Tag Archive | "clough"

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Martin O’Neill at West Ham

Posted on 15 January 2011 by JamesHamilton

UPDATE: I think the phrase is “overtaken by events”! I’ll leave this here as a period piece, but as things stand, O’Neill won’t ,after all, be going to West Ham. It’s unlikely that Grant will hang on regardless, but no subsequent appointment will hold half the interest of Martin O’Neill’s.

This is harsh on Avram Grant. As anyone who saw the Carling Cup semi-final first leg against Birmingham City knows, West Ham were beginning to find their feet once more.

But, sympathies aside, this is the most interesting managerial appointment of the season so far, in that, unlike Dalglish’s at Liverpool, it says unequivocal things about football figures who might still be felt to have a future.

O’Neill vs Dalglish

The two men are only a year apart in age. But there are reasons to believe that O’Neill has ten more years ahead of him than his Scottish counterpart. Dalglish has the obvious upper hand when it comes to medals – the huge Liverpool haul, and Blackburn. But of the two, O’Neill has the more crafted career. O’Neill built from the bottom, constructing a perfect managerial CV. He has proved himself at non-league level, in the blood and thunder of the Football League, at the tiller of a side who owed their Premiership status to his skills, and, most impressively of all, at what is in pressure terms one of the world’s biggest clubs: Celtic. Where his predecessor was…

Events at Aston Villa give one to think that O’Neill is still interested in success in his own career. Dalglish is now a one-club man: there will be no further essays in life beyond Anfield. He may well rescue Liverpool, but it will be for Liverpool’s sake and not his own. O’Neill possesses no such natural home, and employs no such nostalgia in his thinking.

In short, O’Neill doesn’t think his story is over. He’s not looking for a reprise or a return. At 58, he is still pursuing his career like a young man.


Time and time again, the great British managers take over desperate, failing clubs and take them to unprecedented places. Stein at Hibs, however briefly. Shankly, at Second Division Liverpool. Busby, at a bombed-out Manchester United who had in any event spent the 20s and 30s watching their rivals at the great new stadium at Maine Road soak up the glory. Revie at Second Division Leeds. Clough at Second Division Derby County, and then again at Second Division Nottingham Forest.

This has been Martin O’Neill’s model, but adapted to modern financial constraints and conditions. Like all these men, he has taken a club unexpectedly to a European Final. Unlike the others, he has yet to win either a title, an FA Cup or a European trophy.

What’s changed is that the kind of club that can realistically consider those kinds of goals is no longer owned and managed in such a way as might give a man like Martin O’Neill  room to breathe.

The biggest clubs are now ownership nightmares. Randy Lerner is as good as the new breed come, and for O’Neill, it was not good enough. Even O’Neill needs time, and for new men at the top five or six clubs, there is no time anymore.

What makes West Ham more than just a re-run of the Leicester City saga, however, is the potential of their players.

Why West Ham? and Why Now?

It must be frustrating beyond measure. Being a West Ham fan, I mean. Cast an eye over the England squad. Rio. Carrick. Defoe. Joe Cole. Frank Lampard. Defoe, Cole and Carrick were part of the West Ham team that were relegated not long ago with 42 points, running out of road on the last day of the season after a thrilling tilt at safety led by Trevor Brooking.

Go back further. The television strike team of 1985 that so nearly went all the way. The 1980 FA Cup team: what was a side of Brooking, Devonshire, Allen, Pearson, Bond and Lampard senior doing in Division Two? Go back further: Hurst, Moore, Peters, Johnny Byrne.

There should have been more than three FA Cups and a Cup-Winner’s Cup, and West Ham could be forgiven for feeling that they exist to bring up great players properly whose dedication and discipline (for the most part) then flourishes elsewhere.

I thought it was all about to happen again. Noble, Sears, Collison, Tomkins, and the rest – especially the first two – were all emerging fast in what looked like another doomed team. Narrow relegation would, again, result in a fire sale. Once again, West Ham fans would find their remembered claret and blue hills turning up in Chelsea and Manchester United colours. Once again, the gratitude for a good career start would come in the form of words and fond memories, not as silverware at Upton Park.

O’Neill’s arrival changes all that immediately. “West Ham now” is all about the high quality of their young players: he’s going there for them. Just for once, West Ham’s youth policy has drawn someone in. Too often, it’s been the other way round.

O’Neill’s record with young players

You don’t have to go back to Emile Heskey – if Heskey is old enough yet to “go back to” at all. At Aston Villa, O’Neill was draw enough to get, and keep, some of the best young talent in the country. Since he left Villa Park, one question does for them all: whatever happened to Ashley Young, James Milner, Gaby Abonlahor, to the brave and honest Curtis Davies? Even after discounting form, injuries and (Milner) ill-advised transfers, there’s real loss of momentum here. Now that their mentor is back at another club, what will Marc Albrighton, Ciaron Clark and Nathan Delfounesco be thinking?

