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Author Topic: The End of the Line - Graham Turner  (Read 1865 times)

Offline dave.woodhall

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The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« on: February 19, 2021, 02:28:51 PM »
September 13th, 1986

Looking back, it seems a mystery as to how exactly Graham Turner came to be Aston Villa manager. Not that there was anything Ďwrongí with Turner as a person, or with his record in football management. After all, taking Shrewsbury Town to the second division is some achievement, and he kept them there, as well. It was just difficult to see the logic of appointing him to run a club that had won the European Super Cup just over eighteen months earlier.

As news has Ďleakedí out to us over the years, it became apparent that Doug Ellis, having kicked out the boss who had presided over the clubís greatest-ever night , had a more heavyweight appointment in mind as a replacement. Big Ron Atkinson was in charge at Old Trafford, but Villaís record in the early 80s meant that any approach from Villa wasnít to be sniffed at. Ron had links with the club back to his playing days and might have been tempted, but chose to stick with what he had. Lutonís promising young manager, David Pleat, whose side had developed a knack of punching above their weight at the top level while playing pleasing football, was apparently approached but Pleat politely pointed out to Chairman Ellis that he already had a manager in post at the time the question had been asked.

Ellis had been determined to oust Barton. Perhaps this was because, as a former assistant to Ron Saunders, he reminded Ellis of clashes he had had with Bartonís strong-willed predecessor. The trophy-winning glory days came in a period that was noteworthy for the absence of one HD Ellis, something that would have rubbed against the new chairmanís ego. The Super Cup triumph against Barcelona took place under his chairmanship, but he could claim no credit for this, as he had been in post for about a month at this stage. As soon as Tonyís team failed to win a trophy, he was gone.

One of the problems of attracting Bartonís replacement was that, in the new chairmanís eyes, austerity was the order of the day. A lot of money had been spent on incentivising the players. They had responded in the best way possible, and were due the rewards. With eighties attendances in a bit of a slump, this meant that the sums didnít quite add up and in the Thatcherite spirit of the times, there would have to be cuts. Big Ron had already spent a lot of money up in Manchester, so might not have fancied having his wings clipped by the B6 bean-counters. A young up-and-coming boss, however, might well be attracted by a big promotion, and the chance to really make his name. So it proved, and Graham Turner took over the reins.

In a short period of time, it became apparent that the cuts were, in fact, a hatchet-job. After a couple of wins to open the season, Villa conceded eight goals without reply against Newcastle and Forest. The latter game saw the last appearance of the indefatigable Des Bremner. His fellow-midfielder and captain of the most successful Villa side ever wasnít far behind him in the Villa Park departure lounge. In the arrivals area, there was only Didier Six, if one excepts some unfamiliar names (Bradley, Poole, Walker, Kerr and Glover) from the youth system. With Brendan Ormsby also getting a run of games following Steve Fosterís departure, it was hoped that these young lads would prove to be on a par with their recent predecessors, Cowans, Shaw, Williams and Gibson. Typing that now, the hope seems thin, indeed.

Depending on whether you are a glass-half-full type or the other sort, you could argue that while Graham Turner had done no better than Barton in his first season, he had done no worse. A tenth-place finish included some memorable results including a three-goal stuffing of Manchester United, and a two-goal away win to damage Spursí title challenge. While Villa were now more durable away from home than they had been in Bartonís last year in charge, they were too inconsistent to take advantage of that.

The policy of depletion continued, with the departure of Sid Cowans and Paul Rideout to Bari in Italy and the sale of Steve McMahon to Liverpool. Some of the cash from this allowed us to bring in midfielder Steve Hodge from Forest. Peter Witheís request for a longer deal in the summer had been ignored, despite his dozen goals in 1984-85. His replacement was Andy Gray, who had helped Everton to win the league the previous season. It looked like a decent move on paper; the reality was that Gray was struggling to get fit to play with the same impact that he had shown so vividly before. A total of a mere five goals said it all.

This populist purchase had the Ellis fingerprints all over it, and as sales of experienced pros like Colin Gibson were allowed to go through, Villaís midfield looked callow, to put it mildly. Results only confirmed this, and with the team plummeting down the table, just before deadline day, Turner was allowed to bring a couple of experienced ex-Villains in, Andy Blair and Steve Hunt, to shore up the central ground. With the steadying influence of this pair, along with regular goals from Hodge, and a sudden burst from come-day, go-day striker Simon Stainrod, Villa survived with a bit to spare.

