Twenty-one years since he left the club, Mark Lillis was thrilled to officially return to the role of Scunthorpe United’s assistant manager on Monday.
The former Iron player, who made 80 appearances between 1989 and 1991 and scored 31 times, was previously Mick Buxton and then Brian Laws’ No 2 between 1996 and 1999 before leaving to take on the role of Halifax Town’s manager following our promotion at Wembley in the 1999 Division Three play-off final.
‘Bhuna’, as he’s affectionately nicknamed, is a massive fans’ favourite, just like the first team manager Neil Cox, who was a team-mate of his during his spell as a player here.
“It’s fantastic to return. I got a phone call from Coxy, which was good, and got the opportunity to come back,” he explained to iFollow Iron.
“I’ve recently been working in a care home over in Manchester on the frontline, which was a tough job for the last six or seven months, but they were fantastic to me.
“I’ve seen a different side outside of the football bubble, but jumped at the chance really when Neil rang. It didn’t take me long to say yes.
“(My family) lived in this town for 18 years and I know how the people want us to play. They want to see the lads pull that shirt on and play for the badge, not the name on the back of their shirt – which is so important.
“Coxy is younger than me, I have a bit more experience than him and I’m hoping I can play a part in us having a good positive season – that’s so important.”
Lillis helped Cox blossom during his spell as a player, as the future Premier League defender developed through the ranks at United before a move to top-flight Aston Villa in 1991.
He said: “There was him, Richard Hall and Graham Alexander coming through the ranks at the time. I took them under my wing, as I was a senior player coming to the end of my playing career. I loved helping them develop.
“I think you can get a better feeling coaching, than playing, when you see young players get on in their careers and enjoy success.
“To do that, you have to be part of a team, and that’s what we’re about here – we’re a team with everybody singing off the same hymn sheet. Coxy is positive, and I’m very positive as well, and we want to bring some good times back again, because it’s not been too good over the last couple of years.
“The past is gone. We’re in a new era now of modern day football and are working hard to get this club going. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Lillis continued: “It’s all about the fans. They work all week and come to watch us, and we want them to enjoy a couple of beers on a Saturday night knowing they’ve seen their team put a performance in – whether we win, lose or draw.
“I lived in Scotter for a lot of years and people used to say to me all that mattered was the lads put in 100 per cent, and that’s what we’re trying to get through to the players. It’s not just about one team member – it’s about the whole squad, the backroom staff, the people in the offices, those in the kitchens, and those who just work here on a Saturday too.
“We want to be one big family, and to do that we need to be positive, everyone needs to come in every day like you want to make this club have success again.”
Lillis feels there’s a young squad with a lot of potential at his and Cox’s disposal. He continued: “They’ve got an opportunity. Sometimes you have to play a young player to see if they can handle it.
“It was my first session this morning and will take me a week or so to see how they’re developing, The younger players only get a chance in football if they get an opportunity to play, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on them.
“I was academy manager at Huddersfield for five years and we produced some good players there. Philip Billing, who went to Bournemouth, and Duane Holmes, who came here to Scunthorpe and has had a really good career.
“Every day they come in, they have to train like it’s a matchday. That’s the norm and the way it’s going to be with me, Coxy and the staff. We’ll be positive and you have to be like that in life – you’ve got to believe. I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think it’ll be great. It’s hopefully going to be a successful and positive journey.”
Talking about his first day back on the training ground on Monday, Lillis said: “It was good. I had my whistle and stopwatch! I had to do ten press-ups as well because if you get a decision wrong with refereeing in the five-a-sides for example, it’s something you’ve got to do! I’m getting on a little bit now but I can do them quite easy!”
Lillis was in the stands for Saturday’s behind-closed-doors pre-season friendly at Doncaster Rovers and got to see his new charges for the first time.
He said: “I thought there were a lot of good things. We looked strong and fit, and that’s one of the big things in the modern game. We showed some good positive stuff on Saturday.
“When the season starts, it will be tough not having the fans in, but one thing I can tell them is we’re going to go and have a right go at it – whatever happens, we will do that and will always be like that.”
He concluded by saying: “You get a little bit older but the surroundings haven’t changed.
“It’s 21 years but I’m so proud to come back. I’ll not be on the pitch running around trying to score goals but I’ll give the lads opportunities and guidance in their careers. As a coach, you want to try and improve players so there will be a lot of work on the training ground. It won’t be a case of jumping in your car and off you go – there will be some long hours in there but it will all be for a purpose, and that’s making Scunthorpe United get up that league.”
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