November 04, 2011

Nice One Cyril (and Neale, and Danny)

RIFT HOUSE RADGIE looks at managers


In issue 105 of this esteemed publication, I ranted at length about two former England managers (McLaren and Sven), and how badly they were doing at their respective clubs. Well it wasn’t long after that they found themselves on the dole, but no doubt with a nice payoff to tide them over until their first Giro.

I’m happy to say it looks like they’ve finally been found out, but I wouldn’t bet on either of them surfacing at one of the struggling Premiership sides at some point during the season. It’s surprising that at the time of writing none of the top flight managers have been sacked yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long.

When you look at Pools managers, we’ve had plenty of poor ones over the years, but then so have most other clubs. Now and again they pop into my head like that annoying gobshite off the Go Compare adverts – Bob Moncur, Keith Houchen, Martin Scott – and plenty of others besides." “Who is Cyril Knowles?” I sometimes hear the younguns ask, and I am more than too happy to tell them"

To be fair, anyone who took the reins at Pools over the years prior to IOR’s ownership had at least one hand tied behind their back when it came to resources. A lot of them did bloody well considering what they inherited. And we have had a few gems as well, particularly recently.

I have had several debates with other Poolies about who the greatest Pools manager has been, and usually there are the same three candidates – Cyril Knowles, Neale Cooper and Danny Wilson. Brian Clough is usually dismissed early on as he didn’t see the job through, and there isn’t really anyone else in the frame. Chris Turner would probably be in there if he hadn’t had a second go at managing the team, and lots of folk point to the money and time available to him the first time round.

Lots of other managers may have performed miracles by preserving the club’s league status in the face of so much adversity, but the three I have mentioned actually brought success to the club.

When Cyril Knowles took over in 1989, Pools should have dropped out of the league. Rooted to the bottom of the fourth division, cast adrift with seemingly no hope, Cyril came in and totally turned the club round. By making canny use of a few free transfers, Pools gradually edged their way out of trouble and were mathematically safe with games to spare.

This was an achievement in itself, but the following season, with virtually the same set of players, Cyril had transformed Pools into real promotion contenders. Indeed, we were promoted in 1991, but sadly Cyril had to step aside because of his health towards the end of that season, and Alan Murray (another bloody good egg) guided Pools to only their second ever promotion.

Neale Cooper came to the club at a strange time – although Mike Newell had secured our promotion only months before, his contract wasn’t renewed in the close season. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that we threw away a commanding lead at the top of the table, to surrender the title to Rushden and Diamonds, or something else, I don’t know. Newell was gone, and Cooper (completely unfamiliar to most Pools fans) took the hot seat.

Most Pools fans would have been happy just to survive in the third tier, but under Cooper all expectations were surpassed. Finishing 6th in a play-off spot was the highest ever finish, and we were very unlucky not to make it to the play-off final. Next season was more of the same, and whilst we finished 6th again, Cooper had left the club in strange circumstances before the final match.

After the farce that was Martin Scott then Paul Stephenson, Danny Wilson took over what was quite a demoralised club. A slow start to the season didn’t bode well, but something clicked, and Pools went on an amazing unbeaten run of over 20 games, surging to the top of the table and eventually finishing second. Again we should have won the title, but Wilson got us up at the first time of asking, and the following season we finished comfortably away from the bottom four.

Wilson’s reign kind of petered out as he appeared to lose interest, and when he left it was quite a relief to a lot of Pools fans. Very few managers leave a club on good terms, but I will never forget Wilson’s contribution and that unbeaten run.

Everyone has their own opinions, but I will say that the best has to be Cyril. Cooper and Wilson have their merits, but they were at the club during stable times, with plenty of good players already in the squad. Cyril however completely transformed the team on a shoestring, bringing the best out of underperforming players and making some very shrewd signings. I was over the moon the day I heard that they were naming the new stand after him, meaning his memory lives on.

“Who is Cyril Knowles?” I sometimes hear the younguns ask, and I am more than too happy to tell them – “Only the greatest Pools manager of all time, that’s who.”