Reading the extraordinary inside story of Wimbledon’s rise from bottom to top – later close to replicated at Sheffield United – made up this column’s mind on the best football manager it has dealt with.
In 40 years, and more than 40 managers across the city, I have known all sorts (clue.) Strict disciplinarians, bawlers, strong silent types, philosophers, super extroverts, wily operators and matey ones you could never imagine stripping the dressing room paint.
David Thomas “Harry” Bassett was ALL of those put together. He could be a player (or journalist’s) firmest friend or fiercest enemy and then change back in a flash – with no grudges held either way. It all depended, said his long-time assistant Geoff Taylor, on “which head he was wearing.”
In “The Crazy Gang”, by Bassett and Wally Downes, Paul Fishenden (among many unsung heroes deservingly heralded) wrote: “You hear about Fergie and the hairdryer but Harry would scream sometimes, actually scream.”
Yet the same man would allow his players to strip him near naked, throw all his clothes out of a train window, and force him to journey home in his underpants. Can you imagine Sir Alex submitting to that?
It’s why Bassett is unique in my experience, just as the story of Wimbledon itself. In two promotions and four years in the top flight, the Blades later had the benefit of one-off methods that can never be recreated. Strong teamwork, allied to big characters and personalities, was at the centre of it. Oh for more of that currently.
Ex Don Mark Morris, who later joined United, spoke for many players, saying: “I didn’t just look forward to training, I wanted to get there early because the team spirit and atmosphere was so good.”
Kevin Gage, another who played for both clubs, said: “On my first day at Aston Villa I was treated like a god because I had played for Wimbledon. Everyone wanted to know how we had done what we did.”
Only Bassett could tell you that.
n As for Sheffield United now, nowhere good enough. For which Nigel Adkins, admitting he has enough good players to do better, shares the blame. Some signings have been ineffective and injuries are no excuse considering the size of the squad.
But recent history reveals no easy solutions. In fact, virtually the only one left is the one the club, after a rash of poor judgements, haven’t tried; holding tight.
Don’t summarily blame the board; on decision-making yes, commitment no. DO blame the players. The output is woefully below the supposed sum of the parts. There will be output of another sort in January and, crucially, input as well.
As for Adkins, sack him and you might as well sack us all. Did a single supporter or journalist oppose this appointment? Time for some trust.