Sam Allardyce. 67 days, one competitive game. That’s almost something to admire, in a way, even though he’s clearly a bloody idiot. So, we decided to look at the shortest spells in charge in City’s history. We’ve not included caretaker managers or temporary football management consultants because those people were, by definition, not more than stopgap appointments to the job. And we’ve done it only on the number of competitive games in charge, as we have insignificant off-periods to consider, like summertimes and global conflict…
1: James Ramster (No games, 1904/05)
It looks ridiculous to have a full-time manager who didn’t actually get a team on to a pitch for a competitive game, although the just-departed England boss came mighty close, but Ramster (fourth from left on top row, above, next to the Lord Mayor) was City’s first gaffer, appointed after the club was formed in 1904. He was there for a year but City weren’t able to gain immediate election to the league, so he picked teams for friendlies until a place in the Second Division was confirmed, at which point he was replaced by Ambrose Langley, a player-manager with a strong reputation.
Some City tomes refuse to acknowledge Ramster was a proper manager at all, but this feels a bit cruel. He was permanent in the role – City’s (lack of) league status was incidental and not his fault, and he’s worth his place here.
2: Colin Appleton (16 games, 1989)
We try to colour another grey area with this one, as Appleton managed City for more than 100 competitive matches in total and gained a fine promotion from the Fourth Division with a small, tight-knit and talented squad in 1983, made all the more admirable because the club had been about to fold the previous year. However, his return for a second spell for the start of 1989/90, five years after he had left, was one of the dumber decisions taken by any City chairman, not least because Don Robinson’s judgment was evidently clouded by sentiment.
Appleton won only one of the 16 games (a League Cup tie against Grimsby which City still lost on aggregate), signed just one player (Steve Doyle), sold prolific scorer Keith Edwards and was fired when Robinson’s ill-health prompted a reshuffle of the seating in the boardroom, and Richard Chetham wasted no time in getting rid. His replacement, Stan Ternent, promptly won his first game in charge and City, a national laughing stock to this point, stayed up.
There remains masses of goodwill for the eccentric Appleton because of his achievements first time round, though at least some of it must also be down to the fact that the season that started so catastrophically under his tenure when he came back didn’t end in relegation. In some ways, he is a fortunate man.
3: Jan Mølby (17 games, 2002)
City’s only non-British manager, a cosmopolitan appointment by Adam Pearson after the slightly controversial sacking of Brian Little, with the hope that his vast experience as a player would rub off on a team of fourth tier triers who’d had a momentary taste of the play-offs.
Alas, Mølby was a disaster, largely due to his frosty relationship with the players and some odd training methods and tactical decisions. Long term, City did benefit from the Dane’s reign because he acquired Ian Ashbee, Stuart Elliott and Stuart Green, players who would be crucial to the long-awaited renaissance of the club over the next few years, but nobody was anything but relieved when he packed his bags six months after his appointment.
4: Bobby Collins (19 games, 1977/78)
The three-manager season, ending in a hurtful relegation after 12 years in the second tier, and during football’s simpler days it’s hard to imagine City being in more turmoil at any other time.
The campaign began with John Kaye in charge, where he had been for three years, but he had been given an “improve or else” ultimatum by the board which he couldn’t act upon. His sacking led to first team coach Collins receiving an unexpected elevation to the job.
Fans were surprised, as Billy Bremner, skipper of City and with an unwritten agreement when he signed from Leeds that he’d get a crack at the manager’s gig when the chance came, was overlooked in favour of the chap who had been once his own captain at Leeds. Collins, despite starting with a win over Spurs, was staggeringly out of his depth and in February, after a boardroom change, new chairman Bob Chapman gave him his cards. Ken Houghton took over but couldn’t prevent the drop.
5=: David Menzies (24 games, 1936) and Phil Parkinson (24 games, 2006)
Menzies was a proto-Appleton, a Scotsman whose short tenure as gaffer was actually his second, and in the end he took charge of 114 games. He first became manager during World War I after two years on the medical staff, waited three years for a competitive match, and stayed until 1921 before, like Appleton, choosing to quit for a new job.
A whole 15 years passed before he returned, after six years at Bradford and a successful eight-year stint at Doncaster, which included lifting the Division Three (North) title in 1935. He started the 1936/37 season with a nine-match unbeaten run before his sudden death from a heart attack, the only City manager to die in his post. At least his inclusion in a semi-dubious list like this isn’t due to any incompetence on his part…
Parkinson, meanwhile, was the bright young manager whom everyone connected to City wanted upon Peter Taylor’s exit in the summer of 2006, having just guided the deeply unfashionable Colchester United into the Championship with football that was both decisive and incisive. It took a lot of negotiation – and a lot of cash – to prise him away from Layer Road as, unsurprisingly, his chairman wasn’t keen on letting him go, but he was a massively welcome and popular appointment. Soon, however, it was clear he had taken too big a step too early.
His reputation is partially saved, similarly to that of Mølby, thanks to the initial signings he made, with Michael Turner and Sam Ricketts among his recruits, but he struggled to gain the confidence of his players, was tactically very naïve, alienated very influential figures in the dressing room and was responsible for some shocking defeats, including a 5-1 reversal at his gleeful old club that we suspect still gives him cold sweats to this day.
A relegation battle was already in full swing by the time he was removed just before Christmas, with Phil Brown moving up from first team coach to take over and salvage things.
And, as you’re asking: 1 – Cliff Britton (406 games, 1961-69); 2 – Billy McCracken (375, 1923-31); 3 – Terry Dolan (322, 1991-97); 4 – Ambrose Langley (318, 1905-13); 5 – Bob Brocklebank (302, 1955-61). We’ll leave this here, as let’s face it, it isn’t going to come up as a topic in its own right any time soon…