They’d be advised to consider the experiences of Steve Guppy, Muzzy Izzet, Steve Walsh and Neil Lennon, men who prospered by keeping ahold of nurse, or who, in Izzet’s case, would have wanted to if they could. O’Neill, like Clough, has a track record of having players flourish under him – and only under him.

If West Ham can find some money from somewhere, they might well find themselves the favoured destination of the half of the future England squad that they don’t already own…

O’Neill and the “Big Job”

The obvious question is, was he waiting for one of the big four to call? Liverpool could have done. Manchester United, often mentioned as a future home for O’Neill, now looks to be unavailable: barring the unexpected and accidents of trade, Ferguson will die in office. Chelsea see themselves in competition for coaches with Barcelona and Real Madrid: that’s not O’Neill’s world. Arsenal have had their O’Neill already and won’t have a vacancy for another: Wenger, like Ferguson, won’t move on now, seeing it as too late to start again elsewhere.

Control, stability and security matter to Martin O’Neill: it is inconceivable that he would be sacked except by the new billionaire owner of a top four club. There is also the question whether he wants to deal with the astonishing tidal forces that money exerts on Chelsea and Manchester United: these days, you need to be interested in money for your own sake and its own sake to survive mentally in the Champions League places. That’s not O’Neill either.

So his taking on West Ham might show that he no longer considers the so-called “big jobs” to be the desirable ones. Celtic was a real big job – it might be argued that he kept it that way himself by his own force of personality for longer than would otherwise have been the case. Both Rangers and Celtic now await a change in the financial weather and can’t move on until it comes. Furthermore, when O’Neill was at Celtic, it was a big job purely in footballing terms: what would the team achieve under him? would he emulate Stein, even in part? and of course he did, and showed the “pressures” of the job to be only an accurate measure of the talent of its holder. Celtic crushed good men before and after him – even a genuine hero like Tony Mowbray: O’Neill looked, sounded, and performed as if born to the role.

The Olympic Stadium

I don’t know if the issue of the Olympic Stadium figures with Martin O’Neill. There’s a considerable time factor involved: the Olympic Games are, in playing terms, a season and a half away, and conversion works probably stretch that time to four seasons altogether. And then there’s the neighbours to consider: Spurs.

That isn’t to say that the fate of the Olympic Stadium isn’t vital to both clubs. The stadium arms race of the Edwardian era is playing out again in our own time, and only clubs that can open capacity beyond 60,000 can hope to  compete at the very top level. Stratford can be a get out of jail free card for West Ham, and it’s close enough to call home. But Spurs have the money, the clout, Beckham on board and the next England manager.

If it came down to a straight battle between Redknapp and O’Neill, I know who I’d back. But it’s far from that. I really don’t know if this issue is on O’Neill’s mind at all. It would demand that he stay in post longer than he has been prone to, and it would create the mother of all distractions to the playing side of things (Wenger built the invincibles and Ashburton Gate at the same time, which speaks for itself, but he and O’Neill are very different men).

West Ham’s “Happy Time”?

Danny Dyer and everything of that kind aside, West Ham are a sunshine club, carrying a kind of indefinable good news around with them. It’s Malcolm Allison’s coffee shop school, talking tactics with young Moore and Byrne and pushing salt shakers around to prove a point. It’s the beautiful playing strip – not dissimilar to another one in Martin O’Neill’s past. It’s all those sunsoaked Wembley finals. It’s the deep family connections – the Lampards, the Allens. It’s the atmosphere of Upton Park under floodlights. It’s West Ham’s being in London, the greatest, most beautiful city in the world.

That, and the presence of an exciting set of young players: it all adds up to two things.

One, a club quite different from the ones O’Neill has managed before. It’s not Celtic’s sharks and icebergs. It’s not Aston Villa’s fear that the world was racing away without them. It’s not Leicester’s constant struggle for breath. And it’s certainly not Wycombe.

Two, O’Neill will finally be.. Martin O’Neill.

Because everyone has been waiting for him to be Brian Clough. This is unfair: Clough was Clough from the get-go. No one was hanging about in case Old Big ‘Ead might eventually morph into Harry Storer.

For some reason, for O’Neill to turn into Clough, he had to have the big job at the big club, in England. Or, indeed, get the England job, which would have made him just like Clough. (West Ham aren’t a leg up to that post, however: it’s Redknapp’s next, in sickness or in health).

No, now it’s Martin O’Neill’s career that he’s having. An end to comparisons. Not, perhaps, an end to questions about how he might have got on at Manchester United. But there are younger managers than O’Neill who will have that one hung around their neck before Ferguson is through, and one of them, you know in your heart, is Portuguese.

It’ll start, I imagine, with unfinished business: O’Neill will help West Ham finish the unlikely job of winning “his” trophy, the Football League Cup. His part in Villa’s losing final was only last year. Yet such a long time ago.

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Educated Men,the Edwardian Footballer and the Old Boy Spin Brigade

Posted on 12 December 2009 by JamesHamilton

Peter Watts’s recent visit to Whitgift showed a football returning by inches to being a true national game, involving, like cricket and racing, everyone regardless of income and background (the bulk of the 2005 Ashes winners were state-educated incidentally).

What it wasn’t, and couldn’t have been, was a comment on the level of intelligence within football.

It’s probable that the spread of intelligence levels of every kind in football matches the spread of intelligence in society in general. At the same time, it’s fair to say that there’s a perception that British football could “show more intelligence”. The traditional attitude that “Only a horse can become a jockey” is troubling not just because the likes of Wenger, Ericksson and Mourinho prove it wrong, but because it contains within itself the seeds of its own stupidity. British clubs, it says, end up managed by Bottom.

The best British managers, of course, are up there with the Wengers. You might even describe a golden age stretching from Matt Busby through Shankly, Revie, Taylor and Clough until you get to David Moyes of our own era. When you start looking for footballing unintelligence, it melts away, loses you in the back streets, the alleys and the courts..

My theory has been that football is where the English, with all their Nobel Prizes and world-changing invention and colossal literacy, go to to be stupid. However clever we are, we aren’t going to show it in football. It’s different for the Scots and Irish, and probably the Welsh too.

What to make of John Cameron’s take on the issue then, in the Penny Illustrated Paper of September 26th 1908?

There was a time when the player was not an educated man, as he is today. He is very often a gentleman by instinct and nature, and particularly a good sportsman. You have a man like Fleming, the Swindon centre-forward. He is saving up his money to become a clergyman; Alex Glen, the old Southampton and Tottenham player, saves all the money he can to prepare for the medical profession; while Charlie O’Hagan, the Irish international captain, gave up a good position in the Civil Service in order to play the game.

Cameron’s was a small sample, but similar tales emerge from Herbert Chapman’s squad at Huddersfield 15 years later.

Let’s not forget that universal secondary education was a post-War phenomenon. My great aunt Violet failed a grammar school scholarship at the age of 12 owing to nerves and indigestion on the day. She spent her next fifty years sewing for what became Debenhams, and hated it. In retirement, she lived in a terraced house that shared a wall with a sewing factory, and spent the rest of her days listening to the Singers murmuring at her through the Bedfordshire brick.

Likewise, Alfred Williams, author, poet and folksong archivist, found himself unable to escape hard labour at Swindon works until his health got too bad for him to continue.

If free education wasn’t available to those who had the ability to take every advantage of it, then you had to find another way.  Cameron’s terse, typically judgemental paragraph shows how that surplus income that football provided could go into education and retraining. If you had your wits about you, and could set yourself career targets, and were lucky with your club and  injuries, it could be done. You had the money and the spare time. Football was a window of opportunity.

Edwardian football presented a few smart men with fresh opportunities of its own. John Cameron managed Spurs, although – as I’ll be writing about in a little while – what that meant in 1900 was different to what Aidy Boothroyd does now. You could try journalism. Cameron had his eye on that almost from the beginning. In May 1902, “Banshee” of the PIP, Cameron’s future employer, records:

Late on Monday I received a telegram from Mr John Cameron stating that he had signed on Houston, of the Heart of Midlothian, as centre-forward for the ‘Spurs. The new man is not a whit inferior to Sandy Brown, and the ‘Spurs will be as strong as ever.

So did Herbert Chapman, whose Daily Mirror columns were collected in book form after his premature death in 1934. Cameron, by now writing for the PIP, took a proprietorial interest in Chapman, who’d played for him at Tottenham in his last years at the club:

They (Northampton Town, Chapman’s first club as manager, here winning in 1908) thoroughly deserve the position they have got, for their supporters are always to the fore, no matter how the side is doing. To Manager Chapman, one of my Old Boy Spin Brigade, the honours are largely due.

But on the whole, football did not and does not offer a lifetime’s career path to British players – which applies as much to the women’s game as to the men’s. Nor is there any great feeling that it ought to. So, like the armed forces, football continues to spit its children out in the end to sink or swim.

Perhaps this is where the public schools, who can afford to be career-orientated, come in. Can they create a viable lifetime career model for professional sport that works for everyone who goes into it, from whatever background? Or will they mimic the FA, who have largely ignored the problem for the last 120 years?

