Failed move to QPR, Steve McClaren and a season of struggle – Gloucester City assistant manager Marc McGregor's story so far

To have a move to QPR taken away from you after a meaningless Warwickshire Cup game is hard to take.

Former Forest Green Rovers striker and Gloucester City assistant manager Marc McGregor was on the verge of playing under Ian Holloway at the West London outfit.

“It was really tough to take because I had signed a pre-contract and been down there, everything was ready to sign,” McGregor says.

“The back of my knee had come apart. It turned out to be eight months out and I spent four weeks down at QPR to try and get it right, but it just wouldn’t recover. The deal fell through. It’s a real shame because I really wanted to play for Ian Holloway.

“These situations make you stronger, and if I’m honest technically I was good enough to bounce back from that injury, I just didn’t work hard enough.”

Now as Gloucester's assistant manager, McGregor has endured a tough season at the club following the Tigers’ relegation to the Southern League just over two weeks ago.

“Don’t underestimate it’s been a really difficult season. The challenges we’ve had and the flexibility of the squad,” he says.

“Every manager is different and there is some players you’d like to have and some you’d like to move on. You can’t have a refresh on the whole squad so hopefully we don’t get a hangover, the North is a lot stronger than when we were in it previously, it’s caught us by surprise.

“The fanbase and the club is positive and even knowing where we’ll be next year, it’s a reset for us and we’re going to go for it.”

The 45-year-old is in coaching alongside Gloucester boss Mike Cook and first team coach Andy Hoskins, the three have built a tight bond since their paths crossed.

“I came across him (Mike Cook) when I was on my coaching badges, I did all my badges through the PFA, and I got a job. He saw me coach and he said he’d like to have me with him if any future job came up.

“I didn’t know Hosky (Andy Hoskins) that well when I came in first, it’s good to meet new people with different views, you’ve got to have people you can trust and bounce ideas off without falling out!

“The number of times we’ve argued over who we would play and who we wouldn’t it’s all about opinions. I look at games on Sky and think, why’s he not playing? Which I then reflect back on us as coaches.”

There is no doubt it’s been a difficult season for the Tigers, on the verge of promotion to the National League as a professional club, to now a semi-professional side competing in the seventh-tier next season.

“There’s two sides to it. You’ve got to get the right mix of players that don’t want to go full-time and want to compete at the level, the budget increased when Lee (Mansell) left which helped the promotion push.

“Tim (Flowers) had to press a reset button; I think Liam Armstrong is the only one that survived out of the group from last season. I’ve noticed the ambition of players, and they have to mirror the coaches’ ambition and sometimes, they don’t, so that’s what we have to get right next year.

“The last few weeks I know that Eamonn (McGurk) has been with Colin (Taylor), Richard Lewis and the supporters trust and the club’s afloat because of those types of people.”

Before Gloucester, McGregor was manager at Weston-super-Mare for almost two seasons. His time came to an end in 2019 after only five league wins by March.

“The chairman was really supportive about going up next year. Ultimately, we had to sell players, Dayle Grubb went to Forest Green, and we lost Danny Greenslade,” McGregor says.

“That’s where we fell down and the budget wasn’t quite right. I still speak to the chairman and the guys down at Weston, brilliant club. I’m really happy they’ve found the finances to compete at that level.

“I decided to go. I could’ve stayed, I did mention to them four months previously due to other commitments I wanted to leave. Another thing was Rob Boyd leaving, I think that’s really key, and I definitely wouldn’t do a job unless I’ve got the right people around me.”

With plenty of time to continue his managerial career, McGregor is happy with his current role at Gloucester, however he’s not ruling out the possibilities.

“Would I do it again? I probably couldn’t at that time, and it was difficult with my job at the time, would I in the future? Maybe.

“I quite enjoy working with Cookie and Hosky and being in that environment, but I’d never say never.”

In his playing days, McGregor was a striker whose main period came at Nuneaton and Forest Green. Scoring plenty of goals in his time, the famous stoppage time winner in 2000 against Stoke City springs to mind.

“I scored a couple in the youth team at Oxford United, one at Brentford from the half-way line. Even before David Beckham did it!

“Most people recognise that goal against Stoke in the FA Cup, it gets shown in some of the FA Cup clips as well.”

Starting at Oxford United, McGregor was coached by former England manager and current Manchester United coach Steve McClaren.

“He was my youth coach at Oxford, and people who don’t know him don’t understand what a great coach he is. Once you’ve been at Manchester United and clubs like that, you earn that respect. You could see how important everything was in training, he wanted everything to be perfection and if it wasn’t he’d be on your back.

“I managed to see him a few years after he left at Derby County. It’s a shame that the England job didn’t work out for him.”

Shortly after he left Oxford, McGregor found himself at Notts County, he endured a difficult time with the Magpies’ financial issues and couldn’t quite break through into the first team. The Notts County manager at the time is what 19-year-old McGregor loved.

“I was there briefly, and Sam Allardyce was the manager and he said, ‘I know it didn’t work out at Oxford but why not’ he was really good and wanted to know how he could help. At Oxford I was more of a central midfielder rather than a forward and he pushed me out wide, I played there in pre-season against Leicester, playing really well,” he says smiling.

“There was an embargo on the club, so I was living out of a hotel, and he said let’s try and get something sorted when they came out of the embargo. It was me and a few other players they wanted to sign, unfortunately they didn’t. He was a totally different coach to what I was used to, he wanted to play quite direct, and I enjoyed that.”

With his playing career not planning out as expected, QPR wasn’t a one-time situation, when at Forest Green, McGregor had the chance to go just down the road in Gloucestershire.

“Cookie (Mike Cook) was working at Cheltenham Town when I first came across him and I was at Forest Green when they tried to sign me.

“When I was supposed to sign, it was due to finances and Forest Green not wanting to let me go, it was down to the club, they didn’t want me going to their rivals.

Moving from Southend as a 10-year-old led McGregor to Northway in Tewkesbury, where he was first scouted, giving a harsh lesson on coming through academies.

“You don’t realise that if you put yourself in a place like London, you’ve got a job regularly, it’s not like that in the South-West,” he says.

“The first time I was scouted was by Arsenal as a kid when I was 11 or 12 and my dad was a Gooner at the time, so it was brilliant for him.

“When you go and play a few games for them, you don’t realise how big those clubs actually are. I had a choice between Aston Villa and Oxford, and this is no disrespect to Oxford, but they were a lot smaller. They had a great family feel and we were a very good youth team at Oxford.

McGregor’s career never got going as a player. Injuries and a lack of dedication ended the chance of a promising adventure.

“I try and explain it to our lads. Moving somewhere where you’re happy for an extra £150 a week when actually, you’re better of playing where it suits you and it fits them.

“My biggest regret is chasing that extra bit of money when I should’ve stayed put where I was, and I’ll pass that experience onto my kids.

“It’s not the contract that you’ve got which is important, it’s the next one and how hard you work to get that next contract.”