Ian Branfoot is a former English right-back (and occasional midfielder) and manager who was born in Gateshead on 26th January 1947. Branfoot began his playing career at home-town club Gateshead before moving to Sheffield Wednesday at the age of 18. He was used as a squad player at Hillsborough, making 37 appearances in all competitions. Branfoot was picked up by Lawrie McMenemy's Doncaster in 1969. The former Gateshead man dropped two divisions from the 1st to the 3rd, but was rewarded with a regular spell in the starting line-up. Rovers dropped down to the 4th tier in 1971 for £8,000, with Branfoot remaining at the club for another two years. He moved to Lincoln in 1973, where he had a successful four year spell, the highlight of which was a 1976 Division 4 Championship winner's medal. Branfoot worked under future England manager Graham Taylor at Sincil Bank. Branfoot had coaching ambitions from a very young age. He was fully qualified by the age of 21 and became player-coach at Lincoln by the time he was 30.
Branfoot linked up with Southampton manager McMenemy once again in September 1978, becoming Youth coach. After guiding the kids to the FA Youth Cup semi-final he was promoted to Reserve team coach. He took Saints to the runners-up spot in the combination league in 1982.
Branfoot joined Reading as assistant manager in 1983, before being handed the top job at Elm Park in January 1984. He led the team to promotion from Division 4 to Division 3 in his first campaign. The Royals were already well placed for promotion when Branfoot replaced popular boss Maurice Evans, but he took full advantage of his opportunity, using just 17 players.
Reading made a fine start to the 1984/85 season, with Branfoot masterminding some impressive results, including a 5-2 win at eventual champions Bradford. Injury to free-scoring forward Trever Senior curtailed progress however, with the Royals stumbling to a 9th place finish.
Branfoot was offered the manager's job at Southampton in June 1985 when Lawrie McMenemy departed for Sunderland. He declined the opportunity however, believing Reading had the potential to rise all the way to Division 1. Branfoot's decision was vindicated, at least at first. He oversaw Reading's best ever start to a season. The Royals won their first 13 league games of the 1985/86 season, cruising to the Third Division title. Branfoot had a very hands-on role at Elm Park, and did some decent business in the transfer market, bringing in wide-man Andy Rogers from Plymouth and Kevin Bremner from Millwall. He took the Royals to a mid-table finish in 1986/87, but could do nothing to halt the slide back to Division 3 the following season. Reading only just survived a second consecutive relegation by two points in 1988/89. Branfoot was sacked in October 1989 after it became clear he would not be able to recreate that early magic. That said, he did manage to win the Simod Cup in 1988.
Branfoot briefly worked under Steve Coppell as Crystal Palace assistant not long after his Reading departure. In June 1991 he accepted the role he had turned down six years earlier at Southampton. England U21 coach Ray Harford was also believed to be in the frame, but the Saints board elected to go with someone they were more familiar with.
Fans were sceptical, especially when Branfoot immediately offloaded Jimmy Case. Although Case was 37 years-old at the time, he was still seen as a very important player, and a huge influence on the pitch and in the dressing room. The former Reading boss set out his stall early on by implementing a more conservative system. Previous incumbent Chris Nicholl used a gung-ho approach, so Branfoot's new tactics came as quite the culture shock for fans who had become accustomed to attacking football. In his first programme notes in August 1991 Branfoot said "Under me, Saints will play the long ball when it's on and the short ball when it's on and we'll have two wide players whenever feasible. Certainly we'll be looking to get the ball in the box. My players will be fit, organised and disciplined."
Branfoot's first game was an entertaining 3-2 home defeat to Tottenham. Alan Shearer scored after just two minutes, and youngster Richard Hall was handed his debut. A new 4-4-2 system was in place, but the direct style grated on supporters from the very beginning. Skilful players like Matt Le Tissier were less influential playing out wide, where they were required to work hard up and down the line. Glenn Cockerill - who had been a teammate of Branfoot's at Lincoln at the start of his career -- was handed the captain's armband.
Branfoot's signings did little to impress. Steve Wood - who he had managed at Reading -- joined from Millwall for £400,000, but rarely looked up to it. Another one of Branfoot's former charges Terry Hurlock signed from Rangers. David Lee -- a purchase from Bury -- didn't have the quality to succeed in the top-flight. Iain Dowie wasn't a popular signing, but eventually won over fans due to his high work-rate. Michael Gilkes and Stuart Gray didn't offer a lot.
Branfoot did tighten up the defence slightly, as he vowed to do in pre-season. Saints conceded 55 league goals in 1991/92, compared to 69 the previous campaign. The problem was at the other end. Saints struggled for goals, with Branfoot's men netting just 39 in the league, 19 less than 1990/91. The negative football was appalling to watch, and the results weren't good either. Saints won just one of their opening 8 fixtures (2-0 away at Sheffield United). Branfoot frustratingly refused to deviate from his plans. Even when Saints were losing he'd insist on keeping things tight. The system did bring out the best in Shearer, who netted 13 over the course of the season -- his best total at The Dell. On the other hand, Le Tissier's talents were not being fully utilised.
The Echo's Graham Hiley described Saints' 1-1 draw with Notts County on 20th December 1991 as "the long ball game at its worst." Players spoke out publicly in defence of Branfoot's tactics, but he did little to appease the fans. Saints spent about two thirds of the season in the relegation zone. Branfoot did have a reasonable amount of success in the cups however. Saints reached the 4th round of the League Cup, and were not beaten until the quarter finals in the FA Cup. The FA Cup run included a famous 4th round penalty shoot-out victory at Old Trafford. Tim Flowers saved a Ryan Giggs spot-kick following a hard-fought 2-2 draw. A Barry Horne cracker helped Saints on their way to a quarter final date with Norwich, where Saints would come unstuck at Carrow Road, following a 0-0 draw at The Dell. Branfoot also led his team to the 1992 Zenith Data Systems cup final. The manager was booed by the Saints fans in attendance at Wembley when his name was read out. The 3-2 defeat to Nottingham Forest did little to win them over.
