Friday, December 30, 2005

The McCauley Years

Longstanding Argyle watchers will have their own opinions on Dan McCauley. Here for the record are mine.

I would give him 6/10 for his leadership of PAFC. That will shock many. Why so high? That's the question and I'll try to address it.

Well, he gave us some of the best football a green-clad team have ever played, he laid the foundations (metaphorically) for the redevelopment of the ground, he appointed Paul Sturrock - undoubtedly the best thing to happen to us for many years. When he left he sold out to a loosely-aligned group of gentlemen with the best interests of the club at heart. Genuine supporters all and that is no bad thing. He also at one stage actually invested some fairly substantial cash into the club; something we haven't seen since and had never really seen before.

So why only 6/10? That last paragraph looks pretty encouraging. Bring him back. Why were people so glad to see him go?

There's more. There always is.

McCauley was also in charge for our dead cat bounce, he dragged the club's reputation thoroughly through the gutter on more than one occasion, oversaw more relegations than promotions, sacked countless managers and cast more gloom over the club than had ever been cast before.

Let's go back to the beginning. Or at least near to it - 1992. Current coach David Kemp was the manager. Football as a whole was at a low ebb. Violence raged on the terraces and outside the grounds. Indeed quite often on the pitch the way Robbie Turner played the game. The Hillsborough, Bradford and Heysel tragedies were yet to make the game have a good hard look at itself and where it was going. Gazza had long since cried in Turin.

Argyle were struggling near the bottom of Division 2. Crowds were down to around 4000 on a regular basis. Keegan was appointed manager at Newcastle who, like us, were struggling desperately against relegation with crowds down to around the 10000 mark and Jack Walker was near to realising his dream of turning Blackburn into a top-flight club.

It was against this background that Argyle lost a mid-week match at home to Cambridge 1-0. Playing legend Kemp was sacked at the most crucial stage of the season imaginable and the few hardy souls still attending Home Park were mostly delighted to see the back of his obdurate and pragmatic longball style. I was not one of them. Kemp had to go. That much is true but it was so late in the season that the newcomer would have an almost impossible task. I can't help but feel that this decision put Argyle back years and years and years and caused us to miss the gravy train that professional football was soon to become. One of the worst decisions Argyle ever made. Kemp might just have kept us up and his successor would almost certainly fail.

Still it's darkest just before the dawn they say and the dawn was very bright indeed. To everyone's utter astonishment McCauley pulled a rabbit from the bag and appointed Peter Shilton, no less, as Argyle manager along with co-Forest European Cup winning legends John McGovern and Ian Bowyer who were to be his coaching staff. I can honestly say I have never been as excited by the appointment of a manager. Shilton was/is a true footballing superstar and he was now ours. Unbelieveable. Hang out the bunting and celebrate!!

The optimism didn't last long. In the last game of the season we had to play Blackburn and needed things to go well to stay up. 17000 packed the ground. We scored first through a David Smith (one of Shilton's first signings from Bristol City at £100 000 I think) fluke but Dalglish's Blackburn, and Walker's millions, were much too good for us. David Speedie scored a hat-trick for them and we went down. Possibly as depressing a day as I could remember, up to that stage, as an Argyle fan.

The rebuilding process that followed was as savage as anything ever seen at Home Park. It was also highly impressive. Out went nearly all of Kemp's hoofers. In came players from all over. Steve Castle, Paul Dalton, Gary Poole, Keith Hill, Kevin Nugent, Andy Comyn (our ugliest ever player?), Dominic Naylor and I suspect there were others. A new day dawned. Argyle started to play the game the way it is meant to be played. Possession, ball-to-feet, triangles and more. As the style flowed so did the results. We mounted a promotion campaign. More players came and went and one of my all-time favourites, Mark Patterson, arrived. Steve McCall, Wayne Burnett, Craig Skinner...

Then came another key moment. In an away game at Port Vale their defender Peter Swan made an incredible tackle on Paul Dalton as he looked certain to give us a 2-0 lead. It stayed 1-0. They eventually won 2-1 and pipped us to an automatic promotion spot later that season with a 2-0 win at Brighton as we beat Hartlepoole in as depressing an 8-1 away win as you could ever see.

