Lawrie McMenemy has a great story when it comes to football management. After an injury ended his playing career, McMenemy turned to management and in seven years went from managing Bishop’s Auckland to joining Southampton and eventually won the FA Cup at his time on the south coast. The Football Pink spoke to Lawrie about his time in charge at the Dell alongside being England assistant manager under Graham Taylor, taking the Northern Ireland job later on in his career and being offered the role that Ron Atkinson would take as Manchester United manager.
Hi Lawrie, thanks for joining us – before you were a manager, you had a short playing career with Newcastle United’s youth team and Gateshead before it was ended by an injury, do you think you would’ve had a more successful playing career without that?
“Newcastle was the big club in the area at the time. They started what we call a youth policy now but back then it was called the N’s. It was really signing up youngsters and somehow I got chosen. I soon realised though that there were hundreds of others there and I never really got picked, so I went to Gateshead. I got as far as the reserve team and then, of course, national service came along.”
“I was in Germany playing for the army and then I did my foot. I was the youngest Sergent at the time in the guards, which put me in charge of a squad which helped to manage a football team later on. I came back and finished my playing career and did my coaching courses. I think I was a pretty average centre-half, nothing special. I was getting along fine but I don’t think I would’ve played for England, put it that way.”
“After my playing career had finished, I went to a residential college for a week to get my full coaching badge. I think you had to wait for a letter to say if you had passed or not, which I had. I eventually got a phone call from one of the North East coaches who had helped run the course and he said that there was an opportunity at Bishop Auckland who back then were one of the biggest amateur clubs in the country.”
“England used to have an Amateur FA Cup final (which later became the FA Vase) and Bishop Auckland (10 time winners of the competition) filled Wembley when they drew with Crook Town in the 1953 final. There were two replays at St. James’ Park and Roker Park in the week which Bishop Auckland won and there were 200,000 people there over the two games, to watch people who went to work during the day, so it was exciting to take the job. They previously had a trainer but no one who was actually what you would call a manager, so I took the job on (in 1963).’
“We trained two nights a week and had matches on a Saturday. I had started to sign a couple of players from the Newcastle and Gateshead area who I knew and they would come to my house on a Tuesday and Thursday evening and they would squeeze into my car, sometimes it would rain inside the car which we’d have a laugh about. It was a strange ground (Kingsway) because it was a football ground on one side and cricket ground on the other. In the middle were the changing rooms and up across through the stairs was the boardroom. The directors of the club used to watch the cricket on one side and the football on the other.”
“On our first game, we were getting ready for the team talk and members of the board kept on coming through the dressing room. I asked my physio what was going on and he said that they came in before every game from the balcony. I told them to go downstairs and shut the bloody door. They called an emergency meeting after the game to give me a rollicking, I stood my ground and made my point but it meant I had to keep winning otherwise I would be out the door.”
“I put together a good team, some of them could’ve been professionals. Two or three played for England but there was just no money locally, they were all amateurs. They got travel expenses which gave them a bit of cash but they were amateur really.”
“I was there for two years and in the last season, we won the league, League Cup and County Cup. I got on really well with the board but then out of the blue, I got a call from Sheffield Wednesday.”
“The manager of Wednesday at the time was a guy called Alan Brown but when I started at Bishop Auckland, he was at Sunderland. I contacted him after our first season if we could have a pre-season match against them. He put out a strong side and we got a great crowd for it which helped run the club for the season. He must have kept an eye on what I was doing because he rang me up asking if I was home when the English League were playing the Scottish League in a friendly in Newcastle and he was travelling up for it.”
“I was still living at Gateshead at the time. He came round and asked me to leave the room, so he could speak to my wife. He told her that he was offering me a job as a coach at Wednesday, but he wanted to know whether she wanted to move to Sheffield. We had two young boys at that stage, but she said she was fine with it so he came back in and offered me the job.”
“The new build houses in Sheffield were too expensive for us at that stage so obviously we had to put up our house for sale in Gateshead but then Alan loaned us £5000 to buy a house and he said pay that back when you can. He appointed a Scotsman called Ian MacFarlane who was coaching at Bath City at the time as well and he and I got on tremendously well. Alan got us together and said that we would alternate, one month with the first team and one month with reserves. He would never say that he was teaching you something but you would learn and pick a lot up from him. He was a great influence on me alongside the likes of Don Revie as well. When I was at Wednesday, Alan would organise tickets for us to go to big games. Leeds were in their peak in those days and Don would come into rooms where he knew all the scouts and coaches were in and he’d come in and would always make a point of coming in to chat at the end of the game.”
Lawrie would leave Wednesday after two years and would have spells at the likes of Doncaster Rovers and Grimsby Town, picking up two Fourth Division titles in 1969 with Doncaster and 1971 with Grimsby. After leaving Blundell Park at the end of the 1972/73 season, he would join Southampton.
“I was asked to come to Southampton for an interview. Apparently both Don and Brown had recommended me. I was given the title as ‘team manager designate’, I’d already had won four league titles up to this stage. They took that designate word off in December from the title which makes me think it was a trial basis up to that stage. We were fifth/sixth going into Christmas, which was when they took the designate part off the title. People say that I took over in December, I didn’t. Ted Bates, who had been there for 30 years, would come into the ground a couple of afternoons a week and jog around the pitch. He’d take me to games in the Midlands and London because he knew where the games were, but I took over from day one.”
“Over Easter, we had three games in a week and lost them all and went on a poor run of form (Southampton only picked up two wins in 15 matches between February and the end of the season.) That season was the first one that the third from bottom team went down, which was us.”
“The board stood behind me and because I had won four league titles. A lot of people in the South didn’t know my record. With all respect to Ted, a lot of the players had been there for too long and I built up a younger team.”
Of course, during their spell in the Second Division, Southampton infamously beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final in 1976. Tommy Docherty also had a similar situation at United in rebuilding what Sir Matt Busby had left behind and were relegated in the same season as Southampton were, What are your memories from that day?
“The Queen was there that day, when I got my MBE later on in my life she asked me about football. I said to her, the last time you were at a cup final was that one. We were total outsiders, I could see tears coming down from the Southampton directors when the whistle went at full time.”
“Both teams were wearing gorgeous Admiral tracksuits that day as they walked out, what was the Old Wembley like as a venue to manage a side in the FA Cup final?”
“When you went to a normal ground, sometimes the bus pulled inside and you went into a dressing room and that was it. That day we went down the iconic long ‘Wembley Way’ and the bus turned round to the left and a big door and gate slid open, where you pulled into a tunnel just inside near the dressing room. We were in the one on the left, which was the away dressing room. It was huge. There was the main dressing room and another big room a couple of yards away with baths in. We went out to do our kickaround before the game and we could see the Southampton fans above the tunnel.”
“I was in the middle of my team talk and there was an FA official who was leading the teams out banging on the door asking us to get out because United were already out of the dressing room waiting for us. Tommy Docherty thought I was playing a game on him.”
What was it you said to your players in your team talk?
“We had a bigger one in the hotel beforehand and I pointed out that nobody had given us a chance. I went through the players we had and Peter Osgood, Jim McCalliog, Peter Rodrigues and Mick Channon had all played at Wembley before and United thought they were going to walk it and reminded them of how much experience they had. I went through the United team who had less experience at Wembley than ours.”
“Tommy and I shook hands and led the teams out. It was like a beehive buzzing with 100,000 people waiting for us when we were coming out to the end of the tunnel. The walk seemed to be ages. You could see the light at the end of the tunnel getting bigger and wider and the noise getting louder and the minute you walked out, it was like – Wallop, the noise was just incredible. You had that walk from behind the goal which was 20 yards and half the length of the pitch.”
“Her Majesty the Queen was in the royal box and the national anthem played and you are looking up to the stands to see if you can see your family and then the match started.”
“Unlike at the Dell where you could touch your players from the touchline, there was a yard and a half of grass on a slope, three steps and then there were the dugouts with a roof over them in case it rained. Wembley had a slope, a wide track and then you got to where you were sitting which meant you had to get up and walk forward if you wanted to shout to your players, which wasn’t easy with 100,000 people there”
“The first 15-20 minutes, we were hammered. Ian Turner (Southampton’s ‘keeper’) who had come with me from Grimsby, never dreamt that he would play at Wembley. The ball hit every part of his body but after that, we settled down after that and we deserved to win. Even Tommy said that afterwards.”
Some United fans would say the goal scored by Bobby Stokes was offside, would you agree?
“It’s a close one but it wasn’t offside. It was a great through ball by McCalliog who knocked the ball through into Stokes. If McCalliog had played the ball a couple of seconds later it would’ve been offside and Stokes hit it straight away. Nobody could believe it went in, not even Bobby. If you were going to put money on who was going to score the winning goal, you would’ve said one of the internationals that we had. Bobby was a lovely lad but missed more chances than anybody in the build-up to the game in between the semi and the final but managed to score the winning goal in the final. It was a great day. I had to work hard to get their minds right because we were going for promotion as well.”
You also got promoted back to the First Division in 1978 and actually competed for the title in 1984, finishing second.
“Yeah, People never mention that now because they only mention the Premier League when it comes to records but it was still the English top-flight with all the best players in and best clubs. As a manager winning the cup was fantastic, but the best thing would’ve been to have won the league. It was 42 games back then and we finished only three points behind Liverpool. I look back now at some of the fixtures we had then and I kick myself about some of them. If we’d have won one game more, we could’ve been champions on goal difference. I think Southampton maybe could win the Cup again but the league, I’m not too sure.”
Is it true that you were offered the Manchester United job in ‘81’?
“I was abroad with Southampton and I got a call in the hotel from an old journalist friend Vince Wilson who worked at the Mirror at the time and he’d rung the house and found out where I was and he asked what I thought about taking the job. I laughed at him at first because I didn’t believe him. I hadn’t heard, no one had contacted me then. But then I did eventually get a call from Martin Edwards though and I asked for time to think about it. Family wise, we’d moved quite a lot, we also had three children. Moving house takes a year out of your life and I was settled at Southampton.”
“I had a chat with the chairman at Southampton who said that I wasn’t going. I could’ve stormed out but I was happy on the South Coast. The year before Sir Matt Busby invited me to a charity dinner for me to say a few words at United. They put all of the directors’ wives were on different tables downstairs to us on the top table with Sir Matt and my wife was on the ones with directors wives and afterwards, Sir Matt wanted us to go up and have a drink with him but I said I had to go off early because I had a game the next day. He escorted us to the lift and he had offered me some cash but I said that we’d had a lovely evening and he put the cash back in his pocket after we went our separate ways. My wife asked me what that was about and I told her we were being interviewed.”
“I was given the chance but I’d added everything up and the board were great at Southampton. I recommended Ron Atkinson instead. Over the years I’d bump into him and say that he owed me a drink for getting him the job. I could see that he was the type of person that could handle that job. Sometimes you’d sit and think what would have happened if I did take it but it was the right decision not to go.”
You left Southampton at the end of 1984/85 season to go to Sunderland but it didn’t quite work out the same, what do you think went wrong?
“I got a knock on the door one day from the chairman of Sunderland at the time who’d been in London and it was totally out of the blue and he came in and offered me the job. I’d been at Southampton for 12 years, managed it top to bottom and it had become quite repetitive. I remember there was one day I went to the board and I wanted to sign a player who had left Rangers to go abroad, I phoned Rangers up, where I knew the manager, Willie Waddle and asked if they had a buy-back clause on him which they said no to, so the player was ours to sign. I arranged a deal and went to the board and the chairman (of Southampton,) asked: “can I ask you something Lawrie, are you sure he can tackle?” I picked my paper up and walked out of the door. It was a bad decision in the long run.”
“I’d come from a boardroom of nice gentleman which was the opposite in Sunderland. Directors were having a go at each other in meetings. The Chairman would turn round to the secretary, who was always a bag of nerves and he would say ‘do put that in the minutes’ when they would argue with each other. Eventually, the chairman retired because we got relegated and things weren’t going well.”
“A board member Bob Murray took over and in the meantime, one of the directors, who used to fall out with the chairman put my wages in the paper alongside all of the players’ ones. That didn’t help me dressing room wise. Because of the bad results, one day supporters scratched mine and the chairman’s car. Bob didn’t want to sack me but he never dreamt he’d get the pressure of being chairman. He told me if I didn’t leave, he would. It was a resignation. I had time left on the contract. If he went, there’d be a riot on. The supporters came outside the house once and had a go at the car there as well. It just didn’t work and I took the blame myself. The house we had was a rented one so when I left, we travelled off late at night to Southampton because I knew the media would explode once they knew. They were waiting for me to give an interview, which I didn’t. I had to lick my wounds a bit and ended up doing media work for the next few years. The players I’d signed didn’t do what I’d hoped. I put my hands up and went.”
I wanted to ask you about the media work, you worked for Sky before they merged with BSB in the early 1990s and the rights they had then were very much pot luck. It wasn’t quite as common then for ex-pro’s to go into the media then, was it?
“I had done TV work before with the BBC, I’d done four World Cups with them. It was Bob Abrahams who worked at the BBC who got me the TV-AM gig. I’d go up on a Thursday night to a hotel, a car would come up really early on a Friday morning and take me there. I would go in and go through the fixtures for the next day and what the results would be and do a review of what had happened over the weekend on the following Monday. I remember I was doing a big game in Scotland and it was Lorraine Kelly who came to the hotel to take me to the studio. Richard Keys in the studio would do his bit in the studio and link up to me to speak about the game the night before. I couldn’t hear them and winged it and just talked and talked. Lorraine was in fits of laughter in the corner. The man in charge hadn’t switched the sound on. I looked at him afterwards and he said ‘silly me! I hadn’t switched the sound on..”
“After a while, Bob contacted me about another gig for someone called SIS, Satellite Information Services. I went in straight from TV-AM where a car would pick me up and it was like a betting company. I did the same again, who would win or who would draw etc.. I would then go up to the Sky building on the way home and it was full of Australian people and I did a similar thing. I often tell the likes of Matt Le Tissier, I was the first person to be a football pundit on Sky. The first game I did was at Brentford’s ground. Rupert Murdoch visited from Australia and asked if I could help get them sports rights on TV. It was a midweek game in a cup competition for smaller clubs, similar to the Leasing.com trophy. They had cameras all around, probably more than actual spectators. I got £200 from SIS, TV-AM and Sky and it kept me going and in the public eye.”
After a three-year break, you then moved on to become assistant manager to Graham Taylor at England. You were obviously part of a huge upset with Southampton in 1976 but for two minutes you were on the other side of one when San Marino took the lead, in England’s final qualifier for USA 94.
“I was in charge of the B-team and U21 side as well. The U21 game against San Marino was on the same day with an earlier kick-off. We actually played in Bologna that day and we won our U21 game 4-0. We wanted to get to the first team game, we were on the bus and the driver had the game on the radio. We heard there was a goal straight away. We presumed that it was England that had scored because the commentary was in Italian but then the driver told us it was San Marino who’d scored. I told him to go straight to the airport. Obviously, we won 7-1 that day but that wasn’t enough.”
“Graham was a nice man, but I remember when he took Gary Lineker off against Sweden at Euro 92’ and I was beside him on the bench and couldn’t believe it. I said to him that we needed a goalscorer on the pitch. Something had happened between Gary and Graham and it didn’t work out.”
After a short stint at Southampton in the director of football role, you went back into international management with Northern Ireland. You were only there for 14 games and it was your last management job in football. What happened?
“Out of the blue I got a call from the chairman there and I met him in the hotel and he offered me the job. I was allowed to take staff and I took Pat Jennings and Joe Jordan. We beat the Republic 1-0 in our first game away in a friendly and everyone expected too much of us because of that.”
“I realised that we just didn’t have enough quality in the side. Very few Irish players were in the top flight at that time. I felt awful about it, I wasn’t sacked but the crowd was going against us as we didn’t get the right results. The crowd behind the goal started singing something about the IRA in a friendly against France our chairman had got a great job in getting France at Windsor Park for a friendly, who were world champions at the time. I asked Pat what it was and he said it wasn’t good. We only lost 1-0 but I was reading the Belfast Telegraph the next day at the airport and the chairman was in the paper criticising the fans for singing it because all of us were Catholics and it was televised all around the world. I made my mind up and that was it. I got total support from the chairman. Without making an excuse, from the footballing perspective, it was obvious there weren’t enough players in the top flight to compete at international level.”
You’re now connected with various charities such as the Special Olympics, can you tell us a bit about that?
“I was always involved with local charities in Southampton and every club I was with as most managers are. I remember taking with me all of the best players I had at the time at Southampton to a guy who was dying in hospital and his face just lit up when he saw the players. It’s for disadvantaged kids with special needs and learning disabilities People need to be more aware of it. Every person in America will know about it, it was started by the Kennedy family. They have world games every four years and British games in-between. It’s great to see so much pleasure from families and athletes who have down syndrome and autism.”
“Lawrie, you’re doing great for 85. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to speak to us.”
“Wikipedia says you’re 85.”
“Tell them I’m 27.”