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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Big Mal, Big Influence

Coverage of the death of Malcolm Allison inevitably focused on his flamboyant attitude to life which produced  many tabloid headlines, not least when he invited 70s soft porn star Fiona Richmond to join his Crystal Palace squad in the team bath.  
I first came across Allison in the late 70s when he returned to Manchester City for his ill fated second spell which was characterised by spending huge sums of money on relative unknowns.  This proved to be his swansong from top flight English football, but a subsequent spell in Portugal when he won the double with Sporting Lisbon revealed why he had been held in such great esteem.
Thus when ploughing through the reams of coverage produced in the wake of his demise, I enjoyed, but quickly passed over the salacious bits, and disappointed by the puritanical tone of Brian Glanville's obituary I settled down to watch an excellent interview, in which Allison talked through his career with the guidance of interviewer Garth Crooks for an episode of the Match of their Day series.

Having learned that the outrageous transfer fees raised at Maine Road were down to egotistical Chairman Peter Swales, rather than Allison I dug further and found a story of a man who should be hailed in English football history as being a model of enterprise and willingness to absorb and develop radical tactical methods.
Always something of an iconoclast, Allison allegedly failed his 11 plus so he could attend a school where football rather than rugby was the winter sport, but proved this was no educational failing when on national service in Austria.  
Known as the Wunderteam, Austria was one of the leading lights in the pre war football world but the 1938 Anschluss forced them to integrate with the German national team, and robbed them of the chance to shine at that year's World Cup with the team's star,  Matthias Sindelar, meeting an sinister untimely death the following year.  The footballing principles of coach Hugo Meisl lived on though and planted a seed in the young Allison's mind that initially caused problems at the start of his career at Charlton:

"We were all standing there after one of these sessions," he recalls, "and I said: 'Mr Trotter, the training's effing rubbish.' And all these players turned round: 'Who is this young upstart, like?' I said: 'All we do is run around the track, up and down the terracing and play 11-a-side. We don't do anything.'
"Next morning I had to go to see Jimmy Seed, the manager, and he said: 'Malcolm, you insulted Mr Trotter yesterday.' I said: 'No I didn't, I just told him the training was rubbish.' He said: 'You can't say that to Mr Trotter, and, anyway, I'm going to transfer you to West Ham United.' So I said: 'Can I shake your hand, Mr Seed? I want to thank you for teaching me the art of communication, because you've just spoken to me for the third time in seven years.'"

This move proved fortuitous as it meant he arrived at West Ham in the time to join the famous Academy of Football, where Allison could cogitate with his peers on the influence of the new force in European football, Hungary.  Sadly Allison's career was ended by tuberculosis, but after a short spell as a professional gambler he started his long coaching career enjoying early success at Bath City (whom he brought to York Road for an FA Cup tie played in front of 4,628). 
He got his lucky break when appointed as number two to Joe Mercer at Manchester City in the mid 60s and in one of those accidents of history the pair developed what is still a relatively unique method of running a football club in this country although common on the continent.  Mercer became what would now be known as a Director of Football, with his increasing years leading him to leave Allison in a head coach role with free rein over the dressing room and training pitch.  This led to a purple patch for City producing a list of honours which the current owners can still only dream of despite their financial munificence.
The end of the managerial partnership as often happens ended the run of success, but the argument for a greater emphasis on technical proficiency through preparation was given credence by Rodney Marsh, who though cited as the reason Allison lost his best chance to win the league on his own, revealed the stark difference between the depth and frequency of training at Maine Road compared to his previous clubs.
The rest of Allison's career accentuated the celebrity aspect, particularly during a famous cup run with Crystal Palace when he adopted his famous Fedora hat.  Sadly this seemed to obscure his radical footballing intellect, his wit saved for his critics such as his final successor at Manchester City:

"John Bond has blackened my name with his insinuations about the private lives of football managers. Both my wives are upset."
His later life saw only controversy catapult him back into the limelight, which was sad as his level of analysis would show many of those who lounge on modern day panels to be pale in comparison.  Hopefully his passing will see a reappraisal of his legacy  to show that its possible to develop home-grown forward thinking managerial talent.

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