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Malcolm Allison was born in Dartford on 5th September, 1927. He played football for Erith & Belvedere before signing for Charlton Athletic in 1945. He only played two first-team games for the club before Ted Fenton signed him for West Ham United for a fee of £7,000 in February 1951.
Allison made his debut as centre-half against Chesterfield on 7th March 1951. Other players in the team at the time included Frank O'Farrell, Dick Walker, Ken Tucker, Ernie Gregory, Derek Parker and Harry Hooper. He kept his place and played in the remaining nine games that season.
The following season Allison replaced Dick Walker as captain of West Ham United. The club continued to struggle in the Second Division and despite bringing in players like Jimmy Andrews and Dave Sexton the club finished 12th (1951-52), 14th (1952-53) and 13th (1953-54). It was the goalscoring of John Dick that helped West Ham finish in 8th place in the 1954-55 season. Dick scored 26 goals in 39 appearances that season. Other young players such as Malcolm Musgrove, John Bond, Ken Brown, Noel Cantwell and Andy Malcolm had also been promoted into the first-team.
Allison had a poor relationship with Ted Fenton. He later claimed that: "Ted Fenton would cheat you out of anything. We played an England amateur side. There were 22,000 at the match. The FA always gave you £5 to play against an FA team. We used to get £2 as a bonus. When we went to get our money we only got the fiver. They said it was £3 for playing and £2 bonus - they tried to do us out of two quid." Just before the next game against Nottingham Forest, Allison organized a strike. He told Fenton that the team refused to play unless he gave them the £2 that he owed them. Allison added: "He went upstairs, came straight back down and gave us the money."
Ken Tucker also complained about Fenton: "The Arsenal players told me that they had got ten guineas for a game with England Amateurs, that was the FA's rate for such matches. When West Ham played against them Ted only gave us £5. Apparently the cheque had gone to Ted and he paid us in cash."
These disputes clearly affected the attitudes of the players. In the 1955-56 season West Ham finished in 16th place. John Dick was in poor form that year and only scored 8 goals in 35 league appearances. Billy Dare was top scorer with 18 goals. To make matters worse, West Ham was knocked out of the FA Cup by Spurs.
Malcolm Allison took over more responsibility for tactics. Derek Parker argued: "We always thought Malcolm (Allison) influenced Ted (Fenton). He started changing styles... Malcolm was always one of the first in everything, in lots of respects. Ted was lucky to have people like that about."
As Ken Tucker, one of the senior players in the squad, pointed out: "Allison got the team organized. We used to stand over at Grange Farm and Fenton would ask Malcolm "What do we do now?" and Allison would step in and sort things out." Noel Cantwell added that "Malcolm (Allison) couldn't handle people. I was good with people. Malcolm got the other guys interested, pulled a group around him and he came back from Lilleshall with a lot of ideas."
The players were also very critical of club trainer, Billy Moore. The young John Bond was shocked by his approach to training: "There was only two or three footballs in the entire club. You got out for training about quarter past ten and ran round the pitch, ran a lap and walk a lap... You'd be doing this for about three-quarters-of-an-hour and then you's shout to Billy Moore to get the balls out. Billy would be standing at the entrance to the ground watching, with a fag in his mouth, that he never ever took out."
Ted Fenton eventually agreed that Malcolm Allison should take over the training sessions. "I took charge of the the coaching at West Ham. I built the attitude. We used to get together and I used to make them come back for training in the afternoons." John Lyall, one of the youngest players at the club at the time, was impressed by Allison. "Malcolm Allison was a strong man... He battled for what he wanted... He had an open mindedness to try things. He had the same enthusiasm as Johnny Bond and Noel Cantwell, they were people who were progressive about their football."
Malcolm Allison openly described Fenton as a "useless manager". Ernie Gregory disagreed claiming that he was responsible for several innovations: "We were the first team to eat steak before meals... We were told to put a ball between two players and you take two players out. John Bond and Noel Cantwell were the first of the overlapping full-backs... We used to train at Forest Gate skating rink - it was narrow, so you could practise working in tight situations." Jimmy Andrews argued that "Fenton was on to one-touch football, that was unusual at the time." However, the general opinion was that it was Allison who had introduced these new tactics such as the overlapping full-backs and the one-touch football.
Allison later told Charles Korr (West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club): “They (the West Ham directors) were incompetent, neither had any idea of what a professional football club was... The directors had no sense of how to achieve anything or to be successful. The club was like the poor who always makes excuses for not improving their situation. It’s an excuse to call it (retaining managers) loyalty because it really means they’re afraid of outsiders. They’re people who live in an iron village all their lives and appoint their own people.”
Malcolm Musgrove later recalled: "Malcolm Allison was up-to-date with things that were going on in football, the technical side. I liked him because of his ability to get the best out of people, I didn't like him for what he could do to people he didn't like. Malcolm Allison was very helpful to me at West Ham.... Allison was a good skipper. He wanted to win, wanted to play football, and this was at the time when there weren't many passing sides about. Most teams used to get it, kick it to the other end and chase it, but we, through Malcolm's influence, always wanted to play from the back. We wanted to pass the ball around. He was a centre-half that didn't just belt it away, he got it down and passed it."
The fans enjoyed the style of football introduced by Malcolm Allison. The football journalist, Bernard Joy, remarked: "West Ham's tradition of playing colourful football as a way of getting away from the drabness of life in the East End."
According to Mike Grice, Allison also influenced team selection: "Three team sheets would go up for match days. Malcolm (Allison) would look at them all, take them down and go and see Ted (Fenton). When they went up again they had invariably changed." Billy Landsdowne remarked: "Fenton would give us a chat and on the way out of the dressing-room Malcolm would say what to do."
Mick Newman added: "Malcolm Allison was a great influence on the club. He introduced all-day training, doing weights in the afternoons. That wasn't very popular with most players, who were used to having their afternoons off. But Malcolm Allison more or less ran the playing side of things. He led by the force of personality really."
Brian Belton summed up the situation in his book Days of Iron: The Story of West Ham United in the Fifties (1999): "As such, what happened at the Boleyn Ground in the Fifties can be understood as a kind of revolution, a series of culture changing events, that included worker (player) control.... There was, as John Cartwright described it, a form of communism at the club. The players really ruled it. In short, the dictatorship of the football proletariat."
On 16th September, 1957, Malcolm Allison was taken ill after a game against Sheffield United. The young Bobby Moore later recalled: "I'd even seen him the day he got the news of his illness. I was a groundstaff boy and I'd gone to Upton Park to collect my wages. I saw Malcolm standing on his own on the balcony at the back of the stand. Tears in his eyes. Big Mal actually crying. He'd been coaching me and coaching me and coaching me but I still didn't feel I knew him well enough to go up and ask what was wrong. When I came out of the office I looked up again and Noel Cantwell was standing with his arm round Malcolm. He'd just been told he'd got T.B."
Allison was suffering from tuberculosis and he had to have a lung removed. Noel Cantwell became the new captain. That season West Ham United won the Second Division championship. The authors of The Essential History of West Ham United point out that Allison was the main reason the club had won promotion: "A footballing visionary who in six short years would revolutionise the club's archaic regime and transform training, coaching techniques and tactics to secure promotion to the first division in 1958".
Allison returned to the club and played several games for the reserves but with only one lung he struggled with his fitness. West Ham had an injury crisis for its home game against Manchester United on 8th September 1958. Malcolm Pyke, Bill Lansdowne and Andy Nelson were all injured. The manager, Ted Fenton asked Noel Cantwell who he should select for the game. Cantwell told Brian Belton, the author of Days of Iron: The Story of West Ham United in the Fifties (1999): "The game against Manchester United was on a Monday night. Fenton called me into the office asking who should play left-half, Allison or Moore. He didn't really want the burden of the decision."
Cantwell added in another interview for the book, Moore than a Legend (1997): "Malcolm came out of hospital and trained while Bobby was cruising along in the reserves. Malcolm was ready for the United game but the vacancy was for a left-half. Malcolm was more of a stopper and it needed someone more mobile. When Ted asked me who to pick, it was a hard decision. The sorcerer or his apprentice?" Cantwell eventually selected Moore over Allison.
Bobby Moore later talked about this decision to Jeff Powell for this book, Bobby Moore: The Life and Times of a Sporting Hero (1997): "The Allison connection could only be dredged up from the bottom of a long, long glass. Even then, Moore probed gingerly at the memory". Eventually Moore told him: " After three or four matches they were top of the First Division, due to play Manchester United on the Monday night, and they had run out of left halves. Billy Lansdowne, Andy Nelson, all of them were unfit. It's got to be me or Malcolm. I'd been a professional for two and a half months and Malcolm had taught me everything I knew. For all the money in the world I wanted to play. For all the money in the world I wanted Malcolm to play because he'd worked like a bastard for this one game in the First Division."
Moore added: "It somehow had to be that when I walked into the dressing room and found out I was playing, Malcolm was the first person I saw. I was embarrassed to look at him. He said Well done. I hope you do well. I knew he meant it but I knew how he felt. For a moment I wanted to push the shirt at him and say Go on, Malcolm. It's yours. Have your game. I can't stop you. Go on, Malcolm. My time will come. But he walked out and I thought maybe my time wouldn't come again. Maybe this would be my only chance. I thought: you've got to be lucky to get the chance, and when the chance comes you've got to be good enough to take it. I went out and played the way Malcolm had always told me to play."
Allison was unable to achieve the form needed to play in the first team. He eventually left the club and played for Romford in the Southern League. Allison had scored 10 goals in 255 games for the club. John Cartwright claimed: "He should be revered. They should have a statue to him at West Ham... he laid the foundation for the success of the club - not by what he did on the field, but the knowledge he gave to other people." Later he became a coach at Cambridge University before taking up the appointment of manager at Bath City.
In 1964 he moved to Plymouth Argyle in the Second Division. He took the club from 20th to 15th place in the league. In 1965 Joe Mercer appointed him assistant manager at Manchester City. In their first season they won the Second Division championship. Two years later they won the First Division league title. The club won the FA Cup (1969), the League Cup (1970) and European Cup-Winners Cup (1971). The following year Allison took over from Mercer as manager of the club.
Gary James argues in Manchester City: The Complete Record (2006): "Allison arrived at Maine Road in July 1965 as assistant manager to Mercer, and by the time he left City had won almost every trophy possible. During those seven years Allison worked closely with the players and it's worth noting that this relationship fostered a great team spirit, which helped the Blues succeed. His influence was felt throughout the club and his approach was refreshing. His charisma and style brought excitement to sixties Manchester."
In March 1973 Allison was appointed manager of Crystal Palace. However, he was unable to save the club from being relegated to the Second Division. In the 1975-76 season Allison led the side to FA Cup victories over Leeds United, Chelsea and Sunderland. Unfortunately the club lost to Southampton in the semi-final at Stamford Bridge.
