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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.

Friday, 4 November 2016

The Men Who Made Modern Football #6 Frank Buckley

Unlike his predecessors in this series, Frank Buckley was an innovator in some of the darker arts of the beautiful game which plague us to this day. On the pitch this was his development of “English” tactics which reached their apogee in the all-conquering Wolves team of the 1950s. Off it this was the wheeler dealing transfer market activity which saw him give priority to the bottom line rather than the needs of the team.
Know commonly as the Major due to his military service in World War One, Buckley was born to a military family in Urmston, Lancashire in 1882. He won a scholarship to St Francis Xavier's College for Boys in Liverpool which was run using the philosophy of Muscular Christanity cherished by some of his predecessors in this series.
Following his father into a career in the army, he was spotted by Aston Villa playing football for his regiment and decided to buy himself out of the army to sign a professional contract. He went onto play for Brighton, Manchester City and United, Birmingham and Derby, winning an England cap whilst at the latter, shortly before war broke out in 1914.
Buckley became the first to sign up for the Football Battalion, rising to the rank of Major by the time they reached the front in 1916. His football career was effectively ended by an injury sustained at the Battle of the Somme, but he returned to the front in 1917 and was was "mentioned in dispatches" for the bravery shown during hand-to-hand fighting.
Following the Armistice, Buckley was appointed manager of Southern League Norwich, creating a nationwide scouting network of his former army comrades who were all ex-players, to build a team of talented young players. He resigned in 1920 following a dispute with the board and then spent time out of the game as a sweet salesman.
He returned to football in 1923 as Blackpool instantly making his mark by changing their kit to the distinctive tangerine well known to this day. As well as buying young talent which he would sell for a generous fee safe in the knowledge of a replacement already lined up, Buckley put paramount importance on the physical fitness of his squad. He combined diet (including a smoking ban) with physiotherapy as well as novel fitness routines such as weight training. Having established a reputation for building an effective squad which could be milked to provide a healthy profit, Buckley was appointed manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1927.

Buckley's stay at Wolves can be taken two ways. On the face of it, he appeared to achieve only modest success with the club; they won the Division Two title in 1931–32 and finished runners-up in the Division One in 1937–38 and in both the First Division and the FA Cup the following season. An alternative view is that during his stay at Molineux, Buckley once made the club a £100,000 profit within one year, purely on transfer deals; he toyed, provocatively, with the media (instigating the empty rumour that his players were using a monkey gland treatment to aid performance), he used psychologists to instil confidence in his players and was responsible for bringing through Stan Cullis and offering Billy Wright a start in professional football.  After he had left the club, however, the full value of his vision, not least the Wolves youth programme, came to fruition and did so much to shape the Wolves side of the 1950s, when they won three Division One championships, twice won the FA Cup, and were one of few genuine challengers to the Busby Babes.
His impact can be summed up by Cullis who went onto manage Wolves through their 1950s golden era:  "I soon realised that Major Buckley was one out of the top drawer. He did not suffer fools gladly. His style of management in football was very similar to his attitude in the army. Major Buckley implanted into my mind the direct method of playing which did away with close interpassing and square-ball play. If you didn't like his style you'd very soon be on your bicycle to another club. He didn't like defenders over-elaborating in their defensive positions. Major Buckley also knew how to deal with the press." 
Buckley left Moulineux towards the end of the second world war and with his scouting network showing his age, made little impact at his final few short appointments at Notts County, Hull City, Leeds United and Walsall. He did sign Jack Charlton for the Whites though and started a process of youth development that would bear fruit in the Revie era.
This reflected his major contribution to the English game, that of talent development and profit, with a focus on physical fitness and simple, direct football. A blueprint for the mercantile nature of the modern game in this country, undoubtedly successful but forsaking the emotional tug of attractive football and glorious success measured by silverware.

1 comment:

F. David 'Ferdie' Gilson said...

Major Frank Buckley & Stan Cullis are Wolves two most outstanding Managers. Stan Cullis stood on the shoulders of Major Buckley & probably wouldn't have achieved as much had it not been for the Major. My Kind Regards - F. David 'Ferdie' Gilson (South London Harriers, athletics club) 81-year old athletics & sports historian, Wolves Supporter since early 1939 & still a current season ticket holder at Molineux.