In the definitive history of Everton Football Club, 'The School of Science', Gordon Lee is fondly remembered at Goodison Park.
"Gordon was a passionate, committed and decent man who had garnered an unfair reputation for dour, workmanlike teams rather than – in his words – "coffee-house ball-jugglers" or "Flash Harrys," confirms the author.
"Yet he was a lot better than his reputation implied. He had a great football mind and was a very astute judge of a person."
Living up to his growing repute at the time, Lee had become the hottest managerial property in the business. Think Martin O'Neill or David Moyes today and you've got the picture.
He set out on the managerial path that took him from Port Vale to Newcastle via Blackburn Rovers, whom he led to promotion in 1974-75, before Lee sparked Everton back to life after taking Newcastle to the 1976 League Cup final and Europe.
For all his reputation as a stern and implacable man, Lee is a warm and engaging character, more than happy to talk about the special times in his life that once saw his name touted as the next England coach.
Two decades on, and 70 next birthday, Lee admits he is just content to give the grandkids a cuddle on a Saturday afternoon or take a gentle hike on the sea-front at Lytham St Annes, where he is enjoying a happy and fruitful retirement, rather than perched in a freezing dug-out, breathing fire for 90 emotion-fuelled minutes.
"It is still the best game in the world, but football has gone to another planet now, and I can't say I really miss it too much," said Lee.
"You pick up the newspaper and read that Gerard Houllier is under pressure for his job after two games. I find that quite incredible.
"I managed at the very top with Newcastle and Everton, where the expectation was immense. I do understand the massive pressures and pitfalls of the job, but even now I'd be comfortable handling that pressure the same way that Sir Bobby Robson does at Newcastle.
"Managing a football club is total joy one minute and acute sadness the next. But management gives you a knowledge of people and an incredible insight into human nature. You either have to be a softly-spoken parish vicar or a total bastard.
"If I told the players to do 20 press-ups, I'd know who'd be trying to con me and who'd be doing the graft. I'd often think 'Would I want that fella to marry my own daughter or if there was a hole in the boat, would he try and save me or would he think of himself?' Sometimes there's something about a person that tells you 'yes' or 'no'.
"As a football manager, you have to have that special intuition. I was never frightened to make decisions, but it could break your heart too.
"I had a young Scottish goalkeeper at Goodison who was so close to making it, but one day I had to let him go. He was a clean-cut, dedicated boy, who loved the game and who so wanted to be a footballer. I had tears in my eyes when I was telling him. That was a sad story, but that's football.
"For the life of me, though, I could never imagine me going out to France or Spain and paying £20M for a footballer.
"I don't see that as an enjoyable type of management. I loved nurturing young players and bringing them through. I gave Steve McMahon, Gary Megson and Kevin Ratcliffe their debuts, but nowadays it is all about immediate success.
"I remember at Everton I was looking for a second striker to play with Bob Latchford, and I went to watch Chester Reserves and a young boy called Ian Rush playing as an attacking midfielder.
"The next night, I was at Dumbarton and saw a raw striker called Graeme Sharpe. I went back to the chairman and told him that, paired together, they could be one of the most exciting partnerships in English football.
"Chester wanted £300,000 for Rush, so I signed Graeme for £80,000 because the board said I couldn't have them both.
"There are a lot of outsiders in the modern game, though, and when things go wrong, as they inevitably do when you are a manager, it is usually the home-grown lads who roll their sleeves up and fight your corner when the chips are down. People said I was a negative manager but that never bothered me one jot. I had a tremendous inner self-belief. I believed I was the best and my team was the finest in the land."
He needed that self-assurance by the bucket load when Lee controversially sold England centre-forward Malcolm MacDonald to Arsenal for £300,333.
"The manager has to be allowed to manage, irrespective of who the personalities are. At Newcastle, I felt we needed to sell Malcolm MacDonald to improve as a team.
"Malcolm was a god on the terraces and he was one of the highest-paid players in England. He'd been on 'Superstars', riding bikes with Kevin Keegan and all that stuff, but it didn't cut any ice with me.
"I told the directors I'd guarantee them that he would not last 2 years at Arsenal and Newcastle would be better off without him. In fact, he lasted 18 months at Highbury and Newcastle were a 100% better team.
"I remember Malcolm coming back into pre-season training and telling me he'd lost his enthusiasm. I knew he'd been down to London in the summer and he'd been seen with the Arsenal people. He'd also put his house up for sale in Newcastle.
"I was at my best then, and absolutely nothing upset me. I just sent him home with a few choice words ringing in his ears. He didn't want the Newcastle fans to know that he wanted out. He wanted me to take the rap instead.
"It didn't bother me one bit and when I told the players he'd signed for Arsenal it was like I'd fed them a tin of spinach each, they were so pleased."
By the time he reached the gates of Deepdale on a bone-chilling December day in 1981, Lee must have thought he had seen it all.
But Lee needed a Harry Potter magic wand to revive a comatose North End after the fiasco of the Tommy Docherty appointment, which had lasted just 6 months, and left North End running on empty in their centenary season.
Deepdale boasted the biggest board of directors in the land after 20 businessmen stumped up £12,500 each for a seat on the board to keep North End afloat.
Preston were so broke they had to appeal for volunteers to paint the ground. Around 200 fans turned up and the players gave a helping hand too while Lee, against all the odds, steered North End away from certain relegation inside 4 months.
"The one reason I went to Preston was the chairman at the time, Alan Jones, who was a genuine, hard-working man who I had tremendous respect for. However, it didn't take me long to realise it was the impossible job.
"Preston were in a desperate financial situation. They'd sold Deepdale to the local council and they had no assets. At one stage, there were more directors than players at Deepdale – all wanting to be the Chairman.
"I'd battled tooth and nail to keep them up and then I was told I had to sack half my team in the summer for a cost-cutting measure. I thought I'd restored some hope and anticipation and Preston had a chance of building a foundation.
"I was left with virtually no squad, so it became an impossibility to move the club forward. I knew the end was coming, so it didn't upset me when I left Preston."
A 2-year stint in Iceland followed before a spell at Leicester City, but now his interest in the game is confined to live Sky TV games and chats with his old mate Brian Horton, the Port Vale manager.
"I often think back to all the players I signed or played in my teams, many of them big names as managers today.
"But the one signing who gave me the most pleasure was a kid called Sammy Morgan. He was playing for a non-league club called Gorleston near Great Yarmouth, and the manager telephoned me about him.
"He said 'I've got this big, bruising centre-forward who you might be interested in. The only trouble is he looks like a cross between a vicar and a bank manager.'
"The next day, this smartly dressed boy turned up on the doorstep at Port Vale, wearing glasses and a smart suit. Sammy was training to be a PE teacher and we agreed a fee of £5-a-week as a semi-professional.
"But Sammy was sensational – a real blockbusting centre-forward – who helped us win promotion. I ended up selling him to Aston Villa for £30,000!
"Before he went to Villa, he was picked for Northern Ireland against Portugal and the game was played at Hull because of the troubles in the province at the time.
"The Port Vale chairman was so chuffed, he laid on a coach for the whole first team and we went to watch him play. He was brilliant and Sammy and George Best were the best players on the park that night.
"I came from a school where you had to prove your management ability by scratching and scraping for a living at the bottom rung of football. You had to prove you could handle it with no financial help, and then to improve players and get that club promotion.
"Nowadays, if you've played half-a-dozen games for Manchester United or a couple of times for England, then you can get a job as a manager. I find that absolutely incredible because they rarely succeed."
Reader Comments (50)
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1 Posted 10/07/2019 at 19:00:09
Has there ever been a more unlucky manager? Lost league cup final with the last kick of the second replay, beaten by the referee in one semi final, by a weird bounce in another. I'm still convinced that team was a decent keeper away from great things.
2 Posted 10/07/2019 at 19:48:36
3 Posted 10/07/2019 at 20:01:36
Gordon will be 85 on Friday.
4 Posted 10/07/2019 at 20:03:09
5 Posted 10/07/2019 at 20:17:49
6 Posted 10/07/2019 at 20:31:52
7 Posted 10/07/2019 at 20:43:01
8 Posted 10/07/2019 at 21:10:01
Dave, in a way I agree with you, because McKenzie enjoyed the showboat stuff. But in another way he was a victim of our being crap compared with the great football we had played. A player like him might well have really excelled and contributed to the team if he'd played in one of the 60s sides. I know it's all ifs and maybes.
9 Posted 10/07/2019 at 21:17:04
I don't recall the style of football played under Gordon Lee being dour at all. We played our best football of the 1970's under him (the title winning of 1970 excluded) and we were pretty attractive to watch. We were certainly more expansive under Lee than Billy Bingham. He had two major drawbacks he looked and sounded pretty dour and he got rid of the mercurial wonderful Duncan McKenzie!
Of course we were not as good as the 1960's but we better under his management than most give him credit for. The other problem was the RS who had a very good side when Lee was manager. We played some great stuff in 1977-78 and we finished 3rd and 4th in his first two seasons followed by an awful third season which saw his sacked.
10 Posted 10/07/2019 at 21:18:52
11 Posted 10/07/2019 at 22:24:37
Shame They would not let Lee sign both Sharpe and Rush when he asked the board.
One funny was when they toured abroad and Lee asked what the player was eating, he said Welsh rarebit boss, with Lee muttering back looks like cheese on toast to me.
The was another funny about the streaker at the Anfield derby but I cannot remember what Lee said.
12 Posted 10/07/2019 at 22:53:10
It has to be said though, that without these ''also rans'', the top teams wouldn't exist because their hard work keeps the Premier league the best in the world.
13 Posted 10/07/2019 at 23:24:33
14 Posted 10/07/2019 at 23:25:16
15 Posted 11/07/2019 at 03:13:49
He asked Shankley if he could have a chat and said he should be on more money, Shankly agreed, Everton did not bow to his demands and was sold.
Shame really because he was one of the finest wingers of his generation.
16 Posted 11/07/2019 at 03:15:56
17 Posted 11/07/2019 at 06:02:59
18 Posted 11/07/2019 at 06:30:23
There were some great victories in 77-78 and 78-79 thrashing Leicester away 5-1 and beating Coventry at home 6-0 stick in my mind and of course Big Bob getting the 30 goals in the last game of the season. I also think we had the longest unbeaten in our history in 78-79 (I will check that later).
19 Posted 11/07/2019 at 08:06:56
If I had to put it in a nutshell, in the 60s and up to 69-70, Everton were just different from everyone else. We played the ball through midfield when others blasted it from defence. We played like Brazil, or like the current Man City. We were ahead of our time in some ways. But from 70-71 onwards, we weren't that different from everyone else. Still one of the top teams, but no longer played like Brazil (not consistently anyway) and no longer won anything (until the fantastic 80s period).
20 Posted 11/07/2019 at 09:08:53
21 Posted 11/07/2019 at 09:18:55
The girl unfortunately was going through a bad spell at the time, not long after the Derby game she threw herself off a ferry into the river Mersey. She was rescued, I never heard about her after that.
22 Posted 11/07/2019 at 10:56:40
I remember City who were in the process of running away with the league in March 1972... all based on a mixture of skill and grit... by bringing in Rodney Marsh, he upset the balance of skill and grit.
Marsh himself later agreed it was all his fault. In my opinion, though, it was more of Allison's fault for getting over ambitious and trying to gild the lily. He should've just kept on keeping on with what worked. But he couldn't help himself, as was his wont, he wanted to go out with a big flamboyant Allison finish.
23 Posted 11/07/2019 at 16:08:45
24 Posted 11/07/2019 at 17:29:04
Great to watch when on song like in the cup tie against Stoke(?) but Tommy Smith had it right when he ignored the fancy stopovers and gave MotM to Andy King!
Lee was the nearly-man – a goalkeeper short of winning the league. If we'd had Shilton rather than Wood, we may well have won it. A good, thoroughly decent human being.
25 Posted 11/07/2019 at 17:58:56
Dave, in the game where the Hamilton goal was disallowed, Smith was marking McKenzie near the centre spot, the ball came down from a goal kick, McKenzie avoided Smith's challenge to trap the ball dead, flicked it over his shoulder, turned, trapped it again, and sped off leaving Smith flailing about. It was wonderful stuff.
26 Posted 11/07/2019 at 19:02:41
I agree with the poster's who claim that McKenzie wasn't a team player, because when I attended the FA Cup game at Ninian Park in February 1977, what should have been a routine goal for McKenzie, turned into a heart in mouth time, in an effort to impress, he almost made a mess of things, fortunately he did score from that attempt, which together with a goal from Bob Latchford ensured a 2-1 victory. McKenzie was the type of player who would revel in a 4 or 5 goal win, but not a character to have in the trenches.
27 Posted 11/07/2019 at 19:08:29
28 Posted 11/07/2019 at 19:18:01
30 Posted 11/07/2019 at 22:52:26
I went in those days mainly to be entertained by Duncan, who I adored. To be fair I think most fans loved him. My dad used to skit him as he walked with his arse sticking out like Max Wall (or Beyoncé for the younger readers), my mum liked him. He was brilliant in the mud bath semi at Maine Rd against the best team in Europe that year.
