BY MARK GODFREY
They say one of the key ingredients to many great double acts is the combination of different stage personas; every Morecambe needs his Wise, every Costello needs his Abbott, every Ball needs his Cannon – OK, maybe not that last one.
The same principal can easily be applied to footballing spheres; striking partnerships with one flamboyant, crowd-pleasing protagonist and the other who does the hard, thankless yards or the managerial duo who often assume the good cop/bad cop roles for their players and the media – the obvious example being Peter Taylor’s straight man complimenting the often volatile, always charismatic Brian Clough.
So, what about those who represent each other’s yin and yang, not as counterparts, but as adversaries? In the modern era we are seeing the rather childish escalation of the rivalry between Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger; although quite which one of them can be steadfastly distinguished as the funny man and which is the stooge is occasionally harder to define.
The antagonistic clash of dispositions between rivals from the dugout is certainly not a new phenomenon, although the mischievous stoking of the coals by outside influences does seem to be of a greater prevalence these days.
Possibly the greatest era for the English game spanned the 1960’s when there seemed to be a plethora of characters, both on and off the pitch, vying for success – and notoriety. After all, it was the decade that brought us an explosion of cultural creativity and the birth of the cult of personality; football itself was not immune to the public’s fascination with its high profile individuals.
Some embraced the spotlight being shone upon them. I already eluded to Mr. Clough, whose national fame came later, but there were plenty of others who gladly stepped out of the shadows and into the glare of public life, and in return, the press were more than happy to indulge them.
As mentioned earlier, the sixties were a golden age for football in England – not only did the national side win its own World Cup in 1966 but the domestic game thrived on the competition that raged in the League; eight different clubs were crowned champions between 1960 and 1970 with none able to win the title in consecutive years. Out of that jostling for supremacy, several iconic managers emerged.
There was Tottenham’s double winning Bill Nicholson – loved and revered by those who played under him.
There was the godfather of Old Trafford, Matt Busby – the genial Scot whose own miraculous recovery spurred on the revival of his club’s fortunes following the Munich air disaster in 1958. With the likes of George Best, Denis Law and fellow crash survivor and future knight of the realm, Bobby Charlton, United not only won the league twice and the FA Cup, but became England’s first European Cup winners on an emotional night at Wembley in 1968.
Busby was geographically flanked on either side by two equally giant contemporaries.
Leeds United’s Don Revie was no stranger to controversy throughout his career; never backward at coming forward. Having built a reputation for innovation that took Leeds United from Second Division also-rans to regular title challengers in the late 60’s, that infamous ‘Dirty Leeds’ team undoubtedly mirrored the brash, rugged, forthright approach of its straight-talking, Middlesbrough-born mentor.
But for true stardom, none could hold a candle to Liverpool’s Bill Shankly – king of the quote. To be fair to the Anfield boss, he backed up many of his outrageous boasts with success on the pitch as he dragged the Reds from the Second Division to be two-times champions; initiating the legendary ‘Boot Room’ coaching philosophy that served them so well for 30 years, in the process. Many of Shankly’s soundbites were so good that they survive in popular football culture today, 50 years on. He was a wizard – even a revolutionary – when it came to handling the press; courting them when he wanted to orchestrate an image of himself and his Liverpool players and expertly manipulating them when attempting to intimidate opponents.
There were, however, a couple of notable exceptions to this new breed of captivating, media-savvy luminaries.
Alf Ramsey led England to the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966 having taken up the national team’s top job in 1963. The FA offered him the position on the strength of his achievements at unfashionable Ipswich Town. When Ramsey – a post-war England international with 32 caps to his name – retired and became the manager at Portman Road, the club were in the Third Division South. By the time he left eight years later, the East Anglians were a First Division mainstay having won the ultimate prize in 1961-62 – an incredible feat given it was their debut season in the top flight when favourites to drop straight back where they’d come from.
Ramsey’s approach was in stark contrast to those in similar situations around the game; rarely one to employ bombast or trash talk, he actively avoided scrutiny by the media, and when he did have to play the game, he did so with a ‘straight bat’. He went to great lengths to maintain his staid manner whilst never wavering from a quiet, inner belief in his and his team’s capabilities. Renowned as a strict disciplinarian, those who played under him greatly respected Ramsey for his thorough professionalism and attention to detail, yet, most would admit to having never really known or warmed to him such was his will to sustain a distant relationship to the men under his control.