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Alf Ramsey Picks The Team: Budgie’s 1964

Posted on 30 December 2008 by JamesHamilton

The mid-sixties brought a gentlemen’s agreement: Liverpool would do the music, and London would do the football. It might have happened earlier. Most capital cities dominated the football in their respective countries, and London had only missed out because we’d invented the game, and invented it north of Watford Gap.

But by 1964, the English national side, managed by a Londoner, was filling up with men from the south east. Moore, and Greaves were already there. So was Maurice Norman. Johnny Haynes was attempting a comeback from injury. More were to come.

But the World Cup was two years away, and it would bring South American sides with it, and anyway, it was too much to ask even the revitalised ’61 side of ’63 to keep it going until then.

And it was about time for another impact player. Charlton and Greaves were bedded-in, Clough was gone and Haynes going. In later years, it would be Gascoigne, Owen, Rooney who’d re-excite the side.

In 1964, it was a West Ham forward, Johnny “Budgie” Byrne.

Byrne looked like a Londoner. In some photographs, he’s John Terry, but taller, slimmer and faster. He’d started his real career at Crystal Palace, coming to life when Palace switched away from 2-3-5. There, under Arthur Rowe of Spurs “push and run” fame, Byrne would become the only Division Four player to get the England call, albeit into the Under-23s.

Then came West Ham, who provided one of those what-if? moments by offering Geoff Hurst as a makeweight before thinking better of it. They still ended up breaking the British transfer record for him.

Byrne would have some great seasons at Upton Park, but ’63-64 was the one to remember: 33 goals in all competitions, a League Cup semi-final and an FA Cup Winner’s medal. It was only enough to finish 14th in Division One, but it was a year in which only eleven points separated the Champions Liverpool from seventh place Blackburn Rovers.

Ramsey took Byrne on tour with England in the summer of ’63, and played him against Switzerland. It came off well: he scored two, Charlton bagged the match ball and he’d outshone Greaves, who failed to score at all in the 8-1 victory.

He was unfortunate in his next game, against Scotland. Once again, Ramsey brought the best out of Jim Baxter and the wind got the better of Gordon Banks.

But then came the Byrne glory charge through the spring of 1964. He scored two goals against Uruguay at Wembley, and, all-importantly, victory against one of the South American giants. Victory in London, made in London, with Cohen, Moore, Norman and Greaves all there to share it with him.

Then a hat-trick against Eusebio’s Portugal in Lisbon. Five Londoners on the pitch against a European team full of stars.

Greaves, alongside him, wasn’t scoring, but he was bringing the best out of Byrne. Both men would be at their physical late-20s peak come the World Cup, and they’d have eighteen months to bed the partnership down.

It could only get better, and did. Both Greaves and Byrne scored in the comfortable 3-1 win over Northern Ireland. In the summer of 1964 England would tour the Americas, and the Londoners would get their chance against Brazil.

But this is another story about flawed genius. Byrne had a reputation as a drinker by this stage, although, as George Best would later protest, so did most players. Byrne had been one of a group who broke curfew before facing Portugal, but at least he’d performed thereafter. But there were more shenanigans on tour in the Americas.

The tour had begun well, with a comprehensive 10-0 win over the United States in New York. Byrne was left out for that one, but another Londoner, Mike Bailey of Charlton, enjoyed an impressive debut. Like Ken Shellito in 1963, he looked set to continue, then broke his leg. He would not be the last before ’66 came round.

But Brazil was a disaster. Pele destroyed England in the second half, and although Greaves got his goal, 5-1 was about right. The gulf between Brazil and the European game was all too apparent.

Then, defeat against Argentina. And no goal for Byrne.

He was dropped after that, reappearing briefly in the autumn against Wales where he’d see Forest’s Frank Wignall score on his debut. But his conduct, and Ramsey’s doubts about his partnership with Greaves against the very best sides, extended his international exile.

That left West Ham to take a monopoly on all Byrne’s excess energy. At club level, 1964-5 would be his annus mirabilis. He stormed to 25 goals in 33 games, and helped West Ham win the first leg of their European Cup Winners Cup semi-final against Real Zaragoza.

A recall had to come, and it came, with a year to go before the World Cup, against Scotland.

For England, it was a bit more like it, a 2-2 draw despite playing with only nine fit men. For Byrne, it was disaster. When Ray Wilson left the field at half time, he slotted back into defence, and then tore the ligaments in his knee. He played on through intense pain, worsening the damage.

Some say that it was now that his drinking really took hold. But in fact he recovered well – and helped West Ham to another European Cup-Winner’s Cup semi-final. Ramsey named him in the provisional 28-man squad for the World Cup Finals, alongside his strking partner Geoff Hurst.

