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Russ Penn: One v One with Tranmere Rovers defender Steve McNulty

By Russ Penn

He may not be your archetypal footballer, but Steve McNulty is the man that every team would want to have battling with them in the trenches. Serving the likes of Fleetwood Town, Luton Town and Tranmere Rovers, winning the Conference title twice, the burly centre-back is a legend at all three – and it’s easy to see why…

So Steve, at 34 years of age and with over 500 career appearances, how’s the body holding up?

My body is holding up well, I’ve been very lucky I’ve never had a serious injury in my career. It’s the lightest I’ve been in a long time and the fittest I’ve felt. I think when you’re younger you cut corners, but the older you get you have to look after yourself. I don’t really have any routines, it just takes a bit longer to get over the games and we feel a few more aches and pains the older you get.

You’ve played for some great traditional clubs winning a few championships on the way, but what has been your proudest achievement to date?

I think all the achievements I’ve had are special in their own way. I think when I retire that will be the time to sit down and reflect on what I’ve achieved. I’m just focused on trying to get Tranmere out of the league and if that happens soon that would be up there as it’s one of my local clubs.

You could say you’re not the typical slim athlete of the modern game! Has amanager or fitness coach ever tried to change the way you are?

I’m certainly not the typical athlete and get told that most Saturdays by the opposition fans! It’s never bothered me, but it could be the reason why I’ve never played at a higher level. People take one look at you and just dismiss you without ever seeing you play. No manager has ever tried to change me but the older I’ve got the more I’ve worked with fitness coaches at whatever club I’ve been at to keep my weight down and prolong my career.

What manager has got you playing your best football?

I’ve had my best times at Luton. That’s where I’ve played my most consistent football for the longest period of time. We got promoted, then we missed out on the league Two play-offs on the last game of the season. I also made the PFA Team of the Year. John Still and Micky Mellon are two good managers and I couldn’t choose between them. I’ve never needed man-managing and as a professional your motivation should never have to come from a manager, it should already be in you to do well and become the best you can be.

You’ve played against Adebayo Akinfenwa a few times. That is some serious heavyweights going to war. Describe the battle between you both?

You’re right we had few battles in our time and it was very enjoyable. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves; he’s labelled as just being a big strong man, but he can play football and has got a lot of ability. We’ve always had that respect for each other. There are plenty of lads at this level I’ve played against that could comfortably play in the League, but they just need someone to take a chance on them and give them a break. The National League is a tough division and doesn’t get credit it deserves in my opinion.

Being a local Liverpudlian, can you see yourself finishing your career at Tranmere Rovers?

I’d love to finish my career here, I feel like I’ve still got a good few years in me yet before

I hang up my boots. Tranmere are a massive club with loads of history and I was brought here for a reason and that was to help them back into the Football League where a club like this belongs. Micky[Mellon] is a great manager, I’ve worked with him before and have always captained his teams, he knows how to get the best out of me.

Best mate in football?

You know what us scousers are like, we always stick together. I’ve played with a few of the lads at various clubs before so I’m close to a few of them like Andy Mangan and Scott Davies, who is an adopted scouser.

I came through Liverpool with a lad called John Welsh (now at Preston North End), we both signed when we were six and he was still there when I left at 20. I bump into him from time to time and he reminds me what might have been.

Life after football?

I’m just in the process of finishing off my UEFA B license. I’d like to stay in the game and try my hand in management. Football is all I know and I believe I’ve got a lot to give back to the game. I’ve made some good contacts throughout my career so fingers crossed when it’s time I can call on a few favours.

Do you have any regrets in football?

You are where you are for a reason and I’m a big believer in that every player will always find their level in the game. If I had my time again I’d just dedicate myself a bit more to looking after myself and not cutting corners when I was younger, it’s not until you get older and wiser that you realise what might have been.

Best football tale?

Looking back it was very wrong and disrespectful. We had already won the Conference title going into the last few games of the season (for Fleetwood). We played a game through the match where we passed a 50 pence piece around between us all. You couldn’t refuse the coin and whoever had it at end of game had to get the first round in. Lee Fowler passed it to Nathan Pond in injury-time as we had a goal kick. It was the last kick of the game and he ran from the halfway line to pass the coin to Scott Davies in goal just as he was about to take his goal kick. Disrespectful, but when you’ve won the league, who cares.


*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday and Monday

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