In those mid 70s we had Martin Dobson, Colin Todd, Mick Pejic and Andy King but not much else to entertain us. For me Gordon Lee's football was dour, I was never a Latchford man although he was loved by the majority.
Watching the games now from the old ‘Match of the Day' or ‘The Big Match', the thing that strikes me is how bad the pitches were and how poor the quality of football was.
Some of my recollections may be through rose-tinted glasses.
31 Posted 11/07/2019 at 23:40:59
32 Posted 11/07/2019 at 23:50:37
Jimmy Case is the lowest form of vermin that ever contaminated football.
33 Posted 12/07/2019 at 00:31:46
So far as I am concerned, the football under Lee was a symptom of a bigger malaise with Everton, which has continued barring the period 84-87. Some supporters might get fed up listening to the likes of me going on about how great we were prior to the 70s. But the discrepancy between the expectations we had at the end of the 60s, with the gradual development of Everton during that time, and what happened after the 60s, cannot be overestimated.
That team that won the 69-70 title should have taken the football world by storm in the 70s. That team could have been the England team in Mexico, and could in principle have won that World Cup, they were so good.
In a way, I believe the popularity of Duncan McKenzie was a product of the expectations of football quality we'd acclimatised to up to 1970. Players like him, with their artistry and showmanship, made memories for us which were not being provided by the overall quality of Everton teams during that time.
34 Posted 12/07/2019 at 10:31:15
35 Posted 12/07/2019 at 14:37:53
Dave (30), The Gwladys Street cheered when Case injured Nulty? I think the song “Jimmy Jimmy shithouse Case” originated after that tackle.
We could have won the title under Bingham, but the football he “provided” really and truly was dreadful to watch, safety first at it's worst.
36 Posted 12/07/2019 at 14:57:20
Do you recall the shocking tackle that pond life Case did in the last home match of the 85-86 season when it played for Southampton? I forget who it was on but it kicked off with Reidy getting stuck in. Case was the usual cowardly RS bellend out of the same mould as Smith. A hard case until someone stands up to them. Think Smith and Johnny Morrissey.
An apology for a human being.
37 Posted 12/07/2019 at 15:17:16
38 Posted 13/07/2019 at 09:22:24
39 Posted 13/07/2019 at 09:28:48
Hope to see you again after the Watford game and have a good chat.
40 Posted 13/07/2019 at 12:27:20
I think I remember reading an interview with an ex-player from that time who said that Gordon Lee had things ticking very nicely until his assistant left. He said the players loved him and that training was spot on but after he left it was never the same and about a year later it was over.
Helpfully, I can't remember the name of the player, or the coach, so I may well be wrong. I could possibly be getting confused with the Bingham era. But it always stuck in my head. Anyone know if that sounds right?
41 Posted 13/07/2019 at 14:35:22
42 Posted 13/07/2019 at 15:08:47
43 Posted 14/07/2019 at 09:38:56
As for Case, yes he was a shithouse bully.
44 Posted 14/07/2019 at 09:44:26
45 Posted 14/07/2019 at 13:43:52
46 Posted 14/07/2019 at 13:52:59
47 Posted 14/07/2019 at 14:53:04
At one unforgettable Q&A a well known Evertonian from Woodstock Gdns (wont name him, some will already know ) stood up and said to Lee; " Gordon. You said that if you hadnt won anything at Everton after two years you would consider yourself to have failed and would leave.
Lee - "I do remember saying something along those lines, but. .
Evertonian - "Sorry Gordon, but your two years are up. Fuck off"
The place fell into disarray. Even Lee was laughing.
To be fair to Gordon. He did a decent job, but anyone stepping into the hot seat at Goodison round about then was having to contend with the Shite starting to make their mark in Europe and They were just not given the funds to compete.
An awful time for Evertonians, We'd been top dogs in this city for so long, but it was to get worse. We couldnt have known how much of an impact events of the late seventies would have in shaping the destinies of these two clubs
48 Posted 14/07/2019 at 14:59:47
49 Posted 14/07/2019 at 15:19:58
50 Posted 15/07/2019 at 11:21:42
52 Posted 18/07/2019 at 01:50:55
I cannot think of too many times we got the rub of the green or got a big decision go our way apart from Limpars penalty against Wimbledon.
Neither can I recall of a big decision costing our neighbours a trophy or three points.
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