BORO MANAGERS : Novice Or Experience? Virgin or Veteran?

Jack Charlton 1974

Of all the managers coming into the Boro hotseat in my lifetime, the most success or greatest feats have come from those who had no managerial experience at all.

To say experience is key for a manager does not seem to apply on Teesside.

Charlton, Maddren, Robson, McClaren, Southgate, Karanka.

Bryan Robson

There are names that may raise a few eyebrows – Maddren and Southgate to be exact – but read on.

Caretakers and interims are ignored for this article as I want to focus on actual appointed managers, those who were supposed to bring success, not steady a ship while awaiting a messiah.

The “virgin” managers have all fared better than any of the so called experienced managers brought into the club, barring Bruce Rioch, who was hardly “experienced” but not quite a novice when he took over and possibly Lenny Lawrence who did win promotion with his ‘experience of the division.

Lennie Lawrence and his Lions

John Neal, Malcolm Allison, Gordon Strachan, Tony Mowbray and Garry Monk – Big names, Little effect?

Lets start with ‘Big Jack’, a world cup winner, just retired from playing and stepping into a hot seat with no perception of what he was taking on apart from the view that he had had whilst looking on as a player.

Taking on a team of under achievers who repetitively missed out on promotion to the top flight – a team built by Stan Anderson, who had admitted to taking the team as far as he could after finishing 6th, 4th, 4th, 7th, 9th and 4th – Charlton only made the one signing, Bobby Murdoch, on a free from Celtic, the missing piece of the jigsaw, who coupled with recent January signing Graeme Souness in Boro’s midfield, transformed the team from also rans, into runaway Champions.

The mid to late 70’s under ‘Big Jack’ were a wonderful time to be a Middlesbrough supporter, the team had been transformed by their novice manager into a force even the late great Bill Shankly openly admitted to being “the team he feared the most” in the 1974/75 title run in.

Sadly Charltons reign was to end too early, as in his own words he stated :

“My biggest regret in football is leaving Middlesbrough football club too soon”.

John Neal (with customary cigarette)

‘Experienced’ appointment John Neal’s reign came and went after Charlton, in a time of mid table obscurity and ever dwindling finances and after Neal left the club Boro’s early 70’s saviour, Bobby Murdoch, was handed the reigns – Boro suffering relegation soon after.

Murdoch is not classed in this article as a ‘virgin’ manager as he had been in charge of the Middlesbrough youth team previously, so had some (albeit very little) experience.

Next up was Malcolm Allison in 1982, a man with a vast wealth of managerial experience stretching back to 1963 and a man Boro had targeted in the mid sixties before appointing Stan Anderson after Allison had been redirected by Joe Mercer to be his assistant at Manchester City.

Mark Page, Malcolm Allison and Stephen Bell

Despite Boro’s dire financial situation in the early 80’s Allison managed to keep the sinking ship in the second tier – finishing in 16th and 17th – but was not the messiah Boro had hoped for and his admission that he thought the club should be “left to die” didn’t go down too well with Boro fans.

This brings us to our next ‘virgin’ manager, Willie Maddren, one of the names that may have raised an eyebrow at the beginning of this piece.

“But surely, there were no great feats or success from his era”, I hear you cry, “Boro were relegated to the third tier for only the second time in their history during his reign, and his win percentage is one of the worst in Boro manager history”, I hear you say – and both those facts would be correct, only Bobby Murdoch has a lower win percentage than Maddren, but lets put the obvious aside for one moment and delve deeper.

Willie Maddren – Boro legend

Here is a Boro legend who has never managed a club and is armed with a war chest of a paltry £15,000.

(for perspective this was in 1984 and players had started going for £1M+ five years earlier)

He was faced with the not ideal task of reviving a club that had suffered major heart failure and was haemorrhaging badly.

So what was the great feat of this virgin soldier?

Lets start with that paltry war chest. Maddren blew it all on one player, a player from the Scottish bottom tier – sixth from bottom to be exact – That player was Bernie Slaven from Albion Rovers.

With no money to spend Maddren was on a hiding to nothing, but who needs money? A bag of balls brought Gary Pallister to Boro from Billingham Town and Maddren, with nothing left to spend, had started to put together a youthful squad of local talent.

Maddren had identified a talented teenage defender at the club to build around, his name, Tony Mowbray.

Mogga was Maddrens foundation, a young fast improving player he could throw into the action straight away, the start of his template for a youthful side built from scratch with no budget available.

With Mowbray, Slaven and Pallister in his embryonic side, Maddren set to building around them, harvesting local young talent and starting to develop them into the players they would eventually become.

Unfortunately for Willie, they were too young to pitch straight into the action, he did not want to feed them to the lions during a soul destroying relegation battle in a hard mans division which could destroy their morale, so he held back from pitching them in, gave them limited game time in the hope they would be ready the next season to start firing Boro back to glory.

But it was not to be, Boro were relegated, Maddren left and was replaced by Bruce Rioch.

Bruce Rioch – No swearing please

I have the greatest respect for Rioch, he was the man in charge during the rise from the ashes, kept the young squad together, trained in the park, changed in a van, jumpers for goalposts etc..

Bruce Rioch deserves the credit for KEEPING that team together through a very tough period and obviously credit for the back to back promotions that followed – however, nobody remembers Willie Maddren for a great feat, just the relegation and the poor win rate, Maddren should take all the credit for PUTTING that team together with just £15,000.

Slaven, Pallister, Parkinson, Kernaghan, Laws, Ripley, Cooper, Stephens were all players given their chance at Boro under Maddren, so drop that eyebrow if you raised it earlier because in my eyes that is a great feat.

Mogga – Captain and Manager

Since those dark days there has been a mixture of ‘experience’ and ‘novice’ take the reigns at Boro, and be it from those earlier days – or the PL era to the present, the ‘novice’ has always achieved the greater feats or successes on Teesside.

As to the exceptions to this rule, For every Lennie Lawrence there could be a Gareth Southgate.

Is Southgate an exception? He may not have achieved success or a great feat at Boro, but you will be watching him lead England out in this summers world Cup finals in Russia.

And as for Lennie Lawrence, he got Boro promotion to the top flight using his wise old head, so lets hope that Tony Pulis is this generations Lennie Lawrence.

To wrap up, ask yourself this :

If you could choose Group A or Group B – which would you choose?

Group A (Novice)

Charlton, Maddren, Robson, McClaren, Southgate, Karanka.

Group B (Experience)

Neal, Allison, Lawrence, Strachan, Mowbray, Monk.

For me its a no brainer, Group A..

Charltons Champions, Maddrens local talent on a shoestring, Robsons Revolution, McClarens Trophy and Euro adventures, Karanka’s Revival and maybe (tongue in cheek) Southgates World Cup joy.

Ok, forget the last one. #UTB

Willie Maddren
Stan Anderson

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