Football: The Gaffer tapes - `Mick was a man of his time and bestrode it like a Hercules'

Barry Gaffer was talking to Glenn Moore
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The Independent Online
Big Mick was one of the legendary figures, but his team were struggling. There were two schools of thought about this. One held that far from losing his touch he'd built a useful side at The Old Cornfield, while turning the club around from bankruptcy and building the country's best youth system. They were only bottom, pointless and goalless because of a series of unfortunate injuries, poor refereeing decisions and downright bad luck. This was the view I held.

The other theory was that Big Mick was a relic from the days when the coach was a vehicle not a visionary. When a sheepskin coat, a handful of caps - flat rather than international - and a few choice words of Anglo- Saxon were all a manager needed. He was still thumbing through the Rothmans while his counterparts were checking airline timetables. The only videos he watched were on his own with a can of lager on channel 24 in his hotel room, not with the back five and an isotonic drink. Mick had to go before he took the club, and its share price, down for good. This was the view I told Sir Hirem Firem when we co-incidentally met at his golf club last week.

Still, I was surprised when Mick called me this morning in tears to say he'd got the sack. I'd have liked to have lent a sympathetic ear, but I had Sir Hirem on call waiting so I told Mick I'd put in a good word for him if the chance arose.

True to my word I was able to do that within hours at the press conference. "When the history books are written "Big Mick" will go down as one of the great managers at the Old Cornfield," I said. "He was a man of his time and bestrode it like a Hercules."

I'm sure Mick will have been touched by that, he always liked those Italian players. I'm sure he would've understood I was only trying to be honest when I was forced to add: "However, the game has moved on and this club has to do the same. Sir Hirem, understandably in view of Big Mick's achievements, stood by his manager a little too long. Not Sir Hirem should be blamed, loyalty is much undervalued in football today and I just hope I can save him from paying for it by clearing up the awful mess Mick has landed me with."

I could see the press boys lit up when I said that last bit so I had to add, slowly in case their tape recorders were not working: "I tell you lads, I've been called into some tricky jobs in my time, but this is the worst. We may have only played five matches but already a very hard season is ahead of us and merely surviving will be an achievement to rank with the 1987 promotion I gained with Blackfarm Rovers."

They were scribbling away now, so I finished with: "I'm going to need all my experience. I've learned a lot in this game, from Bill Shankly, Ron Knee and, dear Big Mick himself, and I'm going to need to draw on all of it. Now, who wants some of this champagne."

After a few glasses with some of my old muckers, and some non-attributable examples of Mick's neglect, I had a quick word with the physio. It seems Shaun Prone, England's midfield passing maestro who has been injured for two years, should be back on Saturday. So should centre-half and captain Cliff Phace.

Ego Massive, the wayward Paraguayan striker, is back from World Cup duty and goalkeeper Ivor Panic's suspension is over. Since we've played the top five clubs already, things are definitely looking up.

Oh, there was a good omen too. No mention in dispatches in yesterday's "bung" inquiry. Not that I was nervous, mind you, but one or two generous gestures in the past may have been mis-interpreted. Must go, the mobile's ringing and I think it's my contact in Norway.

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