25/02/2017: Book Review: Lawrie McMenemy
Long before he was lounging it up in the directors' box during the 1990s or making xenophobic comments about Saints' foreign managers, Lawrie McMenemy was leading the club to their most successful period. Last year he put his story 'A Lifetime's Obsession' into print with the help of ghost writer Alex Montgomery.
The book covers everything from McMenemy's relatively humble beginnings in Gateshead up to his recent ambassadorial work for the FA. Some of the earlier chapters are a bit dry. McMenemy's early life and national service are noted, but other than some clichéd lines about learning the value of discipline and hard-work, there isn't much in the way of explanation of how his personality was shaped during these formative years. McMenemy never made it as a league footballer, and credits Alan Brown with his early coaching success. Brown offered his protégé a job on the coaching staff at Sheffield Wednesday in 1964. McMenemy then cut his teeth in the lower leagues with Doncaster and Grimsby before landing at Southampton in 1973.
McMenemy lays into Terry Paine, claiming the club's record appearance holder undermined him during the beginning of his reign at The Dell, but is vague when detailing exactly what occurred between the two. Paine is described as a disruptive influence within the dressing room and is partially blamed for Saints' 1974 relegation, but other than one spat in the build-up to the Everton game on the final day there are few specific incidents mentioned. Similarly, McMenemy hints at a complex love-hate relationship with Peter Osgood and to a lesser extent Mike Channon, without expanding as much as he perhaps could have.
Fittingly the book starts to pick up during Saints' run to the Wembley glory in 1976. McMenemy's description of the coach journey to and from Wembley and the subsequent celebrations will bring back fond memories for those lucky enough to live through that period. There are amusing and warm anecdotes on Bobby Charlton and Alan Ball senior. Ball Jnr's playing career at The Dell is detailed impressively and described with great respect and affection. An encounter with an obnoxious Jeremy Clarkson at an awards ceremony won't surprise anyone. Tales of Bradford Chairman Stafford Heginbotham's eccentricities don't sound quite as amusing as they were probably meant too given recent revelations.
McMenemy's pursuit of Kevin Keegan is satisfyingly covered. The Saints boss made the decision to contact the two time European footballer of the year with no more than a gut feeling that he was ready to return to England. McMenemy asked Keegan to pick up some lights from Hamburg as an excuse to get talks rolling, and went to great lengths to keep the deal secret right until the big announcement.
McMenemy describes Matt Busby's determined attempts to secure his services for Man United in 1981. Given how things panned out when he did eventually leave Southampton, you get the feeling there is some lingering regret about his decision to pass up that opportunity. McMenemy manages to blame virtually everybody else apart from himself for his failure at Sunderland.
His role as coach during Graham Taylor's ignominious England reign is covered, although few of the details will be unfamiliar with anyone with even a vague knowledge of that period. McMenemy's return to The Dell in the 1990s as Director is touched upon briefly. His utterly deluded insistence that he deserves credit for Saints' modern academy success is particularly grating when you consider the youth setup was severely neglected under his watch during the aforementioned period.
Very much a man of his time, McMenemy guided Saints to their most successful period using his commanding personality and nous in the transfer market. By the time he moved to Sunderland in 1985 he appeared to be struggling to keep pace with the changes in the game and nothing he did from that point on suggested he had much to offer modern football. His nonsensical ramblings about foreign imports damaging the modern England team during the final chapter of the book needn't have been included. McMenemy coached the national side that failed to qualify for USA 1994 and worked at a pundit during the 1970s when England remained at home for two consecutive World Cups, when the top division was made up of almost entirely home grown players, so should be fully aware that issues lie elsewhere.
A lifetime's obsession is not without its faults by any means, but there's plenty to be gleaned for both older fans who want to reminisce about the glory days or younger fans interested in the history of the club. McMenemy is unquestionably one of the most significant figures in Saints' history, and it's good that his perspective of such a substantial and successful period has been recorded.