Lawrie McMenemy is a former football manager at Southampton, that in many ways were always seen as a great master of his trade, but seldom got the recognition that other men during his tenure did.
His road to top football management was as odd as you could expect, not really known and as a player just turning out for Gateshead in non-league events. He is listed with a career lasting from 1959 to 1961. According to stats he was a youth player at Newcastle United but never made it as a professional.
As we have seen in the past, injuries at an early age can be a blessing in disguise as Brian Clough, Steve Coppell, Roy Evans and Brendan Rodgers are other examples of footballers who got in early with coaching, having the same destiny as McMenemy, not being able to play anymore.
His love for football made it possible for Lawrie McMenemy to continue to work in football and his first manager job came around in 1964, when he got his chance at Bishop Aukland, a struggling non-league outfit. He transformed them and managed to take the little club into the 3rd round of the FA Cup, which made him a name recognized for bigger and better jobs.
He left Bishop Aukland to make his way into professional football for the first time, being appointed coach at Sheffield Wednesday. After two years with The Owls it was his time for his first manager job at an EFL club, taking charge of Doncaster Rovers.
After a three years with The Donny’s, he moved to Grimsby Town and later became assistant manager at Southampton. A struggling Saints had no fear when they decided to appoint McMenemy their boss just four months after moving to The Dell.
It was early 1974, Southampton had seen relegation in their face, going down a division together with Manchester United. They went down with a single point from safety, grabbing 36 points, seeing Birmingham, West Ham and Chelsea avoiding the drop all of them ending on 37.
A team of players not really equipped for top flight football, had to rely on the skill and talent of Mike Channon and Terry Paine, both homegrown and England internationals. Paine left Southampton that summer to take charge of Hereford United, while Channon remained and despite playing in the 2nd tier still selected for full England honors.
McMenemy started to rebuild, giving Southampton a solid trademark of being able to get the best out of old legs and mix that with young and upcoming talent. It worked wonders and the first big evidence was the FA Cup win in 1976.
Still a side in the 2nd tier at the time, they had a descent team of mature professionals and players with a great cv in football.
Ian Turner, at the time a 23 year old goalkeeper, was signed from Grimsby in 1974. He had earlier played under McMenemy who had recognized his talent, and early on establihsed himself as a first choice goalkeeper for the next seven seasons.
Peter Rodrigues, came in as right back from Sheffield Wednesday. The former Wales international and Leicester City FA Cup finalist was in his early 30’s and did the job expected as the team started to take shape. David Peach was the left back who many thought would go on and win England caps, but he only made it to the B team. Still one of the finest in his trade and a trusted figure over the next decade.
A central defense with highly experienced Jim Steele and Mel Blyth, covered the idea of a secure and well balanced selection. In midfiled Nick Holmes were the young and upcoming player, the real echo and as the future could see, playing for The Saints for the next 15 years, building up 444 league appearances for the Saints.
Jim McCalliog, a former Scottish international were brought in from Manchester United, and the former UEFA Cup and FA Cup finalist with Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday finally got a winners medal in the cabinet waiting amost until his early 30’s to become a trophy winner after all these good years in the top flight.
Another youngster and lively character Bobby Stokes entertained on the wing, solely known in the public eye for his single goal in that 1976 FA Cup final. He was also among the young once only 25 years at the time. Stokes were, despite his young age, one of The Saints long term servants, making his debut at the club eight years earlier.
Adding up the midfield area was Paul Gilchrist, another player to be recognized as a real Saint of the previous generation, signing for the club back in 1972. Gilchrist was a utility man slotting in and being there for the manager when needed, and you were given a solid performance and “knew what you would get” when playing Paul in the team.
Up front a legendary duo was established. High flying transfer signing from Chelsea, Peter Osgood, still only 29 in 1976, and the England international and Southampton top goalscorer Mike Channon. Channon had been a goal “garantist” for Southampton and a living legend at the club back in 1976, but still not yet turned 28. On the bench, McMenemy named Hugh Fisher, who was another of those former greats at the club, at the time of the final 32 years of age.
This team of players had lots of ability but “sour and old legs” might not have been the best of ideas when trying to win promotion into the top flight and by the time that happened two years later, most of the FA Cup finalists were all gone.
Ian Turner was replaced with Peter Wells. Turner remained on the books for a while, but had to play understudy to the young new recruit from Nottingham Forest. Later Terry Gonnoe became a signing that replaced Turner and challenged Wells for the goalkeeper job.
In the back four it was a full overhall expect from the left back position. were David Peach kept his place and went on to a total of 224 league appearances for The Saints, but struggled a lot with injuries and was given his leave at the age of only 29, moving down the divisions to join Swindon Town.
The new faces in defense was N Ireland international Chris Nicholl, who later also became manager at the club, but maybe one of the finest signings done by Lawrie McMenemy, tightening that defense in the best way possible. A young Malcolm Waldron accompanied him as he also together with Peach, gained England B caps. Ivan Golac was the final piece of the puzzle slotting in great to the right, being the first foreign signing with the Jugoslavia one cap wonder joining from Partizan Belgrade for a fee of £50.000.
