Obituary: Tony Waddington

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The Independent Online
Anthony Waddington, footballer and football manager: born Manchester 9 November 1924; played for Manchester United (as amateur) 1941-46, Crewe Alexandra 1946-52; coach, Stoke City 1952-60, manager 1960-77; manager, Crewe Alexandra 1979-81; died Crewe 29 January 1994.

TONY WADDINGTON was an admirably sound and widely respected football manager over almost two decades, during which he earned two claims to undying fame.

In 1972, he led 104-year-old Stoke City to their first major honour, the League Cup; but even more vividly inscribed in the Potteries' sporting annals is Waddington's part in one of the most romantic tales in football folklore.

In October 1961 Stoke were a side on the skids, languishing near the foot of the Second Division and on the verge of bankruptcy. Recognising that something extraordinary was needed, Waddington re- signed the city's favourite son, the 46-year-old Stanley Matthews, from Blackpool, for a token pounds 3,500.

There had been a deafening outcry throughout the Potteries some 14 years earlier, when Matthews, then recognised as the world's leading player, had left Stoke to join the Lancastrians. Now, the majority of Stoke's supporters acclaimed Waddington for his boldness, but there were those who denounced the deal as nostalgic folly.

But how well Waddington, at 36 one of the youngest managers in the League and nearly 10 years Matthews' junior, had gauged both public opinion and the capabilities of the old maestro. Inspired by the incomparable 'Wizard of Dribble', City finished the season in a respectable eighth place. And attendances at the Victoria Ground soared, bringing in extra cash.

Waddington recruited other experienced players - the likes of Jimmy McIlroy from Burnley and Dennis Viollet from Manchester United - who melded so well with the magic of Matthews that Stoke finished 1962-63 as Second Division champions, with Matthews scoring the goal that clinched the title.

During the remainder of the 1960s, several successful relegation battles notwithstanding, Waddington established the club as a fixture in the top flight. As a bonus, in 1964 City reached the League Cup final but were defeated over two legs by Leicester City. During this period, too, Waddington pulled off another transfer coup, signing the great goalkeeper Gordon Banks from Leicester.

Yet while Stoke endeavoured to serve up entertaining football, there was rarely a sign of a trophy until the early 1970s. City reached two consecutive FA Cup semi-finals, losing them both to Arsenal after replays, but made amends by defeating Chelsea at Wembley to win the League Cup in 1972, the winning goal coming from yet another veteran, George Eastham.

Using that triumph as a platform, Waddington put together his finest team, in which Alan Hudson and Jimmy Greenhoff were outstanding, and in both 1974 and 1975 they finished fifth in the First Division, a splendid result for an unfashionable club.

All the while the amiable, sometimes wily, Waddington operated skilfully within a tight budget. But when key men were sold, apparently for reasons of economy, the team slid and in March 1977, two months before Stoke were relegated, he resigned, citing too much pressure on his family as his reason.

There followed two years out of football before he took over lowly Crewe Alexandra, and spent two seasons in a vain effort to keep them away from the nether regions of the Fourth Division. In both terms Crewe were knocked out of the FA Cup by non-League opposition and it came as little surprise when Waddington left them, and professional management, in 1979.

Waddington's career in senior football had begun in 1941 as an amateur wing-half with Manchester United, for whom he played briefly in wartime competition before serving as a radio telegraphist on HMS Hound, a minesweeper which took part in the D-Day landings.

After the war, he was told he would never play again because of a knee injury, but he went on to confound the experts by making some 200 senior appearances for Crewe. In 1952 he joined Stoke as youth coach, graduating to assistant manager in 1957, then taking the senior post three years later when his mentor, Frank Taylor, was sacked.

Surprisingly in the light of his subsequent espousal of attacking methods, in his first season as manager he was criticised for over-cautious tactics, his defence being dubbed 'The Waddington Wall'. And then came Stanley Matthews.

(Photograph omitted)