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19 March 2015

Internship available: zero-hours non-contract, must supply own white gloves

Where have all the Scottish managers gone? This week, Hunter Davies seeks an intern to count them.

By Hunter Davies

I am looking for an intern or someone on work experience. Work is flexible, as I’m on zero-hours non-contracts. But it stretches over seven days, as I don’t have weekends, so they can pick and choose their own schedule. Might have to clean the mud off the tortoise when she appears, then oil her shell – what am I saying? I’ve promised that job to my grandchildren.

What I want right now is someone to go through my collection of 2,000 or so football books, programmes, magazines and annuals, and check the nationality of every manager in the English top division since it all began 127 years ago.

Last month, when Paul Lambert got the boot at Aston Villa, it meant that there was not one Scottish manager left in the Premier division. I do find it hard to believe, and not just because I am Scottish-born and feel pleased when our lads done good, but historically it is a watershed. What on earth has happened?

Since the Prem began 20 years ago, there has always been at least one Scottish manager. In 2011, there were seven at the same time: Fergie at Man United, Lambert at Norwich, Alex McLeish at Villa, David Moyes at Everton, Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, Steve Kean at Blackburn, Owen Coyle at Bolton. Yes, Coyle once played for Ireland but he was born and brought up in Scotland.

Over these 127 years, five out of the top ten most successful managers in England’s top league have been Scottish: Fergie with 13 League titles, then George Ramsay with six, Matt Busby with five, Dalglish with four, Bill Shankly three. During most of the 19th and 20th centuries, when England’s professionals were in training, it usually ended with a practice game – Scots v the rest. There were just so many of them.

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The man who began the Football League in 1888 was a Scotsman, William McGregor. He was from Perthshire, moved to Birmingham as a draper, teetotaller and active Congregationalist, and became a director of Aston Villa, his local club. He was against professionalism in football when it started in 1885, then saw the benefits. But having to pay players a regular wage became difficult when matches got cancelled for Cup replays or teams did not turn up.

Hard to believe it now, when having some sort of league seems so obvious, that for 25 years after the FA was formed in 1863, football had managed without a league. All they did was play endless friendlies or Cup games.

McGregor’s proposal, which led to the first football league in the world, was as much a commercial as a sporting consideration – he persuaded the 12 founding clubs that having a league system would give them guaranteed fixtures.

One of the reasons for the success of Scots in the early decades of football was that they were good at passing. The public-school boys who began the FA were lumps, thumping it upfield, all chasing after it, then all chasing back. The nippy little Scots, the wee devils, just passed them off the park. They were also willing to move south, anything to get out of the pits or the steelworks. They were hard on the pitch and also as managers.

So, what I want to know is: has there ever been a First Division season since 1888 without a Scottish manager? I’ve had a quick look back and got to 1984, but I’ve got so much work to do, I need help.

I have enough research material here, including a run of the Sporting Chronicle from that first season, July to December 1888. A bit crinkly, like rice paper, so bring your own white gloves, please.

You will have to decide when managers as we know them began. Early on, many clubs had a trainer, who just trained them, plus a selection committee that picked the team.

There could be a PhD in this.

In the Championship, there are five Scottish managers at the moment, with one, Alex Neil of Norwich, tipped for better things.

But in the Prem there are now none. The same thing could happen to the English. They become a minority, even in their own league. Then disappear . . . 

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