Managers Month: Lou Macari’s red & white army

No.7 | Lou Macari | Manager July 1984 to July 1989 | Score 348.1

For the past few weeks Lou’s name has been frequently mentioned as a potential no.1 in this countdown, so the fact that he joins outside the top five may be a surprise for some. You may remember my rationale whereby points gained are multiplied by a division factor, so given Macari’s points are spread in three divisions, including two seasons in Division Four, that gives some reason why he’s outside the top five.

Back in 1984 Ken Beamish guided Swindon to our lowest ever League finish of 17th in Division Four, attendances were struggling to break the 3,000 barrier and the club was in financial meltdown. With a new sponsor found in Lowndes Lambert – contributing £100,000 to finance a new manager – the club could make the leap and secure the services of Lou Macari, a big name player manager the new sponsor demanded. Results slowly improved under Lou and eventually Town finished a credible 8th and 14 points better off than a year previous, however all that to follow may never have happened given the events of Good Friday 1985.

All was not well between Macari and his chosen assistant Harry Gregg. Differing football philosophies and an argument over footballing decisions led to the two not even talking to each other. When the board, bemused by this infighting, realised Macari wouldn’t take the decision to sack his right hand man, they  hastily sacked both men on Good Friday. Cue an outburst from Town fans with petitions, angry protests and pitch invasions, shocked by yet another rash and incomprehensible decision, by a board it seemed determined to bring the club down. The pressure from the supporters and Macari paid off. The following Wednesday finally the board saw sense, decided to listen to Macari and the facts, reversed their decision and reinstated Lou.

A year later Macari proved right the supporters faith in him as Town romped to the Division Four title and a first Football League championship for Swindon. The existing backbone of Leigh Barnard, David Cole, Peter Coyne, Colin Gordon, Charlie Hendry and Dave Hockaday was strengthen with Colin Calderwood, Brian Wade, Kenny Allen, Paul Roberts, Dave Bamber and a returning Chris Kamara. Macari’s ability to attract players and motivate the squad took Swindon to domination in Division Four, securing promotion with seven games remaining and winning the title with three games to spare, breaking seventeen club records and a record league points haul of 102.

Back in Division Three Lou managed to build upon this success with the addition of future Town legends Fraser Digby, Steve White, Martin Ling, Alan McLoughlin, Phil King, Craig Maskell and a returning Jimmy Quinn bolstering an already strong squad. In contention all season and with a chance of automatic promotion two games remaining, Macari’s side settled for the newly created play-offs and an eventual replay victory over Gillingham at Selhurst Park in the final.

Back in Division Two for a third time, 1987/88 brought consolidation and a 12th placed finish thanks to 31 goals from Jimmy Quinn, but then Duncan Shearer inspired Swindon a year later to 6th place and a first ever shot at Division One through the play-offs. Crystal Palace – boasting Wright and Bright – met Swindon in the two leg semi-final. After Town dominated the first leg, they could only take the narrowest of 1 nil leads to Selhurst Park. It could’ve been 2 goals had a Steve White header not been disallowed for what the ref saw as an offside. The second leg was a contrast. An early Mark Bright poach after the ball was loose in the box gave Palace the lead, soon followed by an Ian Wright close range shot, and thereafter Swindon just couldn’t recover and get a shot on target.

That game at Palace proved to be Lou Macari’s last in charge of Swindon. After guiding Town to such a swift ascent through the Football League his efforts wouldn’t go unrecognised. Recently relegated West Ham United were able to tempt Lou away, however with Town facing the Hammers in Division Two the following season we’d have the last laugh.

As for Macari’s Town sides in the cups. FA Cup and League Cup runs weren’t as successful as Lou’s league form with two first round and three fourth round defeats, including that 5-0 loss at Newcastle in 1987/88. Although not counted in this ranking, Lou led Swindon to good Freight Rover Trophy and Simod Cup results.

Post Swindon, Macari would be dragged into a scandal. First Brian Hillier was banned from Football for three months and Macari fined £1,000 by the FA after being accused of match fixing, after encouraging players to bet on losing an FA Cup 4th Round tie at Newcastle. Then, and as it turned out more seriously, Macari became embroiled in the illegal payments affair with the club being pursued not only be the FA but by the Inland Revenue in 1990. The case against Macari and other defendants Hillier and Farar wasn’t heard until 1992, when Lou was acquitted after admitting he was aware side payments were being made to players, however he believed tax was being paid on them.

Good, Bad or Ugly – Good – There is no doubt of Macari’s impact and lasting impression. Like Bert Head some 25 years before, he took us from near terminal decline to promotion, not once but twice in successive seasons, and a shot at Division One. All this came within five frenetic seasons and represents the second rebirth of Swindon Town’s history.

  • Leagues: 4 seasons in Division One and 1 season in Division Two
  • FA Cup: 10 ties & 5 tie wins | Best 4th Round on 3 occasions
  • League Cup: 11 ties & 5 tie wins | Best 4th Round in 1985/86
  • Achievements: Division Four Championship 1985/86 and Division Three play-off winner 1986/87
League Pld Won Drn Lst For Agg League Pts P/G League Score FAC Score FLC Score
235 118 55 62 370 267 406 1.728 226.42 58.50 63.18

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.

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