Turner's prize Bulls go in search of credibility

FA CUP COUNTDOWN: Spurs' visit to Edgar Street on Saturday will severely test the ambitions of their manager, Phil Shaw reports
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The Independent Online
The cattle market next to the football ground was in full swing the day the new manager arrived at Hereford United last summer. Graham Turner jokes that he thought the crowds were there to welcome him, but the Bulls, rather than the bulls, will indeed be the cause of a clamour on Saturday.

Hereford, 15th in the Third Division, tackle Tottenham Hotspur, 80 places above them at fourth in the Premiership, in a classic third-round FA Cup encounter at Edgar Street. For Turner, whose last run in the competition ended when his Wolves team lost at Chelsea in a quarter-final, it is the kind of occasion he craved during 16 months spent seeking suitable employment in the aftermath of that exit.

So much has happened at Wolves since then - Graham Taylor came and went, while Mark McGhee has come and is still there at the time of writing - it seems incredible that Turner's tenure did not end until two years ago in March. He appears destined to be cast as a failure, a version he disputes firmly but without bitterness.

Wolves had suffered three successive relegations when he took over and were lower in the former Fourth Division than Hereford are now. They had also endured two receiverships, making Turner's pounds 60,000 outlay on a raw reserve from West Bromwich a major gamble.

Steve Bull went on to play for England. Turner, meanwhile, led Wolves to the upper First via Wembley. Crowds rose from 3,000 to 23,000 and there was almost pounds 1m in the bank. All that, he adds pointedly, was before the Hayward family bought the club, raising expectations to frenzied heights.

When Turner finally accepted he would not be the one to realise them, he resigned from the club he supported as a child. "I'd like to think I'll be remembered with respect by the Wolves fans," he says. "I got some abuse in my last 18 months, but I hope that if I ever took a team back there they'd show some appreciation for what we did over my seven and a half years.

"Most of the Haywards' money when I was there went into rebuilding Molineux. It was only the last summer that I had money for players, though nowhere near as much as Graham Taylor. The feedback I've had since I left is that they now realise how difficult the job is.

"I felt I'd half-completed it, and it was the belief that I could see it through that kept me there. A lot of the stick was coming from people who wouldn't go near the club when they were at rock bottom.

"It all came to a head at Chelsea. I actually resigned after we played Portsmouth s few days later, but that was academic. I'd already decided that was it."

Did he feel sympathy for Taylor when he faced similar vilification? "I wouldn't wish that on anybody. Yet if anyone had ample opportunity to do things right with what I left there plus pounds 7m..."

Turner was confident he would soon find a club and rejected offers from Greece and Cyprus. For three months it was "very pleasant" to spend more time with his family and to wake up on Saturdays "without the twinges in the pit of your stomach". Then the withdrawal symptoms started.

"I desperately wanted to get back in. I haven't known anything else in life, so I missed the adrenalin flowing on match days and working with players in training. I had a near miss with the Ipswich job, and with Notts County, but I began to think about Chris Nicholl, who did well at Southampton but was out of work three years before going to Walsall.

"You just have to wait for someone to suffer the same misfortune as you. It's a unique situation in that you can actually study the vacancies on Teletext as they happen. But there's nothing worse when a manager is under pressure than to see out-of-work managers sat in the stand and talking to a director.

"It's a horrible profession when it's like that, though there's not many about who are that predatory. When I was scouting for Derby I'd turn down certain matches because I knew the manager was under fire."

Eventually, Hereford offered Turner the chance to join Kenny Dalglish and Steve Coppell in the elite band who operate under the title of Director of Football. Famed for their giant-killing - Ronnie Radford would be a rich man if he received a royalty every time his goal against Newcastle was shown - they were facing an 18th successive season in the bottom flight.

Even the Cup tradition had lapsed, Hitchin, Bath and Yeovil having put them out in the previous three seasons. "You could understand people's apathy," Turner says. "When you've been so low for so long you lose credibility with your public."

He has been unable to spend in order to improve on last season's 16th place (their highest in five years), but believes the 2,500 gates would double if they were to mount a promotion challenge. Hereford could have cashed in by switching the Spurs tie to White Hart Lane; Turner insisted they kept faith with the faithful.

"It's costing us pounds 100,000 profit to be here," he says, pointing to a compact stadium and pitch that was cutting up even before the recent bad weather, "but we're hoping for that romantic underdog's victory. It'd be foolish to say we'll stop the likes of Teddy Sheringham and Chris Armstrong playing. However, if they're slightly off their game, and we raise ours, you never know."

Turner's wife and children now live in a rented house on a working farm, and enjoy "a good quality of life". While describing Hereford as "a lovely city to work in", he still hopes to take charge of a big club again and, at 48, has time to do so.

He also has an answer for those who might argue, in the wake of events like McGhee's defection to Wolves, that fulfilling his ambitions would mean betraying Hereford. "They asked me if I was going to use this place as a stepping stone, and the answer was yes," Turner admits. "But to get myself back up higher I've got to do a good job here first."

Spurs on Saturday represent the ideal opportunity to take the bull by the horns.

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