made the move and even though it didn’t quite work out, it did give me vital experience and I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity.

“When you’ve been at a club for a long time it’s hard to say goodbye but thankfully I left after a successful season for Scunthorpe and Russ Wilcox then came in and built up a good working relationship with Brian so things just carried on where they left off on that front.”

He concluded: “The club means a hell of a lot to me. All of my children were brought up in Scunthorpe, I made some great friends, experienced many great times and have many good memories that I will remember for the rest of my life.

“The fans were always brilliant with me as well, especially on that Play-Off semi-final night against Swansea when the place was packed.

“I remember spontaneously running out with a St Georges flag because it was a sort of ‘England v Wales’ scenario and I’ll always have fond memories like that from during my time at Scunthorpe.”


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