Cardiff City manager Lennie Lawrence has just been honoured after taking charge of his 1,000th English domestic game, as Charles Morris reports
Jim Smith once said that the only requirement for being a football manager was “a degree in insanity”. To pursue his theme, it could be said that Smith has a professorship in the subject, being one of only eight men known to have reached the remarkable total of overseeing teams in 1,000 English league, FA Cup and League Cup matches.
The latest to join this elite group is Lennie Lawrence, the Cardiff City manager, whose achievement was marked by a presentation from the League Managers Association, the profession’s representative organisation, at the end of January. The other six are Alec Stock, Sir Matt Busby, Brian Clough, Graham Taylor, Dario Gradi and Dave Bassett.
The LMA began the task of compiling the totals two years ago, using the criteria of matches in the English league and the two cup competitions since 1945 – it has no data for the pre-war years – and excluding managers’ stints in charge of foreign teams. This “foreign” rule excludes from the 1,000 club veterans such as Sir Bobby Robson as well as Sir Alex Ferguson, who spent the early part of his managerial career in Scotland.
Jokes about mental instability or masochism aside, the achievement of the eight in reaching four figures is considerable given the pressures, stress and extreme insecurity of the job. John Barnwell, the LMA chief executive, estimates that the average tenure of a league manager at present is about two years, and points out that it took some of the eight more than 25 years to notch up 1,000 games.
“All of them who have managed for that period of time must have had exceptional stamina and great determination,” says Barnwell, a former manager himself who led Wolves to League Cup success in 1980. “You need exceptional resilience to accumulate that number of games, and also a great love of the game.”
He says that one of the reasons the association compiled the figures was because he believes such long-serving managers are a dying breed and that more entrants to the 1,000 club are unlikely. “The way managers are dismissed so regularly now and do not often get back into work quickly, we thought it might not happen again.”
It is certainly a damning indictment of the way football is run that so few managers have managed to achieve what amounts to about 20 years of employment – assuming, for the sake of argument, 50 league and cup matches a season. And the significant fact that six of the eight, having been given time, succeeded in transforming clubs totally, is a powerful argument against the quick-fire mentality of most club chairmen.
Busby’s 24 years at Manchester United, beginning in 1945, turned them from an ordinary old First Division club with a bomb-damaged stadium into one of the most famous sides in the world. Stock won the League Cup with Third Division Queens Park Rangers and then took them to the First Division during his 1959 to 1968 spell at the club. Clough transformed both Derby County and Nottingham Forest, amassing two European Cups, two league championships and four League Cups in the process. Taylor took Watford from the Fourth to the old First Division, as did Bassett at Wimbledon. Gradi, currently English league football’s longest-serving manager, took Crewe from being Fourth Division re-election regulars to the new First Division and remains in situ despite two relegations along the way.
Furthermore, Charlton Athletic fans will doubtless recall fondly Lawrence’s nine years in charge during the 1980s when, despite being in exile from The Valley and almost bankrupt, the club won promotion to the old First Division. Incidentally, according to the LMA, Lawrence has an extraordinary record of near-continual employment despite having managed seven clubs. Although sacked several times, he has never been out of work for more than three weeks.
Gradi and Busby are the only two to have achieved the feat at one club. Yet highlighting just how exceptional such long tenures are, LMA figures show that in the period between June 1983 and November 2001 when Gradi was racking up his (first?) grand with Crewe Alexandra, there were 750 managerial changes among other league clubs.
Barnwell says other trends, apart from the traditional impatience of chairmen and fans, will also keep the 1,000 club an exclusive one. He believes British football is moving towards the continental system of coaches, instead of managers, who concentrate solely on on-field matters and tend to move around between clubs more often. This has coincided with the fashion for foreign managers such as Arsène Wenger, Gérard Houllier and Claudio Ranieri, who are likely to have previously spent years in their native or other countries building their reputations.
He also cites the continuing tendency for clubs, particularly the bigger ones, to appoint a “personality” as manager, a star player who switches to being boss overnight, rather than someone who has served an apprenticeship managing lesser clubs. The ousting of Micky Adams to make way for Kevin Keegan at Fulham was a classic case of a talented manager who started in football’s basement having to make way for a big name.
Barnwell believes it is no coincidence that seven of the eight-strong 1,000 club cut their teeth at small clubs such as Hartlepool United (Clough), Lincoln City (Taylor) and Boston United (Smith), with Busby being the exception. “What they did was to learn their trade from the bottom and work their way up.”
One of the LMA’s aims is that in future managers will be properly prepared for the role through coaching qualifications and management training, and in return are given more time to prove their worth and a fairer deal by clubs. The first part of that equation will doubtless be easier to deliver than the second.
From WSC 193 March 2003. What was happening this month