Harry Redknapp was less than three months into his first Football League managerial role at Bournemouth, having finally been given the role at the second time of asking. He’d arrived at Dean Court in 1982 to act as assistant to former Chelsea cup winner, David Webb, who’d guided the club to promotion from the Fourth Division the previous season.
An argument with the new ownership of the club saw Webb dismissed before the season was over with Redknapp passed over for the manager’s job by the appointment of former Sheffield Wednesday cup finalist, Don Megson.
The 1983/4 season started terribly as Bournemouth lost all their opening five games to sit rooted to the foot of the table and by the time Megson was fired in October, nine of their eleven League games had been lost. Redknapp, who’d taken charge for fourteen games on a temporary basis between Webb and Megson, was called on again to take temporary charge. A shock win over League leaders, Oxford in his first game was met with the modest response “Remember, this is Don’s [Megson’s] team”.
The more cynical noted that Megson couldn’t get a tune out of them and by the time Redknapp had run up a three-game unbeaten run to take them out of the relegation zone, the calls were out for him to get the job on a permanent basis. Redknapp’s response was that “Somebody has to do it. Why not me?” His permanent appointment was confirmed by November.
Redknapp’s side contained four survivors of David Webb’s
Fourth Division promotion side. Young goalkeeper Ian Leigh and forward Milton
Graham had come through the ranks while Chris Sulley and Phil Brignull both
arrived in search of first team Football after failing to break into Chelsea
and West Ham’s top-flight teams respectively.
Don Megson had managed to bring some limited top-flight experience to the club in another West Ham product, Everald Le Ronde while Mark Nightingale returned to the club where he’d started out as a teenager a decade earlier via a spell on the fringes of First Division Norwich in the ‘70s.
Trevor Morgan was another player returning to the club after a journeyman career in the lower divisions where he’d often encountered Ian Thompson before the pair became team mates.
In a bid to get Bournemouth up the table, Redknapp went in search of First Division experience, securing Ray Train on loan from Watford. Train held the distinction of having been a major part of securing Second Division promotion with four different clubs but had only gone on to prominently feature as a first team First Division regular with the first of them when Carlisle enjoyed their solitary top-flight season in 1974/75.
This was the basis of the team that was drawn at home to Third Division promotion chasing Walsall in the first round of the cup. Redknapp’s side had been to Fellows park just five weeks earlier, losing comfortably 1-3, so it was a tie they faced with only limited confidence.
Ian Thompson opened the scoring in the first minute before club captain, former QPR and Coventry First Division player, John Beck, added a second. Trevor Morgan netted the third before Trevor Lee completed an unexpected rout.
Second round day in December saw the game against non-league Windsor & Eton, patronised by the Duke of Edinburgh, called off due to a waterlogged pitch. By the time the teams lined up a few days later they knew that FA cup holders, Manchester United lay in wait. With such a reward up for grabs, the tie turned into a brutal affair with both sides squandering chances to win it before settling for a scoreless draw. Redknapp was honest enough to admit he’d been dreading the tie and was “Relieved to still be in the cup.”
Back at Dean Court the Cherries made no mistake with goals from John Beck and Ian Thompson seeing them through. The prospect of the upcoming cup tie may well have helped Redknapp secure two more men with some top-flight experience as Robbie Savage, ex of Stoke and Bolton and not the now well-known pundit and sometime dancer, and Roger Brown, formerly of Norwich, arrived at Dean Court. Both would bolster the ranks of a team that would be without John Beck on Third Round day.
Manchester United were a star studded, exciting team that reached both domestic cup finals the previous season, losing the League cup before lifting the FA cup in May. Part of their glamorous nature came from the flamboyant manager, Ron Atkinson, who as a player had been part of an Oxford team that stunned high flying Blackburn in the cup twenty years earlier.
Atkinson had an array of riches at his disposal, including England captain Brian Robson and International team mate, Ray Wilkins, free scoring Irishman, Frank Stapleton and the young Northern Irish International, Norman Whiteside. The defence was shored up by Scotland’s Arthur Albiston while the International flair came from Dutchman, Arnold Muhren.
The team bore all the hallmarks of a side that could end a seventeen-year League title drought and topped the table through October and again at Christmas, though two draws over the holidays saw them lose their place to Liverpool. Just five days before their cup tie they faced a daunting trip to Anfield where a 1-1 draw ensured they stayed just three points behind the Champions.
At the same time Bournemouth travelled to bottom club Port Vale, suffering a damaging 1-2 defeat that left them just two points above relegation. So slim were Bournemouth’s chances in the eyes of the public that even the BBC overlooked the game as one of its two televised cup ties.
During that Friday night live cup tie, Ron Atkinson gave the BBC an interview in which his manner appeared slightly blasé towards the game the following day. It wasn’t lost on Redknapp who was very careful to keep the media away from his players during the week. The Bournemouth boss banned all talk about the tie during training and endeavoured to try and keep the week as routine as possible, save for checking the team into the Roundhouse hotel the night before the game.
The Bournemouth players travelled to a rapidly filling Dean Court together by coach on the day of the tie and were largely kept away from their star-studded opponents, seeing them only on the pitch as the two sets of players appeared in mufti before the game. Redknapp ensured his men were then kept in the dressing room so that he could tell them the United players weren’t taking them seriously. Ron Atkinson’s seeming lack of respect was drilled into the players while Redknapp also suggested the United players were all still in the player’s lounge placing bets and watching the horse racing, so unconcerned were they with the tie. Considering it was only three weeks since United’s exit from the League cup at the hands of Third Division Oxford, it’s doubtful there was any complacency.
