Keegan meets the great survivor

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The Independent Online

Kevin Keegan not only has to meet the expectations of Manchester City's wonderfully loyal supporters on his return to management, but he also finds himself working alongside a man who possesses more than one yardstick in his office drawer, Bernard Halford, the Manchester City secretary.

Bernard has worked with 25 managers since he left the mill in 1960 to join his home-town club, Oldham Athletic, so the jokes about the number of Maine Road managers since the war – that's the Gulf war – don't exactly reduce him to helpless mirth.

His first experience at Boundary Park no doubt stood him in good stead for the ups and downs to come. Players on a crowd bonus of £1 per 1,000 spectators over 11,000 paid avid attention to the terraces filling up as they kicked in, and the former England international Jack Rowley took the club to promotion from the Fourth Division. Even so, a boardroom majority of 6-4 in favour of giving the manager a new contract became 4-6 overnight, and the ex-Manchester City manager Les McDowell came in and signed Albert Quixall from Manchester United, more recently known for lending his name if not his style to an undistinguished racehorse.

A thrusting young businessman, Ken Bates, bought the club and replaced the then manager Gordon Hurst with the distinguished Northern Ireland international Jimmy McIlroy.

Our tale of football folk takes an unusual twist here, for despite having worked alongside so many managers, who, by the very nature of their job, are demanding, and for three chairmen, Bates, Peter Swales and Francis Lee, whom no sane observer would ever describe as pussy cats, Bernard Halford does not have a bad word to say about anyone (except maybe one manager).

Oldham incurred an uncommon add-on when transferring John Collins from Fulham – £75 per goal-so whenever the striker received the ball in the penalty area, the entire front row of the directors' box stood up and shouted "Pass it". They were the first club to install executive boxes. Then Bates tired of life in Lancashire and bought an island. He was wooed by a dry cleaner, but as Oldham were already a clean team – they were to win the Ford Sporting League under Jimmy Frizzell – he sold to another bidder and the cleaner bought Bury instead.

The offer Bernard could not refuse, as a Blues fan who had scrapped with United fans in the school playground, came when he was invited to become secretary at Maine Road in 1973. So commenced a real roller-coaster ride.

He actually combined the City and the Oldham jobs for a couple of months, which gives you some idea how much the game has changed since.

Johnny Hart, a delightful man who found the exigencies of the manager's job a little too much for him, replaced Malcolm Allison, who accepted an offer from Crystal Palace, and then Ron Saunders failed to establish much rapport with the star players.

The players got the manager they wanted in Tony Book, and City won the League Cup and finished runners-up to Liverpool in the League.

John Bond brought almost the whole of the Norwich City back-room staff, some flair, but not much stability.

Managers arrived on waves of optimism and departed in a variety of circumstances. Fading League fortunes did for a few, some, like Billy McNeill and Howard Kendall found other attractions, Steve Coppell changed his mind quickly, and Phil Neal, while caretaker, gave the directors a public ultimatum they could, in fact, refuse.

Peter Swales was the supporter who presided over the club in the days before chairmen were expected to prove their allegiance (on the morning of a match he would be as keyed up as any player), but he was compelled to step aside in favour of Francis Lee when a few fans abused their power. Bernard Halford argues that Swales' influence was mainly to the good and that if he had a fault it was in the directness of his criticism. As one who bore the brunt of Peter's displeasure more than once I share this view. Peter's lack of artifice was his main problem, but anyone who thought City were better off without him was a fool.

Before the relative stability of Joe Royle, came Frank Clark. The big controversy on the appointment of Clark was the sacking from the staff of former manager Tony Book. Both Lee and Clark have denied it was their decision to dispense with his services. What was never in doubt was who would tell Book. Bernard Halford. And the two remained close friends.

Bernard reckons he'll carry on until his mind goes. Ron Saunders couldn't break him, so I think it will be his back which gives out first on the bowling green. Keegan can count on 100 per-cent support from the chair and the office.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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