A Must Win Game | In love with football history

17 April 2014

Jock Stein: The Damned United

At the end of the first part of our series, we left Big Jock wondering why he would want to run Celtic's pools company.

Surely after all the dedicated service he had given to the club, he deserved better.

And a vacancy had now arisen south of the border at Elland Road.

For Jimmy Armfield, the man chosen to stabilise Leeds United following Brian Clough's catastrophic 44 days in charge, had now been sacked.

The Blackpool legend had done a solid job. Using what was essentially Don Revie's team, he oversaw their run to the 1975 European Cup final.

Then, after replacing some of the ageing stars of the Revie era, he achieved consistent league finishes and a couple of other decent cup runs.

However, the Leeds board wanted tangible success and Armfield was not able to deliver it.

So, who to turn to now? Initially, chairman Manny Cussins had sounded out Lawrie McMenemy (a friend of Stein), but he had opted to stay at newly-promoted Southampton.

Cussins then asked the board for their thoughts on Johnny Giles, the man whom Revie had wanted to replace him in the first place. Yet the board vetoed that idea.

Next on the list was Jock Stein.

Only three days after his testimonial, Stein met Cussins in Newcastle and was offered £30,000 a year to take the job.

Upon hearing this, Desmond White, Cussins' counterpart at Celtic, said: "If Leeds United made an offer of a large sum of money to Mr Stein, we could hardly as a club stand in his way if he wanted to accept the challenge."

For Big Jock though, it was not solely about the money.

If it had have been, he might have accepted a Kuwaiti proposal made weeks earlier to be a consultant on double that salary.

Instead, he had other matters to contemplate.

For one thing, moving to Leeds would mean saying goodbye to Celtic, the club which Stein adored and claimed had 'brought me back from the dead'.

But if he did leave Parkhead, he could test himself in one of the world's strongest leagues. And at 55, he still felt he had plenty to offer the game.

Another issue was the added pressure he would have at Elland Road. During his five years as chairman, Cussins had seen no new additions to the trophy cabinet. Jock would need to correct this and probably quickly.

Yet to achieve this aim, he would be given substantial funds, the likes of which he had never previously experienced.

A third consideration were the views of his wife Jean. For he had previously rejected overtures from Manchester United to become their boss because she did not want to move to England.

It was a tricky decision. Eventually though, Stein agreed to join.

Cussins, who by now had convinced the other six directors on the Elland Road board of the big man's merits, was thrilled.

He said: "[Jock] is a man of tremendous vitality and ambition. He is a respected figure internationally. He is a tremendous motivator of players and I think he is the finest man in the business. We need him."

For Stein, the lure of management had proved too much. He explained: "I am actively back in football again and nothing can beat that. The challenge is there and I am thoroughly looking forward to the future."

After watching his new team draw their opening game of 1978-79 at Arsenal from the stands, Jock's first game in charge was against Manchester United - a fixture with a typically volatile atmosphere, now exacerbated by the return to Elland Road of Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen, who had both defected that summer.

What followed was a pulsating affair. Much to the crowd's chagrin, McQueen headed United ahead early on, only for Paul Hart to equalise in similar fashion.

Sammy McIlroy restored the lead, with Jordan providing the assist. Again, the home side fought back as Frank Gray converted from the penalty spot just after the interval.

But with eight minutes to go, Lou Macari's coolly taken goal secured a 3-2 away win.

Nevertheless, chairman Cussins was content. "The boys tried hard and they will win more than they lose. I am much happier than I was last season," he said.

Leeds did triumph in their next two, with successive 3-0 victories over Wolves and Chelsea.

Yet, this was not the catalyst for bigger and better things.

Following two goalless draws with West Brom in the League Cup, the Whites were beaten by Manchester City and Spurs in the league before they played out another stalemate - this time, with Coventry.

And already, the manager was starting to become disillusioned.

Since Jock had yet to settle in the city and was living in a hotel.

His wife Jean had also not moved with him. As before, she was reluctant to leave her friends and family behind.

Cussins realised the importance of this. For if he could lure Mrs Stein to Yorkshire, he reasoned, the better the chance her husband would remain Leeds boss.

So he offered the couple the use of a luxury house in the area for six months.

And at one point, it looked like the ploy might work as Jean went down to survey this and other potential new homes.

However, events elsewhere would soon scupper the prospect.

On September 26th, Ally MacLeod ended his spell as Scotland manager after only 15 months in the post.

MacLeod's reign had started well enough, with victory in the 1977 British Home Championship. But the following summer's World Cup had been an unmitigated disaster.

