Ian Greaves: Busby Babe who became a respected manager
Saturday 10 January 2009
Ian Greaves was a redoubtable football man with a character to match. As a solid and constructive full-back he was accomplished enough in his mid-1950s prime to earn a League title medal on merit with Manchester United, and that in the days of white-hot competition before Matt Busby's wondrous young side was decimated by the Munich air disaster in which eight players died.
Yet Greaves was to carve an even more memorable niche as an implacably straight-talking, unfailingly enterprising manager, building fineteams for Huddersfield Town and Bolton Wanderers and guiding both into the English game's top flight as Second Division champions. In addition, he became the most celebrated manager in the history of Mansfield Town, and also put in spells incharge of Oxford United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
As a teenager the tall, athletic Greaves seemed certain to become a professional sportsman, although initially it wasn't clear whether it would be as a footballer or cricketer. He excelled at the summer game for Crompton in the Central Lancashire League but leaned towards football, even when he was rejected after a trial by his local club, Oldham Athletic. There followed a fleeting stint with non-League Buxton United, during which he impressed Old Trafford scouts and enlisted with the Red Devils in May 1953. His rise through Busby's innovative youth system was rapid and he made his senior entrance at right-back at Wolves in October 1954, standing in for the rugged Bill Foulkes, who was away making his sole appearance for England.
The Greaves rise gathered pace in February 1956 when, with Foulkes labouring with National Service commitments and carrying a niggling injury, the 23-year-old Lancastrian was recalled for a home encounter with Burnley. So competently didhe perform, tackling crisply and passing perceptively, that he retained his place for the rest of that title-winning term, playing just enough games to earn a medal.
However, Foulkes was a formidably determined competitor and thereafter he regained his berth, thus relegating Greaves back to the reserves untilhe was recalled to the colours in the most tragic of circumstances, inthe wake of the air crash in February 1958. Now operating at left-back –with United's preferred men in that role, Roger Byrne and Geoff Bent,both having perished on a slushyGerman runway – he proved a reliable operator as the stricken, under-staffed club defied logic by reaching theFA Cup final. They lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers, but Greaves let no one down, turning in a characteristically steady display.
He was admirably consistent in 1958-59, too, when Busby's still-depleted side astonished most pundits by finishing as runners-up to Wolves in the title race, but then knee injuries slowed him down and he slipped from contention. In December 1960 he left Old Trafford for Lincoln City but was never again able to fulfil himself as a player, briefly serving Oldham and non-League Altrincham before turning to coaching with Huddersfield Town in 1964.
Four years later he replaced Tom Johnston as manager of the Terriers and, while nurturing richly promising youngsters such as the lavishly gifted, flamboyant centre-forward Frank Worthington and the high-quality defender Trevor Cherry, he led them to the Second Division title in 1969-70. Continuing to major on youth, while operating a stern regime in which supreme fitness and rigorous discipline were paramount, Greaves preserved Huddersfield's top-flight status in 1970-71, but not being wealthy and with insufficient strength in depth to survive for long, they were relegated as bottom club the following season.
Inevitably Worthington and Cherry departed, their replacements of lesser calibre, and the downward trend continued with immediate demotion to the third tier a year later. Not unexpectedly, amid boardroom upheaval, Greaves resigned in June 1974, coaching briefly with Plymouth Argyle before being appointed assistant manager of Second Division Bolton Wanderers in August.
Within two months the Wanderers manager Jimmy Armfield had moved on to Leeds United and Greaves inherited the top job at Burnden Park. He made a tentative start, shuffling his pack of players extensively, but soon found he could place his faith in talented and determined youngsters such as the future England international midfielder Peter Reid, centre-half Sam Allardyce – who would later manage the club – and striker Neil Whatmore.
That term Bolton consolidated in mid-table before pushing on to miss promotion only narrowly in the next two campaigns before securing it *first place in 1977-78. Greaves' team – which had also reached the League Cup semi-final in 1977, losing to Everton – was efficient and well-organised rather than expansive, but hehad added entertainers such as the Scottish midfielder Willie Morgan,formerly of Manchester United, and Worthington, his former Huddersfield charge, and they appeared reasonably well equipped to compete in theFirst Division.
However, he experienced the same travails as at Huddersfield, enduring poor luck with injuries to key men such as Reid, and Bolton remained among the élite for only one season before being relegated in the springof 1980. Greaves was not presentfor the last rites, having been sackedin the January with his side rooted to the foot of the table, a crushing reversal of fortune for a man who had been mooted as a serious possibility to become manager of Manchester United when Tommy Docherty had departed in 1977.
He remained resilient, though, spending much of 1980 as assistant manager of Hereford United before taking over at Oxford United in December, rescuing them from likely demotion to the Fourth Division then leaving them in a much-improved state by the time he accepted the reins at top-flight strugglers Wolves in February 1982. Despite a spirited attempt, he was unable to prevent their relegation and in August he was dismissed by a new Molineux regime headed by Derek Dougan, remaining out of the game until January 1983, when he embarked on what proved to be an upliftingly successful Football League management swansong with homely, unfashionable Mansfield Town.
Combining an enlightened youth policy with judicious excursions into the transfer market, he improved the squad until he secured promotion from the Fourth Division in 1986, then led the Stags to triumph in the Freight Rover Trophy a season later, beating Bristol City on penalties in the Wembley final. He resigned in February 1989, declaring that six years was long enough at one club, and he later coached at Bury, then managed briefly at non-League Emley before scouting for several clubs in the North West.
Greaves was a shrewd psychologist – he took his Mansfield players down a local coal mine to show them how lucky they were to play football for a living – and a tough taskmaster, but he also inspired unswerving loyalty among those who recognised his essential fairness. Unashamedly he was a man of the old school, who once summed up his approach to footballers thus: "You can pat 'em on the back, you can kick 'em up the arse, you can speak softly or you can scream and shout, you can threaten 'em or you can ignore 'em. But one thing you can do that really counts is leave 'em out of the team."
Ian Denzil Greaves, footballer and manager: born Oldham, Lancashire 26 May 1932; played for Manchester United 1953-60, Lincoln City 1960-61, Oldham Athletic 1961-63; managed Huddersfield Town 1968-74, Bolton Wanderers 1974-80, Oxford United 1980-82, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1982, Mansfield Town 1983-89; married (one daughter); died Ainsworth, Lancashire 2 January 2009.
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