Could Arsene Wenger forecast the weather?
Has Ancelotti flown a Sopwith Camel?

Football may be bigger than ever before but, says ANTON RIPPON, it no longer has the some of the characters among its managers who used to add colour to the game

Time was when football was such an uncomplicated affair. Even top players were paid little more than the average working wage — not three years’ salary every week — and footballers’ wives were more likely to be found down the Co-op than sauntering around Asprey’s.

There were four divisions in the Football League, conveniently numbered one to four, not like today where the Third Division is now the First, the Second is something called the Championship, and the “old, old First” is the Premier League, before which there was no football, if you believe some of the marketing.

Football managers have changed, too. When, a few seasons back, the Premier League and the League Managers’ Association got upset about Glenn Roeder — a man who could look back on a playing career that spanned almost 600 senior appearances but who had yet to gain something called a full UEFA Pro licence, a sort of posh coaching badge — taking over as the permanent manager of Newcastle United, it was perhaps as well that they didn’t examine the history of a game which has been happy to let loose, even at the highest level, men with only the slimmest credentials for being in charge of a football team.

Referees to part-time meteorologists, and men whose team talks consisted only of breathing strong spirits through the dressing room door, with little or no playing experience, never mind a framed certificate to show that they passed the coaching exam — they’ve all had a go at football management.

When Sunderland were in their pomp before the Second World War, they managed to win the Football League championship and the FA Cup under the stewardship of a round little man who wore a bowler hat and was partial to a cigar and a whisky or three. His name was Johnny Cochrane and, according to the late Raich Carter, the Sunderland skipper, no one was quite sure where he had learned his football.

In fact, the dapper Cochrane (pictured left) had once played for St Johnstone and had later overseen St Mirren’s winning of the Scottish Cup, but when it came to team matters, according to Carter, Johnny tended to leave it to the players.

“Team talk? Johnny used to stick his head round the door at five to three and, in a cloud of cigar smoke, ask: ‘Who are we playing today, lads?’ We’d chorus: ‘Arsenal, boss.’ And he would just say: ‘Oh well, we’ll piss that lot.’ Then he’d close the door and be gone. The manager’s job in those days was to assemble a good team and then let it play.”

When Sunderland were on their way to the title in 1935-36, they suffered a succession of missed penalties but, again, Cochrane had a way.

Said Carter: “We came in at half-time in one particular match where we’d missed another penalty and Johnny started to tell us how to do our job. We knew he hadn’t played much football, so one or two of the lads started ribbing him, asking how he would have taken the one we’d just missed. Johnny put his bowler hat on the dressing-room floor, we cleared a space, and he ran up and kicked the hat high into the air. We all cheered and mobbed him, telling him: ‘Great goal, boss.’ He just shrugged and said: ‘Well actually, I hit the bar.’

“The funny thing is, we didn’t miss another penalty for a couple of seasons.”

At least Johnny Cochrane had played the game at some level. When Norwich City were struggling in the old Second Division in January 1939, they sacked manager Bob Young, a former Sunderland irregular who had won the Military Medal in the First World War, and replaced him with Jimmy Jewell, a famous referee. Jewell had refereed the 1938 FA Cup Final and had taken charge of the FA’s 75th anniversary match between England and the Rest of Europe at Highbury. But he had never played football.

Despite signing several new players, including the exotic Jack Acquroff, a London-born centre-forward with Scottish parents and Russian ancestry, Jewell could not halt the Canaries’ slide into the Third Division South. He left Carrow Road when war was declared and never managed again.

Perhaps the most unlikely Football League manager, however, was another ex-referee, Captain Arthur Prince-Cox, former boy impressionist on the stage, Royal Flying Corps pilot and Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, who got the job as Bristol Rovers’ manager in November 1930, despite only a brief playing career in local amateur football. He took up refereeing and reached the Football League list, as well as officiating in 32 international matches throughout Europe.

Giles Brandreth lookalike Prince-Cox, picture right, was appointed to the Bristol Rovers job from 200 applicants, no doubt impressing the directors when he turned up at Eastville smoking a cigar and driving a red open-topped sports car with white wheels. It was Prince-Cox who introduced Rovers’ now famous blue and white quartered shirts — he argued that they would make his players look bigger than they really were — and at one time his team included five full internationals.

Prince-Cox survived for six years as Rovers’ manager, taking them up the table without ever threatening promotion to the Second Division. It was his theatrical background that probably gave him his flair for publicity; he once chartered an aircraft to fly amateur international centre-forward Vivian Gibbins from the London school where he worked to a midweek Third Division South match at Eastville.

When he resigned in 1936, Prince-Cox took up boxing refereeing and promotion and worked for the British Boxing Board of Control. He is probably the only Football League manager whose job it once was to deliver the weather forecast to Buckingham Palace. What would the Premier League and the LMA make of that?

To read previous columns and reviews by Anton Rippon, click here

Click here for more recent articles on journalism, sport and sports journalism

SJA MEMBERS: Make sure your profile details are up to date in the 2010 SJA Yearbook by clicking here