OBITUARIES:Vic Buckingham

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Vic Buckingham was something of a footballing romantic. The teams he managed in England, the Netherlands, Greece and Spain reflected his own natural elegance and flamboyant personality - they were entertaining and aesthetically pleasing even if, c ertainly in his homeland, where he spent the bulk of his career, they did not achieve consistent success.

Buckingham's greatest glory on the domestic scene came in 1954 when he guided West Bromwich Albion to triumph in the FA Cup and came close to becoming the first man this century to preside over the much-coveted League and Cup double. After that, there seemed no limit to the heights such an enterprising, articulate, and deep-thinking individual might scale, but somehow the summits, at least in England, eluded him. However, his efforts in the foothills brought a welcome dash of verve to the English game.

As a footballer, Buckingham had been a stylish but unremarkable defender who rose through the junior sides of Tottenham Hotspur, the only professional club for which he played. He made his senior debut for the club in 1935, then in the Second Division, as centre-half, later settling at left-half before the Second World War interrupted his progress. After the war, the emergence of the outstanding wing-halfs Ronnie Burgess and Bill Nicholson enforced a switch to left back, where Buckingham performed efficiently until his retirement in 1949.

Though he had never tested his talent in the First Division, his attractive blend of eloquence and intelligence made him a prime candidate for coaching. Soon he was coaching Spurs' juniors, Middlesex FA and Oxford University, the latter niche leading to his appointment as boss of the Oxbridge team Pegasus.

Surrounded by like-minded, bright and adventurous spirits, Buckingham was in his element and he led the team to victory in the 1951 Amateur Cup Final. Clearly, he had learned much from his mentor, the innovative Tottenham boss Arthur Rowe, and Pegasus played the exhilarating, fast-moving football that was to become the hallmark of Buckingham's teams down the years.

Inevitably, this success attracted professional interest and in the summer of 1951 he became manager of Bradford Park Avenue, showing enough promise in the prosaic surroundings of the Third Division (North) to be called to higher office in February 1953.

His new employers were West Bromwich Albion, an ambitious First Division club who seemed perfectly tailored to Buckingham's emerging ability. Accordingly, he saw them to fourth place in the League and after the 1953-54 campaign he came close to making history. The ``Throstles'' finished four points behind the champions, Wolverhampton Wanderers, but they overcame Preston North End - the great Tom Finney et al - to win a rousing FA Cup Final by 3-2.

Orchestrated by the majestic wing-half Ray Barlow and spearheaded by the skilful Ronnie Allen, the team promised even better things to come but, sadly, they never materialised, though West Bromwich continued to entertain fitfully for the remainder of the1950s.

By 1959, perhaps feeling he had gone as far as he could at the Hawthorns, Buckingham opted for what in those days was seen as a dramatic change, joining Ajax of Amsterdam. In the less frenetic world of Dutch football, Buckingham's preference for pure skill paid rich dividends, and the club who would one day rule Europe topped the League in 1960 and won their cap the following season.

In addition, Buckingham discovered and encouraged a young man, Johan Cruyff, who would mature into one of the greatest footballers Europe has ever produced. His future in Holland appeared enviable.

However the call of his native land proved too strong and, after coming close to joining Plymouth Argyle, he took over at Sheffield Wednesday in the spring of 1961.

Having finished the season as League runners-up, the Hillsborough club expected the new manager to catapult them into the very front rank of English clubs. But as Spurs were in their pomp and Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United were all emerging from relative dormancy, it was a task that proved beyond him and he was not offered new terms when his contract expired in 1964.

In truth, Buckingham had been no failure. Wednesday had remained in the top six throughout his reign and had reached the quarter-final of the Fairs Cup (now the Uefa Cup) in 1962, losing only by the odd goal in seven to mighty Barcelona.

Coincidentally, soon after his departure, the sporting world was rocked by a bribery scandal which, eventually, would see three Wednesday men, Tony Kay, Peter Swan and David Layne, banned from the game. When the full facts emerged, Buckingham was mortified that any players of his could be caught up in such dishonesty.

Though understandably disillusioned, he re-entered soccer in January 1965, as boss of struggling Fulham. Clearly changes were needed urgently and Buckingham instituted them on a sweeping scale. However, he dispensed with too many experienced players for the liking of most pundits - who were particularly critical of his failure to get on with, and his subsequent knock-down sale of, the gifted Rodney Marsh - and after three years of travail he was dismissed in January 1968.

Fulham were relegated four months later, but Buckingham's stock remained high in Europe and soon he took charge of the Greek club Ethnikos. The locals loved his outgoing nature and generosity of spirit and he did well; this success leading to coaching posts with Barcelona, which he led to Spanish Cup glory in 1971, and Seville.

Vic Buckingham never managed again in England, but he had done enough to be remembered warmly as one of the more colourful and original members of the British and European footballing fraternities.

Ivan Ponting

Victor Frederick Buckingham, footballer and football club manager: born London 23 October 1915; player, Tottenham Hotspur 1935-49; manager, Bradford Park Avenue 1951-53, West Bromwich Albion 1953-59, Ajax of Amsterdam 1959-61, Sheffield Wednesday 1961-64, Fulham 1965-68, Ethnikos 1968; coach, Oxford University 1949-50, Pegasus 1950-51, Barcelona 1970-71, Seville, 1972; died 26 January 1995.