In 1981 Allison became manager of Sporting Lisbon in Portugal. In his first season the club won the league title. Allison has spent a lot of time coaching abroad. He has also managed Middlesbrough (1982-84) and Bristol Rovers (1992-93).
According to Brian Glanville: "He (Allison) had four children by Beth, and the marriage lasted 22 years. In 1979 he married Sally-Ann Highley from the Playboy Club, later describing it as "the mistake of my life". He proposed immediately after they had been in a car crash. From this union was born a daughter, Alexis. They split up officially in 1983. Next, for 17 years, came his long-term partner Lynn Salton, with whom he had a daughter, Gina, but by 2000 that relationship too was on the rocks, with Allison trying to smash down the door of her house."
In his final years Allison, suffered from dementia. Research carried out by D. R. Williams in 2002 concluded that repetitive mild head trauma over the course of an amateur and professional footballer's career may increase an individual's risk of developing this problem in later life.
Malcolm Allison died on 14th October 2010.
I have already recalled the impression made on me by the Austrian footballers at the Prater stadium, the thrilling sense of purpose and knowledge displayed by their trainers. I had been excited by the variety of their routines and their emphasis on mastering ball control. The contrast at Charlton Athletic, a club which had become a power in the land with their move from the old Third Division South to the First Division, was appalling.
It was like getting into a time machine and finding yourself travelling in the wrong direction. What made things even more depressing was the fact that Charlton's trainer then was Jimmy Trotter, who also did the job for England. Trotter impressed me as a man-and as a physiotherapist. He was straight and honest and his treatment of injuries was swift and competent. But he betrayed a great ignorance of training methods. It seemed to me that he could never have given a moment's thought to the need for developing new ideas about the preparation of a professional footballer.
We were asked to jog aimlessly around the training ground. You could see boredom on every face. Training gear was ragged. It reflected the lack of thought behind our work. This may sound like the arrogance of a young man. But I felt this very strongly, and all my experience since then has confirmed my earlier viewpoint.
I used to argue with Trotter and senior players like Bert Johnson and George Smith, who went on to manage several League Clubs. I knew they had dismissed me as an upstart, a young know-all. I recall Trotter asking me sarcastically, and in front of a group of senior players, "Come on Allison, what have you got to tell us today? You always have something to say." There were titters. I was still 20 and yet to make the first team...
Of course, much of football is instinct and natural talent. But these are qualities which should be harnessed and disciplined. The problem, in fact, was quite basic. Trainers did not occupy their jobs because of some inherent flair or feeling for the task. They were ex-players tied to the game because it was the onl~ life they knew. It was a congenial, undemanding way to earn their living.
Always I had this feeling of disappointment about the people who were in charge of my career. No one seemed prepared to question what we were doing. In 1950 England was knocked out of the World Cup in Brazil by a team of amateurs representing the United States. But the shock waves from that result were easily absorbed by the dim, bland men whose voices were most powerful in English football. A pattern of play had been laid down by the great Herbert Chapman of Arsenal, and it had been untouched for nearly 20 years.
Fortunately, the Hungarians arrived from another planet in 1953. I went down to Wembley with Jimmy Andrews, later manager of Cardiff City. We got to the stadium early and watched the Hungarians working out on a patch of grass where they kept greyhounds. I noticed their light, modern gear and their streamlined boots and that registered with me vaguely. But Jimmy pointed out the `pot' bulging from the red shirt of no. 10, Ferenc Puskas. "God, we'll murder this lot," he said. You had to agree, even though there was a neatness and skill about their limbering. Then, out on the pitch just before the kick off, I saw the `fat guy' volleying shots into the arms of goalkeeper Grocis from 40 yards. I said to Jimmy, "They've got some skill, you know it could be interesting."
It was more than that. There was something so bright, so brilliant, in Hungary's 6-3 win that even the walls of complacency in English football began to crumble. There was no way that the revolution could come overnight. But what it did mean was that brave voices-like that of the most under-rated Walter Winterbottom whose thinking so far outstripped his actual performance as England manager - at least began to be heard.
When I was transferred from Charlton Athletic to West Ham I led myself to hope that the futility and the bitterness was over.
For a while I was happier, but it was merely the change of environment which had broken the monotony. Within six months I was more disillusioned than ever. Not only did West Ham know less about training than Charlton, a feat which I would have believed impossible, but they asked for less effort. The only difference in the training sessions were that West Ham's were shorter. The facilities were disgraceful. We used to train on a pockmarked, scruffy little track at the back of the ground. We used to have to run in and out of a copse of trees. It was impossible for the trainer to keep his eyes on all the players. If he was alert he might spot blue cigarette smoke filtering through the trees.
My relationship with the West Ham manager Ted Fenton was much closer than the one I had had with Jimmy Seed. But it was scarcely satisfactory. I did give him some problems, but they arose chiefly out of my frustration with the way the club was run. And eventually I began to run the team, with his tacit agreement. He could see that I was getting results. Player power is a phrase which has become fashionable in modern football. But it was being practiced in the West Ham dressing room 20 years ago. I began to draw up my own training schedules, and people like Phil Woosnam, Noel Cantwell, John Bond and Frank O'Farrell came in with me.
Looking back I'm amazed at how one-dimensional I was in those days. My dedication was absolute. I didn't smoke, I didn't drink, and I never had sex within three days of a match. Incredible! I became the first player in England to wear short shorts. The reason was simple. I felt it was time for a change. The Continentals had brought in lighter gear and I got hold of some lightweight South American boots. Ted Fenton was invited to become Adidas'agent in Britain. He laughed at them: "England's footballers will never wear these slippers," he said. It was this fixed, stonewall attitude that made me very bitter...
The very fact that West Ham was a loosely organised club gave me my chance to make a mark. At that time I was going off to coaching courses at the Lilleshall centre. I met people like Winterbottom, Alan Brown, and Arthur Rowe. In their different ways they all impressed me. And in that atmosphere I sensed that I could make an impact. My knowledge was limited, my ideas half-formed, if that, but each time I returned to Upton Park with a new enthusiasm.
I was able to bring some variety to our training. And Fenton allowed me to get on with it. We had some good players, people like Vic Keeble, Johnnie Dick and Cantwell, and because we were all good friends we were able to talk and argue long into the night after visits to the Hackney dog track. In a cafe around the corner from Upton Park we used to fill the room with our theories and disputes. But the result was that we were a nicely developing team. We had opened our minds and declared ourselves willing to try new things and be prepared to make some mistakes on the way. In 1956 and 1957 we were emerging as certainties to eventually find our way to the First Division...
Fenton used to pay me £3 extra for training the schoolboys at night. It was then that I found I had a bit of a gift for spotting the boys most likely to make it as professionals. There is one classic example. One intake of youngsters at Upton Park included Bobby Moore - and a boy called Georgie Fenn. Bobby looked a useful prospect. Fenn was considered a certainty to make a really spectacular name for himself. All the big London clubs had gone for him, but he came from an East End family and he chose West Ham. Georgie had scored nine goals in one match for, England boys, and he was also an English schools sprint champion.
After a fortnight of training the boys Fenton called me into his office to ask my opinion of the intake. I said I liked this boy and that, and when I finished he said: "But what about Georgie Fenn?" I said that I didn't give him much of a chance. I didn't like his attitude, he wasn't interested enough. There didn't seem much of a commitment. Fenton threw up his arms and said: "But the kid has so much talent." I said it was a pity but I just couldn't see the Fenn boy making it. At the same time I said that Bobby Moore was going to be a very big player indeed. Everything about his approach was right. He was ready to listen. You could see that already he was seeking perfection.
Down the years George Fenn has written to me twice, once saying that he was planning to make a come-back. But - he never played seriously after drifting away from West Ham. It was a tragedy, as sad in its way as the early retirement of that other Georgie, Best. Fenn could have been just as big as Best. He had sensational speed, all sorts of trickery, and a tremendous shot. But however hard you tried with him you. had a sense that it was all futile. Something inside him sent out the strong message: "I don't really want to know." Deep down, perhaps it was the drudgery of training and the battle for constant fitness that put him off.
Certainly the life of a professional footballer is incredibly monotonous in its repetition. Yet when I look back I can only remember my love for the endless circle of training, playing, getting treatment, and then training again.
When I was transferred from Charlton Athletic to West Ham I led myself to hope that the futility and the bitterness was over.
For a while I was happier, but it was merely the change of environment which had broken the monotony. I felt it was time for a change.
In 1958 we were moving smoothly towards promotion to the First Division and I was playing at my peak. The "player power" revolution I had put so much of my time into was an established fact-and manager Ted Fenton was not complaining. We had got ourselves into a winning run, we had begun to assume that victory was our right-and that is the most vital strength a football team can possess.
It was in a night match, at Sheffield United, that I suddenly realised I could no longer run. A Sheffield United player showed me the ball and then took it past me. I pumped my arms and struck out my legs, but there was no response. He just sailed away. It was an eerie experience. I managed not to panic. Substitutes were not allowed in those days and I eased myself through the game, conserving every possible scrap of energy.
I was able to disguise the situation. I had this feeling that it might just go away. But I was desperately worried. After the team returned to the hotel, I walked the streets of Sheffield in a daze. It was as though my life might just have ended. My room-mate Noel Cantwell was awakened by my heavy coughing in the small hours. With the coughing, which went on until morning, it was clear that something had gone wrong. And it was not as though I hadn't had warning. The previous Friday we had trained at Upton Park before leaving for a game in Bristol and I had found myself puffing and leg-weary. But the game had not brought a crisis. I told myself that I had run through the problem.
In fact I should never have played at either Bristol or Sheffield. I had had two bouts of Asian flu in three weeks. But stupidly I had pressed on. The team were playing well. I did not want to lose my place.
Cantwell went to see the manager in the morning after the Sheffield game and within days I was in The London Hospital, listening to a specialist saying, as though to someone else: "Mr. Allison, I think you have to forget about playing football. You have TB quite severely. We will have to remove one lung."
I didn't feel despair. I simply didn't accept what he was saying. In that way I suppose I stepped outside of reality. It was only down the months that the bitterness grew. West Ham were going through to the championship and when I should have been collecting my first medal in football I was instead inhabiting a vast, grey void. Repeatedly I was advised to think in terms of a future which didn't include playing football. I tried to do this, but I found it impossible. I kept returning to the statement: "I can do it again. I have to." I couldn't get rid of the taste of bitterness when I left hospital. I went to West Ham's championship banquet at the Cafe Royal, and walked out when I learned that I was not to receive a championship medal. I had played six League games before my illness and the other players who had played the same number of games received medals.
This probably seems petty. Medals, in fact, do not mean that much to me. What got into me was the fact that West Ham were not prepared to recognise what I had done for the Club. But that, I'm afraid, is a familiar pattern in football. When I became ill, and the club had won promotion, Ted Fenton didn't want me around the place. Perhaps he saw me as a threat.
There was to be no recognition of my contribution off the field. I was reminded of this situation when Queen's Park Rangers sold Terry Venables to my club Crystal Palace last season. In football it was common knowledge that Venables had wielded vast influence amongst the players, that his contribution to the success of the team rivalled that of manager Gordon Jago. Yet Venables found himself sold without consultation. To me that was a depressingly familiar situation.
I did make a come-back attempt with West Ham. I suppose I knew that it was doomed, but I felt I owed it to myself to make the effort. I cannot say that I received much encouragement from West Ham officials, with whom I had several rows. But I'm prepared to accept that I cannot have been the easiest man in the world to deal with at that time.
I was playing quite well in the reserves, feeling my way gradually. Then, quite suddenly, it seemed that the door had swung open again. West Ham were due to meet Manchester United in a League game and we had had a few injuries. Endlessly I worked out the possible permutations that Fenton could make to his team. He decided that the choice for the number six shirt lay between Bobby Moore and me. That was ironic enough. Bobby, who remains a warm personal friend, had always tagged on to my heels. He was always asking me questions and I was glad to talk to this boy who deserved to make himself a great career. "But not yet, Bobby, not yet," I said to myself. The greatest irony of all was that Fenton called Noel Cantwell into his office and asked him, "Who should I play Allison, or Moore?" Noel had always been my right hand man at West Ham. We were the closest friends, our thoughts about the game and our attitude to life coincided at so many points. He said to Fenton: "I think you should play the kid."
That was the finish of Malcolm Allison, footballer.
For months afterwards I said to myself, "If only I could have played against United." I had worked it all out. I would have been marking Ernie Taylor, and though I wasn't really fit I could have got away with it. I was going to let him play in his own half. As it happened West Ham were well on top, and that would have suited me. I would have been able to play some nice long balls, to cruise through the game. It was a long time afterwards that I told Noel Cantwell how much his decision had hurt me.
My career with West Ham ran quickly to a close after Cantwell's honest-and in the circumstances of our close friendship, brave decision. Bobby Moore was on his way and, in a different sense, so was I. I've often wondered what the effect of a late run in First Division football would have had on me. I imagine it may have untangled some of that confusion I felt when illness cut me down. It might have taken some of the intensity out of me. As it was I sensed that my presence was not exactly welcomed by the West Ham management. But, by the standards of those times, the club did treat me well financially. They organised a testimonial match and from that I received £3,000.
The Allison connection could only be dredged up from the bottom of a long, long glass. Even then, Moore probed gingerly at the memory:
Malcolm had been battling for months to recover from tuberculosis. I'd even seen him the day he got the news of his illness. He'd been coaching me and coaching me and coaching me but I still didn't feel I knew him well enough to go up and ask what was wrong.
When I came out of the office I looked up again and Noel Cantwell was standing with his arm round Malcolm. He'd just been told he'd got T.B.
It wasn't like Malcolm to give up. By the start of that 1958 season we were battling away together in the reserves, Malcolm proving he could still play, me proving I might be able to play one day.
West Ham had just come up. They went to Portsmouth and won. They beat Wolves at home in their second game. After three or four matches they were top of the First Division, due to play Manchester United on the Monday night, and they had run out of left halves. It's got to be me or Malcolm.
I'd been a professional for two and a half months and Malcolm had taught me everything I knew. For all the money in the world I wanted Malcolm to play because he'd worked like a bastard for this one game in the First Division.
It would have meant the world to him. Just one more game, just one minute in that game. I knew that on the day Malcolm with all his experience would probably do a better job than me. But maybe I'm one for the future.
It somehow had to be that when I walked into the dressing room and found out I was playing, Malcolm was the first person I saw. He said "Well done. I hope you do well." I knew he meant it but I knew how he felt. For a moment I wanted to push the shirt at him and say "Go on, Malcolm. My time will come."
But he walked out and I thought maybe my time wouldn't come again. I thought: you've got to be lucky to get the chance, and when the chance comes you've got to be good enough to take it.
I went out and played the way Malcolm had always told me to play. Afterwards I looked for him back in the dressing room. Couldn't find him.
It was still only late August, the opening weeks of the 2006-07 season, but the familiar pattern had been re-established already. Even on their own ground, little consideration had been given to the likelihood of Manchester City achieving victory against a multinational, multi-talented Arsenal team whose ambitions of winning another Premiership title contrasted starkly to the home club's more modest aspirations for the coming campaign. A penalty scored by City's Joey Barton appeared merely to be delaying the inevitable. For most fans in the City of Manchester Stadium, games between these sides had usually conformed to this recognisable blueprint.
Spotting a recognisable face in the crowd, the Sky Sports cameras homed in. Here was a man whose influence almost 40 years earlier had made things very different. A man whose vision, planning, motivational powers and, often, sheer force of personality had made Manchester City the team against whom the likes of Arsenal measured themselves. The graphics operators hurriedly got to work. Up went the caption, "Malcolm Allison, former Manchester City coach". Commentators were sufficiently distracted from the latest piece of Thierry Henry trickery to purr at the memory of Allison's achievements at the club: four major triumphs in a three-year span, including a complete set of domestic trophies and a European success.
Young viewers knowing only of life in the glossily packaged days of endless live televised football - even those who had flown in the face of the modern trend by following City instead of rivals United - blinked unknowingly at their screens. Those a little older might at least have been somewhat familiar with the name, perhaps heard some of the outrageous stories with which it had become associated. Anyone who had been watching football when Allison was in his glorious, exaggerated prime in the 1960s through to the19'80s, was shocked by what they saw, even those who had heard the stories of his mental deterioration. The imposing physical figure was still evident under his grey jacket, even if it was hunched forward in his seat, but the eyes that used to sparkle with a potent mix of charm, wit and cunning seemed glazed and distant. The expression behind which a thousand schemes used to play, whether planning the next big game or deciding where to dine with his latest female companion, appeared bereft of any indication that he was aware of his surroundings.
On one hand, it was painful to see how one of the most expansive minds and sharpest personalities in football's recent history had been diminished by the illness of dementia, into whose grip he had been slipping more completely over the previous five years. At the same time it was a chance to turn to younger companions and say, "See that guy there? Well, let me tell you..."
Preparation of this book was already well under way at the time of Allison's televised visit to the club where he had written himself into football's lore. Those interviewed in the aftermath shared those mixed feelings: sorrow at Allison's plight; pride that their careers, and lives, had been touched by him; and gratitude that, at least fleetingly, he had emerged from a regimented existence in his council-run nursing home and was back in the public eye, being acknowledged for something more than the fedora hat and fat cigar that had become the enduring image of the man they called Big Mal.
The ravages of his illness were something that Malcolm was powerless to prevent, although reports have suggested that his excessive alcoholic intake over the years contributed to the onset of his Alzheimer's-type affliction. His achievements in the game should, however, have afforded him the ability to live out his years in a little more physical comfort than has been the case. Scarcely any personal possessions survived the excesses of a man who placed no import on the accumulation of long-term wealth. Instead, his idea of being rich in his final days, he used to tell friends, was to be able to sit in a rocking chair with a big smile on his face, remembering - without regret - all the good times: the on-field success, the cigars, the best wines and all the beautiful women he had bedded. The cruel irony is that not only did the money all go, but many of those precious memories were eventually taken from him as well.
Perhaps London-boy Allison's most surprising feat, given his sybaritic past, is ending up happily married and living in Yarm in Cleveland, close to the parents of his third wife Lynn, who is 27 years his junior, on a neat, unpretentious housing estate. Money-wise, he is not the man he once was. His pension and Lynn's wages as a teacher keep them going. But his contentment is palpable and if the years have inevitably done some damage to his craggy good looks, they have left his twinkle-eyed wit and wisdom untouched. He limps a little from an arthritic ankle, but otherwise is fit. "I went for a test 18 months ago," he says. "The doctor told me: 'You've got better lungs than anyone.'"
Having part of his left lung removed in 1958 as a result of TB was what ended Allison's career as a central defender after he had played three First Division matches for Charlton and 255 League and Cup games for West Ham after signing for them in 1951. "I couldn't understand it," he says. "I was a good trainer. I never drank, I never smoked.
"Then one day I was due to play in an evening match at Upton Park, I was walking down some stairs and collapsed. Then we went to Sheffield United to play an afternoon match and stayed overnight. Noel Cantwell, who shared a room with me, said to the manager the next day, 'I don't know what's wrong with Malcolm. He was coughing all night.' They sent me to the hospital and the doctor said: 'What else can you do?' I said: 'Not a lot.' And he said: 'Well, you're not going to play football any more'."
In fact, Allison could do something else, he could coach and train players. He had always been interested in this side of the game, sometimes to his detriment. He tells a wonderful story about when he was still a young reserve at Charlton, whose first team were full of internationals and had just won the FA Cup. He became disillusioned with Jimmy Trotter's training methods, which consisted mainly of running round the track, and up and down the terracing.
"We were all standing there after one of these sessions," he recalls, "and I said: 'Mr Trotter, the training's effing rubbish.' And all these players turned round: 'Who is this young upstart, like?' I said: 'All we do is run around the track, up and down the terracing and play 11-a-side. We don't do anything.'
"Next morning I had to go to see Jimmy Seed, the manager, and he said: 'Malcolm, you insulted Mr Trotter yesterday.' I said: 'No I didn't, I just told him the training was rubbish.' He said: 'You can't say that to Mr Trotter, and, anyway, I'm going to transfer you to West Ham United.' So I said: 'Can I shake your hand, Mr Seed? I want to thank you for teaching me the art of communication, because you've just spoken to me for the third time in seven years.'"
It was England's defeat by Hungary in 1953 that first really alerted Allison to the possibilities of coaching. "I went to the game with a player called Jimmy Andrews, a Scottish boy. As we were walking into the ground, the Hungarian team were warming up and Jimmy said to me: 'We'll murder these, Mal.' I said: 'Why's that, Jim?' He said, 'Look at that No10 over there, he's about a stone overweight'." The No10 was the legendary Ferenc Puskas. "He did have a little tummy on him," concedes Allison, who watched Puskas score twice in the Hungarians' famous 6-3 win.
"What was absolutely amazing to me," says Allison, "was how the Hungarians, by changing positions, made such a difference. Herbert Chapman's W-M formation (the full-backs and half-backs arranged in a W and the five forwards in an M) lasted for more than 25 years. Everyone copied this formation, so when the Hungarians changed their tactics and played with a deep centre-forward, they destroyed England. OK, they might have had some great players, but they weren't that much better than us, not 6-3 and 7-1 (Hungary's margin of victory a year later in Budapest) better."
Allison believes the match had not only a profound effect on him, but also on Alf Ramsey, to the extent that it laid the foundation for English football's finest hour. "Ramsey was at right-back [at Wembley] and nearly all their goals came down that side," says Allison. "He couldn't handle the winger, who was too quick for him. So when Ramsey became England manager, he adopted the two deep wingers to protect the full-backs so they couldn't get chased like he had been. He developed this 4-4-2 formation, which won the 1966 World Cup. It got me thinking, too, that it was more about formations, about the way you played, than about great players."
