Managers and Coaches, 1945-82
Brief biographies of the Eagles' managers and coaches in their Southern League years
At the end of these notes are some statistics comparing their respective records at the club
(For details of the two player coaches who had brief spells in those roles before the War, Leslie Odell and Len Potter, see First Years, 1884-1939)
Alf Strange (1945-47)
Alf Strange in his Sheffield Wednesday days
A Derbyshire man, born in Ripley in 1900, Alf Strange played for Portsmouth, Port Vale, Sheffield Wednesday, Bradford Park Avenue and England between 1922 and 1936. His most productive years were with Wednesday where he had made 253 senior appearances between 1927 and 1936, and where he moved from his original position of inside or centre-forward to right-half. He won First Division Championship medals in Wednesday’s consecutive title-winning seasons of 1928/9 and 1929/30, and won 20 England caps between 1930 and 1933, captaining the side three times, against France and Belgium at the end of 1930/1 and Wales the following autumn. Two broken legs in the early 30s brought an end to his senior playing career. After leaving League football he played for his home-town team, Ripley Town, as well as Raleigh Athletic in Nottingham and Codnor Rangers in Derbyshire, where he was player-coach. Although he was 45 when appointed at Bedford, the local press reported that he had recently been playing for a Royal Army Ordnance Corps side. It is possible that he had been stationed in the area* and came into contact with the club in that way. In any event his appointment, in April 1945, before the war in Europe had even ended, was a bold and ambitious move. He was soon organising trials for local youngsters but also tended to import players from his native East Midlands, about most of whom little is known even now. Of these, only Ken Flint really prospered, moving to Tottenham in the summer of 1947. With a mixture of these players, local lads and transient guest players, with Football League clubs but still in the Forces, who played when stationed in the area, it was difficult to find any kind of consistency and with success on the field elusive, gates for the club's new venture were disappointing. Although the final finishing position of ninth out of eleven clubs in 1945/6 was probably about as good as could be expected, 1946/7 seemed to be going better when Strange announced his resignation in January, saying that he remained on good terms with the club but felt that a salaried manager couldn't be justified. The results for the period between then and the appointment of Charlie Bicknell some 16 months later, during which the committee ran the playing side, suggest that Strange's departure cost the club dearly on the field even if it may have saved money. As far as is known that was the end of his involvement with professional football. He returned to Derbyshire, and ran a poultry farm there until his death in 1978.
*It's possible that he had been an instructor at the Military Convalescent Depot at Grange Camp. Kempston, where several professional players were PT instructors; a team from the Depot played at the Eyrie in a friendly on 30 August 1945, Strange's second match in charge.
Charlie Bicknell (Coach, 1948-51)
Charlie Bicknell captains West Ham to the Football League War Cup in 1940 (top), and seen with some of his new signings at The Eyrie, 1949 (second from left in lower picture )
Charlie Bicknell has the distinction, as a player, of featuring as a “legend” on supporters’ websites for all three clubs where he spent his Football League career-Chesterfield, Bradford City and West Ham. Born at Pye Bridge, Derbyshire, in 1905, he joined Chesterfield from junior football in 1926 and soon became their first choice left-back, making 79 appearances in three seasons before moving to Bradford City in March 1930 for a £600 fee. Here he clocked up 240 appearances in six years, including a run of 224 consecutive Division Two matches. Transferred to West Ham, also in Division Two, in March 1936, he missed only one match from then until the suspension of league football in 1939. By now club captain, he continued to play for the Hammers in wartime games, also serving as a special constable, and captained them to success in the Football League War Cup at Wembley in 1940, when they beat Blackburn 1-0. He was over 40 when league football resumed in 1946 but made 19 more League appearances before joining Bedford in April 1948, ending with over 450 peacetime league appearances and over 200 more in the war. He was famed for his ability with a dead ball and even at the age of 45, while appearing for Bedford’s reserves when they were short of players, was said to have poleaxed a defender with a 30-yard free kick.
Bicknell’s two and a half seasons in charge at Bedford brought very little success on the field (see Into the Southern League (1945-50)) but it would be unfair to judge him by contemporary standards. Although later sources sometimes referred to him as player-manager (he only played regularly during his first season at the club), at the time he was normally called “player-coach” or “club coach”, and may not have had a free hand either in signings or team selection; a “selection committee” had certainly operated during the gap between Alf Strange’s departure in January 1947 and Bicknell’s arrival, and it existed for a while even after Ronnie Rooke’s appointment, so it seems likely that it existed during Bicknell’s time as well. In the 1949/50 season the club's entry in Lenzel's Southern League Football Handbook described the secretary, C.J. Franklin, as "secretary-manager", and the club found it necessary to ask the local newspaper correspondent to clarify that Bicknell “was coach to the club, not any particular team”. Successive finishes in bottom place (1948/9), third from bottom (1949/50) and the likelihood of bottom again in January 1951 prompted the directors of the newly formed limited company to appoint Ronnie Rooke. A few weeks after Rooke's arrival it was reported that Bicknell had "relinquished his post by amicable arrangement", but hoped to remain involved with the game. In fact, he reappeared as first team trainer at the start of the 1951/2 season. He seems to have held that job for the rest of Rooke’s first spell and through the brief reign of Fred Stansfield, only giving it up when Tim Kelly arrived and installed Dougie Gardiner as his right-hand man. Even then Bicknell seems to have remained involved. At first Kelly used a prewar Luton player, Jock Finlayson, as reserve team manager, but when Finlayson died in September 1957 Bicknell was officially titled Kelly’s assistant manager, looking after the reserves, from January 1958 to Kelly’s departure in the summer of 1959. That seems to have been the end of his formal involvement but he remained in the area, working as a meter reader, until he retired. He died in September 1994, just short of his 89th birthday. His much younger cousin, Roy Bicknell, played for Wolves, Charlton, Bristol City and Colchester in the 40s and early 50s, later managing Clacton Town.
Charlie Bicknell, aged 85, with the crystal hammer presented by his old club, West Ham, at a former players’ reunion at Upton Park in 1990. It was the first time he had been back since leaving the club 43 years earlier.
Ronnie Rooke (Player-manager 1951-53, Manager 1959-61)
Born in Guildford in 1911, Ronnie Rooke was a natural centre-forward of the old school, strong and bustling with a deadly accurate and fast right foot. After early outings with Guildford City and Woking, he started his League playing career at Crystal Palace in 1933 without enormous success, only making 18 appearances in three years, but on moving to Fulham in 1936 he found regular first team football and a high strike rate. He hit 69 goals in 106 peacetime matches for Fulham-including all six against Bury in the FA Cup in 1938/9- and in wartime football he averaged a goal a game and won an England cap against Wales at Molyneux in 1942/3. He might have joined Spurs rather than Fulham-his former manager at Palace, Jack Tresadern, had moved to White Hart Lane and tried to sign Rooke only for Palace to refuse to sell despite what Tresadern believed to be a gentlemens' agreement to do so*. The war appeared to have taken his best years, but he was surprisingly signed by Arsenal in 1946, and his 68 goals for them in 88 matches included 33 in the Championship winning season of 1947/8. He returned to Crystal Palace as player-manager in the summer of 1949 and led them to a respectable mid-table position in the Third Divison (South) in his first season, but the following year they plummetted to the bottom of the table and he left in December 1950. After being introduced to the crowd as a "guest" at The Eyrie before the match against Kettering in late January 1951, he was appointed player-manager of the club the following month. His debut in a reserve match attracted a crowd of over 3,000 and his personal reputation and goalscoring revived a club that had struggled since joining the Southern League in 1945. When he took over the team seemed doomed to seek re-election for the third successive season but in a few weeks he lifted them into a semi-respectable 17th place. In 1951/2 they consolidated this into a mid-table placing, their best so far, and reached the first round proper of the FA Cup for only the second time, going down honourably at Swindon. In 1952/3 they finished third, missing the title by only two points after being in with a chance of winning it until the last day of the season. However, Rooke’s style was to sign lots of experienced players, often former colleagues from his old clubs, and offer them substantial wages. By the start of 1953/4 this policy was becoming financially unsustainable and after months of ill-concealed rows, including a very public one at the AGM, in December 1953 he was given leave with pay until the end of his contract the following summer. Whatever his merits as a manager, his contributions on the field were massive, with 96 goals in 136 competitive senior matches plus a few more for the reserves.
He carried on playing and managing, first at Hayward’s Heath and then at Addlestone in Surrey, and was reported to have applied for the manager’s job when Fred Stansfield left in 1955, but by 1959 he was working at the Vickers Armstrong plant in Surrey and acting as player-coach to the works team, so his return to succeed Tim Kelly that summer surprised some-especially as several of the directors who had sacked him five years earlier were still on the board. He started with a highly successful side and much goodwill but against stronger opposition now that the league had created a premier division, the team failed to recapture the success of the Kelly era. With the exception of the prolific Arthur Hukin, Rooke’s signings didn’t gel with the established players and after a mid-table finish in April 1960 the club’s finances forced the release of Len Duquemin, Micky Bull and Jimmy Clugston, three of the mainstays of the championship-winning side. 1960/1 started terribly although there was a revival of sorts after Christmas, but 1961/2 began much the same with a steadily deteriorating standard of players and falling gates. After a 2-3 FA Cup defeat at Hitchin in September 1961 the board dispensed with Rooke’s services and he did not manage again. Despite being nearly 50 when his second spell began, he was still registered as a player, turning out occasionally for the reserves and even, in emergencies, the first team; his final appearance at Yeovil early in 1961 ended in a ten-goal immolation. Rooke remained in the town –his house in Lynton Grove was called “Highbury”-and worked at Luton Airport and then for Whitbread’s Brewery for some years. He died in 1985.
Rooke was sometimes criticized in his first spell at Bedford for bringing in so many relatively old players on transfers and neglecting local talent. The latter point is probably unfair since, after all, the much more successful Tim Kelly adopted a similar policy (the average age of Kelly's 1955/6 team against Arsenal was almost exactly the same, a shade over 30, as that of Rooke's first choice side in 1952/3) and it was not until Reg Smith’s arrival that any manager seriously attempted to promote players through the ranks. But there’s no doubt that Rooke’s first spell cost the recently re-financed club money it just didn’t have; in his second spell, in much more limited circumstances, and without his personal impact on the pitch, he was unable to halt a steady decline. But as the memories of those who knew him, preserved in The Eyrie Roar, make clear, he was a larger-than-life figure who could inspire great affection and loyalty, and as I can confirm from a brief glimpse in a reserve game in 1961, nobody who saw him play will forget the sight of one of his unstoppable shots hurtling into the net.
* So Tresadern, by then manager at Hastings, claimed in his programme notes for Hastings' League match against Bedford on 21 October 1953.
Ronnie Rooke (in dark coat) greets his new players at The Eyrie shortly before his first appointment in January 1951, alongside the chairman, William Hobkirk.
Fred Stansfield (1954-55)
Fred Stansfield (left) is welcomed to his new job in March 1954 by chairman Cyril Folkes. Less than a year later this brief relationship came to an end.
Fred Stansfield was born in Cardiff in 1917 and joined Cardiff City during the war from the local team Grange Albion. He made 106 senior appearances for Cardiff as a centre-half and was capped once for Wales, against Scotland in October 1948; contemporary writers reckoned that he might have won more caps but for the misfortune of breaking a leg playing for Cardiff against Barnsley a few weeks later. Unable to regain his first team place after this injury, he moved to Newport County, initially on loan, in September 1949; later in the season he became acting player-manager there and retired to become full-time manager in the summer of 1950. He spent three full seasons in charge, achieving mid-table positions in the Third Division (South), until being sacked early in 1953/4 after a poor run. Succeeding Ronnie Rooke after the latter’s first spell at Bedford in March 1954, he endured a miserable start to his first full season as the team failed to win any of its first nine competitive matches. After a brief revival in October with five successive wins, things deteriorated again with a dismal FA Cup exit at Dorchester. After that, there were only three more wins in the next 17 matches, culminating in a 0-3 home defeat by Tonbridge in early March that was described by the Bedfordshire Times reporter as the worst game seen at the ground since the war. Stansfield was given three months’ notice the following week but seems to have left at once, telling reporters that he could not see how any manager was expected to achieve results in such a short time. He had announced when he arrived that he intended to make a big effort to develop young local players and invited anyone under 18 who was interested to apply for a trial; this may well have been a policy urged on him by the directors, tiring of Rooke’s regime of expensive imports, but although a few local players appeared in 1954/5, none, with the possible exception of Brian Kirkup (who had arrived in Rooke’s time anyway) went on to serious careers. In any event, Stansfield had gone before any work he did in this area could bear fruit, and none of his professional signings, except Doug Farquhar, outlasted him. He does not seem to have continued in football after that and for many years ran a newsagent’s business in Cardiff, where he died on 30 March 2014, aged 96. At the time of his death he was the oldest surviving Welsh international as well as the oldest surviving Eagles' manager.
Fred Stansfield (5) in action for Cardiff v Moscow Dynamo at Ninian Park in 1945, above, and on the right in the lower photograph
Tim Kelly (1955-59 and 1963-64 [caretaker])
Thomas Kelly, always known as Tim, was born in Belfast in 1907. He joined the RAF as a teenager and by 1927 was stationed at Henlow, playing for the station team in the South Midlands League. He was picked as an inside forward for the RAF XI in 1928, and in 1929/30 he won two Irish amateur caps against Scotland and England, scoring in the latter match. At the end of that season, he helped RAF Henlow to beat the Eagles 1-0 in the final of the Beds Premier Cup. Soon afterwards he turned professional with Fulham, although he made only one League appearance there, and by the later 30s he was appearing for Vauxhall Motors, the strong amateur team in Luton, where he also worked. In the immediate post war years, having retired as a player, he coached the Vauxhall club and led them to two FA Cup wins against the Eagles, in 1947/8 and 1948/9. In 1951 he moved to Luton Town as a part-time coach and in 1952 became full-time assistant manager during one of the club’s most successful periods which culminated in promotion to the old First Division in 1955. In April that year he succeeded Fred Stansfield at Bedford and achieved an immediate effect as the team won nine of their last 12 matches. He cleared out most of Stansfield’s squad during the summer and signed virtually a new team. Undoubtedly his biggest coup was to persuade four key members of the Headington United side that had won the Southern League title in 1953 to join Bedford-Bob Craig, Johnny Crichton, Ron Steel and Harry Yates. Terry Pope, Desmond Quinn and Felix Staroscik were three more Kelly signings who were to contribute greatly over the next few seasons. His first full season began with only one defeat by the last week of October, and continued with the best FA Cup run in the club’s history, including the first defeat of a League club when Watford were beaten at Bedford in the second round. It ended with the two battles against Arsenal, a 2-2 draw at Highbury and an honourable 1-2 defeat after extra time in the replay after Bedford had led until six minutes from the end of normal time. Without heavy cup commitments the final league position, fourth, might have been bettered but the fruits of the best season in the club’s history to date were seen for the rest of Kelly’s time as manager; tangibly with the new main stand opened in December 1956, and on the field with better quality players receiving, presumably, top wages at a time when the maximum wage was in force in League football. In the next two seasons Kelly, with his old Luton colleague Dougie Gardiner as right-hand man, took the team to successive runner’s up trophies, with another good effort in the Cup in 1956/7 when Norwich were beaten, and in 1957/8 they were denied the title only by a strange series of lapses at home. In 1958/9 Kelly finally achieved his ambition when the championship was secured in a play-off at Hereford, and his bold move to sign Len Duquemin and Colin Brittan from Spurs in November, after a disappointing FA Cup defeat by Wisbech, turned the season round. However, Hastings made him a better offer that summer and he left amid general surprise; later he took Len Duquemin, Micky Bull and Terry Murray with him, but may have regretted the move because his new club were relegated in 1961 and crashed to the very bottom of the First Division the following year, when his contract was not renewed. He was quoted as saying that he had a total budget for wages of only £58 a week and had faced an impossible task. He returned to his old job at Vauxhall’s, from where he was summoned back to Bedford as caretaker-manager in December 1963 between the departure of Reg Smith and the arrival of Basil Hayward, and although it is unclear how much personal part he played in the 2-1 FA Cup success at Newcastle on 4 January 1964, the press loved his party trick (revived from the 1955/6 run) of putting out titbits for leprechauns beside the goal posts. He returned to Vauxhall’s when the cup run ended against Carlisle and remained there until he retired. He died in Luton in May 1975. Tim Kelly’s achievements at Bedford were unequalled by any later manager, and for anyone who remembers his time he remains the best. His son, Terry, was a regular first team centre-half at Luton in the early 60s and later played for Cambridge United and Dunstable.
Tim Kelly is interviewed by David Coleman for BBC TV’s “Sportsview” before the Carlisle cup-tie in January 1964. This was the interview in which he laid out saucers of milk for leprechauns by the goalposts.
Reg Smith (1961-63 and 1971-72)
Reg Smith in his early playing days at Hitchin (above) and as Eagles' manager (below)
Reg Smith came to Bedford with an unusual career behind him, both as a player and a manager. He was born in Battersea in 1912, to a South African father who had represented the Springboks at rugby, and later changed his name from Schmidt, and an English mother. Starting in 1930 with Hitchin Town, Smith was a left winger who turned professional on moving to Millwall in 1935 and in 1936/7 was part of the Millwall team that reached the FA Cup semi-finals from the Third Division (South), a “first” at the time, and then won the divisional title the following year. In 1938/9 he won two full England caps, scoring on his debut against Norway, and later won three wartime caps. RAF service in the war took him to Scotland, where he guested for Partick Thistle, and unusually for an English player he stayed there when peacetime football resumed, joining Dundee and winning a promotion medal in 1947. After a stint as player-manager at Corby Town he returned north to coach at Dundee and then to manage Dundee United (1954-7) and Falkirk (1957-9). In his first season he saved Falkirk from relegation and took them to the Scottish Cup, the first English manager to win the trophy. A return to Millwall as manager from 1959-61 ended in disappointment and he returned for a time to South Africa to manage the Addington club in the Durban area. He was perhaps already rather disillusioned about the fate of too many managers when he was appointed at The Eyrie in November 1961 to manage a team in the relegation zone. Refusing a contract and telling reporters “I’ll get ‘em up or get out”, he was able to achieve some stability in the new year of 1962 and avoided relegation comfortably in the end. His contacts in Scotland were reflected in several useful Scottish signings such as David Sturrock, Bobby Anderson and the highest profile recruit for some time, Jock Wallace, who had been West Bromwich Albion’s first choice goalkeeper the previous season. He was also the first Eagles manager since the War to give young local players a regular place in the side, as David Skinn, David Lovell, John Fahy and Steve Miles established themselves. 1962/3 started brightly and featured a run to the second round of the FA Cup, but the team had already started to fade when the worst winter in living memory disrupted their progress completely and another indifferent finish resulted. The following season saw another reasonable start but a 1-7 home thrashing by Guildford in mid-September 1963 was followed by the announcement of Smith’s resignation. He had spent several summers coaching in South Africa since taking the Bedford job-in autumn 1962 there was a rumour that he might return there-and now announced that he was returning permanently to Addington. Some days of confusion followed; chairman Ted Ashdown confirmed that Smith had handed in his notice before the season had even started, citing "a difference of opinion" with the directors, but said that the Board had delayed the announcement in the hope of persuading him to change his mind. Eventually he agreed to stay until December, and immediately results started to improve, with further FA Cup successes which took the team to a third round tie at Newcastle. Smith, however, had already bought his ticket and could not be persuaded to remain, leaving Tim Kelly to hold the fort and take some of the credit for the efforts of a team he had created. After moving from Addington to Cape Town City, he returned from South Africa for a second, brief spell in charge at The Eyrie from November 1971 to June 1972. Until late January 1972 this was a caretaker role after Alan Wright was sacked, but Smith was then appointed permanently, and enjoyed a reasonable run for the rest of the season. There was general disappointment when he resigned in the summer of 1972, claiming that the club’s problem was apathy on the part of supporters. In the 1972/3 season he worked as assistant manager at Stevenage (where he was rejoined by Barry Fry), but then appears to have left the game and worked in the Stevenage area for a computer company until he retired. A reflective man, Reg Smith had a taste for homespun philosophical insights in his programme notes and once answered a critical journalist’s comments with a whole page of verse; when he decided to buy a playing kit with the numbers on the front of the players’ shorts rather than the backs of their shirts, he told critics that the opposition wouldn’t be able to tell whether they were coming or going. He died in 2004, just short of his 92nd birthday, and is thought to have been the oldest surviving England international player at the time of his death. [See obituary in “The Times” for 22 January 2004] (Hitchin photograph above by kind permission of Nick Sopowski and the Hitchin Town FC website http://www.hitchintownfc.co.uk/]
Basil Hayward (1964-66)
Born in Leek, Staffs, in 1928, Basil Hayward joined Port Vale at the end of the war, and went on to make 373 senior appearances for the club. Initially he played centre-half or full-back, but he was good enough as a stop-gap centre-forward to collect 58 goals. He was a key figure in the Third Division (North) club’s run to the FA Cup semi-final in 1953/4 and the league championship in the same season. He was perhaps past his peak when he moved to Portsmouth in 1958, in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the club in the First Division, and in the summer of 1960 he became player-manager at Yeovil. One of his final appearances as a player was in the 10-0 defeat of Bedford at The Huish in March 1961, where he scored twice from the penalty spot. He took Yeovil to third place that season as well as winning the League Cup, and, having given up playing, fourth place a year later. In 1963/4 Yeovil were well set in the league and had also reached the third round of the FA Cup when Hayward was appointed manager of Bedford in succession to Reg Smith, but Tim Kelly acted as caretaker until both teams had been knocked out. The Yeovil team that Hayward had built went on to win the title but his new club struggled to make much impression for the rest of that season or the next, and Hayward was handicapped by falling gates and a restricted budget. His tactics, using exotica then little understood such as overlapping full-backs instead of wingers and deep-lying centre-forwards, were not initially popular but he gradually made some very astute signings. Two of them, the midfield schemer Danny Paton and the apparently broken-winded but prolific striker Peter Hall, had played for him at Yeovil; the tall and classy, if sometimes infuriating Bill Brown came from Chelmsford to lead the attack; the tough-tackling Alan Wright from Weymouth added spine to the defence along with captain Mick Collins (a Smith signing); others such as goalkeeper Alan Collier and right-back Peter Morgan had been acquired on free transfers. With local players such as David Skinn, Ray Bailey and Norman Cooley being encouraged to blossom as well, results started to flow at the start of 1965/6. The team was rarely out of the top three or four and reached the third round of the FA Cup with excellent wins against Exeter and Brighton. At this point, just before Christmas 1965, Hayward accepted the manager’s job at Gillingham, then in the old Third Division, though he did not leave until after the team had beaten Hereford in the third round before falling to the eventual winners, Everton, in the fourth. Brown, Bailey, reserve keeper Derek Bellotti and eventually Hall followed him to Gillingham, although only Bailey made much of a career there. Hayward himself had five full seasons at the Kent club but after two mid-table finishes they slid lower each year before being relegated in bottom place in 1970/1. Inevitably Hayward was sacked, and a return to his geographical roots with Telford United (formerly Wellington Town) from 1971 to 1974 produced only a semi-final place in the FA Trophy in his first season and mid-table positions in the Southern League. This was his last managerial job although he scouted for several clubs including Gillingham and Norwich. Basil Hayward could well have bettered Tim Kelly’s achievements as Bedford’s most successful manager had he not decided to leave when a settled team may have been approaching their best; he came over as a rather dour figure who rarely gave interviews consisting of anything other than platitudes. David Ingham, who worked on the Bedfordshire Times sports desk at the time, recalls that Hayward was very approachable until Ingham wrote a critical match report, after which Hayward "blanked" him completely. Hayward died in 1989, aged only 61. His older brother, Eric, was a long-serving defender with Blackpool in the 40s and 50s.
Ron Burgess (1966-67)
Ron Burgess after his appointment (top) and driving away after being sacked 14 months later (bottom).
Like his fellow Welshman Fred Stansfield in the previous decade, Ron Burgess had a brief and unhappy time at the club. He had excellent credentials. Born in Ebbw Vale in 1917, he joined Tottenham as a 19 year old winger from the junior side Cwm Villa, but was soon converted to a wing-half and remained a fixture until he left after nearly 300 appearances in 1954, becoming captain of the famous “push and run” team, managed by Arthur Rowe, which won the old Second Division title in 1950 and the First Division title the following year, and also won 32 Welsh international caps, many as captain. He went to Swansea as player-coach in 1954, becoming player-manager a year later, and in 1958, having retired from playing, he moved as manager to Watford where he achieved promotion from the old Division Four in 1959/60 and a good FA Cup run, followed by fourth place in the Third Division in 1961, but he was sacked at the end of the 1962/3 season . He later managed Hendon to a double success in the Isthmian League and Amateur Cup (1964/5) before joining Fulham’s coaching staff, from where he took the Bedford job at the start of 1966, taking over when Basil Hayward moved to Gillingham at the end of January. The appointment was seen as a high profile one; “Ron thinks on the same lines as we do. He agrees with our policies and we look forward to a long and happy association”, chairman George Senior told reporters. The remaining weeks of the 1965/6 season, in which the team remained in contention for the title until almost the final kick, eventually finishing fourth only three points behind the winners, Weymouth, didn’t give cause for concern; but in the summer Burgess’s problems began when Senior and his directors decided to throw the Supporters’ Club, which had raised thousands of pounds for ground improvements and players, out of the premises after a dispute about their contributions. This almost certainly drastically reduced the club’s income and may have created problems paying the players; at any rate, the season started with a 1-5 thrashing at Hereford, the new centre-forward, Ron Fogg, Burgess’s biggest signing, failed to score until October, and the manager’s other signings were visibly inferior to the men they replaced. He appeared unable to resist continuously tinkering with the eleven and by Christmas the team had reached their lowest point since the days of Stansfield. A marathon four-match tie with Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Cup first round paved the way for a success in the second round against Oxford United but a heavy home defeat by Peterborough in the third round was the beginning of the end for the manager. After a pointless Easter (then consisting of three matches in four days), Burgess was dismissed, predictably claiming that he was a scapegoat and hadn’t been given a chance to defend himself after the directors had allegedly consulted the players behind his back. His recommendation that the full-time professionals should go part-time is also likely to have upset them. Ironically, after all his changes and experiments, the eleven that lost 1-4 at Corby to seal relegation a few weeks later consisted of nine of the team Burgess had inherited. He sued the club for unfair dismissal, and in April 1968 received £1,250 plus £550 costs in an out-of-court settlement; one of his complaints had been that having sold his own home when he took the job, which came with a club house, his dismissal had made him homeless and forced to live with relatives (reported in the Bedfordshire Times for 5 April 1968). After a spell in charge at Harrow Borough and scouting for Luton, he did not manage again and after working as a warehouseman and stock controller, retired to Swansea where he died in February 2005.
Ron Heckman (1967-69)
Born in Peckham in 1929, Ron Heckman was a classy inside or outside left who had a successful amateur career with Ilford, Southall and Bromley, including five amateur international caps, before turning professional with Leyton Orient in 1955. In his first season he won a Third Division (South) championship medal, and with Orient, Millwall (1957-60) and Crystal Palace (1960-3) he made nearly 300 league appearances scoring 84 goals. Reg Smith, for whom he played at Millwall, had tried to sign him several times before he finally arrived at The Eyrie in January 1963, making his debut in a snowbound match against Cambridge United that featured on national television because it was one of the few games played that week, at the height of the bitterest winter of the century. His thoughtful, holding game was at times wasted on the less sophisticated sections of the crowd and the fact that he looked rather older than his 32 years prompted criticism of the manager for “signing an old man”, but Heckman’s skilful distribution and eye for a chance was a vital factor in the FA Cup successes of the following season; he was very unlucky not to have clinched the epic match at Newcastle when his tremendous 20 yard shot hit the crossbar, and had what many thought a good goal disallowed in the next round against Carlisle when Bedford were only one goal down. He moved to Dorking, of the Athenian League, as player-manager in the summer of 1965, and then managed Aveley in Essex and worked as a schools coach in London before being recalled to The Eyrie three years later after Burgess’s dismissal. It was far too late to avoid relegation that season, but by a combination of experienced heads and youngsters he took the team back to the Premier Division at the first attempt in 1967/8. A curious reference in his programme notes for the match against Margate at the start of the following season suggests that he had been having dressing room disciplinary problems in his first full season, which had now been overcome, but he added: “Unfortunately, a few of our supporters feel that it is far more important for the players to be better social entertainers off the field than good footballers on the field-the job they happen to get paid for……We are a professional football club, not a social club”. Perhaps supporters continued to buy too many drinks for players during 1968/9 but whatever the reason, the following season proved a repeat of 1966/7 and Heckman was himself dismissed in March 1969, neither the first nor the last manager to follow this route in the years of disappointment that were to follow until the history of the “Old Eagles” came to an end in 1982. Heckman later scouted for Derby and coached in Ghana and Kuwait, as well as working for Midland Bank, and died in Bracknell, Berks, in 1990.
