Former Town favourite Nigel Pearson: I owe lots to early years at Shrewsbury
Managing can often feel like an uphill struggle, so Nigel Pearson should feel at home this weekend when he takes on the daunting Three Peaks challenge.
The former Shrewsbury favourite is tackling Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon alongside a family friend from Pontesbury involved in a serious motorbike accident to raise funds for those that cared for him.
But Pearson hasn’t swapped his football boots for his walking boots permanently, and is targeting a swift return to management after being sacked by Belgian club OH Leuven in February.
“I’m still keen to be a manager, but like most people who are out of work you have to wait for the next opportunity,” Pearson told the Shropshire Star this week.
“I worked abroad and would certainly do it again. Hopefully that will improve the possibilities for me, because I have an appetite to work.”
The former defender still follows Shrewsbury’s results each weekend, and says he owes much of his career to those early days at the Meadow.
“It would be impossible for me not to keep track of them, my formative years were there,” he said. “I have fantastic memories of the town, a lot of the things I learned there stood me in good stead throughout my career.
“When I played for the club we were never outside the second tier. We used to survive with a small squad, our home form was always vitally important.
“Graham Turner, who signed me, was a big influence on my career. Graham Hawkins was the assistant, he was a former centre-back and he taught me an awful lot.
“He worked very hard with me to develop me. I learned so much off the senior players in that time.
“In my career in 18 years, I only played for three clubs, it’s always important for me to follow the sides I’ve had a big affinity with.
“It’s an area I still enjoy coming back to. My wife’s parents are in Bridgnorth, so we come to Shropshire quite a bit. We go to Pontesbury too to see close friends.”
Shrewsbury were a second tier side when Pearson was a player, but they’ve spent the past five years in the third tier of English football.
“When I played there was a lot of continuity,” said Pearson. “Quite often when the manager left, the assistant took over. There was not necessarily a big shift in what the squad looked like.
“It’s very difficult to make that jump now. Look at Rotherham over the last few years, they’ve been in the Championship and suffered relegation,” he added.
“It’s not straight forward to stake a claim and get back up there. The finances these days in football make it difficult to give your team the best chance.”
Pearson is keen to get back into the dugout as soon as possible and believes his stint in Belgium improved him as a manager.
A former West Brom assistant under Bryan Robson, he’d jump at the chance to return to The Hawthorns.
“Is it a job which I would be interested in? Of course it would be,” he said. “It’s a club with stature and it’s a very attractive proposition. But ultimately it’s down to what direction the club want to go in.
“I was offered it when Bryan got sacked but chose not to take it because I was Bryan’s assistant. My decision was to move on. Tony Mowbray went in and did a good job.”
Instead, he went on to manage Southampton, Leicester, Hull, and Derby before his surprise move to Leuven in 2017.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was a totally different experience. The first year was really good, we just missed out on promotion. The second year was really tough.
“We found it difficult to score goals, unfortunately the season became very difficult. If the results aren’t good enough you lose your job.
“It was a very good experience for me as a manager. You manage it in a totally different environment, culturally speaking.
“What sort of level was the football? It’s very hard to give an accurate comparison of what the second tier is like.
“At times there were aspects like the Championship but English football is such an energetic game.”
Pearson would love another crack at managing, but at the forefront of his mind now is the three climbs.
He’s completing the challenge with two other people, his wife’s sister-in-law and family friend Gareth Challinor, who broke pelvis, tibia and fibula, and his arm in a bike crash.
They’re raising money for the Welsh Air Ambulance, the University Hospital of North Midlands and the Wolverhampton MS Therapy Centre, who all helped Gareth recover.
“It’s not an easy challenge to do, but it’s something he’s determined to do,” said Pearson, who has tackled it before. “He’s had reassess what he does. He’s not pain free, he had multiple injuries which have been very difficult to overcome.
“It’ll be a tough challenge but something he’s very keen to do to raise money for the people who took care of him.”