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.
Read more tales from the Hall of Shame
Macca actually came seventh in our STFC Managers Countdown last summer… oh the shame!
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.
Couldn’t agree more. The man who crapped on John Trollope, Fraser Digby, Shaun Taylor and Paul Bodin deserves all the opprobrium that can be heaped upon him. McMahon inherited a talented but demoralised squad and instead of rejuvenating it, he ripped it to pieces – and tore the heart out of the club in the process. Perhaps we should have known what was coming when, after watching his first Town game, he complained that none of our players had been booked. That Southend game was utterly shameful. Yes, he deserves some credit for the promotion he achieved – but it was only repairing the damage he had caused himself. For me, only one other Town manager rivals him in the infamy league – one Dave Mackay.
Yes McMahon is one of only two STFC managers to have guided the club to a League title (to date), however he fully deserves his place in the HoS. The above comparison to Dave Mackay is completely right. Both ripped apart successful / strong squads for different reasons, but in Macca’s case his destruction went right to the heart and to some extent the club has only started to recover since Fitton & co. took over. Anyone who pays money for Bobby Howe deserves to be in the HoS…
Excellent article, just one point, I believe parachute payments were introduced after our season in the Premier League so as usual swindon received sod all.
Mcmahon, in truth took over the club with the legends like Taylor and Digby as they were coming to the end of their careers – he had to move them on. Ok, he replaced them with drivel mainly, but as most Town managers, he had to do it on a shoestring.
I don’t think he was the best manager by any shot, but to claim he ripped apart the squad is harsh – it needed ripping apart. It was in major decline, hence why Gorman got sacked.
To say he ripped apart a great side is nonsense, the season before the team let in a massive 100 goals in the premiership, and were a laughing stock well on their way to a second relegation before McMahon arrived, and to be fair he did get the club back on track by winning the league the next year, in a fantastic season that will be remembered for a very long time to come. Over the next few seasons some people want to conveniently forget that the club was in dire financial trouble and McMahon was unable to hang on to key players like Horlock and Alison and simply did not the funds to bring in quality players, and instead bought in free transfers or paid small fees for older experienced players, and in truth as much as he he sill gets knocked for this policy, it worked as McMahon managed to keep the club afloat in the championship until he left. As for his signings all managers sign cack players and McMahon was no different but there is no mention above of the quality signings he did make like Alison, Ndah, Onuora, Walters and Allen etc.
Managing Swindon after the Hoddle / Gorman premiership era was over was always going to a very tough job and in truth McMahon done a decent job, and to put him in a hall of shame is laughable, as when you take all the jibberjab and different opinions away, like it or not the facts are that his record of a league cup semi final and a league title must rank him as one of the most successful managers in the entire history of the club.
Regarding whether his record ranks high…in fact…we ranked him as the seventh most successful STFC manager of since we entered the Football League https://thewashbag.com/2011/07/15/managers-month-no-7-steve-mcmahon/
I think this is slightly a kangaroo court conviction 🙂
If it is so easy to win that division then why did no other relegated teams win it until Leicester 08/09 & Norwich 09/10 (neither had parachute payments either which started 2006-7).
Also you failed to mention Swindon Town leading Div 1(now championship) after 17 games in 97/98 which felt pretty good at the time.
judging by the horrendous state of the clubs finances that was soon to lead us to an infamous 2 administration i doubt he had must say about keeping players when a big offer came in so harsh to blame him for all outgoings.
Footballing reasons can draw little shame IMO
That said… For upsetting so many fans and Stfc legends I guess there is plenty of shame to go around, enough to go in the HoS? well he is in so there must be.
If it was true that his children were receiving abuse from some fans in order to get rid him then those Swindon fans should go into the Hall of Shame because that is one of the most shameful things in my time as a Swindon fan (if true).
Just like king McMahon got a very hard time for fuck all, neither had a pot to piss in but sill played proper football on the floor when it would been the easy option to hoof it , yet some fans think they should of sill been signing world class players and winning the league every season, it’s some fans that have issues not the managers as I don’t really see what more he could of done with the tools he was given.
I could not agree more – I accept his record on the pitch may not have ranked alongside the very worst but, in my experience, as a person, off the pitch, he deserves his HoS place alone. He, along with that other clown, Ricky Hunt, were the reasons I stopped going to Town games for a while. I recall Hunt branding us “Mindless Morons” for displaying a banner saying “McMahon Out”. Given this was displayed away at Bury on a dull saturday afternoon in an away end populated by no more than 50 loyal supporters I found that utterly contemptable. Perhaps this HoS entry should have been a double header !!!!
To put some perspective on the McMahon era and the comments about his successes and failures and ageing players.He did inherit a side that had some ageing players in 1994/95 and was leaking goals after a good start to the season. Shaun Taylor missed a good part of that season through injury as was Paul Bodin and in that season 4 teams were relegated. McMahon did have time to turn it around and the decision to sell your best striker Fjortoft was wrong with no replacement lined up and killed us (which we repeated in 2005/6 selling Rory Fallon and last year with Charlie Austin).
I would refute that Digby, Taylor and Bodin were players that needed to be moved on immediately They may have been past their early 90’s peaks but had enough to offer. Let’s not forget that Taylor was player of the season in 1995/96 and when we sold him he led Bristol City to promotion. Fraser Digby was player of the season for two years in 1996/97 and 1997/98 with crucial performances in the 2nd half of the season to keep us up and went onto Palace. Bodin played the same league level with Reading. The reasons for moving on where more to do with wages, rumoured falling outs and there remains the question of association with past glories.
McMahon did have money to spend during his era and was often allowed to re-invest significant amounts from the sale of the likes of Kevin Horlock. Wayne Allison was a £500K and Peter Thorne £250K were good signings but the £350K on Jason Drysdale and £400K on Darren Bullock were bad investments. No Swindon Manager since McMahon has had those amounts to spend and he spent the best part of £3M during his tenure and pulled in about £4.5M.
McMahon as a player manager was certainly influential and in the 1995/96 title winning team he could play the holding midfielder brilliantly with Horlock and O’Sullivan as his willing runners. Back in the old 1st Division he wound down his playing career and the odd cameo (I remember a 60min performance against Man City at home).
As a manager only, he wanted to model teams that were capable of good passing football but also tough and aggressive with sending offs (Scott Leitch, Lee Collins anyone) either inspiring a backs to wall performance or defeat. Good starts to the season would gradually unwind and players full of confidence in September would lose form in the latter part (Chris Hay, Peter Thorne and Steve Finney whose early promise disappeared).
The end of the McMahon era was horrible and in hindsight he stayed 6 months too long. Had he gone after the Stevenage defeat then the antagonsim at the end of 1997/8 and August 1998 could have been avioded but Rikki Hunt backed his fellow Liverpudlian. The poor treatment of club legends with a lack of dignity and the meltdown of supporter relations at the end did long term damage to the club support. For those reasons he does deserve to be in the Hall of Shame
I have to agree 100% with Oi Den – more so since his wonderful use of the very appropriate word opprobrium, in the same sentence as the equally appropriate “crapped on.”
My personal Hall of Shame has Macmahon and Mackay about equal – both brainless, heartless self centred hard men with less skill than Vinnie Jones and a total lack of concern for the club and its traditions. In my humble opinion of course.
It seems whenever we recruit a “name” as manager, it works out brilliantly when they are known for their attacking flair and skill – Hoddle, Ardilles, Macari, De Canio – and appallingly when they are brainless thugs – Mackay and Macmahon. Again IM-oh-so-HO.
I have to make one small point. At the time he was in charge of the club, my cousin was very seriously ill in hospital. At one point she was very, very close to leaving us. When she was on the road to recovery at home some months later my dear old Mum called up the club and asked Steve McMahon directly if he would consider allowing some players to her house to cheer her up, explaining the situation. He duly responded and that visit to her house was like a beacon for her. It helped so much. I spoke to Steve McMahon on the telephone because my Mum rang him again to say thanks and I needed to too. All the while he was a complete gentleman and I must say despite the flak he gets here, I won’t say a bad word about him.
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