Football: Men who kept the press in its place: Graham Taylor's reign was indicative of a growing tension between managers and the media. Ken Jones looks back and examines how some of the great names from the past handled the Fourth Estate

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The Independent Online
THE sight last week of Stan Cullis leading out players from the history of Wolverhampton Wanderers prompted some grizzled veterans to wonder if he could have handled the modern pressures of football management.

Imagine a man so authoritarian, with a grip on affairs so vice-like that few in the club's employ ever felt brave enough to challenge him. Nor did many of those who chronicled his teams' exploits. Puritanical, he never swore and didn't need to.

Sarcasm was Cullis's stock-in-trade. Once, when berating his players, he noticed a smile on the 12th man's face. 'You can't even get into the team,' he snapped. When Eddie Clamp, a feared tackler, was carried off during a European Cup tie, Cullis looked down at him scornfully. 'And you're supposed to be a hard man,' he chortled.

Reporters knew better than to call Cullis at home, especially after working hours. 'You've got no right to do this,' he would say. Those who crossed him in print were required to explain themselves fully in the manager's office at Molineux.

In his time and in his way Cullis was an outstanding manager. Captain of England at 21, manager of Wolves at 32, he was undyingly faithful to the game. Whether he would have been able to impose similar authority amid current trends is another matter, although I think he probably would have found a way.

Managers these days come under such close scrutiny, even in their private lives, that the job has become difficult enough to dissuade some of the brightest talents in the game from putting themselves forward as prospective managers of the England team.

Terry Venables, seven months after being dismissed as chief executive of Tottenham Hotspur, admits that he does not miss the relentless pressures of football management. Steve Coppell, who resigned as manager of Crystal Palace at the end of last season, feels no great urge to seek another management post.

Today there is television and more television. Television manufactures well-sponsored excuses to repeat action footage. Reporters report non- events. Football's busy work is selling. Selling is another name of the game.

On a wall behind George Graham's desk at Highbury there is a montage of the most successful managers in Arsenal's history, including himself. In chronological order the others are Bertie Mee, Tom Whittaker, George Allison and Herbert Chapman. 'Sometimes I wonder how they would go about things now,' Graham said, 'because even since Bertie's time things have changed enormously.'

Sir Matt Busby was seldom in a vulnerable position, when he didn't appear to be in complete command of everything within a 10-mile radius. The public saw him as an urbane, avuncular figure, sucking on his pipe, seemingly immune to the game's disfiguring tension. It was, as he once admitted to Cullis, a deception.

Privately suspicious of journalists, he treated them courteously, drawing them into his web, never forgetting a name. He had no time for speculation. Rumours were rarely brought to his door. Fearful of the outcome, sports editors thought twice about using stories that might embarrass Busby. He could be hard with the players, too. As Nobby Stiles said, 'If the boss sent for you it wasn't to hand out sweeties'.

Before the debilitating effects of a road accident weakened his resolve, the great Celtic manager, Jock Stein, never conceded an inch. Raised in the Lanarkshire coalfield, a miner himself before embarking on a career in football that was belatedly fulfilled at Parkhead, he was utterly Scottish.

People crossed Stein at their peril. Players and reporters alike held him in awe. Miscreants trembled in his presence. Enquiries about the composition of Celtic's team were prefaced by a cryptic, 'We are . . . ' He could be mischievous, too, a master of the wind-up.

Bill Nicholson spent freely on players but at the height of his fame as the most successful manager in Tottenham's history he lived, and still does, in the same modest house he set out to buy as a young player, and drove a second-hand car. Interviews were conducted in the car park at White Hart Lane. There were plenty of lively spirits in the best of Nicholson's teams but nobody thought to betray them. His confidence was precious but hard earned.

In Bill Shankly's presence you were guaranteed crackling imagery and a scathing response to pretension. Once when a football writer suggested that a rising young winger had the look of Tom Finney, he said, 'Aye, but then Tommy Finney is 52.'

The morning after England's 1966 World Cup victory a small group of reporters confidently sought an interview with Alf Ramsey. 'Sorry,' he said politely, 'but this is my day off.' Recently I compared Ramsey's singular management style with that of the hapless Graham Taylor who made the mistake of entering into debates with journalists. Even allowing for the intensity of modern media focus, probably it would still work for him.

Blunt, retributive, unfailingly challenging the excesses brought about by freedom of contract and a proliferation of agents, Brian Clough was the last of the breed. In management he was greatly influenced by Harry Storer, a footballer-cricketer, an England half-back of the 1920s who opened the batting for Derbyshire and led three clubs, Birmingham, Coventry and Derby, to promotion.

Clough's assistant for many years, the late Peter Taylor, said of Storer, 'He was hard, yet something of an orator, and able to destroy almost anyone verbally. He was ruthless and often frightening. His strength was an enormous ability to want. He wanted to win. He wanted the truth.' If only they could hear him now.

(Photograph omitted)

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