His sacking by the Portuguese club – for once a surprise – ushered in an even more frenetically peripatetic existence. Two unsuccessful years at Middlesbrough came to an end when he suggested that the club be wound up.
There followed stints coaching in Turkey and Kuwait and back in Portugal before his final appointment: a year as manager of Bristol Rovers from 1992. He then found occasional work as a scout for Arsenal, and as a pundit on local radio (until he was fired for swearing on air).
Anxiety and depression ensued. Allison had saved little, and lost much of what he did have in the collapse of BCCI. In his late sixties he established a stable life with a young primary schoolteacher, Lynn Salton, with whom he had a daughter; but when this relationship came to an end in 2000, he was arrested after trying to batter his way into the house. Soon afterwards, he was put in hospital after admitting that he was an alcoholic.
He had four children by Beth, and the marriage lasted 22 years. Next, for 17 years, came his long-term partner Lynn Salton, with whom he had a daughter, Gina, but by 2000 that relationship too was on the rocks, with Allison trying to smash down the door of her house. Alcoholism and depression took their toll, to the point where he observed: "I don't remember the days any more."
Malcolm Allison was the best coach this country has ever had, says Mike Summerbee
M anchester City and Crystal Palace have led the tributes for Malcolm Allison after one of English football's more flamboyant characters from the 1960s and 70s, famed for his outspoken views and a love of fedoras, cigars and sheepskin coats, died at the age of 83.
Allison will be remembered mostly for his time as Joe Mercer's assistant at City as they transformed a Second Division team into one of the more exciting sides in England, winning the league title in 1968, followed by the FA Cup in 1969, plus the League Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup in 1970. Allison was famed for his one-liners and once said City would be "the first team to play on Mars".
The flags at the City of Manchester stadium were flying at half-mast today and a series of tributes are being planned to mark Allison's contribution to the most successful period in the club's history. City described him as "flamboyant, brilliant and larger than life", and many supporters are planning to wear fedoras at the Europa League tie at home to Lech Poznan next Thursday and the league game three days later against Arsenal.
"Joe Mercer was the figurehead but Malcolm Allison was the key to the door," Mike Summerbee, one of City's key players in their trophy-winning years, said: "Malcolm changed football by making us train like athletes and in that respect, he was ahead of his time. He was one of the lads but he knew how to crack the whip and we all respected him. My wife always said that 'you love Malcolm Allison more than you love me'. That's how you epitomised Malcolm Allison.
"It is sad to lose not only a great character, but one of the greatest coaches there has ever been in this country. He was the best coach this country has ever had, without a shadow of a doubt. He was a great coach, a very special person and a nice man as well."
Bernard Halford, the former City secretary, had known Allison for over 40 years. "We will never see the likes of him ever again," he said. "He did so much for the club. He enhanced the careers of so many other players and they worshipped him. You always knew he was in the room. Not many people have that kind of presence but Malcolm did, and he transferred the confidence he had in himself to the team. He felt we could beat anybody and he wanted the players to think that way too."
Allison went on to manage Crystal Palace on two separate occasions, his managerial career spanning 30 years in total, and also including spells at Plymouth Argyle (twice), Middlesbrough, Yeovil Town and Bristol Rovers. A statement from Selhurst Park said: "Allison will always be remembered at Palace for the 1975-76 season when, as a Third Division club, he led us on a fantastic FA Cup run that included wins against Leeds, Chelsea and Sunderland, and booked our place in the semi-finals for the first time in the club's history.
"The Cup run ended at the semi-final stage with defeat against Southampton, but this period of the club's history will always remain one of the more memorable times for thousands of Palace supporters. He made a short return as manager in 1979-80 but the 1970s and his fedora will always be what Allison is remembered for at Selhurst Park."
Allison, or 'Big Mal' as he was commonly known, spent most of his playing career at West Ham United, making over 200 appearances in defence before he suffered tuberculosis and had to have a lung removed, eventually forcing him out of the game.
His managerial career was launched at Bath City in 1963 and over the next three decades he also had spells abroad, including with the Kuwait national team, Toronto City, Galatasaray and Sporting Lisbon, with whom he won the Portuguese title and domestic cup.
His life in football was never far from controversy, Allison becoming a regular in the tabloids because of his relationships with, among others, Christine Keeler of the Profumo scandal and two Miss United Kingdom winners.
In 1976 the Football Association charged him with disrepute because of a News of the World photograph showing him in the Crystal Palace players' bath with the risque actress Fiona Richmond, who he had invited to a training session.
Terry Venables, a Palace player at the time, later said of the incident: "I was in the bath with all the players and we heard the whisper that she was coming down the corridor. We all leapt out and hid because we knew there'd be photos and that wouldn't go down too well. Malcolm and Fiona dropped everything and got in the bath."
Howard Wilkinson, the chairman of the League Managers Association, said: "Malcolm was a legend. He was generous, humorous and a fantastic coach who lived life to the full and was inspirational to would-be coaches including myself and Terry Venables. He was a forward-thinker with a big personality who always had a smile on his face. I do not know anyone who did not like Malcolm and he will be truly missed."
Malcolm Allison, pictured in the build-up to the 1969 FA Cup final. Image via Mirrorpix.
Flamboyant ‘Big Mal’ always had an eye for publicity. Famed for his ‘lucky fedora’ and fat cigar, he was one of the game’s biggest characters in the 1960s and 70s.
Allison was also an intelligent coach, well ahead of his time in emphasising players’ fitness and continental tactics. He was certainly a divisive figure: Mike Summerbee described Allison as "the greatest coach this country ever had. And still is, without a shadow of a doubt" whereas Don Revie dismissed him as "an embarrassment to the game".
Love him or hate him, he was one of the deepest thinking and most innovative football coaches England has known.
"I LOOKED UP TO THE MAN. IT'S NOT TOO STRONG TO SAY I LOVED HIM." - BOBBY MOORE, ALLISON'S TEAM MATE AT WEST HAM
Allison managed 11 clubs at home and abroad. He took charge of Crystal Palace on two separate occasions, and also had spells as manager of Bath, Plymouth (which included a League Cup semi-final appearance), Galatasaray, Toronto City, Middlesbrough and Bristol Rovers, but it is perhaps Manchester City that he is most associated with.
Joe Mercer, the City manager, provided an experienced, restraining hand for the energetic Allison. During seven years as Joe Mercer’s ambitious No 2 at the club Allison introduced new ideas and training methods as Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee led City to the league title, FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup-Winners’ Cup. They pipped local rivals United to the League title in 1967-68. One of football’s greatest teams, they played exciting, flowing football which received universal acclaim.
Allison forged a successful partnership with manager Joe Mercer throughout the late sixties and early seventies. Image via Mirrorpix.
Yet despite the success, signs of strain began to appear in the relationship as the 1970s got under way. Allison was promoted to manager when Mercer moved uneasily into an "upstairs" role in October 1971. The glory days seemed behind however and his success as manager was limited. Allison resigned as City manager in March 1973, prior to a turbulent three-year reign at Palace, before returning to Manchester in 1979. Again, success was limited he returned to Palace and then moved on to Sporting Lisbon winning the League and Cup double in 1982 before being dismissed for alleged indiscipline.
Had he been content to stick to what he did best – coaching rather than management – there was no limit to what he might have achieved. He was innovative and inspiring, a coach who strived for perfection. His bizarre ideas included having his players wear gas masks to build their lung capacity. Players trained with ballet dancers and rugby players and the coaching often paid off. Very few coaches made such an impression on players, or inspired such loyalty.
Later in life, his ability to spot talent didn’t fail him: as a Manchester City scout he suggested signing a young Luis Figo.
When coaching in Portugal in the 1980s, Allison worked with a goalkeeping coach whose student son began attending training, and went on to refer to Allison as "my inspiration". The student was Jose Mourinho, who went on to emulate Allison with similar glamour and confidence. Malcolm Allison was, however, one of a kind.
Principal clubs managed: Bath City, Plymouth Argyle, Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Yeovil Town, Middlesbrough, Bristol Rovers
Honours: 1 Division One Championship, 1 FA Cup, 1 League Cup, 1 European Cup-Winners’ Cup
Malcolm Allison and the Modernisation of English Football
Rarely are such terms used to describe the same person and that is what made Malcolm Alexander Allison such an enigma to those who knew him. Allison was hugely influential in the introduction of modern training systems in 1960s England but his reputation as a trainer was often overshadowed by matters off the pitch. A shame when one considers Allison helped spread ideas about weight training, aerobic fitness and nutrition in a sport renowned for its archaic training methods.
Born in Dartford, England in 1927, Malcolm Allison was only a boy when he discovered football. Soon he was hooked. So passionate was Allison about playing the game that he deliberately failed School entry exams so he could attend a school that played football. It wasn’t a conventional path, but Allison was always a bit different. During National Service in WW2, Allison had spent time observing and trying out training methods from the Russian Army. When he returned to England Allison set about implementing such methods in his own career.
Malcolm began his career in football with Erith & Belvedere before signing with Charlton Athletic in 1945. He had only played two first-team games in six years with Charlton before being signed by Ted Fenton for West Ham United for a fee of £7,000 in 1951. Charlton had sold Allison after Allison had fallen out with the training staff. He had described their pre-season training as archaic and out-dated. Unsurprisingly they weren’t pleased.
Once at West Ham Allison, flourished spending six years with the club before his career was cut short by a bout of tuberculosis. More than a player, Allison had spent his years with the Hammers learning more and more about training. It was during his time in London that Allison gained a reputation for being a considerate and inventive player. A player who placed great importance in training, at a time when many coaches’ idea of fitness was the ability to run around a pitch 5 times before heading home.
Allison in his playing days with West Ham United
Under Ted Fenton, Allison took charge of coaching sessions with the club. An incredible development for a member of the playing staff. In later years Allison would reflect
“I took charge of the coaching at West Ham. I built the attitude. We used to get together and I used to make them come back for training in the afternoons.”
Allison also acted as mentor to future stars such as England World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore and coupled with this, Allison was a leading figure in the creation of a youth academy at West Ham. Following his battle with tuberculosis Allison left the game altogether for a number of years, becoming a car salesman before returning to football in the early 1960s.
Cambridge University. It wasn’t London, but it was a start. He soon gained a reputation for having new and exciting ideas whilst at Cambridge and not long after his appointment at Cambridge, found himself recruited by non-league Bath City as manager. One of Allison’s first moves at Bath was to double the number of training sessions . The Bath players, who were all part time, were required to train four days a week. For many it was sacrilegious, for Allison it was necessary.
Bath finished third in the league, and even made it to the third round F.A.Cup before being knocked out by First Division Bolton Wanderers. Allison was getting proof that his training methods were working. Stints soon followed with Toronto F.C. and Plymouth Argyle before Allison was recruited by Manchester City to be Assistant Manager to the then ageing Joe Mercer.
