Steve Tongue: Newcastle director of football Joe Kinnear was one of the boys and a breath of fresh air... 21 years ago

When Wimbledon had a party he'd go along, join in and sing a few Irish songs

When Joe Kinnear became manager of Wimbledon in January 1992 he was a breath of fresh air. None of the foul air with which he greeted the North-east media on arrival there some 17 years later; but someone who got on famously with players, staff, fans and reporters alike. What endeared all those groups to him over the next eight seasons, even more than his hail-fellow-well-met attitude, was the success he brought to a financially struggling club that within a few years of his departure following ill health had effectively ceased to exist.

It is always a help to an incoming manager to replace an unpopular one. Kinnear's predecessor, Peter Withe, may once have been a warrior centre-forward who won the European Cup for Aston Villa, but he was never cut out for even the later, tamer incarnation of the Crazy Gang, whose owner Sam Hammam was as crazy as anyone.

Appointed to the top division of English football from a position as Villa's reserve-team coach, Withe decided that discipline needed tightening up and that club ties, blazers and fines were to be the order of the day. A dressing room full of strong characters such as John Fashanu, Alan Cork, Hans Segers and Robbie Earle did not take kindly to the new regime, results suffered and, after only one win in 17 games, Withe was sacked. Kinnear, already known to the players as youth-team manager, stepped up to the first team and took the leash off.

"He was one of the boys," a long-standing Wimbledon observer recalled. "When they had a party he'd go along, join in and sing a few Irish songs." More importantly, results immediately picked up again and from being 18th in the table, the team comfortably avoided relegation.

How catastrophic it would have been to go down was clear, and became all the more so when it eventually happened. Difficult as it may be for a generation brought up on the Premier League to imagine, the crowd at Kinnear's first home game at the Selhurst Park ground shared with Crystal Palace of 5,534 was by no means the season's lowest. The following month a goalless draw with Everton attracted 3,569.

Even with the best players sold on, Wimbledon's record under Kinnear remained as remarkable as it had been under equally down-to-earth leaders like Dave Bassett and Bobby Gould. In 1994 he took them to sixth, the joint-highest in the club's history; three years later they finished eighth and reached both domestic cup semi-finals.

Once he suffered the first of his health scares, however, in March 1999, decline was swift. Egil Olsen came in from Norway and the Dons were relegated in his first season. By 2004, denied a move to Kinnear's native Dublin, they had been franchised out to Milton Keynes.

Kinnear himself became director of football at Luton and, in a move to concern Newcastle United's Alan Pardew, sacked the manager and took the job himself, leading to relegation and then promotion before Kinnear was sacked. Having later been unsuccessful at Nottingham Forest, and therefore a shock choice in 2008 at Newcastle, he has subsequently felt the need for the occasional exaggeration and has never knowingly undersold himself.

Sharing many of those qualities with his near contemporary Harry Redknapp, he has also felt most at home in the south of England, where he lived from the age of seven and where the media glare shines far less dazzlingly on any one club. Redknapp, offered the chance to join Newcastle, declined and has remained down south. Kinnear took up the challenge and to widespread astonishment has been offered another go, which he has accepted, "single-minded and not worried". All he needs now is to bone up a bit on some of his new players' names.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific