Hall of Shame #6: Steve McMahon
Andrew Hawes gets his chance to induct his choice into the Hall of Shame…a popular selection by all accounts…
There aren’t that many managers in Swindon’s history who have achieved promotion.
Bert Head, Danny Williams, Lou Macari, Ossie Ardiles (albeit briefly), Glenn Hoddle, Steve McMahon and Paul Sturrock complete the list. Yet when thinking about the STFC Hall of Shame, I was drawn like a moth to a flame, or perhaps, given the circumstances, like a moth to a single bare light bulb in a shabby bedsit with peeling wallpaper and a “musty” odour, to one candidate.
So step forward a Swindon Town title winning manager Steve McMahon. It seems harsh to put someone who kept the club in what is the Championship into a dingy vault with other knaves and jackanapes, but there are good reasons.
When Steve McMahon was appointed he was the latest in a line of player-managers having their first stab at the job. Previous incumbents Macari, Ardiles and Hoddle were all known for their on-pitch flair, though they produced sides of different styles. McMahon, the midfield enforcer, wasn’t – and he promptly proved it by getting sent off in his first match in charge at Southend, after replacing John Gorman.
Despite a run to the semi-finals of the League Cup, without knocking out a top flight side, relegation was the result despite a team containing Shaun Taylor, Paul Bodin, Ian Culverhouse, Fraser Digby, and Jan Aage Fjortoft.
The sale of the loveable Norwegian for £1.3m, because “it was the only offer” was enough to make to want me gouge my eyes out with a spoon – if you look at Jan nettng his final goals at West Brom, it looks as if the new manager had a similar effect on his charges. No side, has dropped out of the Premier League since its money grabbing formation and then followed it up with relegation again.
But I hear you cry, what about that title winning season of 95/96? Yes, they were good – and they played some fine football and I suppose he has to earn some credit for assembling the squad. But let me give you Digby, Kevin Horlock and friends and the chance to top up your squad with parachute payment money. A chimp who picked his starting eleven blindfolded with use of a dartboard should have got that squad out of the league.
So in one and a bit seasons, things were back to where Steve McMahon came in. What followed was a slump into turgid fare on the pitch. I went to a lot of games in this era – and I couldn’t tell you exactly what style the team were attempting to play, even now. The signings gradually became of worse quality, almost inevitably Liverpudlian cast offs or ex-Premier League reserve defenders grinding out one final pay cheque before disappearing to do whatever it is they do. With the decent exception of Brian Borrows, they also had quite the capacity for corpulence.
Seasons ended with hideous runs from about February or March, when McMahon would run out of new signings to glare into playing, and the existing squad just wanted it to end. Mark Walters might score some ludicrously good goal, but that was the limit on entertainment in front of a crowd there out of a sense of obligation. And I nearly forgot about the FA Cup defeat by Stevenage.
But it was off the pitch that Steve McMahon clinches his nomination. His treatment of club servants and history was to remove them in Stalinesque purges. See Peter Matthews’ fine book on John Trollope (in fact buy it don’t just see it) to discover how abrupt his departure was. In their place came more Merseyside men, working to five year plans and waving pitchforks at anyone who mentioned 1969.
I am scrapping round to avoid cliché, but it was a reign that did real damage to the soul of the club which has lasted long after his departure. Going to games was a chore, and dissidents like I calling for his head were eyeballed into sullen (and in my case yellow bellied chicken) conformity.
I suppose there may have been financial realities he had to work with – not that Rikki Hunt seemed to deal in any sort of reality – but I can only go on what I saw and recall.
So for your failure to build on what you had to work with, selling Jan Aage Fjortoft, some lousy football, sequences of terrible results, a feeling of constant acrimony and a disinterest in our history, or future, I hereby wish to place Steve McMahon into the Hall of Shame.
May the lord have mercy on my soul or my chances of working on ESPN Asia, where if I recall he is their pundit.
Andrew Hawes is a BBC Radio commentator and the author of The Swindon Town Miscellany, a mix of facts, triva, lists and the wierd stuff in STFC going back to 1879 with tales from all eras.