The pattern for the afternoon for United was set early on when Arnold Muhren’s freekick in a promising position sailed so high over the bar it almost left the ground. Minutes later Arthur Albiston put the ball out for a corner when under no apparent pressure from any Bournemouth players. The United player’s nerves appeared to be jangling to the core in a series of misplaced passes and unforced errors that the home side were unable to capitalise on. At half time the match commentator for Radio two speculated that United could afford a poor first forty-five minutes to ease their way back into the cup run. With Bournemouth equally unable to lay a glove on the cup holders, there was no damage done.
If Harry Redknapp was using confidence tactics before the game to convince his players they had a chance, he must surely have been believing United could be taken if they emerged with the same attitude in the second period.
Atkinson made a change at half time, bringing on the veteran Lou Macari for Arthur Albiston but it would emerge that this was enforced through injury rather than a tactical one. The change of personnel made little difference on the pitch as United continued to toil to make inroads. A team containing such quality can’t be kept quiet indefinitely and for all their defensive solidity, Bournemouth gave Arthur Graham the time and space to unleash a goal bound drive, met with an equally impressive twisting save from Ian Leigh.
It was a moment the tie had been crying out for to crank it up a notch and the 3,000 travelling United fans at the other end of the field broke into noise, sensing their team had finally woken up. The next five minutes showed the tempo had increased but it was Bournemouth on the attack and forcing a corner that raised the noise level on the other three sides of the ground. Chris Sulley’s in swinger looked like meat and drink for United keeper, Gary Bailey until he inexplicably misjudged it, leaving Milton Graham with a golden second to hook the ball past a net guarded only by Lou Macari.
Milton Graham beats Gary Bailey to open the scoring [PA]
Two minutes later and Bournemouth came again as Everald Le Ronde’s lofted free kick fell into the box for Brian Robson to clear. The England captain appeared to be moving in slow motion as Ian Thompson robbed him and in the same step, fired past Bailey to double Bournemouth’s lead.
Two goals in three mad minutes that were in no way flattering to the home side who’d coped easily to that point against a United side who simply had no answer. Behind the dugout an injured Arthur Albiston began to notice the photographers edging towards the United bench and felt that sinking feeling that they would be all over tomorrow’s back pages for all the wrong reasons.
The 3,000 travelling United fans at one end of the ground were realising their team didn’t have it in them to fight back either and, as the game moved into the final minutes, sporadic fighting broke out before a pitch invasion was a last throw of the dice. It was merely a distasteful delay to the celebrations as the referee held the game up for five minutes to allow the pitch to be cleared before the players returned to play out barely ninety seconds of Football.
It was a much more good-natured pitch invasion that marked the final whistle, though the police still had work to do to escort an angry travelling support out of the ground. A delighted Harry Redknapp told the press “It’s got to be the greatest day in my life and I’m sure the greatest day in the lives of all the players. It’s a great afternoon for everybody in Bournemouth.”
For the players came a very tasty £200 a man bonus and the promise of a holiday, which alas, never materialised and one special prize for Goalkeeper, Ian Leigh who had been promised free Pizza for life from a local restaurant. The deal was honoured for a few months before Harry Redknapp himself bought the shop and promptly ended the arrangement, if only to save his keeper from obesity.
Celebration time old style as the Bournemouth players hit the communal bath for the press [PA]
Back in the cup It was with a sense of irony that the draw for round four of the competition would take the Cherries to struggling Second Division Middlesbrough, who themselves enjoyed a shock victory over Arsenal, thus helping Bournemouth prevent a repeat of the previous year’s semi-final.
Despite high hopes they could give the men from the north east a tough time, they fell to a goal in each half. Manchester United meanwhile jetted off to the Middle East to play a friendly to fill their vacant fixture slot.
Ultimately it would be a season of what might have been for the Red’s whose title bid collapsed when they failed to win any of their final five games to finish fourth, six points adrift of Champions, Liverpool. It was an opposite scenario for Redknapp’s Bournemouth who sat perilously close to the relegation zone until a four-game unbeaten end to their campaign ensured safety. There was also unlikely success as the Cherries won the Football League Trophy, a competition open to teams in Divisions Three and Four.
Having stabilised and brought success to the club, Redknapp began moulding a side that could win the Third Division, though that ultimately meant the breakup of his cup heroes. Having come in to do a short-term job, Ray Train left when his loan deal ended at the end of the season while Trevor Morgan also departed before the end of the year to continue a journeyman career that took him to Asia.
The eighteen months that followed saw the departures of Phil Brignull, Mark Nightingale, and goal heroes, Milton Graham and Ian Thompson to continue their careers in the lower divisions while Ian leigh and Roger Brown dropped into Non-League Football.
By the Autumn of 1986 Redknapp’s much changed Bournemouth had the look of a Third Division title winning side, though it would be without Everald Le Ronde whose career was ended by repeated injury problems. Chris Sully left early in the campaign for Dundee United before returning to help Blackburn win promotion to the top flight. Robbie Savage was the last remaining player at the club but also left during the title campaign.
Bournemouth: 1: Ian Leigh, 2: Everard La Ronde, 3: Chris Sulley, 4: Robbie Savage, 5: Roger Brown, 6: Phil Brignull, 7: Ray Train, 8: Mark Nightingale, 9: Trevor Morgan, 10: Milton Graham, 11: Ian Thompson. Manager: Harry Redknapp
Manchester United: 1: Gary Bailey, 2: Remi Moses, 3: Arthur Albiston (Replaced by 12: Lou Macari-half time), 4: Ray Wilkins, 5: Graeme Hogg, 6: Mike Duxbury, 7: Brian Robson, 8: Arnold Muhren, 9: Frank Stapleton, 10: Norman Whiteside, 11: Arthur Graham. Manager: Ron Atkinson