Darren Peacock

Ex-Newcastle defender Darren Peacock has made a promising start to his managerial career with non-league Lancaster City.
He spoke to DAN KING about life in the dugout, his time at Newcastle and which former Magpies boss he is hoping to emulate…

A proud Peacock struts out of the away dressing room at Heritage Park, his plumage a little greyer than it once was but with his tail up - and why not?

Darren Peacock's Lancaster City side have just beaten Darlington, the Evo-Stik First Division North's form team, on their own turf to climb to sixth in the table.

The former Newcastle United defender is in his first season as the Dolly Blues' Head Coach and has had a big impact at Giant Axe, the Lancashire non-league club's home since its formation in 1905. Last season, they finished 13th, 30 points off the play-offs; this time around, promotion is an ever-increasing possibility.

Despite playing more than 300 games in the Premier League, however, it would seem that he is still making a name for himself at this level, four divisions below the Football League. "When we played one team recently," chuckles a Lancaster official, "the programme had a page all about Gavin Peacock."

Back in the North-East, where both players served with distinction, there is little chance of such confusion - even if this particular Peacock had kept a low profile since his playing career ended with Blackburn in 2000 at the age of 32.

"I just sat in my cave, really," he smiles. "I had a few small businesses - property, the same as everyone did in the '90s - then I moved abroad for five or six years but I've been back three or four years now.

"I'm just a believer in trying different things, different jobs, but I'm hoping this is long term. I want it to be long term."

Lancaster is the 46-year-old's first managerial role but he began studying for his coaching badges some time ago, before his real estate interests took him to Portugal.

So it had always been an ambition of Peacock's to end up in the dugout, even if his big break came about almost by accident.

"I live in Garstang, which is in between Preston and Lancaster, so when we moved back I just went to watch," he explains in his Bristolian burr.

"So I've always had an eye on Lancaster City because they're the local team. When the vacancy came about, I just put my CV in and it all went from there.

"The kids go to school in Lancaster and our social scene is in between Lancaster and Preston, so it fits both parties.

"And it's been great, to be honest. Obviously it's a learning curve from my point of view; I've had the job since June and it is different - it's semi pro and all the lads have got full-time jobs.

"We do really push them in training on a Tuesday and a Thursday and if we haven't got a game, we bring them in on a Saturday. There's a little bit of moaning but they all turn up.

"I'm really enjoying it and I'm just hoping that I can learn from the players every match and every training session."

Darren Peacock

Darlington, last season's Northern League champions, go into the game with 11 wins from their last 12 matches. They currently ground share with Bishop Auckland but still attract by far the biggest crowds in their league and while the ludicrous 25,000 all-seater stadium they once called home now belongs to a local rugby club, the Quakers are set to move back to the town in time for the beginning of next season.

They start well, with the gifted Stephen Thompson clearly playing several rungs below his rightful place in the league ladder, but Lancaster defend doggedly.

Peacock, wearing a pair of blue shorts in spite of the chilly night air in County Durham but, paradoxically, donning a woolly hat over his shoulder-length hair, roars out instructions to his well-drilled outfit and against the run of play, Tom Kilifin puts the visitors ahead.

The second half follows a similar theme with each Darlington attack thwarted by a header off the line or a timely interception until, with five minutes left, Ryan Winder makes it 2-0.

That's how it stays and Peacock, the man once tasked with bringing defensive steel to Newcastle's famous 'Entertainers' team, purrs: "That's probably our best performance to date.

"Everybody - not just the centre-halves, not just the defenders - was making block tackles, last ditch tackles.

"We battled; I know they peppered us in the first half especially but we played well and it was a real backs-to-the-wall performance from our point of view.

"Fair play to the lads; they've been at work all day, we've had a two hour trip, some of them made the journey by themselves because they couldn't get out of work, so it's been a great performance.

"But what we don't want to do now is let that slip. We've got some tough games coming up now so we've got to take that attitude into the next six weeks or so."

Peacock's football career started at Newport County, who folded in 1989 before he moved onto Hereford. From there, he joined top-flight Queens Park Rangers and never looked back.

He has again started at the bottom as a manager, but is his aim to eventually rise to the top just as he did as player?

"I need to get knowledge from this league, from any football," he insists. "Like you say, I started in the old Third Division and then I dropped two divisions so I just take it as it comes.

"I have no five year, ten year plan - I just want to learn from the players and other coaching staff, other coaches at other clubs. It's just a learning curve."

Nigel Clough and Darren Peacock

Twenty years ago this month, Peacock joined Newcastle from QPR. He stayed for four years, almost won the Premier League title and scored the opening goal in the Magpies' famous 5-0 win over Manchester United.

"I played in Steve Harper's testimonial earlier in the season and it's always the first score that I look for," he says.

"My wife's family are from the North-East and although I don't come back that often, when I get the chance, I do.

"Last season I went to a couple of games - unfortunately I didn't see them win - but I have fantastic memories that will always live with me.

"I can remember the lead up to joining; I spoke to Kevin (Keegan) on the phone and then got a flight up. I think you beat Norwich the night I spoke to Kevin, then we met at the Gosforth Park. I remember all the lead up to it, the signing, and just the surroundings of the Club, really.

"The supporters, the training sessions with thousands and thousands coming and watching; I don't think that any player during that era will forget it, ever."

He played under current England boss Roy Hodgson and Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish among others, but there's one manager who remains Peacock's role model.

"I always look to Kevin," he beams. "I spoke to him before I got the job - I asked him if he would put a good word in for me, and very kindly that's what he did.

"At Lancaster, we haven't got the same sort of flair players - Ginola, Asprilla, that sort of thing - but the basics are still the same.

"Maybe it's a bit more defensive from my point of view but yeah, I always look to the enthusiasm that Kevin put into the players. He made them better players."

And, even if it means a few grumbles when they're dragged in for extra training sessions, it seems that Darren Peacock is having the same effect with the Dolly Blues.