Saints rallied at the start of March 1992, embarking on a record breaking six match winning streak. West Ham, Crystal Palace, Manchester City, Luton, Everton and QPR were all dispatched. Saints only conceded two goals during that time. Three further wins over West Ham, Wimbledon and Oldham ensured that Saints would survive comfortably. Branfoot finished 16th out of 22 in his first season at The Dell.
Branfoot was forced to replace his most effective player Alan Shearer during the summer of 1992. The centre-forward was transferred to Blackburn for a fee of £3,600,000. Branfoot was believed to have asked for Rovers' Mike Newell as part of the deal, but had to eventually settle for David Speedie, who was never keen on the move. He was a complete flop, as was veteran Kerry Dixon, signed from Chelsea. Branfoot had confidently predicted the pair would outscore Shearer, but the disinterested pair could only muster two strikes between them during 1992/93. Ken Monkou managed to buck the trend and win the crowd over. The Dutchman was Branfoot's most successful pickup. He replaced Neil Ruddock, who departed for Tottenham.
Saints failed to score in their opening two home games (a 0-0 draw with Tottenham and 1-0 defeat to Manchester United). Branfoot's first win of the 1992/93 season didn't arrive until late August, when Saints came back late to beat Middlesbrough. A few days later Saints scored an impressive draw at Anfield, but there was little else to shout about in the coming weeks. Injury problems prevented Perry Groves from flourishing at The Dell, but the former Arsenal man did help Branfoot's men to a point after scoring a screamer in a 2-2 draw with Wimbledon.
Saints did take some impressive scalps during 1992/93. Branfoot's men beat Arsenal, Aston Villa, Norwich and Liverpool, as well as letting a 1-0 lead slip during the final 10 minutes at Old Trafford on 20th February 1993. Saints won 4-3 in an end-to-end clash against Ipswich on 13th March 1993, before losing to the same score-line a week later at Arsenal. Saints were 9th after that Ipswich game, but slipped back to 18th with a late season slump. Branfoot had solidified the defence during his first season, but his backline was among the weakest in the league during 1992/93. Saints conceded 61 league goals.
Branfoot signed up several young prospects prior to the 1993/94 season, including Colin Cramb, Paul McDonald and Simon Charlton. Only Charlton would go on to establish himself as a first team regular. Saints fans stepped up their protests after a poor run of results at the start of the second Premier League season. Branfoot lost 8 of his first 9 matches, with his only win coming against whipping-boys Swindon. On 2nd October 1993 Saints surrendered a 3-1 lead to Sheffield United, and then conceded late on at Coventry a couple of weeks later.
Branfoot received the public backing of Chairman Guy Askham, who insisted that the manager would see out his recently signed three-year contract. Fan groups got organised, with the Southampton Independent Supporters Association (SISA) forming in an attempt to bring about the end of Branfoot's reign of terror. Fanzines did brisk business and protests were planned. Peter Reid -- who had signed a short term playing deal following his sacking at Manchester City -- was seen by some as the ideal candidate to take over from Branfoot.
One of the many bones of contention Saints fans had with Branfoot was the marginalisation of Matt Le Tissier. He was still one of the club's most effective players, but was never entirely comfortable in Branfoot's system. Le Tissier was dropped for Paul Moody, an extremely limited player who was nowhere near Premier League quality. Moody was signed right at the end of Chris Nicholl's reign, but is most synonymous with Branfoot. He was preferred to Le Tissier for several games, including the embarrassing cup defeat at Shrewsbury. Le Tissier came back in against Newcastle on 24th October, and won the game single-handedly; scoring two crackers in a 2-1 win. The clash was live on Sky giving fans the perfect opportunity to bring further attention to their anti-Branfoot cause. Banners and red-cards were clearly visible throughout the evening.
Saints failed to kick-on from that Newcastle win and the pressure continued to mount. They did win against Tottenham and Aston Villa, but struggled for consistency. The fans soon started to vote with their feet. The smallest ever top-flight crowd was recorded at The Dell on 8th December 1993 (9,028), a dismal mid-week defeat to Ipswich. Tim Flowers was sold to Blackburn, with Dave Beasant coming in as a replacement from Chelsea. Flowers was also attracting attention from Liverpool, with Branfoot interested in a potential part-exchange for David James and Don Hutchison.
In late 1993 Lawrie McMenemy returned as Director of Football. Branfoot clung on his job into the New Year, but was finally sacked following a dismal cup draw with Port Vale. Saints brought in Alan Ball as Branfoot's replacement. The World Cup winner took the shackles off, with Saints playing a much more expansive game, with Le Tissier at the heart of the team in a free-role. Ball kept Saints up, a feat Branfoot surely wouldn't have managed.
Branfoot became Fulham manager in 1994. He was an unpopular choice due his history of playing ugly football. The Cottagers finished 8th in the bottom tier during 1994/95, and slipped further down the table the following campaign. By February 1996 Branfoot moved into the role of general manager, having been replaced as boss by Mickey Adams. Adams had worked with Branfoot at The Dell, and followed him to The Cottage, initially as player-coach.
Branfoot had a short stint at Swansea as a coach and a scout, before moving back to the North East to take up the role of Director of Youth and Sunderland. He held that position from 1998 to 2002. He later did some scouting work for Leeds, before accepting a consultancy role with the FA.