Saturday 14 November 2015

Farewell from The Football Attic

To those of you that have supported The Football Attic over the last four years…

We are very sorry to inform you that today marks the end of our journey into the world of football nostalgia.

Our intention was to bring you articles and features that brought to mind happy memories of bygone football. That we did so to an appreciative audience throughout is something we are both very proud of indeed.

Today is the fourth anniversary of The Football Attic arriving on the internet, and although we’re sad to be bringing the project to an end, we’re also happy to have lasted as long as we have. This has been due in no small part to you, the visitors to our website, the people that have listened to our podcasts, the followers of our Twitter and Facebook accounts and anyone that has interacted with us during our football nostalgia odyssey, especially those who helped make the League of Blogs such a success. Without your support and kindness, The Football Attic would have ended long ago.

We would also, however, like to give our warmest thanks to the guest writers that have produced so many wonderful articles and features over the last four years. We've been truly flattered at the regularity with which they've volunteered their time and effort, and the result has been a website that isn't just written for nostalgia fans but in many cases by them as well. To be able to share their talent for writing with you has been an absolute joy.

Though our journey may be coming to an end, our love for football nostalgia remains (as will our Twitter account), and we hope you continue to indulge your love of the subject too. Some people would have you believe that it’s always better to look forward, not back, and that the memories of the past cannot sustain you forever. We disagree. The history of football contains more than enough sights and sounds for everyone to enjoy. You just need to find them.

Our purpose has been to do so on your behalf, and we hope we made you smile along the way.

With sincerest gratitude,

Rich Johnson and Chris Oakley.

Thursday 12 November 2015

The Age of Management

Not so long ago, I found myself wondering whether football managers and coaches were getting younger, particularly those in the Premier League. Where once the First Division was dominated by bosses that were old enough to be your dad (or even granddad), now they’re usually younger than me. How the hell did that happen?

Maybe I was seeing a skewed version of reality. True enough, I'm in my mid-forties now, but that shouldn't mean all top-flight coaches are undergoing some sort of Benjamin Button complex as a direct consequence. Are there really more Eddie Howes and Alex Neils around than there used to be? I needed to find out, and I needed a spreadsheet. A big spreadsheet…


My aim was to establish the average age of every manager that’s started a season in charge of an English First Division or Premier League club from 1960-61 to the present day. To carry out this seemingly straight-forward task, I’d need to find out which teams were playing in the top division during each of the last 56 seasons, who their managers were on the opening day of every season and what their birth dates were. Perhaps not so straight-forward after all, but then again I'm no stranger to a wild goose chase in the name of football blogging.

To the best of my knowledge, I have done exactly that - with one exception. At the start of the 1977-78 season, Newcastle United’s manager was Richard Dinnis. At the end of the previous season, he guided The Magpies to a UEFA Cup spot (Newcastle’s first for seven years), and for that he was held in high regard by many of their fans. Unfortunately, despite this considerable achievement, history has not been kind to Dinnis because there’s not a single page on the internet that gives his date of birth (as far as I could tell). With much regret, therefore, this single detail has not formed a part of my research and one only hopes it doesn't affect the overall findings too much.


To try and make sense of the huge amount of data I’d collated, I had to lay down certain standards - usually with a view to simplifying the overall task.

Firstly, it would take far too long to include the age of every manager that has ever led a top-flight team at any stage of any season. I've therefore decided to focus on the managers in charge of First Division or Premier League teams on the opening day of every season, from 1960-61 to 2015-16.

In a few isolated cases, clubs have started a new season without a manager in post. Where this is the case, the overall figures are based on and include these absences where appropriate.

To regulate the calculation of how old each manager really is, I have opted to use a date that is consistent for every year - September 1. All the ages you see mentioned throughout this piece are based on how old a manager was on this standard date, such as it falls just after the start of every season. If I’d worked out how old each manager was on the first day of every season, it may have fluctuated if he’d been born, say, in the middle of August. Because the start date for every First Division / Premier League season changes every year, it has a capability to show variations in a manager’s age, as this table shows.

Something else relating to those ages. To make things a bit more ‘metric’, all the graphs I've created (yes, there will be graphs) describe ages to one decimal point. To illustrate this, instead of saying someone’s age is 38 years and 140 days, I've shown their age as 38.4. The ‘140’ part is shown as a percentage of 365.25, the extra 0.25 allowing for the frequency of leap years.

Now this is all well and good, I hear you say... or was that snoring I heard? What if someone was born on September 2? In theory, their age would be (for instance) 38 years and 364 days, but shown in ‘metric’ form it would be 38.997... and using one decimal place, that would be 39.0. Not exactly correct is it? Well, no, but mentioned earlier, this is my attempt to show the data in simplified form. It’s also meant as a guide, not the last word in authoritative report writing. What I wanted was a general litmus test to see if those pesky football managers were getting younger before my very eyes. If I use one decimal place to come to a conclusion, well… don’t shoot me.

Finally, before we get onto the exciting stuff (and I use the term ‘exciting’ quite wrongly), I’d like to declare my sources as being Wikipedia and The validity of this whole exercise rests to some extent on the accuracy of those and one or two other websites that helped to confirm the birth dates of certain managers. But not Richard Dinnis, oh no. International man of mystery is Richard Dinnis, apparently…


It all begins in the 1960-61 season, a season when Tottenham Hotspur would do the League and FA Cup double, Preston North End would be relegated from Division One never to return (thus far) and somewhere, just south of Buenos Aires, a legend was born that would have a hand in England’s footballing fortunes over two decades later...

Of the 22 men starting that season as managers of their First Division clubs, one name stands out above all others. He was the oldest of them all - Matt Busby, still rebuilding the Manchester United team that had seen eight of its members die in the Munich air disaster only two years previously. Busby would still be in charge of Man United at the end of the 1960’s, but at the start of the decade, his youngest counterpart was the wonderfully named Bedford Jezzard. Aged just 32 when the 1960-61 season started, Jezzard had only recently retired as a stalwart striker for Fulham and was now managing the Craven Cottage club after its recent return to the First Division.

There was nearly two decades of difference between their respective ages, and the average for all those men leading their First Division clubs into battle on August 20th 1960 was 43.4. Slowly but surely, that figure would rise and rise...

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The following season, there were three future England managers in the First Division. A 42-year-old called Alf Ramsey was celebrating the major achievement of guiding his Ipswich Town team to the pinnacle of English football, while at West Ham, Ron Greenwood was starting a 13-year stint that would bring notable success to The Hammers. At Villa Park, however, Joe Mercer was mid-way through his six years in charge of Aston Villa and was about to see his side win the very first Football League Cup.

As the years progressed, more and more familiar names arrived in Division One: Bill Shankly at Liverpool in 1962-63, Don Revie at Leeds in 1964-65 and Tommy Docherty at Chelsea in 1965-66 - the youngest manager in the top flight the season after. Come the 1969-70 season, the average age of a top-flight boss was up to 46 and Matt Busby, the oldest manager in the First Division since the start, had been replaced by Wilf McGuinness who instantly became the youngest of the twenty-two.

The arrival of the 1970’s coincided with the arrival of yet more famous names into the First Division managerial circle. While Brian Clough was leading Derby County to glory and Bobby Robson was riding high with Ipswich, the average age rose to 47.7, largely thanks to the ubiquitousness of managers like Joe Mercer, Bill Nicholson, Bertie Mee and Shankly.

Even when Bob Paisley took over in the Anfield hot seat, he began his first season aged 56 and soon became the oldest of all the First Division managers year in, year out with the Eighties fast approaching. Despite this, the average age dropped during the middle of the Seventies as many young bucks arrived for a taste of top flight management experience. Terry Neill was just 33 when he started the 1975/76 season at Tottenham, and Johnny Giles was only 35 when he took the helm at West Bromwich Albion the season after.

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The youngest ever manager to start a Division One season came along in the form of Colin Murphy. As reserve team manager at Derby County, he’d been promoted following Dave Mackay’s sacking late in 1976 and began the 1977/78 campaign at the tender age of 27. To this day, he remains the only man ever to start a season as manager of a top-flight club while still in his 20’s.

During the 1980’s, the average age of England’s top club managers levelled out between 44 and 45. Joe Fagan replaced Bob Paisley not just as Liverpool’s manager but also the oldest manager in the First Division two seasons running, and the title of ‘youngest manager’ changed regularly until Kenny Dalglish replaced Fagan for the 1985-86 season.

By now, some of the managerial greats of our childhood had become part of the establishment. Lawrie McMenemy at Southampton, Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, Howard Kendall at Everton and Graham Taylor at Watford. After Joe Fagan’s retirement, however, the age of the oldest First Division manager dropped from 63.5 to 52.8 and suddenly things didn't seem quite as patriarchal as they once had.

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Into the Nineties, the slow and steady stream of recently-retired players turning their hand to management continued. Steve Coppell, Trevor Francis, Billy Bonds, Peter Reid... all showed that it wasn't necessarily an old man’s game, and this was a sentiment shared by Chelsea in particular. Between 1993-94 and 1998/99, the Stamford Bridge club was where you’d find the youngest manager in the Premier League; first Glenn Hoddle (starting at the age of 35), then Ruud Gullit (from age 34) and then Gianluca Vialli (also 34). One could argue that an intent to facilitate younger coaches helped form the foundation of Chelsea’s huge success today, and with some justification.

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At the other end of the scale, the age of the oldest manager was steadily increasing. First Ron Atkinson, then Jim Smith pushed the top end of the range towards 60, but when Bobby Robson took charge of Newcastle, the age of the oldest manager rocketed. Starting the 2000/01 season aged 67, he was 71 when his last campaign began at St James Park, and were it not for youngsters like Fulham’s Chris Coleman arriving on the scene, the average age would have rocketed upwards too.

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Ironically it was only when Alex Ferguson replaced Robson as the oldest manager in the Premier League that the average age started to rise noticeably. From being 46.8 in 2005/06, it climbed quickly to 51.8 in 2011/12 and this became the peak of the average age for top-flight managers in England. Since then, the figure has fallen only slightly to 51.3 for the 2015/16 season, propped up by stalwarts like Arsene Wenger (65 on September 1st 2015), Dick Advocaat (the oldest at 67) and Claudio Ranieri (63).

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And so it seems that even with Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (35 at the start of the current season), and Swansea’s Garry Monk (36), top flight management is not seeing its personnel getting younger with every passing year. Quite the opposite, in fact. As you can see from the graph below showing the entire 56-year period covered, the thin diagonal line in the middle shows a steady trend moving in an upward direction.

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Who'd have thought, then? It would appear that within the next couple of decades, we could be witnessing the advent of the elderly Premier League manager as a very real concept. Already comfortably past 50 on average, there must be something to be said for experience over youth. Whether it remains as the dominant factor when choosing the right man to lead one of English football's top teams in the future remains to be seen.

-- Chris Oakley

The Football Attic Podcast 30 - Future Nostalgia

It's all very well us old men banging on about what we remember from our childhood like a malfunctioning PeterKayBot, but what will future generations look back on with fondness?

Salted? Caramel?

So listen in as Rich and FSF Blogger of the Year Nominated Chris discuss what they think will stand the test of time and whether things we remember will still be around and in what form.

Subscribe to The Football Attic Podcast on iTunes or download our podcast here.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Book Review - Sky Blue Heroes by Steve Phelps

We get sent a few books to review here in the Attic and it's always a delight, even if we don't always find the time to review them all. One book in particular I was looking forward to getting my hands on was this - Sky Blue Heroes by Steve Phelps, author of many a quality book about my beloved Coventry City.

Naturally there's been lots written about our 87 FA Cup win, but what makes this different is it's not a story of that journey told as a narrative by a distant voice; this is a collation of copious interviews with the people who were there and went on that journey. That doesn't just mean the fans. This includes everyone from the management, players, club staff and even the people who wrote the Cup Final song, Go For It City!

Starting with interviews from the players, the book follows events of the FA Cup run match to match, combining memories with excerpts from the club programmes and papers of the time. As always with these things, it's the minutiae that really set the scene... transfer figures in the tens of thousand rather than the millions, club jaunts to Spain rather than Dubai etc, all reminiscent of the pre-Premiership days when the 3rd Round Football Focus special would always show a 4th Division player doing his normal job (usually a brick layer) to show the discrepancy between top and bottom flight.

The chronological nature of the book not only means that each interview is short (rather than a series of long interviews with each person), thereby giving it a nice, punchy pace, but also allows the tension and excitement to rise as time goes on and what started as just another cup run in a freezing January, builds with each match to a rising sense of belief that this might actually happen and finally the explosion of sheer joy when it bloody well did!

It's a cliché say that something is a must for any particular set of fans, but this is a book that every Sky Blue fan has to read. For those who were there or at least a fan at the time, it's a beautiful recreation of the time and given the multiple viewpoints, there's always something you can identify with. Moreover, for those too young to have been there, it's as close as you'll get to living through it and in these dark days of League One, reminds us what we once achieved by having the right people and the right mentality.

So, if you're a Cov fan, make sure this is on your Christmas list!

Sky Blue Heroes is available from Amazon here.

- Rich Johnson

Ultimate BBC Goal of the Season - And the winner is...

...the first ever winner of the BBC's Goal of the Season competition - Ernie Hunt of Coventry City.

Image: BBC
That iconic donkey kick by Willie Carr, followed by Hunt's perfectly executed volley secured 37.6% of our votes, with another Coventry favourite, Keith Houchen, placing second with 33% of the vote. Third place went to Justin Fashanu's beautiful looping volley for Norwich against Liverpool in 1980 with 4.6% of the vote.

All in all, we received 109 votes, 71% of which were for the top two in our poll. You can say what you like about democracy, but Coventry fans certainly know how to mobilise their support when there's pride at stake!

Our thanks to everyone that took part in our vote-off, and here once again are your top three goals...

