The football media has its favourites

POST-MATCH interviews are very anodyne. You could almost write the script yourself. Sometimes you wonder why TV channels bother to “get a few words from…” the managers of both sides. They are never going to give anything away, rarely going to admit to seeing a key incident and will never point to a weakness in their side.

Punditry has gone the same way, full of safe comments, cliché and jargon, and the big problem we have today is the fake intimacy that pundits have with players and coaches, referring to them by their first names rather than keeping it professional. What does this do? Only makes it harder to make an objective comment about a game, because we’re all mates.

The football professionals know that without their input, much of the activity on our TV channels is wasted. So, any contentious questions are batted away, or met with a “lost in translation” response. How often do you see a coach pretend he didn’t hear the interviewer’s question when he’s asked something hinting at mistakes made by a team or players, or even the coach himself? It’s a clever tactic to diffuse or distract the course of the interview.

Love and hate

The media have their favourite managers and players, indeed teams. Going back in time, Sir Alf Ramsey could never have won a popularity contest if he tried, largely because he refused to pander to anyone. Likewise, Don Revie was never appreciated because his team was a bunch of “outsiders” who didn’t belong to the football establishment. Bill Shankly could never do anything wrong and neither could Matt Busby. Brian Clough was great copy, but he kept interviewers on their toes. They loved him when things were going well, but equally, when they didn’t, they also made the most of it. In the case of Clough, Mourinho, Revie and Ramsey, schadenfreude was definitely the name of the game.

Today, everone seems besotted with Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, although both have shown they can become very prickly when asked difficult but pertinent questions. Although both manage elitist clubs, hence success is almost a given, there is an intense fascination and a little mystique around both men. In the case of Guardiola, he doesn’t seem like a football man with his tech bro appearance and slightly aloof demeanour. Klopp is more conventional in that respect, but he has the aura of a happy, wealthy European businessman with a good dentist from a well-heeled Bavarian town. It’s easy to be fascinated with both managers.

The media have always adopted clubs and managers as their chosen partners. Again, using history as a benchmark, Tottenham’s double-winners of 1961 were eulogised about for decades by the press, often seen as the perfect team of sophisticated push-and-run experts. And their manager, Bill Nicholson, was a much respected fellow. And yet, their success was short-lived and by the late 1960s, a distant memory. Nicholson tried, often in vain, to replicate that success and between 1971 and 1973, won more trophies, but his time as an innovator was over. Mauricio Pochettino enjoyed great consistency at the club, but he never won a trophy. In fact, nobody has ever matched Nicholson because the reputation that Spurs gained for their footballing quality was built by “Bill Nick”.

Similarly, West Ham were regarded, for years and years, as a footballing team based on the principles of Ron Greenwood, who actually left the club as manager in the mid-70s. Obviously, with two trophies and a team that included the England triumvirate of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst, the Hammers’ deserved their plaudits, but the belief that this purist approach to football continued was something of a fallacy. Anyone who watched West Ham as they struggled to maintain their first division place would testify that at times, the football was abject, even if the atmosphere at Upton Park was to be savoured.


Conversely, Arsenal had to convince people to shrug aside their reputation for being “lucky” and culturally defensive. When they won the double in 1971, there was no great acclaim that Bertie Mee’s side was the best in the land. Arsenal were “boring” according to the press and lacked charm. This put-down went back many years, indeed as far back as the Herbert Chapman era when the great man opted for a defensive style that was extraordinarily successful. While Chapman was seen as a great innovator and intelligent operator, his style was rather cautious, as noted by the Austrian coach Willi Meisl, who frequently questioned his friend why he had opted for defence-first option. Arsenal were consider “lucky” but basically, it was more that the Gunners were extremely strategic and economical. Only when Arsène Wenger brought his European ideals to Highbury (and then the Emirates), did Arsenal become form over function in the eyes of the football public. In fact, suddenly every reporter, TV personality and actor seemed to be an Emirates season ticket holder.

The other team that was revered as much as Spurs 1961 was the Busby Babes, for obvious reasons. It would be unfair to say that this team’s legend was enhanced by their tragic demise, but this was the best side in Britain at the time. This was really the first example of a team of home-grown youngsters coming to the fore, a process that was copied later by Chelsea and Burnley, among others. The Spurs team was never as influential because by the time Nicholson’s men scooped the hallowed prize, the lure of the continent was becoming evident. You could argue the Arsenal and Leeds sides of the late 1960s and early 1970s were influenced as much by catenaccio and the Italian giants of Milan.

Busby rebuilt United and created another great side, the Manchester United of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton. Rarely had any team included such outstanding talent. United, it was said, had beautiful football in their DNA, and post-Busby and indeed the holy trinity, countless sides had this burden hanging over them. Even at the end of the Busby period, it was a trial and when they were relegated in 1974 with Tommy Docherty in charge, they had a workmanlike unit that was not averse to clogging its way to survival. United’s “style”, which had long gone, took years to return under Alex Ferguson. If playing with flair was a prerequisite, it seems vaguely ridiculous they chose to hire José Mourinho knowing his pragmatism would be incompatible with United’s mythical ethos.

In and out

On a different level, there have been managers and clubs that have been lauded for their approach even though the quality of football has been questionable. Sean Dyche was idolised at Burnley, and rightly so given his record of keeping the club in the Premier League. Nobody was allowed to criticise Dyche’s style because of that very reason, yet Burnley were not the most watchable of teams. Yet the newspapers loved Dyche and his gravelly voice, but eventually, he was sacked by Burnley and they were relegated at the end of 2021-22.

Right now, Thomas Frank is one of the media darlings, along with Klopp and Guardiola. The press don’t really know how to take either Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte at Chelsea and Tottenham respectively, and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta slips in and out of favour. Graham Potter at Brighton is highly regarded and seen as the sort of character who would be appointed England manager. Steve Gerrard is seen as heir apparent to Klopp’s Anfield throne.

It’s a moveable feast, though. Managers and teams can be flavour of the month at the start of the season and move to zero status in a few weeks, such is the fragile nature of success. There are 20 managers in the Premier, but only a small number get the bulk of the attention, because outside of the top two or three, the rest are just a couple of results away from the sack. No wonder they seem scared to say anything of consequence.

Finest hours, finest teams: Derby County

DERBY COUNTY’s financial situation is dire and most football fans will be hoping they come through their current crisis. Derby is a passionate football town and the club was one of the original 12 Football League clubs. They have been champions twice and have lifted the FA Cup on one occasion. The club has given the game some great characters, from Steve Bloomer in the late 19th century to Brian Clough in the 1970s. It’s hard for Derby teams to live up to the club’s glory years when they won the Football League twice between 1972 and 1975. Here’s some of the notable Derby teams of the past:

1897-98  to 1898-99

Jack Fryer, Jimmy Methven, Joe Leiper, John D Cox, Archie Goodall, Jimmy Turner, John Goodall, Steve Bloomer, John Boag, Jimmy Stevenson, Hugh McQueen, Jonathan Staveley, Robert Paterson, Johnny May, Tommy Arkesden, Billy MacDonald, Harry Allen. Manager: Harry Newbould.

Achievements: FA Cup finalists in 1898 and 1899

Steve Bloomer – One of the great figures from the early years of the professional game, Bloomer won 23 England caps, scoring 28 goals. A forward who had all the right qualities – speed, accuracy, goalscoring prowess and strength. Born January 20 1874 in Cradley, Worcestershire, he started his career with Derby Midland FC who merged with Derby County in 1891. He also appeared for Derby Swifts on occasion. In his long career, bloomer scored 392 goals in 655 games and only Jimmy Greaves netted more goals in the top division of English football.

Assessment: Derby went close to winning the league in 1896, finishing second to Aston Villa, who were in their prime and would go on to win the double in 1897. The bulk of Derby’s 1896 team appeared in the 1898 FA Cup final. Derby were primarily a cup side and in 1898, they beat Villa, Wolves, Liverpool and Everton on the way to the Crystal Palace. Their final opponents, Nottingham Forest were considered slight underdogs, but they were in command for much of the game. They took a 19th minute lead through Arthur Capes, but in the 31st, Derby levelled when a free kick by Joe Leiper sailed into the area and “Bloomer headed it cleverly into the net”. Forest regained the lead through Capes and controlled the second period and four minutes from time, they sealed victory with a third from John McPherson. The Times reported that Derby “have the consolation of knowing that the cup is resting among neighbours”!.


Vic Woodley, Jack Nicholas, Jack Howe, Jim Bullions, Leon Leuty, Chick Musson, Reg Harrison, Raich Carter, Jackie Stamps, Peter Doherty, Dally Duncan. Manager: Stuart McMillan.

Achievement: FA Cup winners 1946

Raich Carter – A legendary player in the game either side of the second world war, Carter was 32 years old in the FA Cup final of 1946. He was a very vocal figure on the pitch, normally encouraging his team-mates to play better. He won 13 England caps, but for the war, he would surely have won many more. Many critics considered he was one of the most natural footballers to represent England. Carter started his career with Sunderland, with whom he won the Football League title in 1936 and FA Cup in 1937. He signed for Derby in December 1945, the Rams paying £ 6,000 for him. His stay at the Baseball Ground was brief and in 1948, he joined Hull City.

Peter Doherty – The pipe-smoking Doherty arrived at Derby after the second world war and his stint with the club lasted around 18 months before he moved to Huddersfield Town, earning the club a £ 9,000 fee. He had previously played for Blackpool and Manchester City, winning the league with City in 1937. Renowned for his “body swerve”, ball-playing trickery and tireless energy, Doherty won 16 caps for Ireland between 1935 and 1950. He also possessed tireless energy. 

Assessment: Derby’s team included six players aged 30 or over, including goalkeeper Vic Woodley and winger Dally Duncan, as well as Carter and Doherty. Derby met Charlton in the first proper FA Cup since 1939 and it was the fitter, more determined team that won – Derby by four goals to one. Carter and Doherty were in fine form, their artistry apparently “bewildering” the London side. Charlton’s Bert Turner made history in scoring for both sides, first of all putting Derby ahead and then levelling for his team. The game went to extra time and Derby’s energy won the day, with goals from Jackie Stamps (2) and the outstanding Doherty. Just before the end, the ball burst, a moment of great amusement for the media. The Sunday Mirror summed up Derby’s performance: “Cool, calculated genius and perfect training slowly sapped the strength from Charlton”. 


Colin Boulton, John Robson, Colin Todd, Ron Webster, Terry Hennessey, Roy McFarland, Alan Durban, Archie Gemmill, Alan Hinton, John McGovern, Kevin Hector, John O’Hare. Manager: Brian Clough.

Achievement: Football League champions 1971-72.

Roy McFarland and Colin Todd: Derby had some excellent players in every department of their two title-winning team: Kevin Hector, John O’Hare, Alan Durban, Archie Gemmill, Alan Hinton and David Nish are all legends from the Baseball Ground era. But absolute key to Derby’s success was the central defensive partnership of Roy McFarland and Colin Todd. McFarland was signed by Clough and Taylor in 1967 from Tranmere Rovers. McFarland had set his heart on playing for Liverpool, but the persistent Clough merely said: “Young man, you are signing for Derby County,” as he tabled a £24,000 fee. Derby knew all about Todd. He had, after all, played for the Sunderland youth team when Clough was in charge. When Clough paid £ 175,000 to take the Chester-Le-Street born Todd from Sunderland, it was a record fee for a defender. McFarland and Todd should have won more caps for England. Between them, they appeared 55 times, with McFarland receiving one more than Todd. 

Assessment: The 1971-72 title race was one of the most absorbing in history and could have ended with Leeds United, Liverpool, Manchester City or Derby County on top. Nobody really anticipated Brian Clough’s side would be champions before the campaign got underway. They had been in the top flight for two seasons since winning promotion but had slipped a little since their fourth place in 1969-70. The destination of the old trophy went to the final game, Leeds slipping up in their last fixture after winning the FA Cup just two days earlier. Leeds lost 2-1 at Wolves and this gave Derby the championship by a single point. Brian Clough, who was on holiday having finished his season, described the triumph as “one of the miracles of the century”.


Colin Boulton, Peter Daniel, Colin Todd, David Nish, Rod Thomas, Ron Webster, Archie Gemmill, Alan Hinton, Henry Newton, Bruce Rioch, John McGovern, Kevin Hector, Francis Lee, Steve Powell, Jeff Bourne, Roger Davies. Manager: Dave Mackay.

Achievement: Football League champions 1974-75.

Bruce Rioch – Midfielder Rioch joined Derby in February 1974 from Aston Villa and was top scorer in the 1974-75 season, his explosive shooting and set-pieces proving invaluable. He had also played for Luton Town earlier in his career. Although born in Aldershot, he was capped 24 times by Scotland, appearing in the 1978 World Cup. He was sold to Everton in December 1976 but returned to Derby for a second spell nine months later. He eventually left the club in 1979.

Francis Lee – In his prime, Lee was an outstanding forward who won 27 caps (10 goals) for England when he was with Manchester City. Although at the veteran stage of his career when he arrived at Derby, he had two excellent seasons with the club, scoring 30 goals in 82 league games. An aggressive and incisive front-runner, he was also renowned for his ability to win and score penalties. Retired from the game in 1976 to concentrate on his business interests.

Archie Gemmill – Few players have made such an impact across two clubs as Gemmill did with Derby and – latterly – with Nottingham Forest. A hard-running midfielder with perceptive passing ability, Gemmill joined Derby in September 1970 from Preston North End for a bargain £ 60,000. He won 43 Scotland caps and will forever be remembered for his contribution in the 1978 World Cup. He played more than 400 games for Derby – across two spells – with a highly successful period with Forest in between.

Assessment: Given the depth of talent at the club, it was no surprise Derby County secured their second Football League Championship in four seasons in 1975. But it was not their charismatic and controversial manager of 1972, Brian Clough, that led them to the title. Clough and his number two, Peter Taylor, controversially left the club in the autumn of 1973 and in October of that year, Dave Mackay was appointed as manager. The 1974-75 season was one of the most open in the league’s history. At the final count, only 11 points separated mid-table Queens Park Rangers and Derby on 53 points. Furthermore, the leadership changed hands almost weekly, with more than half a dozen teams in with a chance of winning the title in the closing stages. Consistency seemed to be a problem among most clubs and Derby only topped the table in the final weeks.