After whipping the nation up into a delusional frenzy with the promise of a medal, he instead saw his side embarrassingly lose to Peru and draw with Iran. A 3-2 triumph over Holland at the end of the campaign was merely a consolation.

Jock's name was immediately linked to the post. Indeed, he had already been Scotland boss in 1965, albeit on an interim basis.

Many thought he was the ideal candidate. But given he had only been at Elland Road for five weeks, it seemed the timing was awry. Not so however.

Shortly after MacLeod's resignation, Stein failed to dampen the speculation. He commented: "There is nothing I can say about the situation. If Scotland want me, they will need to approach the club first."

In fact, he privately added to the speculation himself.

For Big Jock told journalist Archie Macpherson to break the news that he believed Stein would be interested. The instructions to Macpherson were clear: "You can't say you have been talking to me!" Archie did as he was asked.

Amusingly, when quizzed about the story in a subsequent radio interview, Stein responded: "That is Archie Macpherson flying a kite. You take these comments with a pinch of salt." Machiavellian maybe, but certainly clever.

Manny Cussins meanwhile was oblivious to all the backstage shenanigans. "I am certain Jock Stein is happy at Leeds and will not leave to take the Scottish job, even if it was offered to him," he said.

Amid all the rumour, Leeds secured a morale-boosting 3-0 win over Birmingham.

But on the morning of October 2nd, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) held a meeting and decided unanimously to make their move for Stein.

That evening, as the Whites were finally seeing off West Brom in the League Cup at the third time of asking, they asked Cussins for permission to speak to his manager.

However, Cussins refused, desperate to keep hold of Big Jock. "I shall do everything in my power to keep him," he retorted.

No-one in the dressing room wanted the big man to go either.

Captain Trevor Cherry remarked: "It will be a disaster if he leaves Leeds. His methods have impressed the players tremendously."

Paul Hart concurred, adding: "It will throw the club into trauma again. He has said nothing to us about what is happening, but we are hoping he will be staying."

They were to be disappointed. After hours of discussion with Stein, Cussins relented and permission was finally granted.

His hand had been considerably weakened by the fact that Jock had never actually signed a contract with Leeds.

Nevertheless, he tried offering Stein more money, but to no avail. Again, that was not the issue - he wanted to be with his wife where they both belonged.

In public, Jock was still playing with a straight bat. He said: "I don't know whether I am staying or going, but out of courtesy, I have to listen to any offer from the SFA."

But his mind was made up. On October 4th, he agreed to become Scotland boss at a meeting with SFA officials.

One of those present, Ernie Walker, then phoned Cussins to say Stein was driving back to Elland Road. When Cussins asked what decision had been made, Walker replied that Jock would tell him.

There was no need. Deep down, Cussins already knew. He was heartbroken. "Nothing in my lifetime has worried me more than this, not even the Brian Clough affair," he said.

Manny Cussins says farewell to Jock Stein as he leaves Leeds to become Scotland manager
Time to say goodbye: Cussins (left) and Stein

Of course, the SFA were delighted. President Willie Harkness proudly proclaimed: "Only the best is good enough for Scotland and, as far as I am concerned, Jock Stein is the best."

As for Jock Stein, this should have been one of the happiest days of his career. After twice turning it down, he was now in permanent charge of his own national team.

But some of that joy had been expunged by the guilt of walking out on Leeds.

He said: "There is no better club. The directors have been great and the players have shown great loyalty to me.

"This is one of the worst moments of my life. It it terrible for Mr Cussins and the supporters. I feel I have let people down."

Big Jock had been Leeds United manager for just ten matches - winning four, drawing three and losing three. In terms of time, he had lasted exactly as long as Brian Clough - 44 days.

Yet while Clough had left in acrimonious circumstances after his abrasiveness had alienated the first team, Stein's departure was greeted with sadness as his calm, unassuming authority had impressed everyone.

The second Damned United, you might say. But it had been altogether different to the first.

14 April 2014

Jock Stein: The Final Years at Celtic

"He is one of the greatest managers of all time - not just in Britain, in the world" - Sir Matt Busby.
"His record speaks for itself. No-one needs to point out how successful he has been" - Bill Shankly.

When you have managerial heavyweights like Busby and Shankly speaking about you in such glowing terms, you must have done something right.

And former Celtic boss Jock Stein did a lot right.

So much so that he is a member of the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, the Scottish Football Hall of Fame and was voted the greatest ever Scottish manager in 2003.

Former Celtic boss Jock Stein, who was voted the best ever Scottish manager
Jock: The best. Better than all the rest

Like Busby, he would also have been knighted, if it were not for the Battle of Montevideo.

Quite simply, Stein was a legend.

However, there were moments in his career that were unexpected, even shocking, either for him personally or those around him.

And in the next few posts, A Must Win Game will examine three of these: his Damned United, his untimely death and, firstly, the car crash and how it all ended at Parkhead.

But to do that, we need to rewind somewhat.

When long-serving boss Jimmy McGrory left Celtic in 1965, the club were desperately in need of a change in fortunes.

For they were now well behind Rangers in the battle for Scottish football supremacy. Indeed, the Bhoys had gone seven years without winning anything.

To arrest this slide, the board turned to Jock Stein as McGrory's replacement.

Their thinking was clear. Stein was a former Hoops captain during his playing days and had shown he was cut out for management at Dunfermline and Hibernian.

His appointment was a game-changer. In the next ten years, Celtic accrued 23 major trophies, including nine successive league titles and a European Cup.

It was a staggering turnaround that Stein had engineered.

But how had he done it? Skipper Billy McNeill and striker Joe McBride thought his understanding of the game and communication skills played a huge part.

McNeill said: "The big man had an appreciation of what makes players tick. He never asked a player to do what he was not capable of."

And McBride added: "His biggest asset as a manager was his ability to simplify the job for players. I was told to score goals, as simple as that. Others were told clearly what they were expected to do."

Celtic and Big Jock. It was the perfect match. Nothing, it seemed, could go wrong.

Then, of course, it did.

In the summer of 1975, Stein was one of a party of five (which also included Bob Shankly) that went on holiday to Minorca.

On their return, their Mercedes collided with another vehicle which was travelling in the wrong direction on a dual carriageway near Lockerbie. The driver was almost two-and-a-half times over the drink drive limit.

And it left Jock fighting for his life.

He spent four weeks in intensive care with severe chest wounds, broken ribs and other injuries to his hips and feet. At one point, he needed a chest operation to help his breathing.

But like everyone else in the car, he survived.

The seriousness of the incident though meant he needed to recuperate.

So when he was discharged from hospital, Hoops chairman Desmond White said: "Mr Stein will return to the club in his own good time, whenever he feels fit and able after whatever period of convalescence he needs."

Unexpectedly, he visited Celtic Park in September to watch his side beat Dundee 4-0, and received a great ovation from the home faithful.

However, this did not lead to an imminent managerial return and his assistant Sean Fallon continued as caretaker.

Indeed, White had warned him against resuming his duties at the club too quickly, given the stresses and strains involved.

Yet as the months went by, rumours started to circulate about Stein's future.

Eventually, the following May, he sat in the dugout for the first time in more than a year as the Bhoys played a testimonial for Bobby Lennox and Jimmy Johnstone.

In doing so, he put all speculation to bed. He said emphatically: "I am back for good."

And he was already planning for the next season, adding: "It is a prestige game and one that might tell us something for the future."

Big Jock's comeback gave everyone at the club a boost, and results in 1976-77 were as if he had never been away.

For the Hoops romped to a league and Scottish Cup double. It would have been a treble if they had not lost to Aberdeen in the League Cup final.

Behind the scenes however, all was not well.

During that campaign, Stein made overtures to the board about stepping aside. But White reassured him he was still the best man for the job.

Meanwhile, many felt he was not the same man since the car crash.

According to Jock Stein: The Celtic Years by Tom Campbell and David Potter, various accounts suggested that he never fully recovered and was in constant pain.

Physically, he appeared heavier and his presence was not as intimidating as before. He had also become quite passive and was less animated during games. Perhaps his fire and focus had faded slightly.

So far, in footballing terms, none of this had mattered.

But then again, Stein had not yet found himself in a really tough situation. If that did happen, would he still be able to lead his team out of it? As it proved, he struggled.

In the close season, despite all attempts by the club to keep him, Kenny Dalglish left Parkhead to join Liverpool.

Maybe as a consequence, Celtic started 1977-78 poorly, failing to register a league victory in their first five matches.

And long-term injuries then ruled out Danny McGrain and Pat Stanton (who had to retire).

These were three key players that the manager could not call upon. He needed a foray into the transfer market.

However, the replacements he bought were not of the standard required.

Things got worse as the Hoops were dumped out of the European Cup by unheralded Austrian outfit SSW Innsbruck.

After learning whom they had been paired with, Stein said: "We are quite pleased with the draw, although this is one of these unknown European teams and nothing can be taken for granted." How prophetic those words turned out to be.

Holding a slender 2-1 advantage from the home leg, the Bhoys conceded three goals within the first 27 minutes out in Austria and never recovered.

To compound matters further, captain Andy Lynch was sent off for an alleged punch.

Despite this setback, the Hoops underwent a mini-revival in the league, only for their form to nosedive again.

By the end of February, five successive defeats had left them eighth in the Premier Division, just outside the relegation zone on goal difference.

Soon after, Kilmarnock of Division One shocked them in the Scottish Cup. And having reached the League Cup final - the only ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy year - they lost to Rangers at Hampden.

The effects of the car crash had taken their toll. Stein's position was now untenable.

Although his team eventually finished fifth, it had been his worst season at Parkhead.

His offer to resign was accepted. After 13 years, Jock Stein's time as Celtic boss was over. What a sad way for it to end.

But the fans wanted to thank him for all the good times they had shared. For he had arguably done more for the club than anyone else in its history.

So in August, a testimonial match was held in Big Jock's honour against Liverpool. For the European champions, Kenny Dalglish was appropriately made captain for the evening.

Before kick-off, Stein was paraded on the pitch to take the home crowd's adulation. He was joined by the Lisbon Lions, the European Cup-winning side of 1967.

One of the Lions, Billy McNeill, had already been appointed as Stein's successor, upon his former manager's recommendation.

Jock meanwhile was to become a club director. Or at least, that was how it was reported.

Indeed, when the news first 'broke' two months before the testimonial, Desmond White's comments should have set alarm bells ringing.

He said: "I do not want to go into the minutiae of Mr Stein's function when he becomes a member of the board, but we still believe he has a lot to contribute to football."

Something did not quite add up.

As it turned out, the board wanted Stein to manage the club's pools company - a derisory and insulting offer if ever there was one.

The big man was rather unimpressed...

11 April 2014

Diretta Stadio: Italy's Soccer Saturday

Ah, Soccer Saturday.

If you don't have tickets for the game, you watch Soccer Saturday.

If you can't be bothered washing the car, you watch Soccer Saturday.

If you want to avoid that same episode of The Big Bang Theory you've already seen 28 times, you watch Soccer Saturday.

Never before has it been so important to discover whether Port Talbot Town's skipper can mark his comeback from long-term injury with a goal.

Or whether East Stirlingshire can grab a late winner at home to Berwick Rangers despite being reduced to ten men.

Or whether Hartlepool's finest Jeff Stelling will suddenly become a glory-hunter and start rooting for Middlesbrough.

Jeff, of course, is not alone. For there are reporters at the grounds, led by the incomparable Chris Kamara.

And with him in the studio are Le Tiss, Merse, Thommo and Champagne Charlie.

As a format, it works well and has become cult viewing.

But just imagine for a second that everyone was talking Italian. That the studio was bigger. With more people, more shouting and more bias.

Then Soccer Saturday would start to resemble Diretta Stadio.

Broadcast since 1999, Diretta Stadio covers domestic football in Italy and any of their teams playing in Europe. And it is something to behold.

The set-up is this. On either side of the studio are a row of pundits.

Between them, at separate desks, are those commentating on the day's featured game(s) from a monitor.

Oh, and there are a few presenters who get lost in the general chaos.

For the commentators are fans and can be as partial as they want - Juventus, Napoli, Inter and Milan all have their own representatives.

The pundits are no better, with any semblance of their neutrality also discarded.

What follows is everyone ranting and raving at one another across the studio in indecipherable Italian.

And that is just when there is nothing happening. A goal going in is the cue for all-out, batshit craziness.

Then we have people jumping about, running around the studio, hugging the cameramen, winding up other pundits who were winding them up earlier - yes, it all goes on.

But that is not all. Also thrown into the mix are scarves, hats, flags, airhorns, banners and a varied selection of props, including massive cardboard cut-outs of owls.

We even get moments of minor homoeroticism.

Quite simply, it is television gold. And to prove it, here are a few clips.

In the first, Antonio Paolino watches his beloved Juventus take on Celtic and tries on the same line of underwear that Nicklas Bendtner has previously sported (Paddy Power sponsor the programme, by the way).

When two of Juventus, Napoli, Inter and Milan play each other, we get two commentators. The result is something along these lines. Bet you were not expecting what happens at 5:12 though. Very bizarre!

Covering Inter there was Filippo Tramontana. And here he is again going, well, all-out batshit crazy as the Nerazzurri knock Bayern Munich out of the Champions League on away goals, courtesy of a late strike by Goran Pandev.

And if you are wondering where the guy is charging off to at 6:09, he needed the bathroom!

And finally, to the legend that is Milan obsessive Tiziano Crudeli.

Poor Tiziano almost has a nervous breakdown when Spurs take the lead. He is then tipped over the edge by Milan's equaliser being disallowed.

There are so many other videos I could have used to demonstrate the beauty of this show. Take a look yourself on YouTube.

So please love Diretta Stadio. It takes Soccer Saturday to the next level.

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