Gregan - a Football League legend
When I think of my favourite players from the Football League Sean Gregan must come out on top.
There is something about Gregan on a football pitch that I have always found inspiring.
It is not his pace - he never had much - or the deftness of his touch. It is not his dribbling skills or a feint that leaves opponents foundering. He can certainly pick a pass and is a decent header of the ball but it is not these either.
No, it is his swagger. He moves across a football pitch, home or away, like he owns it. It breeds confidence. It makes people believe.
Pushing 35, Gregan is at Oldham now and no longer a commanding central midfielder. As with many others before him, he has dropped back into the centre of defence. However, the competitiveness burns as brightly as ever and it must have frustated Gregan to watch from the sidelines as the Latics drew 1-1 with Huddersfield. The suspension is a legacy of a professional foul on Hartlepool's Ritchie Jones and the defender will miss a further two games.
Despite dropping two points against the Terriers, Oldham remain top of League One after five wins and three draws from their opening eight fixtures. It is exciting times in a particularly cold corner of Greater Manchester.
Gregan knows all about success at this level. He skippered Preston to the League One title in 2000 and West Brom to the riches of the Premier League in 2002. Gregan, who started out as a professional with Darlington in 1991, has played in all four divisions and made more than 500 league appearances. Understandably, such an experienced player is not getting carried away just yet.
"It is early days and for a club like Oldham a few injuries or suspensions will hit you hard but the quality in the squad has improved and I think we have as good a chance as anybody," Gregan told me.
Gregan is one of several senior players at Boundary Park, with the likes of Mark Crossley (39) and Andy Liddell (35) also adding experience and guile to a squad that contains talented youngsters such as defender Neil Eardley (19) and midfielder Chris Taylor (21).
Greegs, as he is known, is relishing having younger players around to "do the running" on the pitch and reckons they can only benefit from the good habits and experience that senior pros who have seen it and done it can pass on to them.
But if he had his way things would be a little bit different.
It is with an almost wistful sense of nostalgia that Gregan recalls his own days as an apprentice at Darlington.
"We would be out in the freezing cold and the snow, cleaning the stands, then the dressing rooms and after that boots," remembered Gregan. "Now the young lads come in and leave at the same time as us."
It is not just a case of sour grapes or a slightly sadistic streak, for Gregan it is about hunger and desire. Gregan illustrates his point by recounting a conversation he had with then Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell shortly after he joined the Yorkshire club in September 2004. Gregan was shocked to hear that some apprentices earned £75,000 a year, describing it as "ridiculous". With those sort of earnings at such a young age, thought Gregan, the youngster would think he had already made it and take his foot off the gas.
Last year the very same injury and suspension problems that Gregan is wary of this season forced manager John Sheridan to blood some of his younger players. They sometimes lacked a winning mentality and would let their heads drop if Oldham conceded. "There is a different air about the squad now," reckons Gregan. Twice this season Oldham have trailed by two goals - the Latics went on to draw one and win the other.
I asked Gregan whether he sees many similarities between the Preston side he captained to promotion at the start of the Millennium and the current Oldham side. Preston spent more money, had a bigger squad and a better stadium than the Latics was the Guisborough-born player's assessment. It is a different story with the managers.
David Moyes, who has gone on to be a real success with Everton, was in his first permanent managerial position back then, as Sheridan is at Oldham now. In Gregan's experience, both are ambitious, like to get the ball down and play with width and always look to try to win a game, never simply to avoid defeat. And both are extremely passionate. If that occasionally lands them in trouble, then so be it, reckons Gregan, better than Sven-Goran Eriksson "who looks like his granny has just passed away".
Gregan had already joined Preston when Moyes was promoted to manager but initially joined Oldham on loan. Dennis Wise had made it clear that his days at Leeds were numbered and Gregan was keen to have a look before committing to what would probably be his final move. He had played against Sheridan and knew that he had been a quality player - "You could not get the ball off him" - and he was not disappointed by what he saw in training. There was a lot of time dedicated to ball work and it became clear that Shezza, as Gregan refers to his boss, shared Moyes' desire to try to win every game. "It is enjoyable and when you get to my age that is what you want," reflects Gregan.
The managerial road is one that I could easily imagine Gregan travelling down. In conversation Gregan is forthright and honest. He speaks very well about the game; what he has to say makes sense and moves beyond the usual level of cliché that has become standard fare in football these days. He is not averse to the odd quip but knows when to be serious. A natural leader as a player, he is the current Oldham captain.
All of that, though, will have to wait.
For now, Gregan wakes up each day looking forward to the 90-minute drive that takes him to training from his home in Harrogate. His philosophy is that you can never have too many promotions and he remains intent on winning another one.
It would give me real pleasure to see a player I have always regarded highly win another promotion. Who are the players you most admire from the lower divisions?