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Testing Times for 10 Young Managers / Testing Times for 10 Young Managers

Testing Times for 10 Young Managers

By on 9 August 2018

The plethora of betting firms who are offering odds for the first manager to be sacked this season (by Division!) puts into sharp perspective the pressures facing the modern manager. This article from the September 1968 issue of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly shows that the difficulties facing management 50 years ago were not dis-similar – although there would seem to be a little more patience then.


Taking 10 young and upcoming managers – including Brian Clough, Bobby Robson and Dave Sexton – columnist Pat Collins assesses the challenges facing these new(ish) bosses in the upcoming 1968-69 season.

As usual you can browse the original pages as published – using cursor keys or your fingers, depending on your device to expand and change pages – or read via the text below. At the end of the article, we give a quick summary of what happened to these 10 managers that season and, briefly, their futures.

[Article start]

The loneliest spot in sport, the boxing scribes so often offer us, is a fighter’s corner when the bell goes. A man is right out there on his own.

I give you an even lonelier sporting life . . . that of the League club manager. At the most, the boxer’s hermitage can last for three-quarters of an hour, a championship bout . . . and not too often.

The poor old football manager has to sweat it out by himself the whole year round. Like the fighter he has plenty of advisers around him. Some he has to listen to . . . a few may even be worth hearing.

For the rest they all dive in to tell him how to do the job, who to pick, who to buy and how to play. The great difference being that the theorists are never put to the test.

He is . . . for a long, long season . . . with his slips showing almost daily in the league tables. 

I have a lot of sympathy for managers and for what they have to put up with.

That is why I shall be looking more closely at the fortunes of ten young managers who are very much on trial this season to a greater or lesser extent.

Eight of them will be starting their first full seasons with their clubs. For six of these it will be their first full season as managers.

These are the men for whom this present season means so much . .

NOEL CANTWELL(Coventry City)


BRIAN CLOUGH (Derby County)


ALAN DICKS (Bristol City)

BOBBY SEITH (Preston North End)

KEN FURPHY (Watford)




They are singled out because they are still young and, in the main, still learning the job. And because most of them are starting the hard way . . . by having to try and revive clubs which have been among the stragglers. Take NOEL CANTWELL . .

In many ways his job was less difficult than the rest because of the financial backing he has had. On the last effective day of transfers last season City spent £135,000—over £400,000 in the few short months in which he fought desperately to keep the club in the First Division.

But he will be judged by how well he spent, and any City shortcomings this season will suffer more harshly from the critics because of that colossal outlay.

Cantwell, the ex-Manchester United skipper, came from beneath a pile of big names toted for the Highfield Road job when Jimmy Hill needed replacement.

There was, for him, the feeling that others had had first preference. Even more, the very bleak prospect that so ambitious City could be back down after their one and only season in the First Division.

Desperation matched ambition. Coventry spent as if propping the pound itself. . . . and scraped through by just one point.

Having plugged that leak, Noel Cantwell won the breathing space he needed. Now he will be striving for the better times for a Soccer-city which is deserving of them for the staunch support it continued to give its team in those recent troubled times. That is the test for City’s young manager.

BOBBY ROBSON crossed the Atlantic last autumn to try his hand at football management with the Vancouver Royal Canadians. Becoming disenchanted with the set-up there he was soon back. Back to Fulham, the club he served so splendidly as a player – only this time he was needed to pull the club round and, like Noel Cantwell, to try and hold a First Division place.

If Fulham didn’t expect a miracle it didn’t stop them hoping for one. But Fulham had diced with relegation once too often.

Bobby Robson was in no way to blame. The cards had been stacked against a club whose First Division returns for the previous six seasons – 20th . . . 16th . . .15th . . . 20th . . . 20th . . . 18th – showed how inevitable was their drop.

Robson could not shop as often as Cantwell in the transfer market. Now he has Frank Large and something like £100,000 –  depending on what the club can afford to spend on fees – for the departure of Young England player, Allan Clarke.

Fulham could be a power in the Second Division; they could slide down as neighbouring Brentford have done. Bobby Robson, I feel, will have made a good start if he halts the slump and wins time. It is certain that he has a tough job before him.

BRIAN CLOUGH has to perk up a Derby County side which at times seems to have the makings, can be as attractive as the best in the Second Division, yet somehow slipped dangerously down the table last time.

County are another club who have been in the shadows for too long. A fresh interest had been created by a rather belated dip in the transfer market and gates have picked up, markedly well, at the Baseball Ground.

But it is a sober truth that brighter football is for the purists, at league level—WINNING football holds, then brings back local interest. Clough has to bring this about this term . . . if he can.

In his favour, as in Cantwell’s, is the backing awaiting a County revival. Like all those mentioned here, Clough must be given time to pass his test. But fans won’t wait overlong . . . especially County fans who can remember the good days.

Some of EDDIE FIRMANI’S pronouncements on the manner in which he would have his team conduct themselves when he took over at Charlton last season, brought the new man and Charlton much publicity last season . . .

. . . and many sidelong glances for the rather prim, old-fashioned sound of those from the more cynical in the game.

But Firmani not only talked, he acted. And managed to pull round a side then caught up in a familiar disengaging action with relegation.

Eddie did a good job in the short time he had and has the nucleus for a more inspiring effort this season. Charlton are another club who can hardly fling money around, but they DO have some youngsters who could come through for them.

