In part two of our celebration of football’s Mavericks, PETE SPENCER focuses on some of the characters who rightly earned themselves a reputation both on and off the pitch.
Rather ironically, just at the time when ‘The Maverick’ was in his pomp, England chose to appoint a manager who was diametrically opposed to them. Don Revie had managed what came to be known as ‘the great Leeds side’ of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. He sculpted a strong, physical and anti-establishment team of players, many of whom could be considered mavericks on their own, but collectively were a tight-knit bunch of banditos whose unity only existed when they were together. Revie, the consummate control freak, didn’t tolerate a loner. At a time when many English clubs just didn’t function without their maverick, Revie preferred to undermine them with an almost manic contempt. His tactic seemed to be to bow to public pressure and select one of these ‘non-conformists’ when the country needed a result, and then try and gain personal kudos when the player was unable to motivate his team sufficiently, as if to demonstrate to a misguided public that these guys weren’t to be trusted. The upshot was that public opinion would often centre around ‘The Maverick’ rather than Revie himself.
Yet one can hardly expect a player, who so demanded such attention and love, to be able to carry a team on his own, especially one which seemed unconvinced of their need for his contribution. One such example was a World Cup Qualifying match in 1976 when England travelled to Rome to meet Italy. With only four teams in the group and only one qualifying place, it was clear the clashes between these two would decide who would make it to Argentina in 1978.
Frustrated with just a narrow victory at home to Finland the month before, Revie chose to put his faith in QPR’s Stan Bowles. It was Revie’s 21st match in charge of England and the first time he had picked the Loftus Road genius. In fact, Bowles hadn’t been selected for his country for over two and a half years and was arguably a year too late. During the 1975-76 season, he was at his mercurial best as QPR missed out on the title by a single point to Liverpool, but the season after, he was less effective and at this point, Rangers were only three points off a relegation place. Bowles just couldn’t influence the team on his own as Revie selected an extremely defensive line-up. England lost, failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup and only won one more match under Revie before he walked out on his country barely eight months later.
Of those mavericks who received call-ups from their country, most were selected by Alf Ramsey, but he became largely frustrated with their lack of consistency. Ramsey was the manager who called up Rodney Marsh for his first cap in November 1971. Marsh and Ramsey could not have been at more opposite ends of the social and educational spectrum. One story told by Marsh has Ramsey telling him “I’ll be watching you for the first 45 minutes and if you don’t work harder I’ll pull you off at half-time”. To which Marsh replied “Crikey, Alf, at Manchester City all we get is an orange and a cup of tea!”
We’re unlikely to see their like again. Sport demands perfection like never before, and with the advent of psychology and fitness regimes being considered a key component to success, a maverick who will not comply will fall by the wayside long before fans have become entranced in their magic.
Mavericks had their way of doing things, their own technique, largely untrained, and their own way of motivating themselves. Some were like unbroken colts, unable and unwilling to tow the line. For the psychologist, this conflicted greatly with the considered teachings and practises necessary to turn a decent sportsman into a great, consistent performer. For the fitness coach, ‘The Maverick’ was also a thorn in the side. Reluctant to train, bored with the idea of improvement as many mavericks were self-taught, self-motivated and also a little self-centred. Trying to encourage a young player to conform to training regimes became a battle if he was in awe of ‘The Maverick’, and under his spell. The young pretender could often wonder why he needed to train when ‘The Maverick’ didn’t, forgetting ‘The Maverick’ was already vastly more talented in the first place and what he didn’t possess in physical fitness and stamina, he could make up for in rare talent and outrageous technique.
Compare more modern day mavericks you would list Eric Cantona, Dennis Bergkamp, Paolo Di Canio, Jay Jay Okocha and Andrea Pirlo. These are players who were more talented than many of the players they played with, and were therefore relied upon heavily by the teams they played for, but they generally looked after themselves, trusting in the belief that practice and training made them better players.
Here is a list of some of the players who graced the game during the 60’s and 70’s and earned the right to be considered Mavericks:
Manchester United (1963-1974)
Stockport County (1975)
Cork Celtic (1975-1976)
Los Angeles Aztecs (1976-1978)
37 Northern Ireland caps (9 goals)
Outrageously talented footballer, some still maintain was the greatest player they ever saw. Quite simply he won games on his own. Could dribble with either foot and was virtually impossible to mark. He was probably football’s first celebrity as he was often referred to as ‘the fifth Beatle’. He may have suffered for being born in the wrong decade as the freedom and excesses of the day were all laid at his door, and he just couldn’t resist. He was also the victim of some vicious attention from opponents, but that was all part of the game back then. He once scored six goals in one game against Northampton in the FA Cup. Burst onto the European scene with two goals against Benfica in the European Cup in 1966. He won League and European Cup medals with Manchester United, but became disillusioned with the club as the great team he’d been part of was broken up and eventually relegated. Was never tamed and went onto to do the equivalent of Elvis in Vegas as his many ‘karaoke singer’ appearances culminated in a career in the States’ burgeoning soccer league. Famous for his exploits off the pitch as on he was a victim of the ‘60’s much in the same vein as Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison when he really did have too much of a good thing.
Manchester City (1972-1976)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (1976-1979)
Fulham (1976-1977) on loan
9 England caps (1 goal)
Rodney Marsh was the typical maverick around which teams were built. He began his career at Fulham, but ultimately he fell out with the management and moved across London to QPR. Thirty league goals in his first full season helped the club win the Third Division and then burst onto the public scene with a great goal to help them win the League Cup. Continually top scorer at Rangers, he then moved to Manchester City in a record transfer. He never truly fulfilled his talent as he would’ve liked at City, as he left a string of bust-ups with management along the way. Marsh generally struggled to control his mouth but his play brought joy to many who saw him, as his ability to dribble round oppositions had fans shouting for more. Like Best, he moved to the States and then the pair were together at Fulham during the 1976-77 season. Alf Ramsey picked him for all his nine England caps but his lack of goals in a side which desperately needed them, eventually lead to yet another manager losing confidence in him.
Leicester City (1972-1977)
Bolton Wanderers (1977-1979)
Birmingham City (1979-1982)
8 England caps (2 goals)
Frank Worthington was the type to make tough opponents angry. A tall man, he had amazing close ball control and would often appear with socks rolled down, almost taunting defenders to try and kick him out of the game. He had successful careers at Huddersfield and Leicester before helping Bolton win the Second Division in 1978. His only season in the First Division with Bolton saw him win Goal of the Season for an outrageous goal which really showed off his ball-juggling skills. He was the division’s top scorer with 24 goals in a side which only managed 36 all season. Alf Ramsey gave Worthington his first cap as a sub against Northern Ireland in May 1974. By June that year he’d played six times for his country. Despite playing in the first two matches of Don Revie’s tenure as England manager, he became victim of the new more conservative approach.
Manchester City (1967-1970)
Crewe Alexandra (1970-1971)
Carlisle United (1971-1972)
Nottingham Forest (1979-1980)
5 England caps
He replaced another maverick, Rodney Marsh, at QPR and soon eclipsed anything which had gone before. Bowles was at Loftus Road for seven years although in reality he was probably interested for only two to three of those. Brian Clough eventually signed him for Nottingham Forest and at first it appeared a great match. Clough loved great players who could play good football and seemed attracted to the idea of Stanley pinging balls to John Robertson on the left and Martin O’Neill on the right.
Sheffield United (1968-1976)
Leeds United (1976-1979)
17 England caps
Middlesex-born Currie started his career at Watford, but came to prominence at Sheffield United where he quickly became a fan favourite. He played some of his best football when he moved to Leeds, ironically after Revie had left the club to manage England. His beautiful curled shot against Southampton in 1978 won the Big Match’s Goal of the Season. He played 17 times for his country in a career which spanned seven years. After Ramsey selected him in 1972, it wasn’t until Ron Greenwood took over that Currie had his best run at the end of the decade. Possibly less known for off-field antics, he certainly seemed to the play the game with a smile on his face.
Stoke City (1974-76)
2 England caps
Beginning his career in the fashionable Chelsea side of the late 60’s and early 70’s he soon became the playmaker. He missed the club’s 1970 FA Cup Final success through injury but played a major part in their European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final win against Real Madrid a year later. Debts at Chelsea meant he was sold to Stoke City where he soon became a firm favourite. In 1974-75, he inspired the club to finish just four points away from a league title, but once again he was the fall guy in his club’s money problems and he moved back to London to join Arsenal. He played in the 1978 FA Cup Final defeat to Ipswich but then, as often happened during his career, he fell out with his manager and moved on again. He only played twice for England, but a win over World Champions, West Germany, and then a 5-0 win over Cyprus weren’t bad games to be part of. Ultimately, his international career was affected by a drink incident when he refused to tour with the Under-23 side.
Derby County (1975-1978)
Nottingham Forest (1980) (on loan)
1 England cap
If anyone deserved the title ‘Maverick’, it would be Charlie George. His best days were with Arsenal where he was an integral part of their double-winning side of 1970-71. Unfortunately, his later career was where struggling clubs looked to him to get them out of holes long since dug far too deep for one man to pull a whole side out of. George was constantly in trouble with his manager, fans and the authorities. Memorable for flicking a V-sign at Derby fans, head-butting Kevin Keegan, and numerous bust-ups with Arsenal manager, Bertie Mee, he will ultimately be remembered for scoring the winning goal in the 1971 FA Cup Final and his celebration afterwards.
His solitary England cap came in the match before Stan Bowles was chosen to beat the Italians. It was a friendly against Republic of Ireland and for an hour he seemed to link up well with Stuart Pearson and Keegan, but Revie then switched him to the left wing and when substituted, George told the England boss exactly what he thought of his tactics and that was the end of that.
Personally, I have always loved ‘The Maverick’. I have always been an Ovett man rather than Coe. It was always Higgins rather than Davis, Botham rather than Gooch, Bristow rather than Lowe. I always like the guy who would play to his own tune rather than one dictated by others. Of course, that made him unpredictable, hugely frustrating and frequently disappointing, but the sense of excitement as to whether this was the time when it all came together was a little like watching a scary movie. You never knew when the momentous was going to occur, and your expectations and blood pressure would be raised several times to the point that, on reflection, there may have been fewer occasions for the magic to show itself than you imagined.
They were easy figures of fun, far too easy for people to point out their failures. But the people who concentrate on what they didn’t do rather than what they did, would often be boring in lots of other aspects of their lives. I would prefer to throw my lot in with someone who may have done a few fantastic things in the game, than stick my flag on a guy you just knew was going to be reliable and you could almost write their script for them. The sense of danger and dread would always attract my money.
I leave this piece with one story which may be apocryphal, but probably sums up ‘The Maverick’ and how many can misunderstand them.
It concerns a porter in a hotel delivering room service. He knocks on the door, opens it and finds a bed in the middle of the room, covered in money, with several scantily clad girls draped over it, and many bottles of champagne around the outside. Smack bang in the middle of the bed is George Best. The porter takes one look at Best, then at the money, the girls, the booze and asks the great man
“George, where did it all go wrong?”