Lawrie McMenemy is without doubt Southampton Football Club’s most successful manager in their history.
Having guided second division Saints to victory at Wembley in the 1976 FA Cup Final against the mighty Manchester United, steered his side to division one promotion two years later and helped the club to achieve their highest ever top division finish (2nd place in 1984), McMenemy is rightly inscribed in Saints folklore.
Born in Gateshead in 1936, McMenemy now 75, started his footballing career with Newcastle United. However, he did not make a first team appearance for the club and moved to Gateshead in the late 1950’s. Injury meant his playing career ended prematurely, which opened the door to an earlier move into management than expected.
After spells at Bishop Auckland and a coaching role at Sheffield Wednesday, Doncaster Rovers became McMenemy’s next port of call. He won the Fourth Division Championship with the Donny in 1969 and sampled similar success a couple years later with Grimsby Town.
McMenemy made the move to the south coast in 1973, bringing the late Alan Ball and England international Kevin Keegan to the club, before leaving in 1985. He then moved to Wearside becoming Sunderland manager, though, it turned out to be an ill-fated spell as McMenemy left the club just weeks before The Black Cats were relegated into the third tier of English football for the first time in their history.
McMenemy ended a three year exile from football and was appointed as assistant manager in Graham Taylor’s England set-up in 1990 but resigned when England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
In 1993, McMenemy returned to The Dell as Director of Football and rekindled his relationship with Ball, who was then Saints manager. The partnership clearly worked as the club finished tenth in the Premiership. However, the arrival of new chairman Rupert Lowe in 1997 disrupted the settled regime and McMenemy felt he was unable to work at the club and soon departed.
In 2006, after Lowe was ousted as chairman, McMenemy returned to the club for a third time as a non-executive director. Currently, though, McMenemy is no longer connected with the club.
In this exclusive interview with Stuart Appleby, Lawrie talks about his career with Southampton before he was guest speaker at a charity concert ‘Music from the movies, theatre and the proms’ in support of Help for Heroes.
Q) Would you class the FA Cup triumph in 1976 as your best achievement in football?
“It’s one of the major honours and a lot of great managers, better managers than me, have wanted to win the FA Cup but didn’t. It was always the pinnacle and the main thing to win. Since my day the Champions League has taken over a little bit at club level but ask any manager and he would like to have an FA Cup win on his CV. At Saints, we also got to the final of the League Cup but Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough won that one. Though, the one he wanted to win all the time and he never did was the FA Cup so yes for me that would be the pinnacle.”
Q) Guiding Southampton to their highest ever league finish in 1984 and only narrowly losing out on the title to Liverpool was a fantastic achievement. That must give you great satisfaction?
“Coming second in the league was something special. Although I think it’s possible for a club like Southampton these days to win the cup again (even though you need a lot of luck to win the cup), to come second in the top flight now for Southampton would be near on impossible to be fair. Fighting against the big clubs with the mighty finances is difficult, but you never know. They are the highlights because Southampton had never been to the final of either cup before, we’d never been as high as second and we played in Europe, looking back it was a great period.”
Q) You’ve worked with some great players over the years. Alan Ball, an England World Cup winner and one of the outstanding midfielders in the history of football was instrumental in Saints promotion in 1978, tell me about the relationship you had with Alan?
“When I signed Alan we’d won the cup and the task was to get promoted and that’s what I said to him. That was his main job to help the team get promoted and he did. The bonus for him as well was that we got to at Wembley again in the 1979 League Cup Final. People like him and Mick Channon (then an England player) was used to playing at Wembley when we won the cup but people like Peter Osgood and Peter Rodrigues in 1976 had thought that they’d had their day at that level. In 1979, I don’t think Alan expected to play at Wembley again. On the day he lifted his game and he loved every minute so that was his reward for helping us get promoted and that was the main thing and we did.”
Q) The form Southampton have shown so far this season must be really pleasing for you?
“Well I’m not connected with the club anymore but I go to the games with friends and you’ve got to admire the start that they have had. I think people have got to remember that when we got relegated a couple of years ago it was not because of football it was a result of administration. The club did well when Alan Pardew managed to get a team together of championship players and they were kept together in the third division (League Two). As a result promotion wasn’t unexpected but the impetus of promotion and success has propelled us through the first few games. The championship is not new to most of these players and I think that’s the secret. They’re back where they were before and are capable of doing it.
“I think the one or two additions to the squad have been good. I mean (Jack) Cork is a good signing at that level and the crowd will keep coming in to support. Last year, the average attendance was about 23,000 and this year it’s nearly 25,000 and the fans keep coming in. If we get back to the Premier League, we’ll fill the ground, it’s as simple as that. I think feet on the ground, realistically. If we’re in the top six around Christmas time you’ve got a fair chance of being there at the end.”
Q) Raising money for Help the Heroes is a great cause and it must give you great pleasure to be involved with the charity?
“Everybody realises it’s a great cause and if I can help them a little bit then great. I’ve a lot of admiration for the armed forces. I’ve got little connection but I did do National Service. Many people had to go and I had no option. I had a couple of years in service and there wasn’t any wars going on but we were trained as if we had to go so I have a little idea about what some of the youngsters go through. Later on, I was asked to go to Afghanistan and Kabul in 2002 by the Football Association (FA) on behalf of the government and all the governments in Europe. They wanted to put a football match on with the forces versus Afghanistan. Myself and Gary Mabbett went along with some referees from the FA on one of them big supporter planes and it was an experience I can tell you. In the ground there were 40,000 people. The game let the people know they could play football again because it had been banned.
“I also saw how the troops were having to live and I think it’s a very, very difficult situation for anybody but I’m full of admiration for these young lads. Teenagers and others are giving up their lives in a lot of cases. We’ve seen many pictures of the lads who’ve lost limbs, arms and legs, which ten, twenty years ago you would have never been able to do anything about but thanks to the medical people in the world and the facilities they can lead a better life than they would have done. You see the strength of a lot of these lads who are coming back and after treatment are then doing stuff like bike rides as far away as Paris from here to help the fund and that’s there way of showing how determined they are. Our way of appreciating what they’re prepared to give up is donating to the cause.”
Q) Do you think there is a connection between football and people who serve in the armed forces?
“Without a doubt because football is all about team spirit in the dressing room, on the field and around the club and that’s what the armed forces are all about. The national service did me the world of good, you go through not having a clue, you go through very hard training, not expecting anything like that. At the end of the two years a lot of boys came out as men. A lot of lads have been in longer in some cases but they have seen real action. The team spirit helps them enormously and that’s what happens in football.”
To find out how to donate to Help for Heroes please visit their website.
To listen to the full audio interview with Lawrie, click on the link below: