Eddie May: Legendary figure of Welsh football

 

The burly, affable Eddie May looms large in the modern history of Welsh football. During his playing prime in the first half of the 1970s he cut an imposing figure at the heart of the Wrexham rearguard, totalling some 400 senior appearances.

Later the most successful stint in his long, varied and eventually globetrotting coaching and managerial career came at the helm of Cardiff City, whom he guided to the double of Third Division title and Welsh Cup glory in 1992-93. He also served Swansea City as a player and, fleetingly, Newport County as a coach, thus becoming one of the few men to be associated with all four of Wales' most famous clubs.

The Essex-born May's first League employers were Southend United, whom he joined from Dagenham in January 1965, making his debut for the Third Division Shrimpers that spring as a left-back. Soon, though, the muscular six-footer found his natural position as a dominant centre-half, majestic in the air, powerful and unfailingly courageous, but his fine personal form could not prevent the Roots Hall side from sinking to the bottom division in the spring of 1966.

In June 1968 May was sold to Fourth Division rivals Wrexham for £5,000 and he settled rapidly at the Racecourse Ground, playing an influential role as the Robins were promoted in 1970 as runners-up to Chesterfield. Thereafter he became captain, leading John Neal's enterprising side to Welsh Cup success in 1972 and in two other rousing knockout campaigns. In 1973-74 Wrexham reached the last eight of the FA Cup, beating the soon-to-be-crowned Second Division champions Middlesbrough and top-flight Southampton before bowing 1-0 to Burnley, then among the top six clubs in the country.

Then in 1975-76 May was an inspirational part of the side which made it to the quarter-finals of the European Cup- Winners' Cup, where they went down 2-1 on aggregate to the illustrious Belgians, Anderlecht. The following August, aged 33 and having missed only 34 League games in his eight seasons in North Wales, he was freed to join Fourth Division Swansea City, whom he helped to earn promotion in 1978, after which he retired as a player.

May loved the game far too much to leave it, though, and he became a coach at Leicester City, contributing to the Foxes' Second Division title campaign of 1979-80, then spending three years as assistant manager to Lennie Lawrence at Charlton Athletic between 1983 and 1986.Next came coaching berths in Saudi Arabia, Kenya and Iceland, a month in charge of cash-strapped Newport County in the wake of their 1988 demotion from the Football League, a spell asNo 2 with Lincoln City and more coaching in Norway before he accepted the reins of Cardiff City in the summer of 1991 following a stint helping the club's youngsters.

May's drive and enthusiasm were exactly what the bottom-tier Bluebirds needed, and after one term of consolidation he led them to both the title and Welsh Cup triumph in 1993, becoming only the second Cardiff manager to lift a divisional crown, the other being Billy McCandless, who achieved Division Three (South) success in 1947.

In 1993-94, with precious little money at his disposal, he did well to avert relegation and to preside over one of the most joyous afternoons in Ninian Park history, when visiting Manchester City were knocked out of the FA Cup. However, the club's finances were in a mess, the team were struggling following a difficult takeover and in November 1994 he was sacked. So loyal was May, though, that when his replacement, Terry Yorath, was also dismissed in the spring, he returned until the season's end, which brought inevitable relegation and his second exit.

Thereafter came brief stints in charge of Torquay United, Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland and Brentford, followed by coaching assignments around the world, including jobs in Finland, Zimbabwe (where he led the Highlanders club to two league championships), South Africa, Uganda and Malawi. The honest, down-to-earth May's enduring popularity at Cardiff was illustrated by his invitation to manage one of the two sides which played the inaugural match at the club's new stadium in 2009.

Ivan Ponting

Edwin Charles May, footballer and manager: born Epping, Essex 19 May 1943; played for Southend United 1965-68, Wrexham 1968-76, Chicago Sting on loan 1975, Swansea City 1976-78; managed Newport County 1988, Cardiff City 1991-94 and 1995, Torquay United 1995-96, Dundalk 1997, Brentford 1997; died 14 April 2012.

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