The bosses we’ll never forget: Tales of Clough, Robson and McMenemy in new football book

A trio of English football managerial giants from the north-east are under the spotlight in a new book by Ben Dobson, reviewed by Eric Brown...


Three of English football’s most influential managers are commemorated in ‘Too Good to Be Forgotten: Three Wise Men from Football’s Golden Era’, a new book focused on the golden decade from 1975 to 1985.

Brian Clough, Bobby Robson and Lawrie McMenemy dragged struggling provincial clubs from Division Two mediocrity to shake England’s soccer establishment.

Author Ben Dobson might have chosen a more appropriate title as there is surely no question of these managerial giants being forgotten. But he has nevertheless put together an absorbing narrative of their rise and draws a number of parallels between them.

All three were Frank Sinatra fans who emerged from humble beginnings in the north-east and faced significant problems before doing things their way. All three were interviewed for the England manager’s job.

Clough demanded immediate respect at Forest because of his feat taking Derby County out of Division Two to the Football League title and a European Cup semi-final but he struggled to make much impact in his first 18 months at the City Ground.

Robson and McMenemy faced player challenges but came through with the backing of supportive boards.

Robson, bruised by dismissal at Fulham, and McMenemy, who had spells at Bishop Auckland and Grimsby, were surprise choices at Ipswich and Southampton.

Scepticism reigned among fans and players who sought to undermine their new bosses. Robson had to sort out seasoned professionals Bill Baxter and Tommy Carroll with his fists when the pair tried to challenge his authority. They were quickly moved on.

McMenemy was soon at loggerheads with Terry Paine who had played for more than a decade at Southampton, appeared in England’s 1966 World Cup team and expected to inherit the Dell manager’s chair.

A fantastic photograph in the book hints at friction between the pair as McMenemy glares sideways at Paine looming over the signing of Peter Osgood as though he were in charge. McMenemy ousted fan favourite Paine but often endured boos as he walked from dressing room to dugout.

Once all three were established, the good times began to roll. Clough repeated his County triumph by taking Forest out of Division Two, winning the league title and then went one better with the first of two European Cups. Along the way, he shook up established giants like Liverpool, Leeds and Arsenal.

Robson built two great Ipswich teams, the first around Brian Talbot and the second around Dutch pair Frans Thijssen and Arnold Muhren. Good enough to finish second twice and third once, a tantalising few points behind the champions. But he landed Ipswich’s first European trophy and an FA Cup courtesy of unlikely hero Roger Osborne before demonstrating his loyalty by rejecting a 10-year contract offered by Everton.

McMenemy’s second division Saints also saluted an unlikely goalscoring hero in Bobby Stokes as they upset mighty Manchester United in the 1976 FA Cup Final. Clough’s failure to land the FA Cup remained the only blot on his managerial honours C.V. despite a glut of League Cups.

This was an era when managers were allowed to manage. Managers pounded up and down motorways every week, watched players and signed them rather than having unwanted signings thrust on them by boardroom figures with fancy titles.

Sometimes they talked their way into players’ homes and refused to leave until the player signed. Clough was reputed to have told Archie Gemmill’s parents that he would be sleeping in his car outside the house until the contract was signed. He got his way.

All three managers possessed powerful personalities which helped beat more fashionable clubs in the signing stakes.

Clough’s judgement when bringing in unheard of non-league players like Garry Birtles or £1m superstar Trevor Francis was for a few years unrivalled.

Yet Clough, like Robson and McMenemy, had his team anchor. For Clough, it was John McGovern who accompanied him everywhere. Robson identified Allan Hunter as his key signing while McMenemy wouldn’t dream of selecting a Southampton team without Nick Holmes for a decade.

All of the trio achieved amazing feats. Clough conquered Europe with his team of cast-offs and unfashionables allied to a few expensive buys. Robson guided Ipswich within a few points of emulating Alf Ramsey at Portman Road and McMenemy… well, he signed more stars than a booking manager at the London Palladium.

Chelsea hero Peter Osgood was the catalyst. Over the years came Frank Worthington, Charlie George, Dave Watson, Peter Shilton and his greatest coup, Kevin Keegan. Mick Channon even returned from Manchester City. Saints fans never had it so good.

Mark Dennis, Peter Rodrigues and Ivan Golac may be lesser lights but were equally important to the team.

Much has already been written about all three in the form of biography and autobiography and the book leans heavily on material gleaned from these.

But Dobson shines a new light by interviewing Rodrigues, Channon, Steve Williams, Paul Bennett and Hughie Fisher of Southampton, Forest’s Tony Woodcock and John McGovern and Bryan Hamilton, Allan Hunter, Russell Osman and John Wark of Ipswich. None have a bad word to say about their former bosses.

Unborn generations of today will surely learn of them in future when they ask fathers and grandfathers about statues, stands and roads bearing their names. Forgotten? Not a chance.

Too Good to be Forgotten: Three Wise Men from Football’s Golden Era by Ben Dobson, published by Pitch Publishing price £18.99.

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