Here, it seems, will be the real test for Firmani. If he can help his youngsters maintain their progress- not the easiest job in the business – he will have something substantial on which to build.

He will have done well if he can change the outlook for a club which, on past performance, is ranked in mind as a “bottom-half” side.

I said that most of them, apart from being young, and young in their experience as managers, had very much the same task . . . of attempting to move their clubs out of trying times.

What goes for Cantwell and the others also goes for ALAN DICKS, at Bristol City, BOBBY SEITH, at Preston, JIMMY McILROY, with Oldham and BILLY BINGHAM in the deep west at Plymouth. Dicks and Seith just managed to keep their clubs in the Second Division, Bingham failed to save Argyle. But again, he came when the cause was practically lost.

Alan Dicks, like Seith, has started his first chore in the manager’s chair.

All my young managers have this in common . . . that they are young enough and fully qualified to get out with their players and SHOW them what they want done.

Dicks has backroom experience with Coventry; Seith with Glasgow Rangers. Billy Bingham, of course, did a great job with Southport and can boast longer experience in the chair.

Bristol City are determined to push up into the upper crust of the game and have shown their readiness to back Dicks.

Seith faces the old bogy in the background at Deepdale – the good old days there. But that is history, ancient history and North End have been going nowhere in particular since their Wembley Cup Final appearance in 1964.

The big things which were expected at Oldham have failed to materialise and much of the enthusiasm earlier inspired has died down because of promise unfulfilled.

That 1962-63 season which saw them climb out of the Fourth Division with an average home gate of nearly 15,000, is now but a memory. It is time such a famous old club took a turn for the better.

JIMMY McILROY has been longer with the club than any of the others mentioned here. The Boundary Park fans have got over their surprise of having a big playing name take over there and will, want better returns than those of recent seasons.

So Jimmy McIlroy, almost a veteran among the others at his job, can be said to be on trial now.

DAVE SEXTON, at Chelsea, has no sinking ship to save . . . just to get a settled side even nearer than that sixth spot in the table last season – that and a Cup interest which extends even beyond the Sixth Round of last time.

I say “even” . . . we are assessing at top level. Chelsea have to stay up there to remain bracketed with the top eight. They have been so near so many times without quite making out.

Sexton’s test is to impose a Chelsea pattern which will be recognised as his. And to pick up a trophy. I don’t say that lightly, and in every other respect Sexton and Chelsea are out of place in the present context.

But how he shakes his side down . . . how his methods pay will still mean that Dave Sexton has to pass muster.

My last young manager might also wonder why he is included. KEN FURPHY has done a fine job at Watford as player-manager and manager. Nor is he the raw rookie most of my other young managers are.

He has set his own standards by which to be judged—high they are, too. So if many in Hertfordshire believe that this has to be their promotion season it is simply because Furphy has put it within reach.

Watford were sixth last season, always holding a chance if they had found more consistent results; they missed out in the last days of the previous season, finishing third.

The point is fully made when we remember that Watford, before Furphy’s reign, also took third placing in season 1963-64.

The most loyal fans can hardly be expected to cheer Watford as the Third Division bridesmaid many more times.

There they are then: some who have to boost poor past records . . . to check any possible slides . . . to consolidate . . . to find that extra surge to make the top.


[Article end]

What happened next for these 10 managers….?

NOEL CANTWELL (Coventry City): Just avoided relegation finishing third bottom, one point above the drop zone. Left Coventry in 1972 to go and manage New England in the USA.

BOBBY ROBSON (Fulham): Finished bottom of Division Two and was sacked. Famously went on to manage Ipswich Town in 1969 where he won the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup and unluckily finished runners up twice in Division One. Went onto manage a host of top continental sides as well as England.

BRIAN CLOUGH (Derby County): won Second Division Championship and famously went on to top Division One in 1972 before falling out with the board and leaving in 1973. Created a legend later at Nottingham Forest, including a Championship and two European Cups. Probably one of football’s greatest regrets is him being passed over for the England job.

EDDIE FIRMANI (Charlton): Finished a very creditable third in Division Two missing out on promotion to Crystal Palace by six points. A relegation battle in 1970 would lead to his demise.

ALAN DICKS (Bristol City): Finished 16th in Division Two. He stayed at City for 13 years taking them up to Division One in 1976.

BOBBY SEITH (Preston North End): Finished 14th in Division Two just one point to the good more than Bristol. He stayed at Preston until 1970 before leaving to take charge of the Scotland Youth team for a brief spell before becoming manager of Hearts.

KEN FURPHY (Watford): Won Division Three on goal average ahead of Swindon Town. He stayed at Watford until 1971 during which he took them to an FA Cup semi final leaving to take charge of Blackburn Rovers.

JIMMY McILROY (Oldham): Finished bottom of Division Three. As a result he was sacked by Oldham’s then Chairman Ken Bates. He had another brief spell as manager of Bolton in 1970.

DAVE SEXTON (Chelsea): Finished fifth in Division One. Under Sexton they would go on to win the FA Cup in 1970 and the European Cup Winners Cup in 1971. Pre-Abramovich, Sexton probably managed the sexiest of Chelsea sides. But after falling out with key players he was dismissed in 1974.

BILLY BINGHAM (Plymouth): Finished fifth in Division Three. The following season however, Plymouth were involved in a relegation battle and Bingham departed to manage Linfield in Northern Ireland. Interesting to note that in his Plymouth and Linfield period (1967-1971) he was also manager of the Northern Ireland team.