FAMOUS FIVE: Managerial debuts

We have a new manager and so far he has done quite well. Three games, three competitions, two wins, one proud defeat. The players seem to like him, he has fresh ideas, he cuts a dash with his stubble and open-necked shirt and has had inarticulate pundits making wild assumptions about his ability and language skills while panicking in general about foreigners. So this week, we’ve had a look back at managerial debuts in our recent past and, in replicating the situation regarding Silva’s appointment, stuck to ones that happened while a season was ongoing, as summer appointments tend to give new gaffers daft luxuries like time to plan and get to know the club and the squad. Not that it did Phil Parkinson much good, mind…

1: Iain Dowie

Phil Brown’s dismissal in March 2010 was correct although ill-timed, and beyond the surprise expressed by the national press was a further confusion about what would happen about a successor. Brown had effectively ceased to work for City, but as negotiations began over the terms of his departure, he was placed on gardening leave until the end of the campaign. This meant only someone prepared to a) work until the end of the season; and b) adopt a title that was neither manager nor head coach, was permitted to step into the role.

And that was Iain Dowie.

Adam Pearson had been a long-time admirer of the former Northern Ireland striker with the unorthodox bone structure, and in Dowie’s defence he had been a successful and convincing gaffer at both Oldham Athletic and Crystal Palace. He was a graduate, a man of intellect and also someone whose appreciation of his opportunities had been borne out of a late start to his professional career. But when he was unveiled at the Circle with the title Temporary Football Management Consultant, his credibility went out of the window. He may as well have been called ‘Last Resort’ or ‘Sitting Duck’.

The word ‘temporary’ was just evil. ‘Acting’ might have been better. ‘At Large’ would have been very good. Dowie didn’t have any kind of personal mandate as a consequence of his appointment, but he did have a professional one, to keep City up. He, of course, didn’t.

His first game was at Portsmouth, and instantly the motif of Typical City hit him square between the nostrils, as the recalled Caleb Folan (a player he had once tried to sign) scored a brace to twice give City the lead, only for two disastrous pieces of defending in the 88th and 89th minutes allowing the home side a 3-2 win.

Dowie only won once, and that was at home to a mid-table Fulham side who had ditched the Premier League in favour of a run to the Europa League final. The one tick next to his name was his keenness to blood some further City youngsters, but although Will Atkinson and Mark Cullen scored a goal each at Wigan in the penultimate game of the season (which confirmed our relegation and Dowie’s departure), it was evident that neither were up to it in the way Tom Cairney and Liam Cooper seemed to be, hence why Brown hadn’t picked them himself. Dowie quietly walked away in May, job not done, and City had to begin again, in oh so many ways.

2: Terry Dolan

Here’s a little poll for you, City fans of 25 years and more vintage: whose relegation was 1990/91? Was it Stan Ternent’s? Or was it Terry Dolan’s?

Ternent, the man who ruined his initial reputation as a supreme troubleshooter after his rescue act of 1989/90, overspent on some truly awful ageing footballers afterwards and got a deserved bullet following a New Years Day shellacking at Portsmouth. That was a correct call, undoubtedly. City were appalling and rock bottom. But the board then dithered like a teenage boy buying condoms when trying to sort out a replacement, as if they had dumped Ternent on a whim (despite his dismissal being entirely deserved) without realising it was then their job to get someone else in to take over.

Dolan, in charge of Rochdale, was mentioned quite quickly, and his reputation was good after coming within a whisker of getting an overplaying Bradford side promotion in 1988, something City fans witnessed through gritted teeth as their own team fell markedly down the table. But whoever it was going to be didn’t get his feet under the table prior to the FA Cup third round defeat to Notts County on January 5th, and caretaker boss Tom Wilson ended up taking charge for two further games, both of which ended in defeat.

The City board finally gave the job to Dolan on the last day of January, 30 days after Ternent’s exit and approximately 29 after his name was first mooted, and instantly City responded with a 2-0 win over Bristol Rovers, courtesy of Peter Swan and Neil Buckley. Dolan only made one change from the last team Wilson picked but the effect was clear.

City were relegated via a five-point shortfall, despite having a strike partnership in Swan and Andy Payton that put away 27 goals. Nobody is saying Dolan would have had the same effect had he walked through the door three days after Ternent instead of 30, but he won five games in charge when seven would have proved enough, so the board take some mild blame for the demotion just through their own indecision, which proved final.

To answer our own question then, the relegation was principally the fault of Ternent, unquestionably, but the board that fired and then hired need to accept some of the flak. As for Dolan, his many days of vilification would come.

3: John Kaye

When the great Bill Nicholson, wiping away furious, bitter tears after seeing Tottenham fans rioting at the end of their 1974 UEFA Cup final defeat to Feyenoord, decided that football wasn’t for him any more, Spurs needed a new manager. This wasn’t something anyone at the boardroom table within White Hart Lane had needed to ponder for 16 years. Nicholson had been at the helm of everything that had made Tottenham revered, feared and respected, kicking it off in 1961 with the 20th century’s first League and FA Cup double. In total, a league title, three FA Cups, two League Cups and two European trophies was quite a haul during an extremely competitive era.

Seeing the evidence that young managers can build destinies as well as clubs – Nicholson was only 39 when he got the job – Spurs decided to try the trick again. There were problems with their choice though – he had not achieved anything tangible in his current job and he was previously an Arsenal man, albeit one who quit at 29 because he couldn’t get in the team any more. Round these parts, a further problem was pointed out that Hull City were about to lose a manager who, if not entirely enveloped by achievements, had at least done something acquainted with a passable job within a long term plan. That was, of course, not an issue once the compensation chequebook came out, and Harold Needler let Terry Neill join Spurs from City, and presumably took back the E-Type Jaguar, in September 1974.

The immediate future for both clubs was to prove very ordinary. Neill nearly got Spurs relegated in 1975 and then wangled – and, given his record at the Lane, heaven knows how – a trip across North London and back to Highbury in 1976, again replacing a retiring winner of the Double in Bertie Mee. His first team coach at City, the tough-talking Goole-born John Kaye, became City’s gaffer. He began with a trip to Nottingham Forest, themselves still four months away from a significant managerial alteration of their own, and who, like City, had only won one of their opening six matches of the season.

We’ll put it down to the trauma of seeing their boyish manager leave, but City’s players utterly froze on the day. Only two of the dozen on duty – Ken Wagstaff and Malcolm Lord – had played for the first team prior to Neill’s appointment, so the rest had placed their careers thus far in the hands of a manager who had believed in them, and now he was very suddenly gone. Scottish striker Alan Martin scored twice for Forest, with further goals from future City midfielder George Lyall and European Cup winner in waiting Martin O’Neill.

Kaye did take a while to get going, and a return to the same city later in the season resulted in a 5-0 cuffing by Notts County, but the Tigers recovered well to finish eighth that season (eight places higher than Forest, who appointed Brian Clough in the January), and Kaye stayed in the job until 1977, unable to get higher in the Second Division than Neill’s 1970/71 peak of 5th. The players who had invested their professional feelings in Neill may have ruefully noted later on that perhaps he didn’t think much of them after all, as he didn’t come back to Hull to sign a single one of them.

4: Nick Barmby

It took approximately nine thousand years for Nigel Pearson to finally leave Hull City after initially admitting that he wanted to go back to his old job at Leicester, and when it finally happened the Allams – a popular, charitable family whose intentions for Hull City were entirely selfless and philanthropic in 2011, children – installed Nick Barmby as his replacement.

Though Barmby had no experience, this was probably the most popular managerial appointment in Hull City’s history. He was local, worshipped, symbolic of the club, a phenomenal player and had the absolute respect of the squad. He also was winding down his own career – indeed, the moment he got the job he stopped playing entirely – and had been doing some coaching under Pearson prior to his elevation.

Pearson still gets some stick now from City fans because of the way he left the club and also the perception that his tactical preferences were rather safe and limited. Neither were fair – he saw through the Allams before anyone else, and we did play some fine football on his watch at times – but it nonetheless cannot be said that Barmby’s first game in charge replicated anything Pearson would have encouraged or plotted, as City went to Derby and ripped them to pieces.

The first half was a stupendous, mesmeric exhibition of flowing pass and move football, with each player on duty making themselves permanently available to receive the ball. It was utterly unbecoming of a City side to play like this, which made it all the more fantastic. Matt Fryatt and Cameron Stewart scored in the first 25 minutes and the game was won. Derby were spared further torture in the second half as City played the percentage game to guarantee the points, and the Tiger Nation wandered away afterwards thinking, with inevitable excess of ambition, that promotion was a cert.

The bubbles were popped quickly the following week when Burnley scored three times in the final 12 minutes at the Circle to win 3-2 and in truth, only at Cardiff later that season did City play as freely and dominantly under Barmby again. That was the one highlight of a crazy nine-match March for City, which ended in exhaustion, five straight losses and zero hope of the play-offs. On the final day, after a gallant 2-1 defeat at West Ham, Barmby calmly told the local press that he’d like a bit of cash to spend on players in the summer, and all hell broke loose.

5: Brian Little

After, and indeed despite, three straight wins, the ultimate managerial hero is sacked by an ownership everyone despises, then you come in for the last day of the season and oversee a 3-0 home defeat to ten-man Hartlepool United which is over by half time. Welcome to Hull, Brian.

Brian Little, one of the nicest men in football, must have wondered what he had let himself in for. He’d won a League Cup as Villa manager just four seasons before, after all. Did he need all this? Fortunately, he then had a summer to think about it, decide it really was worthwhile and show a remarkable combination of tactical acumen, professional gallantry and mental strength over the next 12 months to earn City a play-off place rendered all the more improbable with the vitriol and posturing off the field that had left the club unable to access their own training facilities and put players into financial difficulty when wages went unpaid.

The play-offs didn’t work out for Little and City, but boy had he done enough to allow fans pining for Warren Joyce to accept that life had now moved on, and would continue to do so. The arrival of Adam Pearson as owner and saviour allowed everyone to concentrate on on-pitch matters afterwards, to everyone’s relief and delight, and although Little didn’t quite do enough to warrant another full season, he left Boothferry Park with everyone’s gratitude and warm wishes. A home defeat to Hartlepool was now more than forgivable.

We didn’t include Stan Ternent’s mid-season debut as manager, despite it being probably the most impressive, because we’ve featured it on a previous edition of Famous Five.

1 reply
  1. Bill Carson
    Bill Carson says:

    Please never ever haunt me with Dowie an Dolan ever again.
    Dowie was a clown and the worst appointment ever. A real stain on Adam Pearsons CV.
    As for Dolan, sheer purgatory.
    Although he did at least inspire, in my opinion, the best ever City song, to the tune of Pulps Common People!
    As for today, Livermore sold on the cheap, Snodgrass injured???
    Should Snodgrass also be sold then we may as well throw in the towel.

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