1st Place: Goal 1
Ernie Hunt (for Coventry City against Everton, 3 October 1970)

2nd Place: Goal 17
Keith Houchen (for Coventry City against Tottenham Hotspur, 16 May 1987)

3rd Place: Goal 10
Justin Fashanu (for Norwich City against Liverpool, 9 February 1980)

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Kit Collection Book Volume 2 Now Available!

Following the rather unexpected "success" of the critically acclaimed Football Attic Kit Collection book, it was only logical that a follow up would happen.

Given Volume 1 covered all the shirts I'd collected over the previous 27 YEARS, and Volume 2 would only be covering the subsequent 18 months, would there be enough kits to actually fill a second book?  Turns out that in that period, I somehow acquired approximately 100 new shirts. And not just any old shirts (though some are literally just some old shirts), but a plethora of special editions, charity shirts and some general oddness (rubber shirts anyone?). Not only that, but my first ever "match worn" Argentina shirt!

Feedback from the first book indicated a bit more info on each shirt would be nice, which coupled nicely with the smaller number of shirts. To that end, the first section of the book is dedicated to 'The Platinum Collection' (Premier would have been misleading) - a journey thorugh some of the more interesting shirts in my locker, from the awesome 1860 Munich Oktoberfest to the CD Guijuelo "Ham". Each of the shirts in this section get a whole page or 2 devoted to them, meaning close up pics as well as more info.

The rest of the book follows a similar pattern to the first, with sections for Coventry, England (& Scotland), Argentina, Internationals, Clubs and 'The Rest'.

While intended as an addition to the first book, a few shirts do make a re-appearance, either down to giving them some more space or because some new info has come to light.

What else is different? Well, it's 2 pages longer than Vol 1, at 100 pages.
It's also cheaper at £30 including UK Postage - Overseas buyers, I'll contact you to confirm your price before you commit.

So...there you go... If you'd like one, please fill out the form below and you'll get an automated email from me with instructions on what to do next. If you don't get one, check your spam filters then drop me a line.

NB The first Volume can also be ordered for a short time as well...if you want one, let me know in the Notes...any other message you wish to send...section on the order form. Volume 1 is also £30.

Rich Johnson

Thursday 5 November 2015

The Football Attic's Hit Parade: We Can Do It

The more you delve deeply into the history of football teams and their commercially released music, the more you realise that few clubs have ever created an original song from scratch. Even Jimmy Hill's 'Sky Blue Song' was a rewritten version of The Eton Boating Song, and that from a man regarded by many as a pioneer of football. Is there nothing new under the sun?

Liverpool Football Club were only following a precedent when they released 'We Can Do It' in 1977, just as they were entering a truly golden era of success. The song was a reinterpretation of 'I Can Do It' by The Rubettes, which reached number 7 in the UK charts during March 1975. Liverpool's version, as you'd expect, reflected the collective team ethic of the Anfield club rather than dwelling on a childhood love for rock and roll music.

Opting for a slightly slower tempo and a lower pitch than the cap-wearing popsters before them, the likes of Clemence, Thompson, Neal et al warbled proudly of their history and footballing capabilities. And because, presumably, someone thought they matched the stereotypical profile of 'dumb football players', the lyrics were suitably simple enough for them to sing, too.

In short, the phrase "we can do it" crops up 45 times during the three minutes and ten seconds of this musical masterpiece. That's once every 4.2 seconds. Even Jimmy Case could have managed that, let alone Kevin 'Head Over Heels In Love' Keegan. It's fair to say this was never going to win a Brit Award, but then again a cover of 'Chanson d'Amour' by Manhattan Transfer was never going to be sung by The Kop's masses either.

This was very much Status Quo territory; a relentless guitar-strumming stomper, uncomplicated and easy to sing along to. It was also notably popular, peaking at number 15 in the charts in May 1977. Though the team didn't appear in person, the song did get heard over the closing credits of Top of the Pops at the end of that month, following an illustrious line-up that included Kenny Rogers, Bryan Ferry and The Stranglers. And Dave Lee Travis. Imagine that for a moment, if you will.

Two days before such an honour was bestowed upon them, Liverpool beat Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome to win the 1977 European Cup Final. It was to be Kevin Keegan's swansong in the famous red shirt, after which he moved to Hamburg. It was hardly coincidence that his departure as a future musical heavyweight in his own right heralded eleven barren years during which Liverpool FC enjoyed no chart success whatsoever. It wasn't until 'The Anfield Rap' came along in 1988 that the pride of (one half of) Merseyside was restored, and even then, the jury's still out where that particular point is concerned.

For now, though, we respect the ability of one club to take someone else's song, get it sung by a couple of dozen top football players and get it into the upper reaches of the Top 40. A magnificent achievement, and one that could only be matched in this case by John Barnes wearing a cap back to front. Staggering.

-- Chris Oakley

See also: