Managers Month: Steve McMahon

No.8 | Steve McMahon | Manager Nov 1994 to Sept 1998 | Score 340.7

Taking over from the sacked John Gorman in November 1994, the board, more specifically Rikki Hunt, got his man. The appointment returned Town to leadership by a central midfield player manager with international experience, a formula that had worked so well previously.

However from these high hopes Steve McMahon became one of the most despised Swindon manager of recent times. Not since his dismissal in September 1998 can I recall an on the pitch protest against an incumbant manager.

So how could a man with a Swindon league championship under his belt go from hero to zero?

The Case for the Defence:

– McMahon is one of only two managers to guide Swindon to a league championship by winning the 1995/96 Division Two, and in some style.

– That championship was secured thanks to our second highest ever points total in a season of 92 points won, equivalent to 2 per game.

– In defence that season McMahon used Taylor, Culverhouse, Seagraves and Bodin to great effect. Not only do Town suffer just four defeats in the league, our fewest in any Football League season, but also set other records by conceding the least number of goals at 34 (0.739 per game), most away points in a season, most away victories, fewest away defeats and fewest away goals conceded.

– Macca was one of just three managers to take Swindon to a League Cup semi-final, and one of four managers to guide Town to any major semi-final. McMahon was in charge of the 4th Round tie against Derby, Quarter Final 3-1 win at home to Millwall and the 2 leg semi-final against Bolton. Also of note was Swindon racing to a two goal lead against Premier League Champions Blackburn Rovers in the following season’s 2nd Round, only to suffer a 3-2 defeat and fail to make up the deficit at Ewood Park.

– He was one of only seven managers to take Swindon to an FA Cup 5th Round tie (9 times in 5th or beyond since 1920/21). The 1995/96 FA Cup campaign was our best since 1991/92 and was perhaps helped by all 5 rounds drawn with Town playing at home. The 5th Round game against Premier League Southampton was so nearly a great upset as a late Gordon Watson equaliser took the game to a replay and eventual 2-0 defeat at The Dell.

– McMahon’s performances in both FA Cup and League Cup have not been equalled since.

– He also kept Swindon in Division One for two seasons despite working under the limited finances available to him, however what Swindon manager hasn’t worked under financial constraints…?

The Case for the Prosecution:

– When McMahon was appointed Town were 19th in Division One with 22 points, but only seven adrift of the promotion chasing pack, so hopes remained that with 27 games remaining Town could secure a top ten finish. 14 games and only 2 wins later, Town had picked up 12 points and 6 adrift of safety, evidently distracted by the cup progress. Without a talisman striker and a team without a spine, Macca could never stop the slide and failed to get his side into any real chance of avoiding the drop for a second successive season.

– McMahon sold Jan Aage Fjortoft for well under his real value and appeased the fans by bringing in Jason Drysdale as his ‘replacement’ on deadline day. After selling the Norwegian, Town’s ten remaining games yielded 10 goals, ultimately contributing to our relegation, something never to be forgiven.

– After returning back to Division One, Town finished 19th and 18th in a period that was defined by humiliating defeats and winless runs. The rot had really begun in 1997/98 after topping the table at the start of November, Town’s fall was as dramatic as their assent, winning only 4 and accumulating 18 points from their remaining 29 games after Chris Hay stopped scoring. The problem was how futile performances had been since returning to Division One, testing any supporter’s patience through the lengthy winless runs, lack of goals and heavy defeats. It took a pitch invasion to get rid of Macca. I dared think what would’ve happened if Macca would’ve clung onto power after that..?

– McMahon oversaw the dismantling of last remnants of the early 1990s sides as Shaun Taylor was sold to Bristol City and both Paul Bodin and Fraser Digby were released. Add to this relieving Andy Rowland of assistant manager duties. Yes these players were getting into their thirties, however they still had a few years left in them. With whatever dressing room fractions between the players and Macca, Rikki Hunt was only going to back McMahon, so this important spine and continuity to the past was riped out of the heart of the club.

– Macca later complained about being forced to work under tight financial constraints, yet he was the man who wasted £340,000 on Jason Drysdale, £150,000 on Frank Talia, £100,000 on Steve Cowe, £80,000 on Gary Elkins, £400,000 on Darren Bullock only to sell the midfielder two years later for less than half the price, and £30,000 on Bobby Howe. McMahon’s overall spending, including big fees also for Culverhouse, Thorne, Seagraves, Allison, Ndah, Hay and Onoura, hasn’t been matched since, so he can count himself lucky he had money to spend at all and this spending contributed to future years of high debt.

– In results against Oxford United, McMahon contributed to 38% of our total league defeats against our bitter rivals, compared to 14% to our total victories, that’s not very good is it…

Good, Bad or Ugly? – Bad – Macca’s season in Division Two and cup exploits show why he deserves to be our No.7. However you cannot live off just one season and despite the club records and the league championship, Macca tarnished his own reputation through his single mindedness and clutching onto power, when any sane chairman would’ve sent him packing months, if not years before.

  • Leagues: 4 seasons in Division One and 1 season in Division Two
  • FA Cup: 9 ties & 5 tie wins | Best 5th Round in 1995/96
  • League Cup: 10 ties & 5 tie wins | Best Semi-Final in 1994/95 (after entering in 4th Round)
  • Achievements: Division Two Championship 1995/96
League Pld Won Drn Lst For Agg League Pts P/G League Score FAC Score FLC Score
174 62 46 66 206 240 232 1.333 203.89 67.22 69.50
TOTAL SCORE: 340.7

Click here for a full list of the managers in the countdown so far and their scores, including an explanation of how the scoring works.

* header photo from swindontownfc.co.uk

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