It was at Manchester City that Allison came into his own. Given the freedom by Mercer to train the players exactly how he wanted, Allison set about revolutionising the Mancunian team’s methods.
One of Allison’s first moves as Assistant Manager was to introduce double training sessions to ensure his players would be fit for the season ahead. Soon after exercise bikes and weight training were introduced to the players. The introduction of weight training was particularly incredible given the general apathy of most coaches to strength development and the fear of players becoming ‘muscle bound’.
Allison helped normalise weight training in Soccer
Somewhat a man of his time in this respect, Allison encouraged weight training for younger players and placed less of an emphasis on it as players grew older and matured. Finally, Allison would regularly set up training sessions between City players and Rugby League side Salford at Wythenshawe Park in the belief that it made his players tougher, both mentally and physically.
In an interview upon Allison’s death in 2010, Mike Summerbee, a player under Malcolm told reporters
“Malcolm is the greatest coach this country ever had, without a shadow of a doubt…Malcolm was the key to the door, really. He brought fitness levels to football that are still there now. He was the forerunner of fitness and tactics way beyond his time.
We were doing things in 1965 on running machines at Salford University with massage-based fitness. We trained in Wythenshawe Park with some of the Salford rugby league lads. That’s how hard it was and how good it was.”
Summerbee in Training with ex-Great Britain Runner Stan Taylor in 1969. Courtesy of Manchester Evening News
Within two years of his appointment at Assistant Manager, City had won the First Division under the guidance of Joe Mercer. This was followed by FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup-Winners Cup victories. As Gary James argued in Manchester City: The Complete Record
“Allison arrived at Maine Road in July 1965 as assistant manager to Mercer, and by the time he left City had won almost every trophy possible. During those seven years Allison worked closely with the players and it’s worth noting that this relationship fostered a great team spirit, which helped the Blues succeed. His influence was felt throughout the club and his approach was refreshing. His charisma and style brought excitement to sixties Manchester.”
When Allison was appointed Manchester City manager in 1972 hopes were high that his successes would continue. Unfortunately his time as Manager was marked by poor relations with the City board, poor performances on the pitch and discontent amongst the fans. Allison left City in 1973.
Allison went to work with Crystal Palace after City and soon the legend of ‘Big Mal’ was born. Newspapers began to fill column after column about Allison’s outspoken nature and womanising. In 1976, Allison was on the end of an Football Association disrepute charge after a photograph emerged in the British Tabloid The News of the World of Allison in the Crystal Palace players’ bath with porn star Fiona Richmond whom he had invited to a training session.
His love of Fedora Hats and Cigars made him a loveable icon at his clubs after City but in many ways such attention began to overshadow Allison’s revolutionary nature as a coach. Speaking after Allison’s death four years ago, Middlesbrough’s conditioning coach Roger Spry said
“In one sense he (Allison) was a fraud in that he was this flamboyant character to the media and the public, but in private he was quiet and one of the most knowledgeable coaches I have worked with. I have worked with some of the best managers in the business, including Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, and I would put Malcolm in that category. He really was that good.”
Malcolm Allison helped to revolutionise English football by bringing in training methods that were decades ahead of his time. This, rather than his outlandish reputation, is his legacy in football.
By Steve Curry
Updated: 00:21 BST, 17 October 2010
Handsome, boastful, impulsive. A gambler, womaniser, drinker and smoker when Malcolm Allison died on Friday at the age of 83, the world of football lost one of its original showmen.
Behind that extravagant ‘Big Mal’ facade was a man riddled with self-doubt, insecurity and human failing. But there was also a unique football brain, brimming with new ideas and a deep love of the game.
The great Bobby Moore always gave Allison full credit for his development into one of the world’s finest defenders after they played together in West Ham's original ‘Academy’.
Take that: Big Mal, in a stylish fedora, salutes Chelsea fans after Crystal Palace's 3-2 FA Cup win at Stamford Bridge in 1976
In turn, I thank Malcolm for fostering my love of champagne. His maxim was to work hard and play even harder, and there are former players and journalists aplenty who will raise a glass in his memory today.
While he and Joe Mercer were moulding Manchester City of the Sixties into the finest team in the land - without the need for Middle East millions - they had a chemistry that was successful and electrifying.
Mike Summerbee, a focal figure in that City side who won the old First Division, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup winners’ Cup, was effusive in his praise on Friday.
Centre of attention: Allison doesn't hold back as he launches his book Colours of My Life in 1975
‘He was one of the greatest coaches there has been in this country,’ he said unequivocally. ‘It is sad to lose such a great character, a very special person and a nice man. He turned that team into a championship and cup-winning side because of the confidence he gave them and the belief he had in himself.
‘He couldn’t get into training early enough, and we trained in match situations. We worked so hard during the week that when we played on a Saturday, it was our day off. He was that good.
‘He was a great character and a very sociable man. We worked hard for him and we were exceptionally fit, but we could enjoy ourselves and he went along with that.
‘The club at that particular time came from nothing under Joe Mercer and Malcolm and became very, very successful. It was a great era, a great period in the history of the club. He was a special, lovely man.’
Legendary: Manchester City management Joe Mercer (right) and Malcolm Allison
Allison, ever the showman, will be remembered by football nationwide for his trademark cigar and fedora, and the zest for life which once saw him photographed in the players’ bath at Crystal Palace with actress Fiona Richmond, one of many women who infiltrated his hectic life.
Mercer tolerated Allison’s excesses away from Maine Road with the resigned air of a father with a naughty son. There was the famous occasion when the police stopped Mercer’s speeding car and as he wound down the window, Joe said “OK officer, what has Malcolm done now?”’
It was during this time that Allison became the first celebrity football newspaper columnist with sports writer James Lawton ghosting. It became a must read for every football fan.
When Malcolm subsequently moved to London, we would congregate after training at Crystal Palace in a subterranean Fleet Street bar where champagne was poured copiously. Jim and I would leave Malcolm to return to the office only to find on our return that he had left us a bill with too many noughts on the end for comfort.
It was during these lengthy sessions of relaxed conversation that we would listen to Malcolm’s thoughts on the game always expansive, invariably innovative and usually interspersed with anecdotes of his social life.
When another manager came under discussion he would use one of his favourites phrases — ‘show us his medals’. Of course he had them, though fewer than he might have wanted.
When it came to the opposite sex, Big Mal had plenty of trophies, not least the beautiful Bunny Girl Serena Williams, a constant companion for many years. She was not his first conquest.
Whether it was being caught with a Heidi in the Russian sector of Vienna while a virgin soldier, sipping hot chocolate and kirsch with millionaire ladies of Cortina or making love to Christine Keeler in Chelsea, he commanded attention and, yes, envy from his audience.
Larging it: Big Mal the showman with one of his trademark cigars (above) and with another common thing in his hand silverware (below)
In his time he had to take evasive action against the wives of rich and powerful football directors, and he recalled that after once buckling under pressure, he heard the wife then ringing her husband to say: ‘I have just spent the afternoon in bed with Malcolm Allison.’
His playing career, with Charlton and West Ham, was cut short by tuberculosis and it took Allison a long time to overcome the depression that followed. The loss of a lung eventually intensified his determination to live life to the full.
He had already earned a reputation as a thinker and a leader with West Ham, where the players met regularly after training to espouse their views about the game, talk tactics and how they might attain new frontiers in the game. Hence, West Ham developed their famous reputation as The Academy.
Expert opinion: Allison (second right) joins (from left) Brian Clough, Derek Dougan, Paddy Crerand, Bobby Moncur and Jack Charlton on the ITV panel
Allison’s interest in coaching began at Upton Park, under Ted Fenton, and was fostered at a lower level. The Dagenham boy coached Cambridge University as he sought an opening in the professional game, staggered by their ‘after you Henry’ approach. But it was at Bath and Plymouth that he first earned recognition.
At Manchester City he is revered still for leading the club to glory in the mid-Sixties. The players will wear black armbands for Sunday’s Barclays Premier League trip to Blackpool and a minute’s silence will be observed before the home clash with Arsenal a week later.
Players from his great side were the first to lead the tributes. Their names roll off the tongue: Summerbee, Francis Lee and Mike Doyle - City’s greatest era. Former players recalled his talent for preparing players, both physically and mentally.
Summerbee added: ‘I would say his major contribution was that he brought the fitness levels up to what they are today - and that was in 1965-66.
‘And he knew the game inside out. He could change a game without writing it down on a piece of paper. Also, his players on the field could change it without looking over to him. He made sure we had footballing brains. He had a wonderful character and that spread right through the side.’
Middlesbrough’s conditioning coach Roger Spry also gave an insight into Allison’s abilities.
He said: ‘In one sense he was a fraud in that he was this flamboyant character to the media and the public, but in private he was quiet and one of the most knowledgeable coaches I have worked with. I have worked with some of the best managers in the business, including Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, and I would put Malcolm in that category. He really was that good.
'He was a luminary and a visionary.
‘Mourinho worked with Malcolm and I at Vitoria Setubal and I can see Malcolm’s influence on Jose. He is the best coach in the world and I can see Malcolm in 90 per cent of the things that he does.’
Juventus saw this in Allison in 1969 when they invited him to write his own contract. He had just had his car re-claimed by a finance company and the temptation to move was strong.
Thanks for the memories: Malcolm 'Big Mal' Allison 1927-2010
Clandestine meetings took place on the moors near Preston but City were about to win the FA Cup. So it was from the celebrations that he flew to Turin in a light blue suit and white shoes to be whisked away in a Ferrari.
Tormented for four days, he went to Rome and then the French Riviera, struggling to make a decision. He turned Juve down because of his affection for City and the players. He was a mate and a mentor to them and soon resumed taking life by the scruff of the neck.
Once, when his old West Ham mate John Bond made references about his private life, he responded: ‘Both my wives were upset.’
To a young Bobby Moore he had said: ‘Keep forever asking yourself if I get the ball now, who will I give it to?’
It was so simple, so easy, so real. No doubt they will be enjoying their reunion — over a glass of champagne, of course.
Malcolm Allison: Inspirational football coach who struggled to repeat elsewhere the success he enjoyed at Manchester City
Brian Clough called him "the Errol Flynn of football, who was too handsome for his own good".
Don Revie dismissed him as "an embarrassment to the game". Yet despite the drinking, the gambling and the womanising – his lovers included Christine Keeler, the woman at the heart of the Profumo scandal – Malcolm Allison was arguably the finest, deepest thinking and most innovative football coach England has known.
"Big Mal" offered plenty of evidence on that score during a sublime partnership with Joe Mercer at Manchester City in the late 1960s and early 1970s. When they were together, with Mercer's wisdom and maturity moderating the excesses of his charming but headstrong protégé, almost everything they touched turned to gold.
But subsequently, when Allison launched his own career as a manager, the Midas touch was reversed dramatically, providing ammunition for those who reckoned the flamboyant, impetuous swashbuckler was among the worst man-managers of modern times. He could be ruthless, was boorish at times and was possessed of a cruel tongue when riled, yet Allison was honest and generous, and blessed with a messiah-like knack of inspiring loyalty, even love, among his followers.
But what made him special, at least in sporting terms, was his visionary ability to communicate his creedof positive football to the young menin his charge. When everything else was stripped away, when the cares and responsibilities of high officetook second place to his pure passion for his calling, Malcolm Allison was magnificent.
The son of a Bexleyheath electrician, he signed for Charlton Athletic as an amateur in 1944, returning to play in earnest after NationalService, which began a year later. However, there was to be no breakthrough at The Valley for the stylish and outspoken young centre-half, who was disgusted by what he saw as the club's outdated coaching methods, and said so.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, he played only two League games before departing in February 1951 for West Ham United, where he became a first-team regular for the next six years. Throughout that period, Allison's obsession with coaching took hold, fostered by his attendance of summer courses held by England manager Walter Winterbottom, and his conviction grew that Continental-typetactics and reliance on skill had the edge over more basic traditional British methods.
He became the fulcrum of a brains trust of senior Hammers who would meet daily in a cafe near the groundto debate and theorise over the game many of that group – includingJohn Bond, Frank O'Farrell, Noel Cantwell and Dave Sexton – went on to become managers.
But it was Allison who stood out as the most rebellious, forever questioning the existing order, while impressing club manager Ted Fenton enough to be allowed input into training sessions. That West Ham side, renowned for its thoughtful, almost scientific approach, won promotion to the First Division in 1958 but Allison was to miss out on a medal, having lost a lung to tuberculosis at the age of 29. Thus he was forced into premature retirement, having never played a game in the top flight.
Later he was to declare that the only time in his life that he suffered illness was when, in his playing prime, he went early to bed and didn't concern himself unduly with drinking, smoking and women. His reaction on recovering from TB was to "at least give myself a reason for being sick" by embarking on a series of wild sprees.
Now Allison's whole lifestyle changed. He became immersed in betting to the extent that he spent two years as a professional gambler. Then followed a brief and unsuccessful spell as a car salesman and a time-marking, booze-soaked period running a nightclub off London's Charing Cross Road. Fortunately, both for his own health and for the contemporary football scene, his addiction to the game was to reclaim him.
Against medical advice, Allison found himself unable to resist playing for non-League Romford, and from that followed coaching work with Cambridge University and Sutton United. As he became re-established, so his name began to be considered for various jobs, and in April 1963 he became manager of the Southern League club Bath City.
Allison enjoyed himself in the refined surroundings of the Georgian city, and did well enough to landthe manager's seat at Second Division Plymouth Argyle a year later. Hisnew responsibilities were discharged with a characteristic swagger, butwith mixed results. He brought in a wave of youngsters and although League form was patchy, there was the consolation of a League Cup semi-final appearance. However, differences arose with the board, who wanted to interfere in team selection and disapproved of his lifestyle, and he was sacked after a year.
A few months later Allison accepted the most important job of his life, working alongside Joe Mercer at Manchester City. The wily, experienced Mercer was not in the best of health and needed a bright young thing at his shoulder. Allison was bursting with ambition and ideas but required a restraining hand it was a partnership forged in heaven.
Their new club was in a woeful state, marooned in the Second Division and overshadowed depressingly by their all-conquering neighbours, Matt Busby's United. They knew City possessed vast potential, however, and set about effecting a transformation - with immediate success.
New players were acquired, and at the end of the management duo's first season at Maine Road, the Blues were Second Division champions. They consolidated their berth among the élite during 1966-67 and then – joy of joys – pipped none other than United to the League title in 1967-68. The side, which starred the gifted forward trio of Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee, played exciting, flowing football which received universal acclaim, as did Allison. their coach.
He revelled in the limelight, though he was irked by the fact that no matter what City achieved, and no matter how low United's star fell (very low after their European Cup win of 1968) they always attracted greater support and were perceived as Manchester's top club. That apart, "Big Mal" was supremely happy, and while sipping champagne and puffing at a massive cigar, he predicted that his team would "murder everyone on the planet" and "scare Europe to death". Such boasts were typically extravagant and Allison was ridiculed widely when City bowed out of the European Cup to unfancied Turks at the first hurdle.
But despite such ill-advised posturing, the team was an outstanding one, going on to win the FA Cup in 1969, and both the European Cup-Winners' Cup and the League Cup in 1970. One aspect of that success, for which the coach was responsible, was the astonishing contribution of captain Tony Book, who had played for Allison at Bath and Plymouth, followed his mentor to Manchester, then shared in all City's triumphs during his mid-30s, completing the fairytale by sharing the Footballer of the Year award in 1969 with Dave Mackay.
Among those most impressed by Allison's acumen were the Italian giants, Juventus, who offered hima fortune to join them that same year. He came close to accepting, but in the end could not walk out on his and Mercer's lovely creation, which was still at its peak.
Yet despite the success, signs of strain began to appear in the relationship as the 1970s got under way. As trophy followed trophy, so Mercer's health improved and earlier intimations that he would make way for Allison to assume sole control proved unintentionally misleading. Allison, who yearned for the top job, became frustrated and was involved in an attempted boardroom coup. The situation became confused and Allison was close to dismissal. Eventually, though, he got the position he craved when Mercer moved uneasily into an "upstairs" role in October 1971, before leaving, sadly disillusioned by behind-the-scenes politics, to join Coventry at the end of the season.
Around this time the extent to which Allison needed the elder statesman's cool judgement and discretion was thrown into sharp relief. With City apparently on course for the 1972 title, he bought the gifted but inconsistent Rodney Marsh, disrupting the side's system and arguably costing them the championship, which they missed by a point. Thereafter he became increasingly disenchanted by boardroom manoeuvring and in March 1973 he surprised many observers by leaving Maine Road to accept the challenge of reviving Crystal Palace, already doomed to demotion from the top flight.
It proved to be the first step on a turbulent, unfulfilling 15-year odyssey, taking in 15 jobs in five countries. At Palace, he presided over the anticipated relegation in 1973, but then shocked fans by taking the Eagles straight down to the Third. Then he signed his friend and fellow student of the game, Terry Venables, as player-coach and together they guided Palace to the FA Cup semi-finals in 1976.
Along the way there was plenty of time for high jinks in London's bright lights, including a well-documented plunge in the team bath with the actress Fiona Richmond. By May 1976, though, there was an inescapable feeling that Allison was treading water career-wise, too, and he resigned, thereafter working for Galatasaray of Turkey, Memphis in Tennessee and Plymouth for a second time before he was unable to turn down the chance of a return to Manchester City.
Back in the big time, money burnt a hole in his pocket as never before as he paid massive transfer fees for unproven players such as Steve Daley and Michael Robinson. After City suffered FA Cup humiliation at the hands of Halifax, then struggled in the League, the joke was that Allison would become the first man to spend a million on a corner flag.
His stock was low, but sunk lower after failing to register a victory in the first dozen games of 1980-81. Inevitably, he was sacked. There followed a second sojourn with Crystal Palace, lasting 55 days, before he took his coaching skills to Sporting Lisbon, winning for them the league and cup double before being dismissed for alleged indiscipline.
Cash-strapped Middlesbrough lured Allison back to the Football League in 1982, but he was oustedyet again for refusing to sell his best players. The remainder of the decade saw him occupy six further posts before accepting his last position, that of Bristol Rovers' caretaker manager in 1992.
Though he had hit hard times financially, and was unable to afford his former luxurious trappings – the local newspaper bought him a new fedora, always his trademark headgear – the old charisma was undimmed. Still he preached the gospel of skilful football, still young men were entranced by his opinions, but the Rovers job proved too hard for the twice-married 65-year-old, who had a two-year-old daughter by his current partner, and he couldn't prevent relegation.
After that – and before a destructive decline in his health whichconfined him to a nursing home for many years – one of the most colourful and expansive characters in football history lent himself to a touring chat show with Tommy Docherty, a rather sad footnote to a brave, if bumpy career. Had he been content to stick to what he did best – coaching rather than management – there was no limit to what he might have achieved. Even as it was, Malcolm Allison brought far more light than darkness to the English game.
Malcolm Alexander Allison, footballer and football manager born Dartford, Kent 5 September 1927 played for Charlton Athletic 1944-51, West Ham United 1951-58, Romford (non-League) 1960-62 manager, Bath City (non-League) 1963-64, Plymouth Argyle 1964-65, Manchester City (coach and assistant manager 1965-71, manager 1971-73), Crystal Palace 1973-76, Galatasaray of Turkey (coach) 1976-78, Memphis (coach) 1977-78, Plymouth Argyle 1978-79, Manchester City 1979-80, Crystal Palace 1980-81, Sporting Lisbon 1981-82, Middlesbrough 1982-84, Willington (non-League) 1984 Kuwait (national coach) 1986, Vitoria Setubal of Portugal 1988, Farense of Portugal 1989, Fisher Athletic 1989, Bristol Rovers (caretaker) 1992-93 married firstly Beth (marriage dissolved four children), secondly Sally-Ann Highley (marriage dissolved one daughter) thirdly Lynn Salton (one daughter) died 15 October 2010.
Malcolm Allison: A Football Visionary
On 14 October 2010, Malcolm Alexander Allison shuffled off his mortal coil and put in a transfer request to the great coaching school in the sky. In the myriad of subsequent obituaries written were the compulsory epitaphs and descriptions of ‘football visionary’, ‘ahead of his time’, ‘a character’ and, inevitably, copious mentions of fedoras, champagne and cigars.
However, there was much more to Malcolm Allison than was initially apparent in the brash public persona he seemed to delight first in cultivating and then in displaying.
Born in Dartford in 1927, Allison joined Charlton Athletic just after the war but made just a handful of appearances before signing for West Ham in 1951. Allison let the management team at Charlton know in no uncertain terms that he was not impressed with the training or coaching on offer at the Valley and so the move across London was to everybody’s benefit.
At Upton Park Allison played his entire career under the semi-legendary Ted Fenton in the Second Division. Fenton had been a player at West Ham for 12 years and would manage the side for a further 11. During this time, he was largely responsible for developing the ‘Academy of Football’ and ‘the West Ham Way’ of playing. Allison was a willing and eager pupil and as well as playing he took on the development of some of West Ham’s younger players.
A certain young blond-haired centre-half was all too keen to partake of Allison’s tutelage and in later years would seldom be slow in recognising the effect and influence Malcolm had had on him. Never was this influence more keenly seen than on July 30, 1966, when as captain of England that young man lifted the World Cup at Wembley.
In 1957, Allison tragically contracted tuberculosis. This was a terrible blow which resulted in him partially losing a lung. Despite this rather consequential handicap, Allison refused to give up playing entirely and he battled back to play once again for West Ham’s reserve team, and then later at senior non-league level with Romford.
Forced to retire from professional football, Allison looked for alternative employment. He tried his hand at being, variously, a second-hand car salesman, a professional gambler, and a nightclub owner before returning to his first, and only, love of football.
Starting out as coach of the Cambridge University side, Allison soon moved onto non-league Bath City, where he first encountered Tony Book, who was playing for the Somerset club.
In his one full season at Bath, Allison took the club to third place in the Southern League and the third round of the FA Cup. Only a late Bolton equaliser prevented Bath from putting the then-First Division side out of the cup and causing a major upset.
After spending the summer of 1964 coaching in Canada at Toronto City (with Tony Book by his side), Allison returned to England and was offered the management of Plymouth Argyle.
Once safely with his feet under the desk at Home Park, Allison returned to Bath to sign Tony Book again. Legend has it that he knew the Plymouth board would not wish to pay a transfer fee for an ageing player (Book was 29) without league experience, and so he instructed Book to alter his birth certificate to appear two years younger.
Meanwhile, Joe Mercer was installed as Manchester City manager in 1965 having enjoyed a long stellar playing and management career. As a player, Mercer’s career had been interrupted by the war but he had won the league title with both Everton and Arsenal, as well as appearing five times for England. After managing Sheffield United for three seasons in the mid-1950s, Mercer moved on to Aston Villa where he built an exciting young team.
Ill-health led Mercer to take a sabbatical from Villa Park, and upon his recovery and return to work, he was summarily sacked within a very short period. Undeterred, Manchester City offered him a way back into football in 1965.
Due to lingering worries concerning Mercer’s long-term health, he was advised by the City board to appoint a younger man as his assistant and coach while he concentrated on management. Joe Mercer knew Malcolm Allison well through attending coaching courses together, and although Allison was at that time still managing in lower league football at Plymouth, Mercer had no hesitation in offering him the position.
So, it came to pass that Manchester City’s most successful managerial duo was formed. That the Mercer-Allison axis was to serve the Maine Road faithful so successfully over the next few years should have come as no great surprise to anybody who had studied the two men’s relative talents and skillsets.
Although they shared a great many characteristics and principles, most notably with regards the ‘pass and move’ style of football they initiated at City, they were also sufficiently different enough to complement each other.
Mercer was a ‘people’s person’ in as much that he was approachable, while Allison was, if not exactly confrontational, certainly more direct. Mercer could build and shape a side, while Allison could spot a player and then coach him.
Their double act was therefore similar in some ways to the Clough – Taylor partnership that was to produce so much success at first Derby and then Nottingham Forest a few years later.
Getting Manchester City promoted was their first task, and this they duly achieved at the first time of asking as City finished champions of the Second Division in 1966, five points clear of runners-up, Burnley.
If 1966-67 was a season of consolidation, with City finishing 15th in a 22-team top flight, 1967-68 was anything but. With local rivals, Manchester United, taking the title in 1967 for the second time in three seasons and thus earning themselves and Matt Busby another shot at the coveted European Cup, the pressure was on Mercer and Allison to deliver and to challenge for local as well as national superiority.
Nevertheless, Manchester City were not expected to push United quite so hard for the title in 1967-68 and yet they were finally able to prevail in a thrilling race that went right to the wire. Results on the last day of the season went City’s way and they took the crown by two points.
Although the title wasn’t defended in 1969, and City also made no real progress in the European Cup, the FA Cup was captured courtesy of a single goal victory over relegated Leicester City at Wembley. More success followed in 1970 with the capture of both the League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
It was truly a heady time for Manchester City and their followers and the team of Mercer and Allison could seemingly do no wrong.
And yet all was not rosy in the garden.
Allison had taken on the role of assistant to Mercer on the understanding that he would serve an apprenticeship under the great man before taking over himself. Indeed, he had turned down several offers to move elsewhere, most notably from Juventus, but Mercer seemed to be in no hurry to step aside.
In fact, Joe Mercer was undergoing a change of mind. Although he conceded he wasn’t getting any younger, the success City had enjoyed had revitalised him and he felt in fine enough fettle to be able to carry on for a while yet. Although totally convinced of Allison’s coaching skills, Mercer was also harbouring some doubts regarding his man-management abilities and so saw no pressing reason to change the status quo.
Matters came to a head when two men, Albert Alexander and Peter Swales, went into battle for ownership and control of the club. Mercer backed Alexander, while Allison threw his weight behind Swales’ bid. When Swales eventually prevailed, it spelt the end for Mercer and Allison finally got his chance in the hot seat.
Unfortunately, things didn’t really work out for Allison in sole charge, as Manchester City blew a great chance to take the title in 1972.
With the side looking comfortable and clear at the top going into the New Year, Malcolm Allison decided to bolster his attack by signing Rodney Marsh from QPR. At a stroke, the balance of the side was altered and City’s form collapsed with the side eventually finishing fourth.
Allison and City never really recovered from the disappointment of not winning the league that season, and in March 1973 Allison resigned.
If his time at Manchester City is remembered for swashbuckling football and hordes of trophies, his next port of call stirs up a whole different set of memories.
Rolling into Selhurst Park as manager of Crystal Palace almost immediately upon leaving Maine Road, Allison found a club in disarray. Deep in relegation trouble, Palace made a desperate punt in appointing Allison in the hope that the dreaded drop could be avoided. It was to no avail, however, and Palace were relegated in 21st place with only 30 points from 42 matches.
Given a whole season in charge, Allison promised to take Palace out of the Second Division. Good to his word, the season’s climax did indeed see Palace moving on again. Unfortunately for those involved with the Selhurst Park club, it was into the Third Division they were heading as a second successive relegation was confirmed.
It was a different era back then, of course, but the thought of a manager – any manager – keeping his job after two successive relegations seems almost quaint nowadays. Such was the aura that Allison seemed to exude at times that his days in charge of Palace are even now viewed through rose-tinted spectacles and his time there is seen as an almost unqualified success when in reality it really was nothing of the sort.
1974-75 saw Palace and Allison finish in fifth place in the table, thus missing out on promotion and condemning the club to at least one more season in the third tier of English football.
Now, finally, the natives were getting restless and Allison was given one more season in which to secure promotion.
The 1975-76 season has gone down as one of the most talked-about and best remembered in the history of Crystal Palace. Early season form was good and by the turn of the year promotion was looking, if not assured, then at least very much on the cards.
Then fate took a hand in the form of the FA Cup. A scrambled 1-0 victory over non-league Walton and Hersham in the first round gave no clue as to the drama that lay ahead. A feisty London derby with Millwall in the second round was settled by the odd goal in three after a replay and that meant a third-round date and a possible showdown with one of ‘the big boys’.
Instead, Palace were drawn away to non-league opposition once again, this time in the form of Scarborough. There was nothing particularly memorable about Palace’s 2-1 victory save for the fact that the away side’s manager decided to turn up for the game wearing a fedora and smoking a cigar!
The reasoning behind wearing the fedora was supposedly because the sun was streaming in over the small Scarborough stand and straight into Allison’s eyes on the touchline. Allison, therefore, contended that he had worn the thing merely as a matter of expediency. The reason for the cigar was left unexplained.
Anyway, with victory secured Allison declared his unconventional headwear to be ‘lucky’ and he insisted on wearing it for the rest of Palace’s cup run that year.
In the fourth round, Palace met the mighty Leeds United at Elland Road. Although not quite the side of old, Jimmy Armfield’s men were expected to have too much in the locker for Third Division Palace. The fact that Palace prevailed by the only goal of the game was down at least in part to Allison’s sweeper system which successfully nullified the Leeds attack.
The fifth round saw Palace drawn away again, this time to Second Division Chelsea. Another game that has passed into folklore was watched by 54, 407 on a chilly February afternoon in 1976.
They saw a cracker. Allison again decided to wear his fedora, and he again deployed a sweeper system. So confident was Allison of success that before the game he took the time and trouble to walk around the Stamford Bridge pitch holding up three fingers to the home crowd – the number of goals he was sure his side would score.
He was not wrong. Palace progressed to the quarter-finals by a 3-2 scoreline with future Palace manager Peter Taylor turning in a five-star performance.
The quarter-final draw was made, and once again Palace were drawn away from home against higher-level opposition. This time it was the long trip to Roker Park, Sunderland, that Palace and their supporters made to witness another single goal victory.
The improbable was now becoming almost possible, and the semi-final draw was kind enough to keep Palace away from both Manchester United and Derby. Instead, a return to Stamford Bridge to play Second Division Southampton was necessitated.
Allison was in no doubt that it would be he and not his Southampton counterpart, Lawrie McMenemy, who would be leading a side out at Wembley on May Day 1976, but this time it was not to be.
Southampton and Palace went toe-to-toe for most of what turned out to be a pretty dull affair before two goals in the last quarter of an hour saw the Saints through to Wembley.
The cup run took a lot out of Palace and Allison, and after leading the way for so long in the Third Division, their form dropped off and once again no higher than fifth was achieved in the final league standings.
By now Allison had become very much a larger than life figure. He was known for his quotes and appearances on TV as much as for his undoubted footballing knowledge and acumen, and the headlines on the front pages were beginning to claim as much prominence as those on the back.
During his time, Allison was alleged to have had a relationship with Christine Keeler, who was famously involved in the Profumo scandal of the ‘sixties, the singer Dorothy Squires, and at least two Miss UKs.
In 1976, at the height of his publicity at Crystal Palace, he was famously photographed in the team bath with the porn actress Fiona Richmond. This resulted in an FA charge of ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ and also did not go down well in the Crystal Palace boardroom.
Thus in May 1976, Allison left Crystal Palace under a cloud and started a nomadic life in football management.
Over the next two decades, Allison turned up managing in such diverse places as Kuwait, Middlesbrough, Yeovil, Libson, Turkey, Willington, Bristol and Fisher.
He also returned for unsuccessful spells at each of Plymouth, Manchester City and Crystal Palace, but was unable to recreate the magic at any of them.
Malcolm Allison died at the age of 83 having left a lasting mark on the English game.
Malcolm Allison - History
It has been fairly well reported in the media in the last couple of months, that Malcolm Allsion is not having the best of times lately.
Now the club is on a firmer footing, is it planning anything that may benefit him, either financially or just some sort of tribute, (maybe inviting him as guest of honour to a home game or something?)
Personally, I think he is was one of greatest coaches the game has seen, and he gave this club some great times along the way, (yes I know there were some bad as well).
Nonetheless I don't think he should be forgotten
Great coach - UNBELIEVABLY bad manager.
Perhaps a City-Palace game as a fund-raiser if he's fallen on hard times.
I saw something about this on a Franny Lee interview with Jimmy Hill on The Last Word on Sky's web-site.
But no details were given.
Can anyone enlighten me as to the exact details of what's up with Big Mal?
I chose Malcolm as my confirmation name, after him (it's a catholic thing), as I got confirmed circa 1974, and he was, obviously, the most significant figure in my life at that time.
I love that man dearly, and if there is anything we can do to help, we should do.
Diamond geezer. I presume his troubles are alcohol related?
It would be nice to help if we could.
It is probably a sensitive issue to expand too much on, but from what I read he seems to be depressed, and living on his own in a small flat up North, after splitting up from his partner. He isn't actively involved in the game at present, and it appears as a result of reading about his low frame of mind in the papers, Franny Lee has tried to get him back on his feet and in better spirits, I also believe Middlesbrough (one of his former clubs,) also came forward offering support.
I think Malcolm Allison even in his early seventies can still offer great tactical knowledge and experience, and it would be a fitting gesture if Palace could arrange some sort of tribute for him, whilst he is still here to appreciate it.
I was 14 when he steered us to the 76 semi-finals, and I still have those great memories today, thanks to Malcolm Allison's hard work and that of the Palace players of the time.
A City v Palace game is a superb idea although I guess it would have to be staged at Maine Road to get a bigger crowd.
This man single handedly put Palace on the map ( I doubt we will ever again reach the level of popularity that we did in 1976) and Venables took all the glory for the team he and John Cartwright created.
The reason why the quality of English football is so poor is that people like Big Mal have been pushed out of the game. Yes he is a crap manager, but he was without doubt one of the greatest coaches.
Quite simply the man is a God.
To me he became a deity when, against all the other pundits,we were losing at half time
in THAT semi-final he backed us to win.
I never saw it until the following day when we watched the whole game about a dozen times but I can honestly say there where tears in my eyes ( and I aint a sentimental person ) when I watched him speak as it was obvious that he loved this club. The man is a Palace legend, through and through. Yes, lets get something organised, even if it is only a black tie gentlemens evening at a posh london venue when we can give this legend a night to remember. But a testimonial match with City would be a great idea as well.
Malcolm Allison simply made us believe we'd become giants one day. Great PR-expert, great coach, but as manager a big under-achiever.
Champagne, big cigar and fedora - I love to remember the days in Divi III. He was in love with bunny girl Serena Williams and saw fit to introduce Fiona Richmond to the players .
Malcolm Allison Audio Interview Part Four
Here’s the fourth part of my first interview with Malcolm Allison. Thirty years ago, while researching for my biography of Joe Mercer, I interviewed Malcolm in his flat at Yarm and I am serialising that interview over five days for subscribers this week. Here I tried to get him to discuss the 1970 takeover of Manchester City but he clearly didn’t want to (he claimed he’d organised it several years before and that’s what I was trying to unpick!).
I’ve often talked at supporters’ meetings and other events about this first time I met Malcolm. There are several funny aspects to it and I may post the story of the interview at some point.
In the interview over the following five days Malcolm talks about his meeting Joe Mercer for the first time joining Manchester City the relationship with Joe the signing the players the major successes the set-up of Manchester City at the time and much more.
Obviously, this was recorded on an old cassette recorder so, at times, the quality is not the best, plus every so often you can hear Malcolm’s young (I think she was two) daughter in the background. Despite the background noise I’m sure you’ll agree that this exclusive interview is worth listening to.
Each section lasts between ten and twenty minutes so get yourself a brew and have a listen.
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To listen please subscribe. It works out about £1.67 a month if you take out an annual subscription (£20 per year) or £3 a month if you’d like to sign up for a month at a time. Each subscriber gets full access to the 280+ articles posted so far and the hundreds scheduled to be posted in the coming weeks.
While you’re here I’d like to thank you for taking the time and trouble to visit my website. I have been researching and writing about Manchester football for a long time (no wonder I’m going grey!) with my first book published in 1989. I am not employed by anyone and I do not have sponsorship either and so I’ve set up this website to help share my 32 years plus writing and research.
The intention is to develop the archive and to provide access to as much of my material as possible over the coming weeks, months & years. Subscribers can already access over 280 articles/posts including the entire Manchester A Football History book and an audio interview with former City boss John Bond I performed in 1995.
While you’re here I’d like to thank you for taking the time and trouble to visit my website. I have been researching and writing about Manchester football for a long time (no wonder I’m going grey!) with my first book published in 1989. I am not employed by anyone and I do not have sponsorship either and so I’ve set up this website to help share my 32 years plus writing and research.
The intention is to develop the archive and to provide access to as much of my material as possible over the coming weeks, months & years. Subscribers can already access over 280 articles/posts including the entire Manchester A Football History book and an audio interview with former City boss John Bond I performed in 1995.
2010/11: Malcolm Allison – More Than A Fedora?
Growing up in the late 60’s and early 70’s I remember that the side winning trophies in Manchester at the time, was that playing at Maine Road and not Old Trafford. The managerial team of Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison oversaw the most successful period in Manchester City’s history. Fast forward to 1976 and I recall Allison, head adorned with a fedora, during Crystal Palace’s incredible run as a Third Divison team to the FA Cup Semi-Final. And then that’s it, I really don’t have any more abiding memories of “Big Mal”. That’s 34 years ago and now he’s dead – when I read the news on the BBC website that image of the then Palace Manager came flooding back. Is that image a cliché? What is the Malcolm Allison story?
Malcolm Alexander Allison was born in Dartford, Kent, on 05 September 1927. The young Allison grew up in Bexleyheath, and demonstrated an early rebellious streak by deliberately failing the grammar school entrance exam so that he could continue to play football rather than rugby union. After brief stints as a Fleet Street runner and a grocer’s delivery boy, in 1945, aged 18 Allison signed for Charlton Athletic. He remained at The Valley for six years and even though he was regarding as a useful centre half he made just a handful of appearances for the club. Allison was open in his criticism of the training methods at Charlton and in 1951 moved to West Ham United.
Once at Upton Park, Allison established himself at centre half and in time as club captain. His interest in coaching also began as fellow players (and future managers) such as John Bond and Noel Cantwell provided opportunities to discuss tactics. With over 250 appearances for the club, Allison’s career came to an abrupt end. After playing against Sheffield United on 16 September 1957, Allison became ill with tuberculosis and this led to the removal of part of a lung. After spending a year in a sanatorium, he tried his hand at running a nightclub and being a professional gambler before deciding to return to football. West Ham gave Allison the opportunity to be involved in coaching with the young players at the club. Allison proved a success and Bobby Moore later recalled, “…I’d been a professional for two and a half months and Malcolm had taught me everything I know….When Malcolm was coaching schoolboys he took a liking to me when I don’t think anyone else at West Ham saw anything special in me…I looked up to the man. It’s not too strong to say I loved him.”
Allison had a great mind for coaching and was receptive to new ideas. For instance, whilst in Vienna on National Service, Allison watched the Russian army team training and became impressed by the amount of work they did with the ball. Allison was also influenced by the “Magnificent Magyars” who destroyed England at Wembley in 1953. He recognised that winning was the product more of the system that a team played, than of the individual footballers’ ability. Allison is also credited for introducing, weight training and static bikes into clubs training sessions.
With the Cambridge University side, Allison had the opportunity to put his ideas into practice and quickly established his reputation as an innovative coach. In 1963 Allison took charge of Bath City in the Southern League and led them to a third place finish and to the FA Cup 3 rd Round where they lost 3-0 after a replay to First Division Bolton Wanderers. The following season (1964-65) Allison moved to Plymouth Argyle and took the side to the League Cup Semi-Finals. An illuminating story from that time is around the signing of the then Bath City full-back Tony Book. Knowing that the Pilgrims board would be reluctant to sanction the buying of a player who was nearly thirty and with no League experience, Allison encouraged Tony Book to alter his birth certificate, so making him appear two years younger. However, Allison fell out with the board, and after parting company with the club was offered a position at Maine Road by Joe Mercer.
When Malcolm Allison went to Maine Road in 1965, Manchester City were in Division Two. By the end of that season (1965-66) City were champions and heading for the First Division. Once there and with the Manchester City squad containing household names such as Colin Bell, Joe Corrigan, Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee, winning became a regular habit. The First Divison title was won in 1967-68, FA Cup in 1969, League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup in 1970. However, by October 1971 Mercer was gone and Allison had sole charge of the club. Success didn’t return during Allison’s reign and in March 1973 he resigned. Mercer rather prophetically observed that Allison had become too partial to the limelight, having become a regular in the gossip and fashion columns of the time.
As the Maine Road door closed, so another opened at Selhurst Park in 1973. He arrived too late to save Crystal Palace from being relegated to Divison Two, but set about changing much at the South London club. Allison raised the club profile with his charismatic media appearances, changed the club nickname from ‘The Glaziers’ to ‘The Eagles’, and made colour and style alterations to the kit that influence the club today. Despite these changes Palace suffered a second relegation. 1975–76 was the most successful season for Allison at Selhurst Park as he engineered an epic run to the FA Cup Semi-Final which ended in defeat to eventual Cup winners Southampton. The image of Allison, cigar in hand, toped off with a fedora became burned on the minds of the footballing public at the time. However, with the team failing to reach Wembley and or gain promotion Allison left Selhurst Park in May 1976.
Over the next five years, Allison had a number of positions without enjoying any success. In 1976–77 Allison turned to Turkey to coach Galatasaray, before returning to England and to the three sides he had been in charge of before – Plymouth Argyle, Manchester City and Crystal Palace. He returned to Maine Road as manager in the 1979-80 season. The team was humiliated in January 1980, as they were knocked out in the FA Cup 3 rd Round by Fourth Division Halifax Town. They just avoided relegation, but Allison lost his job the following season. A return to Palace for a two-month period at the ended of the 1980-81 season also ended in failure as The Eagles dropped out of Division One.
Allison’s last successful spell came in 1981-82 when he moved abroad once more and guided Sporting Lisbon FC to a League and Cup double as well as the Portuguese Super Cup. His sacking by Sporting came as a complete surprise and so marked the beginning of the end of his managerial career as he drifted from post to post. Two unsuccessful years at Middlesbrough (1992-94) came to an end when he suggested that the club be wound up. There followed stints coaching the Kuwait National team and back in Portugal with Vitoria Setubal (1986-88). His time in Portugal came to an end in 1989, when in three months with Farense, he won just one game and was dismissed. On the last day of 1992, he took over at Bristol Rovers, but the following year he was out of work again. He then found occasional work as a scout for Arsenal and as a pundit on local radio, until he was fired for swearing on air.
Anxiety and depression ensued. Allison had saved little, and lost much of what he did have in the collapse of BCCI. In his late sixties he established a stable life with a Lynn Salton, but when this relationship came to an end in 2000, the 72 year old was arrested after trying to batter his way into the house. Soon afterwards, he was put in hospital after admitting that he was an alcoholic. The combination of alcoholism and depression took their toll, to the point where he observed: “I don’t remember the days any more.”
On the one hand then Malcolm Allison the football coach can be viewed as one of the most forward thinking and inspirational of his generation as epitomised by his work at Manchester City. He also left his mark on Crystal Palace and Sporting Lisbon. However, this went hand in hand with the character that courted the press – the flamboyant life-style of champagne, fashion and women, a sometimes opinionated and cocky bearing. Ultimately though, it is a cautionary tale. Malcolm Allison – another of football’s flawed geniuses.