While Ramsey was often portrayed as the grey, establishment figure there was another hugely successful manager of the time who embraced the role of the straight man with even more vigour.
Harry Catterick, a former centre forward with Everton, returned to Goodison Park as manager in 1961 as the successor to Johnny Carey – the man famously sacked by chairman John Moores in the back of a taxi - having impressed as the boss of Sheffield Wednesday.
After the end of the Second World War, Everton were one of the great underachievers of English football – especially given their success of the pre-war era of Dixie Dean and Tommy Lawton. Catterick’s brief from the Toffees’ wealthy backers was to bring the good times back to the blue half of Merseyside – a task he set about with gusto.
He quickly implemented a tougher training regime; his authoritarian nature having an almost instant impact on the playing staff he described as demotivated and lacking ambition. Backed up by shrewd transfer dealings, Catterick soon put together a classy side who, in just his second season in charge, won the club’s sixth Football League champions trophy. The main reasons for the dramatic upswing in Everton’s fortunes were largely attributed to the improved teamwork fostered by Catterick’s training methods at Bellefield – seen as ahead of its time in terms of team facilities in the 1960’s.
Just as Everton found themselves at the top of the tree, so did near neighbours Liverpool and the headline-grabbing Shankly, and while the Anfield man was barely out of the newspapers, Catterick harboured a much more distrustful approach to the media preferring to keep his cards – and his thoughts on his opponents – closer to his chest; wholly different to Shankly who, on several occasions, set out to blatantly goad Catterick with insults about Everton via the media.
The Catt – as he was known by Evertonians – was too wise and pragmatic to rise to the bait and preferred his team to do his talking on the pitch; something they accomplished with terrific results.
From his appointment in 1961 to the end of the 69-70 season Everton only missed out on a top six league finish on one occasion – 1966 – the year they won a dramatic FA Cup final against his former club Sheffield Wednesday, coming back from two goals down to win 3-2. The build up to that game will be remembered for the dropping of top scorer Fred Pickering for the Wembley showpiece in favour of the virtual unknown Mike Trebilcock. The gamble paid off as the winger scored twice to secure the comeback victory.
Everton won the championship again under Catterick in 1970 with one the most fondly remembered teams of the day. With Howard Kendall, Alan Ball and Colin Harvey bossing the midfield, the trio earned themselves the nickname of “The Holy Trinity” and alongside the likes of Joe Royle and Brian Labone, Everton won the league with an almost record-equalling points tally. Famously though, very little archive footage of that side exists – Catterick preferred to leave his rivals in the dark by refusing Match of the Day to film games at Goodison Park for fear of giving away secrets of how they played.
He rarely gave interviews and when he did speak with the local media in Liverpool, he controlled the topics that were discussed and the responses that eventually went to print. So suspicious was Catterick that he also only ever named his starting eleven in alphabetical order – worried that opposition managers would guess his tactics and formation in time to formulate a plan to combat his own.
As a man with a record for success – one that stands up to those of Shankly, Busby, Revie or Nicholson - you would expect plenty of ex-players queuing up to gush about how great a man he was and how much affection they had for their time spent under him. Yet, that was rarely the case.
Many of them saw him just as outsiders did; as cold, dour and aloof, lacking the same spark or likeability of someone like Shankly. However, Catterick was very much admired and respected for the professional, progressive way he went about building a team capable of continually competing for honours during English football’s most competitive era.
Just as with other great managers of the 1960’s, the early 1970’s took a toll on Catterick’s health. Shankly retired in 1974 with Liverpool on the verge of greatness. Busby stepped aside at Old Trafford barely 12 months after their European Cup triumph, returning briefly as caretaker in 1970-71 during United’s steady decline.
No sooner had Catterick’s Everton reached their zenith that they would fall tamely away from contention for silverware. Poor league performance and the sale of Alan Ball heaped pressure on Catterick, so much so that he suffered a heart attack in January 1972 as he struggled to build a third great generation at Goodison. He stepped down for good as manager a year later.
Viewed not as a warm or demonstrative man, his legacy of hard work and stylish football permeates the fabric of Everton Football Club, yet he rarely accumulates the same praise as other successful, innovative managers in history. His conscious decision to evade media attention – flying in the face of the trend of his times – is one probable cause for his constant omission from lists of great English managers. But Harry Catterick – straight man and top manager – should be remembered and admired for his footballing achievements. And for giving the likes of Shankly all the ammunition they needed.