Few football men have been woven more comprehensively into the fabric of one club than Chris Turner at Peterborough United. The big, muscular East Anglian was a mighty central defender and captain when the Posh were champions of the Fourth Division in 1974, then he became an inspirational manager who guided them to consecutive promotions in the early 1990s, soon followed by spells as chairman and joint owner of the London Road side.
Turner – who has died at the age of 64 after suffering for eight years from dementia, which his wife, Lynne, has previously attributed to heading too many heavy footballs – also enjoyed success as manager of Cambridge United in the late 1980s. Having turned professional with Peterborough as an 18-year-old in November 1969, Turner made his senior debut a month later and was a first-team regular by 1971-72.
Commanding in aerial combat at either end of the pitch – he scored 43 goals in his 364 appearances for the club, many of them with powerful headers – and a born motivator, he learned avidly from Peterborough’s eloquent manager, Noel Cantwell, and proved a colossal factor as the Posh secured their 1973-74 title. He continued to thrive during a period of consolidation in the third tier and in several cup runs, then peaked in 1977-78 when Peterborough conceded only 33 goals in 46 matches as they finished fourth in the table, narrowly missing out on promotion.
Now Turner was in widespread demand and in the summer he was sold to second-flight Luton Town for £100,00, then a record fee for Peterborough, who missed his leadership so sorely that they were relegated in the first campaign without him. However, he didn’t tarry long at Kenilworth Road, going on to two stints with divisional rivals Cambridge United between 1979 and 1983, split by a fleeting stay at Swindon Town and followed by half a season with Southend, before retiring in 1984.
Such was Turner’s natural authority and charisma during a playing career which also included four summers in the US – one with Connecticut Centennials and three with New England Tea Men – that he seemed an ideal candidate for management, and sure enough in January 1986 he accepted the reins of struggling basement club Cambridge United. That season Cambridge had to apply for re-election to the Football League, but he stabilised them and, before leaving in January 1990, had laid the foundations of the squad which would soar rapidly to the upper reaches of the second tier under his successor, John Beck.
For Turner, the next step was with the club dearest to his heart, the Posh, of whom he took control in January 1991, albeit with little apparent hope of gaining promotion any time soon. However, he began by leading his new charges on a 13-match unbeaten run which transformed their prospects, and they rose to the Third Division in the spring.
The 1991-92 campaign proved even more fruitful, with League Cup defeats of Newcastle United and Liverpool – Peterborough bowed to Middlesbrough in the quarter-finals, but only after a replay – followed by promotion via the play-offs in May, courtesy of a stirring 2-1 victory over Stockport County in the Wembley final. Uplifting as all this was, Turner had his eyes on a bigger picture and in December 1992 he headed a consortium which bought the club, stepping down as manager to become chairman, with assistant manager Lil Fuccillo taking over team affairs. That season United finished 10th in the second tier, which remains their highest placing, but Fuccillo’s success did not last and Turner, who was unwell, took temporary charge of football matters in December 1993 but could not avert relegation.
Thereafter he worked as chief executive, with John Still in the managerial seat, until Barry Fry bought the club in 1996. After that Turner operated in behind the scenes until he bowed out of Peterborough at a time of financial cutbacks in 2001. The subsequent illness, temporal lobe dementia, suffered by such a warm, universally popular character shocked the football community.
Christopher James Turner, footballer and manager: born St Neots, Cambridgeshire 3 April 1951; played for Peterborough United 1969-78, Connecticut Bicentennials 1977, Luton Town 1978-79, Cambridge United 1979-80 in two spells, Swindon Town 1980, New England Tea Men 1978-80, Southend United 1983-84; managed Cambridge United 1985-90, Peterborough United 1991-92, 1993-94; married Lynne; died Wisbech, Cambridgeshire 27 April 2015.