We played Burnley in the play-offs. Agony. Despair. Injustice. Things would never be the same again.

In the aftermath of that Burnley defeat rumours started to emerge about Shilton's gambling problems. It appeared he had large debts. McCauley waged an astonishing vendetta against Shilton in the press. We even made front page of The Sun. Shilton fell out with longstanding pal McGovern. Good players we had signed stopped playing as well as they had. Performances were dreadful. Results worse. Brentford 7 Argyle 0 (Guilty men: Hodge, Patterson, Swan, Burnett, Evans, Crocker, Comyn, Barlow, Nugent, Dawe, Ross. Subs - Shilton). Relegation loomed once again this time to the unthinkable. To the 4th Division. Shilton sacked. McCall appointed as manager. Results just as bad. McCall sacked. Was it now Russel Osman was picking the team despite being a non-contract player? The inevitable followed and we went down.

Cue Neil Warnock. Our one and only visit to Wembley. McCauley in his big Pilgrim Pete hat. Ronnie Maugé. Glory.

Not that it would last long. Warnock wanted more money. McCauley said no. Warnock sacked via mobile phone and his pal Mick Jones appointed manager. McCauley was showing signs not only of being very petty and nasty but actually positively vindictive. Jones/Warnock just like Shilton/McGovern before them found that their friendship wasn't strong enough to survive the McCauley treatment.

It was at this stage that McCauley pulled the financial plug. Jones was given no money. Poor results followed as did relegation as did another sacking by mobile phone. Jones was replaced by Kevin Hodges. Still no money available. Poor performances and uninspiring results. Crowds down to 3000. Hodges sacked. The dead cat was hurtling groundwards and was totally out of control.

Even this is not enough to get a feel of quite how desperate things had become.

  • McCauley would not spend any money at all on the ground.
  • Games went ahead with only the Devonport End and the Barn Park End open because the other stands were unsafe and closed.
  • McCauley had petitioned the FA and announced that he intended to close the club.
  • There were insufficient numbers of directors (McCauley had booted them all out) for the club to meet it's own business rules.

It was all a horrendous mess.

So why 6/10? It's all sounds so much worse than that.

I go back to McCauley's initial appointment. Argyle were skint and a bill had to be paid. There would be a winding up order if it wasn't. Who reached for his chequebook and wrote a personal check whilst everyone else checked out how shiny their shoes were? Dan McCauley.

Quite simply without him there would not be an Argyle now and that excuses much of what was, in all reality, inexcusable.

So Dan McCauley was very much like the curate's egg - good in parts.


At 5:20 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Factually inaccurate.

On McCauleys appointment a number of consortium were ready to take over the financial responsibilities of the club. McCauleys bid included the retainment of Peter Bloom on the Board as Vice Chairman. This probably won the day.

The club at this point was not fiancially finished as you imply.

At 11:42 pm, Blogger Babararacucudada said...


That's not how I recall it but I don't deny that you may be right.

A few details perhaps?

At 3:56 pm, Blogger DuncMcRae said...

There was a kind-of alternative to Mc666 at the time he came in. Two of the directors (Ralph Burroughs and one other, forget which) resigned from the board and became part of a consortium with one Steve Tiller, who announced via the Herald that he had £2million and wanted to take over the club from Bloom & co. Nice, we all thought. There was a weird media battle for a couple of weeks between the Herald/Tiller camp and the Sunday Independent (shirt sponsors at the time)/Bloom camp.

Then McCauley came in instead. A lot of people said 'ooo, nice, someone with money'. Whether Tiller ever had any money is a matter for debate (a lot of people said the whole thing was a hoax to some degree), but the remnants of Bloom's board stayed (Bloom as vice-chair) and McCauley seemed keen to spend money on a high-profile manager and some decent players (such as Steve McCall, who was one of Shilton's first signings).

That, at least, is how I recall it. I liked the Tiller idea because it meant Bloom would go (I was never convinced he had the best interests of the club at heart, although I'm not sure why) but McCauley seemed like he might be our Jack Walker. If we hadn't gone down... ah, but the damage had already been done that year (one away win all season isn't enough).


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