Alan Wright (Player- manager, 1969-71, Manager 1971)
Born in Birmingham in 1938, Alan Wright joined Walsall as a youngster but made only one League appearance before moving into non-league football with Weymouth in 1960. A tough-tackling wing half who could also play centre half, he soon became a regular there and remained until Basil Hayward, who would have had plenty of chances to see him when managing nearby Yeovil, brought him to The Eyrie in the summer of 1964 for a £500 fee. His consistency and application soon made him popular with supporters and he became a key part of Hayward's team that threatened to challenge seriously for honours in 1965/6. In the FA Cup run of that season he played mainly as a second central defender with captain Mick Collins, and held the defence together well as acting captain in the two second round matches against Brighton which Collins missed through injury. During the relegation season of 1966/7 he fell out with Hayward's successor, Ron Burgess, and almost left the club, but the return of Ron Heckman as manager seems to have solved that problem and Wright, as captain, was a key figure in the promotion team of 1967/8. By early March 1969, however, the Eagles were back where they had been two years previously and with relegation virtually certain, Heckman was sacked and Wright appointed player-manager. Persistent injuries had restricted Wright to only 15 appearances in 1968/9, but he recovered well enough to be almost ever-present in 1969/70 as his team made short work of another immediate return to the Premier Division, finishing as champions of the First Division and hitting 91 goals. In the following season, although the team established itself back in the top division without too many problems, there was almost no money to spare for players and Wright himself was increasingly struggling with injuries and appeared only eight times, six of the appearances being at the start of the season. He announced that he was making an all-out effort to be fit for the start of 1971/2 but after playing in a pre-season friendly he broke down again and was advised to retire immediately. In his absence the team started indifferently and after Witney Town, of the Hellenic League, had knocked them out of the FA Cup in the second qualifying round towards the end of October, Wright was sacked. However, it soon emerged that with attendances down to barely 1,000 for League matches the club was in the middle of another of what were to become ever more frequent financial crises, and that the players had not been paid for several weeks before the Witney defeat. Morale was understandably low, and Wright vented his anger at the directors for allowing such a situation to develop-one director in fact resigned in sympathy with him. He claimed that he'd played on for several years despite being advised to retire, and I can recall one match from his time in charge when, as he limped over take a throw-in, a spectator on the Long Shelter side shouted "You shouldn't play if you're not fit", only for Wright to stop, stare him in the face and shout back "There's nobody else to pick".
Wright always led by example and must have been one of the gutsiest players to have appeared in an Eagles shirt. As a manager his priorities were often defensive but he would probably reply that he couldn't afford to take too many risks with a limited staff. His record in the transfer market, in the circumstances, was pretty good, bringing in players such as Jackie Scurr, Alan Davies, Roger Figg, Barry Fry, Roger Barron and Bill Garner, who made big contributions in the promotion year of 1969/70, with Garner earning a very useful transfer fee. Eventually like so many other managers at the club he was unable to achieve any more without the necessary cash. He remained involved in local football for many years, having several spells managing Kempston (for whom he made a brief return as a player), Wootton Blue Cross and Raunds Town as well as being assistant manager at Kettering for a while in the mid-70s. He now lives in retirement in Dorset.
Brian Garvey (Player-manager, 1972-73)
Brian Garvey was born in Hull in 1937, and signed professional forms for his home-town club in January 1958, making his debut that season. A steady and reliable defender, usually at centre half, he made 232 senior appearances for Hull before moving to Watford in 1965, making another 179 appearances over the next five years and helping them to the Third Divison title in 1969. At his last Football League club, Colchester, he will be best remembered as a member of the team that sprang one of the biggest FA Cup shocks of the decade when they beat Leeds, then leading Division One and at the height of the Don Revie era, 3-2 at Layer Road in the fifth round of 1970/1. Released by Colchester at the end of the following season, he joined the Eagles as a first step into management, but was unlucky to find his new club in an even worse financial state than at the end of Alan Wright's tenure. Liquidation had only just been averted a few weeks before he arrived and there was next to no money to spare for players. However, he managed to recruit Neil Townsend on a season's loan from Northampton as a central defender alongside himself, and a few weeks later Bobby Folds, a former Eagles junior who went on to play regularly for the next eight seasons. Overcoming a disappointing early exit from the FA Cup at Slough, Garvey took his makeshift team to the fourth round of the FA Trophy, the best record so far in the competition, and improved the final League position by seven places. However, life with no money was a continual struggle for the young player-manager who made a good impression with the players and supporters but decided by March that management was not for him. He resigned as manager but although he stayed on as a player, injuries stopped him appearing for the club again. Later he had a respectable coaching career, returning for a while to Colchester as youth coach and then working for Wolves and Arsenal before emigrating to Australia, where he held coaching roles in Adelaide and Melbourne before retiring (see the links in his entry under Players List 1967-82, E-G).
Jim Walker (1973-77)
Jim Walker was born in Sheffield in 1931 and began his football career as a defender with Sheffield United in 1948. He made only four first team appearances in four seasons there and none at his next club, Huddersfield, before moving to Peterborough, then in the Midland League, in 1957/8. He became a regular member of the Posh team that won the Midland League championship for that and the next two seasons, having also won it in the previous two-and in those five seasons they suffered just a single home defeat and also achieved several notable FA Cup giant-killings. In 1960 they were elected to the Football League in place of Gateshead, and Walker continued as their regular left back-winning a Division Four championship medal in Posh's first season in the League- until he lost his place part way through 1962/3. He stayed at the club until he retired at the end of 1964/5 having made 125 League appearances. He then joined the backroom staff and became reserve and then first team trainer until the autumn of 1972 when he became caretaker manager in succession to Jim Iley. When Noel Cantwell was appointed permanent manager a few weeks later the club promptly sacked Walker after 15 years' service on and off the field. He therefore already knew plenty about the pitfalls of football management when he took on the manager's job at The Eyrie in April 1973 in succession to Brian Garvey.
His first full season, 1973/4, ended in relegation but unlike Burgess, Heckman and (later) Fry, he kept his job, and most supporters probably agreed that he was not mainly to blame as the club once again lived from hand to mouth. He laid the foundations for future stability by signing Trevor Gould, Peter Hawkins and Kevin Dove from Northampton and Gary Sargent, who returned home from Scunthorpe, and brought useful youngsters through the youth ranks such as David Parratt, Ray Silous and David Earl. Like several other managers he had to endure a miserable FA Cup exit, at the hands of Histon, but he took the team to the fourth round of the FA Trophy for the second successive year and in the end he simply didn't have the resources to stave off the drop as his players were forced to play four League matches in six days including the last two, both away, on successive nights. In 1974/5, with a basic squad of only thirteen professionals and no reserve team, Walker produced a memorable season, which deserved better support than it received, ending with the championship of the First Division North by a seven point margin and a run to the semi-finals of the FA Trophy, including a win against the odds at Wigan in the quarter-final. They also reached the semi-finals of the League Cup. Peter Phillips was signed from Cambridge United to add some class to the attack and Ray Peacock became a reliable goalkeeper, but otherwise Walker achieved this success with players who'd survived from the previous season. Mid-table respectability in the Premier Division followed in the next two seasons, with pretty much the same team, supplemented by Leo Markham (in 1975/6) and Gary Burdett. There was another multiple FA Cup tie with Wycombe in 1975/6 and once again the fourth round of the FA Trophy was reached; and in 1976/7 there was for a few weeks a fleeting chance, the first for over ten years, of the Premier Division title coming to the Eyrie. All this had been a creditable effort for such a limited squad and reflected credit on their manager, who was forced to double as a groundsman and kit-man (with his wife doing the laundry). When the Board, recently reconstituted and with George Senior no longer in the chair, was unable to resist an offer from Peterborough for Sargent, who'd scored almost a hundred goals under Walker's management, the manager had plainly had enough. His departure in June 1977 was acrimonious and eventually led to a Tribunal that awarded him compensation. Later, he returned to Peterborough as youth team manager, and still lives in the area in retirement. A man who did his best with what was available, he is still kindly remembered by supporters of those years.
Barry Fry (1977-78)
Barry Fry is the only genuine Bedfordian to have managed the old Eagles, but few supporters will remember his short spell in charge with much pleasure. Born in Bedford in 1945, he went to Silver Jubilee School and created local headlines in 1960 when he became the first Bedford player for many years to be chosen for England schoolboys. I can still see in my mind's eye the moment just after half time when he scored from inside forward in a 5-3 win against Scotland at Wembley, watched by numerous coachloads of screeching Bedford primary schoolboys. An immediate professional contract with Matt Busby's Manchester United followed, but Fry was unable to break into the senior team at Old Trafford and moved to Bolton in 1964. Three League appearances there were followed by six for Luton and seven for Leyton Orient (in two spells, with a period at Gravesend in between), before he found himself back at his home town club in the summer of 1969. By now he was an attacking midfield player who was a tough competitor and played a key role in Alan Wright's promotion side of 1969/70, scoring 20 goals in 67 appearances, and continued as a regular member of the side for the following two seasons. Eventually he clocked up 198 recorded appearances (the real total is likely to have been over 200) and 50 goals for the club before leaving at the end of 1971/2 when many of the better paid players were released by Reg Smith. Rejoining Smith briefly at Stevenage, he moved on to Dunstable and then St Albans, where his playing career ended in 1974. He went back to Dunstable for his first managerial job under their subsequently notorious owner, Keith Cheeseman, with whose large cheques he signed George Best (briefly his colleague at Old Trafford) and Geoff Astle. He led them to promotion, as runners-up behind the Eagles, in 1974/5, and then moved to Hillingdon after Cheeseman's cash had run out in 1976. He had only a modest season there in 1976/7 but Bedford had to pay the West London club compensation to hire Fry as successor to Jim Walker in the summer of 1977.
The expenditure proved an unwise investment. Fry soon sold Kevin Dove and Peter Hawkins, two key members of Jim Walker's teams, to Weymouth and his recruitment of the lanky Howard Kettlebrough to replace the free-scoring Gary Sargent proved a disaster as Kettleborough scored only five times compared to Sargent's reliable 20-plus a season. Fry did sign Ken Goodeve, an experienced central defender who stayed until the end of the club's life, and re-signed his ex-Eagles colleague Lou Adams, who'd played for him at Hillingdon, and who provided virtually the only goal threat that season, as well as the talented Elwyn Roberts from Corby, but otherwise his revolving-door style of management and team selection failed to produce results. By the end of the season he had used 34 players (briefly including himself in an end-of-season emergency role) compared to just 18 in Jim Walker's last season. Despite a long and gruelling run to the fourth round of the FA Trophy -which occupied nine matches before a replay defeat by Leatherhead-supporters found it hard to forgive the humiliating 3-4 defeat by Willesden in the FA Cup preliminary round in September, especially as the Eagles were 3-0 up at one point. By April the team were virtually doomed to relegation and ended with the second worst points total from 42 matches. Despite the eventually valuable signing of Billy Best from Northampton in the close season, Fry resigned on the eve of the following season, saying that he "cared too much" about the club.
His later career is so well documented that there's little more to be said-except that he has had enough success to justify the claim that his unhappy time in charge at The Eyrie was not a true reflection of his abilities. He had two spells in charge at Barnet (1978-85 and 1986-93), eventually taking them into the Football League in 1991, and one at Maidstone in between those spells, before moving briefly and turbulently to Southend in 1993 and then to Birmingham (1993-96, where he won promotion from the then Division Two). In 1996 he came to rest at Peterborough, where he has been successively manager, chairman and now (2018) director of football. Life with Fry is rarely dull and he has been in regular demand as a TV pundit. In 2001/2 he brought his Peterborough team to the New Eyrie for a first round FA Cup tie against the new Eagles, attracting the inevitable television cameras, and the Posh were perhaps lucky to escape with a goalless draw before winning the replay 2-1-the present club's best season yet in the competition and an intriguing link with its past life. In 2017 Barry Fry's years of service to the game were honoured by the Football League with its Contribution to League Football Award.
Trevor Gould (Player -manager, 1978-82)
Trevor Gould (left) with his management team in 1979/80-Frank O'Hagan and David Skinn, two popular players from very different Eyrie eras
Born in Coventry in 1950, Trevor Gould won England schoolboy honours before joining his home-town club in 1967, where his chances as a right-sided midfield player were limited to nine first team appearances in three seasons. Moving to Northampton in October 1970, he found a more regular berth at right back and went on to play 102 times in the next three seasons before becoming one of Jim Walker's first signings for Bedford in the summer of 1973. He immediately became an automatic choice and was a key player in the team that won promotion from Division One North in 1974/5 as well as reaching the semi-final of the FA Trophy. He was so consistent a penalty-taker that he didn't miss a spot-kick until well into 1976/7, his fourth season with the club, and gradually became as much part of the Eyrie scene as David Skinn or Norman Cooley, the only players to have made more first team appearances than Gould for the club since 1945. Appointed captain and then player-coach by Barry Fry in the dismal relegation season of 1977/8, he was the obvious choice to succeed Fry when he left in August 1978, with Skinn and Cooley now both retired. By now, managing the Eagles was a desperately thankless task, with very little cash and gates measured in three figures, but Gould made the best he could of it. In each of his first three seasons, his team edged closer and closer to promotion, but each time they expired in the last few matches-most agonisingly in 1980/1, when they were second to Alvechurch only on goal-difference. Except in 1979/80, when he was restricted by injuries, he still played regularly and formed an effective back line with Goodeve, Best and, eventually, Kevin James. He was able to develop promising young players such as Nicky Platnauer, John Glover, Tony Luff and Peter Robinson (junior) who compensated for the lack of funds to sign more experienced men. There was some compensation for the League disappointments in 1980/1 when Gould led his team to a trophy that had eluded all his predecessors, the Southern League Cup. But by this time his task had been made even harder by the impending expiry of the lease on The Eyrie and the club's increasingly fraught search for a new ground: if they had possessed a secure home, the disappointment of the near-miss in 1980/1 would have been forgotten following promotion to the new Alliance Premier League. The following season, the departure of George Cleary and the loss of form of Cliff Campbell meant that the goals dried up and the squad seemed to lose its way amid all the off-field uncertainties, and failed to make the cut for the new Premier Division. It would, of course, all have been in vain because by midsummer the club was forced to close its doors.
Gould, who had by now clocked up some 450 senior appearances, saw his players depart one by one until he was the club's last remaining employee. In November 1982 he joined Rushden as a player but was back in Southern League management by the following summer at Aylesbury, where he spent nine seasons, the first four of them as player-manager; he led them to promotion from the Midland section in 1984/5, and to the Premier Division title in 1987/88, earning promotion to the Alliance, which makes him Aylesbury's most successful manager to date. They also reached the competition proper of the FA Cup in every season of his reign until he left in 1992. Subsequently he has worked on the coaching staff at Coventry and Northampton and now (2012) runs the Cobblers' Centre of Excellence. His older brother Bobby played for Coventry, Arsenal, Wolves and several other clubs, as well as managing Coventry (twice), Bristol Rovers (for whom he signed Platnauer from his brother's club) and Wimbledon. Trevor Gould's record at Aylesbury suggests that given the right resources he might have been one of the Eagles's most successful managers: as it was, his match statistics are not at all bad considering the circumstances in which he had to work, but in the end he was fated to go down honourably with the sinking ship.
WHO WAS THE CLUB'S MOST SUCCESSFUL MANAGER?
In terms of matches won, drawn and lost, Tim Kelly was the most successful manager in the 1945-82 period, although Alan Wright's record was creditable considering the problems he faced.
The following table is based only on results in Southern League, Southern League Cup, FA Cup and FA Trophy matches.
Won % Drawn % Lost %
Alf Strange (45-47) 28.57 22.45 48.98
Charlie Bicknell (48-51) 22.44 18.52 57.04
Ronnie Rooke (51-53 and 59-61) 46.78 19.06 34.16 see note 1
Fred Stansfield (54-55) 26.67 15.56 57.78
Tim Kelly (55-59) 56.44 18.81 24.75 see note 2
Reg Smith (61-63 and 71-72) 43.45 20.69 35.86 see note 3
Basil Hayward (64-66) 42.00 23.00 35.00
Ron Burgess (66-67) 31.75 26.98 41.27
Ron Heckman (67-69) 39.78 23.66 36.56
Alan Wright (69-71) 51.82 20.44 27.74
Brian Garvey (72-73) 36.59 29.27 34.15
Jim Walker (73-77) 44.00 30.22 25.78
Barry Fry (77-78) 21.43 35.71 42.86
Trevor Gould (78-82) 47.95 25.57 26.48
Note 1-the figures for Rooke's first spell [as player-manager] are W 48.32%, D 20.8%, L 30.87%; and for his second spell W 45.88%, D 18.04% and L 36.08%.
Note 2-these figures don't include Kelly's short spell as caretaker-manager in 63/4.
Note 3-the figures for Smith's first spell are W 46.3%, D 17.6%, L 36.11 %; and for his second spell W 35.14%, D 29.73% and L 35.14%.