He didn’t make the cut, and what followed resembles a man falling down unexpected stairs. In 1967, West Ham offloaded him to Crystal Palace, where he had just enough time to score one goal in fourteen games in a failed promotion push. Palace passed him on to Fulham.

After that, and it was another brief, unsuccessful sojourn, Byrne emigrated to South Africa, and found a happy footballing life for himself in Durban. Ron Greenwood had once compared him to Di Stefano. In 1964, Greenwood could have compared him to anyone at all, and not been far away.

Despite Byrne’s departure from the scene, and Greaves’s international decline, England would go on to great things. But they’d never score goals in quite that way again.

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The Problems Facing Fabio Capello

Posted on 17 December 2007 by JamesHamilton

My own pleasure at the appointment of Fabio Capello to the England manager’s post is largely down to non-footballing reasons. In England, there’s a sense that football is an acceptable interest for men, but more cultural pasttimes are suspect. Not so for the gastronome aesthete Capello.

That’s not to argue that hinterland makes a manager. High intelligence does, as the careers of Busby, Stein, “Clough and Taylor” and Alex Ferguson demonstrate. But you don’t have to collect art or wine. That Capello does both is merely a refreshing change. It’s not one the British press are likely to understand or appreciate: it already has them looking over their shoulders at one another, giggling in that nervous, insecure way of boys in the crowd everywhere.

Nevertheless, if there is one thing I’d like Capello to do whilst he’s here, it’s to place football in its rightful place in our culture. Something so beautiful and thrilling does not deserve to be the strictly-guarded preserve of a more than averagely paranoid and insular wing of national life. But he won’t be here long enough. He’ll have to satisfy himself with winning.

It’s hard to tell whether there’s more or less opposition this time to the appointment of a foreign manager. As in 2000, there is general recognition that there’s no one of the required calibre here at the moment. There’s a reason for that: nothing is being done to create a cadre of top-level coaches. The pointless UEFA badges aside, there is no place of training for football management in the United Kingdom. Nor is there any especial call for one. I would like to see a member of the FA Executive urge a programme to create – not coaches to compete with the Europeans – but coaches far better than any in the world, coaches that foreign clubs and countries will compete for as they competed for the likes of Fred Pentland and Jimmy Hogan at the turn of the last century. Coaches with the creativity, imagination and management skills we see in other areas of British life. A Briton, Jonathan Ive, designed both the IMac and the IPod; we need to create the Ives of the football world and establish for ourselves an enduring lead over our rivals.

There is the usual talk about an English manager understanding the unique mentality of the English player. There is no evidence at all that anything of the sort is true – if the idea has any internal logic to it at all. It’s not an issue applied to any other part of British sporting life. Do British swimmers have a unique mentality? Or British rugby league players? Or British tennis players? Of course not: it’s just the thrashing about of an insular, paranoid outlook that has been outflanked by events year after year.

Nor should Capello’s appointment give English managers the idea that they cannot aspire to the top job. Because the real reason that they shouldn’t aspire to the top job is that they lack the ideas, the talent, the originality, the training and the courage. There are no English candidates coming through the ranks who look likely to change that. I almost wrote here, ‘where are our Steins, Busbys, Shanklys..’ before realising that I’d be listing a series of Scots. Yes, the Middleborough duo of Revie and “Clough-and-Taylor” might line up alongside Sir Bobby Robson and Joe Mercer as very good managers, but none of them are a Stein. This is an older problem than we give credit for.

Capello himself seems to be of the thinking that the English players have a mental block about the national side, which would explain their failure to reproduce their club form for England. If he’s right, then it’s a relatively straightforward problem to solve. But I don’t think that’s the whole of his thinking on the subject. It’s just a soundbite. This is just as well, as the idea doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

Which players, then, are failing to reproduce their club form for England? Not Micah Richards, or Ashley Cole, or David Beckham, or Michael Owen, or, recently, Wayne Rooney. Not Rio Ferdinand. Not Gareth Barry or Owen Hargreaves or Peter Crouch. Is Gerrard failing, or is what we see merely what Gerrard is when deprived of his Spanish midfield colleagues? Lampard might be: I suspect him, and others of his generation, of harbouring secret doubts as to the true extent of their ability. Is John Terry failing, or is he just a limited player unfortunate enough to be the object of tabloid fantasy, who want a British bulldog carrying the soul of a Churchill and get instead an unremarkable nightclub boy from the beerier end of the pedestrianized south-east?

I can’t help feeling that this generation of players is suffering from a lack of vision, not a lack of form. The group has been together for quite a long time. It is now six years and more since England destroyed Germany in Munich, and yet of that team Owen, Heskey, Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Gary Neville, David Beckham, Owen Hargreaves and Sol Campbell have featured within the last twelve months. Jamie Carragher and Paul Scholes both played; both are supposed to be Capello targets.