Nick Holmes kept his place in midfield, but the three others, Stokes, Gilchrist and McCalliog all were replaced by the time the club was back in the top flight. A shrewd move to bring Alan Ball to the seaside, might have been the vital kick to be able to get everything into a promotion push and later establishing the club at the top in the best way possible.
Alan Ball captained Southampton and with McManemy as boss, The Saints were spinning around mid table, seeing a bit of progression season by season lifting themselves up and up and up. They managed to qualify for Europe and the UEFA Cup on three occasions adding to that Cup Winners Cup experience a few years earlier.
A young Steve Williams became a solid anchor in midfield together with Ball, and the duo sought out a number of great results as Williams also made his debut in the England national team. Out wide and in the absence of Bobby Stokes, you had several players getting a chance with the names Austin Hayes, Tony Sealy and Terry Curran coming to mind.
Up front it was another heroic act done by McMenemy who decided to tear up the Osgood/Channon partnership, selling them both. Channon made a record transfer move to Manchester City that ironically saw his international career stop and he never became a hit at Maine Road. Peter Osgood left to return to Chelsea as McMenemy masterminded his next step to bring Saints into a top flight establishment.
Phil Boyer and Ted MacDougall both joined from Norwich City. Charlie George was bought from Derby and they all became important players as “experience” were added and mixed with young and fresh talent. Graham Baker should also be mentioned as McMenemy nursed him through and early on gaining England U.21 recognition.
Boyer, Nicholl and McDougall all left and McMenemy went out to sign a number of top names, coming to a certain age, with Dave Watson, Mick Mills, Peter Shilton and Kevin Keegan together with the return of Mike Channon, all had their say in the early 80’s.
By the time the 1983/84 season came around, Southampton had climbed to the top half of the table, and they had a team that was a bit in change again, with the likes of Kevin Keegan, Mike Channon and Alan Ball all gone, leaving a gap behind to fill.
This summer was vital for the future of the club, and few would believe what was in the pipeline. To have one of the best goalkeepers in the World at your club was of course no drawback and the position held by Peter Shilton, was perfectly covered.
The back four had a great settlement with Mick Mills still able to play at the very highest standards. Though the former Ipswich commander had missed a number of games early on. The former England 1982 World Cup captain covered that left back position in the best way possible. Lawrie McMenemy had just added a young Oxford United defender to his squad, and we all know what Mark Wright became and he really made his breakthrough this season. The then 20 year old defender made his full England debut v. Wales in May 84, just weeks after that remarkable league runners-up achievement.
Lawrie McMenemy had decided to introduce a sweeper in his side, turning to young defender Rueben Agboola, who did it perfectly. The fourth and final player to appear the most in defense that season was right back alternative. They had a number of players used in defense with Mark Dennis and Ken Armstrong adding up, together with Steve Baker and Mark Whitlock. Ivan Golac did also return for a 2nd spell at the club.
Steve Williams was still around and at this time maybe one of the best central midfielders in England. Nick Holmes still in demand with fellow England man David Armstrong also at his best. New signing, experienced Welsh international Alan Curtis also made his impact.
The shrewdest of moves might have been the signing of “everlasting” Frank Worthington, who had seen his top flight career lengthened by a new season when McMenemy decided to sign him and slot him in up front alongside young shot Steve Moran who was sensational this season, scoring a hat trick in that memorable 8-2 win v. Coventry City at home.
The season was seen as more than perfect, but could have been even better if they had reached beyond the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup, being defeated by the winners to be, Everton.
Lawrie McMenemy continued the next season, which was his final at The Dell, finishing 5th in the league, and by then probably not believe that he could take the club further, with a number of players set to leave either because of age or demand from other clubs. Steve Williams was allready sold for a fee of £550.000 to Arsenal, before that final bow of McMenemy in the summer of 1985.
He set a record and standard at Southampton that made it possible to keep momentum as Chris Nicholl took over and ironically coming in from Grimsby Town, the same club as McMenemy left when he joined Southampton twelve years earlier.
The standards of his management was phenomenal while with The Saints, working on in football as a supplier of great advice. He joined Sunderland shortly after leaving Southampton, and at the time the highest paid manager in the English game, despite Black Cats being a 2nd tier club during his days in The North.
He has since been seen as assistant manager both for England and N Ireland and even returned to Southampton in a director of football role, but left his position early on with dislike of a new ownership structure.
Southampton and The Dell was a difficult place to visit for most opponents and the stadium was a fortress. The fact that also the club in The South managed to bring in some of the greatest players in the trade, shows how well McMenemy sold his ideas, despite being shadowed and in line behind Revie, Shankly and Clough as a mastermind of the game in the 70’s and early 80’s.
Southampton ended runners-up in the league in 1983/84, the same in the EFL Cup in 1979, and of course not to forget that semi-final and FA Cup win in 1984 and 1976. And in the end not to forget a number of memorable European Cup games at The Dell.