When north-east managers ruled the game…

Date published: Thursday 8th September 2016 8:52

While the rise and prominence of Scottish managers has been repeatedly documented, the same cannot be said about those from the north-east of England. As Michael Walker discusses in his book Up There: The North-East, Football, Boom & Bust, between 1960 and 1990 a total of 31 domestic trophies were won by north-east managers. So what went wrong?


Between 1960 and 1987 there were 15 League Championships won by managers from the north-east of England.

Hetton-le-Hole’s Harry Potts at Burnley (1960) and Darlington-born Harry Catterick at Everton (1963 & 1970) came first. They were followed by Middlesbrough-born Don Revie, in 1969 and 1974, and by Middlesbrough-born Brian Clough in 1972 and 1978. Revie’s two championships came with Leeds United, Clough’s with Derby County, then Nottingham Forest.

At Liverpool Bob Paisley won his first league title in 1976. He did the same in 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1983. After Paisley came Howard Kendall, born on Tyneside, who won two those titles with Everton in 1985 and 1987. Six men from within a 19-mile radius won 15 league titles, and a few other trophies besides.

While 15 of 28 league titles from 1960 were won by six managers from the north-east, seven titles were won by clubs managed by Scotsmen – Shankly, Busby, Dave Mackay and Kenny Dalglish. As a collective, however, the template of the Scottish manager, the idea of the Scottish manager, has been much more prominent in British football, particularly with the rise of Alex Ferguson.

It is a curiosity. It could be, in part, because those north-east managers all left the area in which they were born. The titles claimed were won in Lancashire, Liverpool, Yorkshire and the Midlands. But then the Scottish managers left, too. It could be, in part, that there was no north-east collective.

‘No, we didn’t talk about it,’ says John Barnwell, ‘because we just thought of it as natural. It’s not something I’d really considered. It was never brought up: ‘Look, here’s another manager from the north-east. Why is this happening?’’

Barnwell falls into a north-east sub-group of managers in that era. In 1980 Barnwell was Wolves manager when they won the League Cup against Clough’s Forest at Wembley.

Clough and Forest had won that competition the previous two years. The phenomenon known as Bob Paisley then won the League Cup in 1981, 1982 and 1983. Clough added two more League Cups in 1989 and 1990 and when added to Jimmy Hagan’s triumph in 1966 with West Bromwich Albion and Revie’s with Leeds in 1968, there were ten League Cups won by north-east managers between 1966 and 1990.

Barnwell came from Newcastle and Hagan from Washington, south of Sunderland. Bob Stokoe was brought up in Gateshead, in High Spen. Stokoe won the FA Cup in 1973 with Sunderland, a year after Revie had won it with Leeds.

In 1976 Lawrie McMenemy, from Gateshead, won that Cup with Southampton and in 1978 Ipswich Town, managed by Bobby Robson from Durham, won it. Add Catterick’s 1966 win and Kendall’s in 1984, both with Everton, and six FA Cups were won by six different north-east managers in 18 years. Between 1960 and 1990 a total of 31 domestic trophies were won by north-east managers.

It does not take into account beaten finalists or second-place finishes – Revie’s Leeds had eleven of these alone. Add the not insignificant five European Cups overseen by Paisley at Liverpool and Clough at Forest, the Fairs Cup and Uefa Cup victories for Revie’s Leeds, Paisley’s Uefa Cup in 1976 and Ipswich’s 1981 triumph under Robson, plus Everton’s Cup Winners’ Cup win in 1985 and the trophy total rises to 41. It is a torrent of achievement from eleven managers who were born within a tiny radius of the north-east.

Was this not noticed, discussed, not even by the men themselves? ‘No,’ Barnwell repeats, ‘whenever we met all we talked about was football, not north-east football. It never struck me to ask because, as I say, it just felt like the natural order. Think of the sheer numbers of players who came from the north-east, and their quality. It’s no surprise you then get a lot of managers. It was taken for granted that you’d have this north-east presence in English football.’

Not any more. Since 1990 there has been one domestic trophy won by a north-east manager. In 1996 Brian Little, from Horden, was manager of Villa when they won the League Cup.

Bobby Robson, it must be said, moved abroad and won trophies with PSV Eindhoven, Porto and Barcelona. But in terms of north-east managers at English clubs, between 1960 and 1990 there were 41 leagues and cups won. Between 1990 and 2014, there has been one.

The decline of influence, corresponding to a general decline in English influence, can be seen in today’s Premier League. In July, there was one north-east manager, Steve Bruce at Hull City. Now there is none. Bruce came close to interrupting the slide when Hull led Arsenal 2-0 in the 2014 FA Cup final, but Arsenal came back to win 3-2.

Bruce’s proximity to silverware came at Hull, not his previous club Sunderland. An unmissable aspect of the managerial glory period is that 40 of the 41 trophies were won outside the managers’ native region. As Barnwell says: ‘What’s sad is that apart from Bob Stokoe, none of these managers won trophies for north-east clubs.’


This is a (slightly amended) extract from ‘Up There: The North-East, Football, Boom & Bust’, Michael Walker’s excellent book on north-east football culture and those who helped to shape and define it. It is now available in paperback and is published by deCoubertin Books.

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