That team saw the 2002 World Cup as perhaps a little early for them – but pencilled-in Euro 2004 as the tournament to attack. But Rooney was injured at the crucial moment, and the 2006 World Cup – which could have been merely the next opportunity to succeed – became at once both the team’s last chance to rescue themselves from their history and a nightmare arena in which the team would finally come apart.

With 2004 gone, and 2006 gone, and English football culture hiding itself behind a tattered passion-and-commitment screen, qualification for 2008 was just more punishment. Capello needs to bring an idea of what the England team is for, what its story is going to be. When Brian Clough signed Dave Mackay for Derby in the late 1960s, he did it by changing Mackay’s view of the future. Capello needs to do the same for England.

Will he do it with the same 2001-7 squad? England’s best recent performances only served to confirm Ericksson’s initial good judgement. Play Beckham; play Owen with a foil. If Scholes won’t play, Lampard plus Gerrard is about as good as you’re going to get. Defoe, Bent and co. fall short.

I wonder what Ericksson would do now?

At any rate, surely Capello can’t be as unfortunate as Ericksson with injuries. 2002: Gerrard, Neville, Beckham, Owen. 2004: Beckham again, Owen again, Rooney. 2006: Beckham again, Owen again, Rooney again, Neville again, Ashton.

My suspicion is that Capello is going to start out creating what Revie called “a right bastard” of a side. A Wimbledon with polish, that will go out confident of avoiding defeat and taking satisfaction in creating discomfort and distress in more cultured opponents. We are going to bite legs for about eighteen months, and then we’re going to plug in Rooney and Walcott and start scoring goals.

Let’s see if I’m right. And, isn’t it nice not to know what’s about to happen with England? It’s been a long time..

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Brian Clough: Sunderland and the End of His Playing Career

Posted on 14 June 2007 by JamesHamilton

It would prove to be a saving grace: the threat of a players’ strike in 1961 finally brought an end to the maximum wage in English football after 60 years. (You can read a superb discussion of the issue and its history here). At the same time, Clough became a leading player at a leading club, albeit one not enjoying the best of fortune, and for the first time in his career was earning “top money” as Alan Brown had put it. The abolition of the maximum wage didn’t mean the end of the scandalous retain-and-transfer system – that would have to wait for George Eastham to put his head on the block two years later. But so unusual was it for Clough to be in the right place at the right time that the strike and abolition stand out.

And how typical of Clough’s career that an injury requiring a long recuperation should occur only a year later, preventing him from making the most of his first real financial opportunity. Had he left Len Ashurst’s pass, Sunderland might have had another 15-20 goals that season and been promoted; Clough’s eighth professional season would have been a glorious head-to-head with Jimmy Greaves, perhaps even including a revival of his England career.

Clough’s England career was definitely hampered by playing in Division Two. Sven Goran Eriksson was criticised for favouring players with Champions League experience, but forty years before, much the same bias was exercised with regard to the First Division. The greatest centre forward of his day, Tommy Lawton, accepted a transfer to Notts County of Division Three in an attempt to shore up his financial future. To the dismay of his England colleagues, he was ignored by the selectors soon after, and the national squad went to their first World Cup without him. Clough’s own intelligence and impulsiveness put off the clubs who might otherwise have brought him into contention with Greaves and Kevan earlier, but it was the retain-and-transfer system that did him most damage.

Once Clough was allowed out of bed after his injury – months and months of frustration and boredom, coupled with the despair of watching Sunderland fall just short once again – it would take him another year to recuperate. Hellish recuperation: hours of running up and down the stands at Roker Park, rebuilding the muscles in his thighs and calves that would, more than ever before, have to support his weakened knee.

In retirement, Alan Brown claimed that he had always been aware of the severity of Clough’s injury, and that the long afternoons slogging up the steps had been meant to allow Clough to realize for himself what he was up against. A year is a long time, though, and Clough was not a man to forgo demanding answers as to his likely future. Clough was a huge talent, and Brown would have been as desperate to see Clough back on the pitch as was the player himself.

Just when it was finally going well, just when there was real direction to life, Clough was obliged to spend his 28th year in pain, in soullessly repetitive recuperative exercise, unable to help his side or his own interests. The fear and frustration that lay just below the surface of this character so many thought to be confident, the impulsiveness, the sharp intelligence denied its rightful challenges, all told once more, as they had told at Middlesbrough. Clough quickly lost what friends he had in the dressing room.

