Wednesday 24 January 2018

Manager Lawrie led Southampton to great heights

Book review: Alan Aherne

A Lifetime's Obsession
A Lifetime's Obsession

The incredible success of Leicester City has everybody talking right now and is the undoubted sporting achievement of the year thus far.

For a small club to take on the financial might of the Premier League big-hitters and triumph against all the odds is one of those fairytales we don't witness on a regular basis.

Yet, those of a certain vintage will remember the era when it wasn't uncommon for football clubs from unfashionable provincial cities to leave a lasting impact on the game in England.

We have featured Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in this column before, not forgetting Bobby Robson's Ipswich Town as a prime example too.

Another manager falling into that category is Lawrie McMenemy who put the Southampton name on the map during a very successful twelve-year stint at the helm from 1973 onwards.

And, as he prepares to celebrate his 80th birthday later this year, a project that has been a long time in the making has finally come to fruition with the publication of his autobiography, entitled 'A Lifetime's Obsession'.

Southampton were still competing in the old Division 2 (now Championship) when the north-east native guided them to a most unlikely 1-0 FA Cup final win over Manchester United in 1976 thanks to a Bobby Stokes goal.

That achievement turned McMenemy into a household name, and his team went on to gain promotion to the top flight and finished second in Division 1 behind the all-conquering Liverpool of the time in 1983-'84.

A few years earlier he had turned down the opportunity of managing Manchester United which may seem like a strange decision.

And while McMenemy accepts he will always harbour 'what if' thoughts as a result, at the time he decided to stay put on the south coast out of loyalty to the directors who had stood by him after Southampton were relegated in his first campaign at the helm.

He didn't want to uproot his young family either, and his wife Anne and children clearly mean the world to this Gateshead native who was the eldest of nine surviving children.

His two years spent on national service with the Coldstream Guards proved life-defining for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he sustained a foot injury which put paid to his own playing career, but on a brighter note he developed leadership qualities which made him an ideal fit for a management role in the game he loved.

He started out in non-league football with Gateshead and Bishop Auckland, and his first big break came in the mid-sixties when he was appointed to Sheffield Wednesday's coaching staff.

He attracted notice from the higher divisions after guiding both Doncaster Rovers and Grimsby Town to the Division 4 title as manager, and his time with Southampton made him one of the most familiar faces in the football world throughout the late-seventies and early-eighties.

It wasn't all sweetness and light though, with an ill-advised period in charge of Sunderland ending in disaster.

One of the most interesting features of the book is the insight he gives into being Graham Taylor's right-hand man with England between 1990 and 1993, with the boss ridiculed in the press after a series of failures.

It's an enjoyable read overall. and those who have managed in any sport will empathise with a lot of the situations outlined.

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