Len Ashurst thought that Clough was changed by the experience. Clough had always had a good relationship with the press, but now that began to take centre stage, and some of Clough’s own playing colleagues, Ashurst included, came in for personal attack. Ashurst also thought that Clough changed his accent, deliberately, at this time, beginning to drawl his words.

Simon Barnes put it well: “personalities” become that way because their real personality is inadequate in some way. Clough had always been too smart, too interested, too articulate, for the head-down party-line locker-room atmosphere of English football. His mental compatriots were Scottish – Bremner, Lorimer, Johnstone, Baxter, Law. Imagine that mind in constant pain, worry, fear for the future and – as a provider for his young wife and family, precarious – and a reaction seems inevitable.

Ashurst, though, was merely reading the future into the past. Clough didn’t remodel himself whilst injured; didn’t refit his psyche and behaviour for the years to come. What years to come? Either he recovered from his knee ligament injury, or there were no years to come.

Sunderland won promotion in the early summer of 1964, without Clough’s help. Alan Brown left the club shortly afterwards.

The new manager was George Hardwick, an outstandingly handsome man (friendly with, amongst others, Ava Gardner) who had been captain of the great English post-War national teams. A man of dominant, self-confessedly bullying character, he had had his career ended by a knee injury.

George Hardwick

Clough was just a striker with a long term injury when he arrived, but one fighting for fitness with determination with one hand whilst alienating the rest of the camp with the other. Hardwick gave Clough something to do. Clough was to help train the youth team.

Much has been made of Clough’s approach to the Sunderland youth team, and not enough has been made of George Hardwick’s influence on the way it was run. For Hardwick hadn’t come to Sunderland out of the blue: he had managed both PSV Einhoven in Holland and the Dutch national team itself. It was whilst Hardwick was in the Netherlands that their football began to emerge – in 1967, only six years after Hardwick left, Ajax were to thrash Liverpool 5-1 in Amsterdam before drawing 2-2 at Anfield. George Hardwick is one of the names that are regularly accredited with the invention of what would become Total Football.

The Sunderland youth team’s survivors of the period tell of how they were taken away from endless lapping of the pitch and put into six-a-sides, skills training, change and variety: this cannot, in the circumstances, have been Clough’s doing simply because, at first, he wasn’t even officially Sunderland Youth Coach. Hardwick’s influence has to be taken into account. That Clough found the work congenial is true enough, but there are no signs that he had any intention at all in life other than to continue playing. Assertions that he had thoughts of his own about coaching and management at that stage are probably false. But, asked to do it, it seems that he could.

And he was lucky, because Sunderland had a golden youth squad at the time, who were about to dominate the FA Youth Cup. With Clough’s help, they reached the semi-final in 1964. They’d reach the final in 1965, and win the competition outright in 1966 and 1967.

Hardwick wouldn’t be there to see it. Despite taking Sunderland to their highest post-War league position, he was sacked in the summer of 1965. But not before witnessing Clough’s return to the first team, or his first goal in the First Division, scored against – who else? – Revie’s Leeds.

Clough’s was one of the great recoveries from injury. To return to the first team after eighteen months of pain, tedium and conflict was an outstanding achievement. But Clough was trapped in the 1960s, forty years away from the treatments that would have, in all likelihood, taken his career on into the 1966 World Cup. Sunderland had done their best for him. But even in that game against Leeds, in the moment of vindication, it was impossible to miss two things. One, that Clough had lost all of his pace, and didn’t trust the knee enough to run on it as he had once done. Two, that he was limping.

A less intelligent man would have been amongst his intellectual peers in football. Clough was too young and too sharp, too desperate and ambitious, all at the same time. Too many important people around him were intimidated by him, and chose to regard that as an unforgiveable sin in a man whose allies were conveniently fragile. Hardwick was Clough’s protector by the end, at Sunderland. Shortly after the manager was fired, Clough, too, was sacked.

August 1965 saw the start of England’s World Cup winning season. Neither Martin Peters nor Geoff Hurst, scorers of the four goals in the final the following July, had yet played for England. Greaves, Clough’s closest equivalent in terms of ability in Division One, enjoyed only a fraying relationship with England manager Ramsey. The chance, for a hard-working striker of supreme talent, at his peak, was there to be taken. At Clough’s testimonial, in October 1965, Len Shackleton described Clough as the greatest striker he had ever seen – a man who, had he been playing in the 1920s, would have eclipsed even Dixie Dean. Football saves so much of its empty hyperbole for men it has betrayed and abandoned, but Shackleton was a friend; he meant his words as comfort, but he might well have meant his words.

31,000 people turned up for the testimonial, to Clough’s lastiing gratitude; that, plus his £1500 settlement from Sunderland, almost – but not quite – kept the wolf from the door.

It’s hard now to properly communicate the scale of the disaster that overcame Clough in the spring and summer of 1965. The one thing that had saved him from his unsuccessful education, at a time when that was so often the decisive factor in the direction of the next fifty years, was gone, forever this time. The one thing he had been good at, that had won him the status and recognition of his peers, that excited him, gave him direction, meaning, purpose – gone. With nothing to replace it.

And, for all his careful husbandry and second income from journalism, nothing to pay the bills. Not only was the life he loved absolutely over, but his domestic situation was desperate and worsening, with a drastic decline in his living standards – and his own childrens’ chances in life – only weeks away.

Over the course of the summer, eyewitness accounts say that Brian Clough began to drink to excess, put on weight, withdraw, become depressed.

Up and down the country, other men were in the same situation. Football, that great supposed repository of all the good old virtues, in the good old days of ’66, spat out what it couldn’t use, with little, or, usually, no, thought for what lay ahead for them. It would have done nothing to prepare them for the future – testimonials were all that would be provided, and only after a certain length of service, and only if the club could not really avoid providing one.

A strange, brief, mostly poorly-paid career, then: spent either trapped at a mediocre employer uninclined to use his talents or to release him to use them better elsewhere or at a good employer but unable to work, in a culture that was dead set against his kind of bright, ambitious, impulsive young man – and it ends, or must have ended, in one final walk out into the club car park. You can imagine how that must have gone: Clough beside his car, digging in a pocket for his keys, and, as he turns them in the driver’s door lock, he perhaps catches sight of his reflection in the window for a second. His face there, and, up and down England, hundreds of other faces caught in car windows as they prepare to go home and tell their families that they are on the dole.

What would Clough have seen in that brief moment? “Cloughie”? “Old Big ‘Ead”? I think he’d have refused to look; I think he would have turned away rather than see his reflection just then.

Those that the English find too intelligent to understand they make eccentric. Rejecting intelligence when they meet it in person, calling it arrogant, yet they’ll take credit for it as a national characteristic. I prefer Roger Waters’ description in “The Final Cut” of the environment Clough had to come from, one “Laughing too loud/At the rest of the world/With the boys in the crowd.”

Footie books, orange with nostalgia, will note that the Sixties were swinging, that the nation was a blur of mini skirts and mop tops and fashion and satire and plastic furniture and James Bond. In the north east, that other staple of 1960s life, the balance of payments deficit, would have been the only relevant one: Clough’s youth, for all that he had hated industrial life, had been one of expanding employment and relative opportunity. Clough’s sacking came when all that was over and the long, long decline beginning.

It’s a story of how poor opportunities were for the intelligent working class boy; of how intelligence put people at odds with the closed, paranoid culture they emerged from; of a “national game” that used both supporters and players unforgiveably, covering its tracks with nostalgia and moulding-flashed patriotism; of a game that behaved more like a cult than a proper sport, keeping its best practitioners back for the lowest cultural and financial reasons.

I don’t think Clough would have looked at his reflection; I think he’d have turned away.

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One Lost World Cup or Two?

Posted on 08 June 2006 by JamesHamilton

It’s my somewhat unfashionable opinion that England had the makings of a truly wonderful side in the ’70s – if they’d wanted to have one enough. (And that’s not necessarily a pejorative statement, by the way). Consider the following, all of whom would have been 30 or under in 1978 (Osgood would have been 31):

  • Stan Bowles, 5 caps
  • Tony Currie, 17 caps
  • Charlie George, 1 cap (subst. famously at half-time)
  • Rodney Marsh, 9 caps
  • Alan Hudson, 2 caps
  • Duncan Mackenzie, 0 caps
  • Peter Osgood, 4 caps
  • Bob Latchford, 12 caps
  • Frank Worthington, 8 caps

“Lifestyle” is the word in the background here, but even so, this is bordering on the ridiculous, isn’t it? Take Hudson’s 2 caps – on his debut, he destroyed West Germany and we won 2-0. You can’t do that kind of thing twice, and we only won 5-0 in his second game against Cyprus, so of course, he had to be dropped thereafter.

There won’t have been any consistent reason for the exclusion of such spectacular footballers from the national side – I expect it was a matter of expediency, match by match, rather than any deliberate policy. But 1974, 1978, came and went, and you can’t go back to change things after it’s all over.

There’s a bitter-sweet picture in my head of Clough leading England out for the 1974 World Cup Final with a team composed of many of these players. Clough wasn’t considered as a successor to Ramsey, something that bewilders me (he was turned down, famously, in 1977 after Revie’s undignified departure). Fantasy, of course. But add to that the success of British sides (Rangers and Celtic too of course) in European club competition, and were would have been the national footballing inferiority complex we’re still trying to overcome today?

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