Nevertheless, the narrow shave meant that some were drawing unfavourable comparisons with how the club was being run under the new chairman and those who came before him. In fairness, Turner was allowed to bring in some impressive-sounding names in the summer of 1986. Neale Cooper had made an impact in his role of Fergusonís midfield enforcer at Aberdeen; Garry Thompson was a powerful striker who gave us something different, and the young defender Martin Keown was supposed to be one for the future. With these signings, along with the ones already brought in last Spring, sprinkled with the talents of some of the younger players, Villa looked to have a decent squad to pick from.

I was on a football tour for the opening Saturday of the season and had the misfortune to catch a lunchtime interview with a bullish Andy Gray in which he marked Villa out as dark horses for the league title. Gray was able to conduct the interview as he was injured for the game against Spurs, as he would, in fact, be until October. He was hardly alone in seeing blue skies ahead; that sober analyst of football matters, Jimmy Armfield, felt that Villa "could shock a few", especially if Steve Hodge, just back from the Mexico World Cup, could continue to impress in the midfield.

Alas, poor Gentleman Jim! Armfield was from an era where loyalty was something to be shown, rather than a word that came before Ďbonusí. Iím sure that Jimmy would have been grateful to a club that had given him a platform from which to represent the national side, and would have sought to make that clear on the pitch. Indeed, he did exactly that at Blackpool for his whole playing career. Hodgeís thoughts were rather more self-centred. Clearly, now that he was an England hero, he had earned a promotion to a bigger club, and he wanted a move. Rumours suggested that his being unsettled might centre on his homesickness for Nottingham. A few months later he moved to SpursÖ

A three-goal beating in that first home game against Spurs made the optimistic outlook seem empty, though Turner insisted that there was no need to panic. Two away defeats followed at Wimbledon and QPR. Both were only by a single goal but still didnít make for great reading for fans who reviewed the after-match tea leaves. A win was urgently needed and came in the next home match against Luton. Villa didnít receive as much praise for this as they might have liked. Paul Kerrís only two goals for the club brought great relief, but they were against a Luton outfit reduced to ten men for the last half-hour due to injuries received. Still, a win was a win and might act as the springboard to better things. After one more game, this was thrown into doubt. League Cup winners Oxford United were in town and seemed to offer a reasonable opportunity to continue the winning run. It didnít turn out that way, as Stainrodís penalty was only a consolation in a 2-1 defeat.

According to Andy Gray, Turnerís biggest problem was that he was unable to shake off the negativity that accompanied defeat. Grayís view was that the bossís job was to turn up to training on Monday with a smile on his face and gee-up the lads for the next game. Such was Turnerís dedication to getting it right, defeat seemed to depress him so much he was unable to do this, and seemed to unwittingly transmit these feeling to the players. At least he had received a boost from the boardroom; the chairman gave Turner a vote of confidence, pointing out to the managerís critics that Villa had suffered early-season injuries to key players, a crucial factor in the teamís struggles. Of course, even to get such a vote implies that the managerís job is under pressure, so whether this was a help or a hindrance in the build-up to the game against Nottingham Forest is not known.

Certainly, few would have described Turner as a lucky manager. In the lone victory against Luton, Blair had been badly injured; Gray was still out, as was Cooper, who would not kick a ball, or anyone else, until New Yearís Day. Hodge was unavailable for the game at his old stamping ground, and was replaced by reserve right-back David Norton. Forest, on the other hand, were in fine shape and no doubt recalled the 5-0 win at Villa Park the previous season. They were renowned for the short passing game with which they tried to open up defences, so it may have come as a surprise when they caught Villa out with a long throw to the bye-line. The ball stayed in play, thanks to the physical strength of midfielder Neil Webb and was played across the goal. Kevin Poole, who had won the Ďkeeperís jersey from Nigel Spink, got a hand to the ball but only pushed it out to winger Franz Carr who was left with a simple tap-in. Had Villa kept it to a single-goal deficit, the half-time dressing-room may have been a happier place. With Villa under pressure, Paul Elliott had a simple chance to clear. For no apparent reason, he slipped. Neil Webb should have scored but Pooleís valiant attempt at a save only set the ball up for Birtles, who pounced.

Whatever was said at the break soon proved irrelevant to the tide of events, as the home side made it three straight from the kick-off. Forest went across the pitch and back again, Webb sliding the ball between two defenders for Clough to stroke in. The diminutive number nine then got his head to a free-kick. Poole made yet another futile save, leaving Webb with the easiest of finishes. By now, it was a rout. Even long clearances from the Ďkeeper were a direct threat. One of these found Clough, hardly a player renowned for his pace, in the clear. Martin Keown tackled the striker, Birtles netting from the rebound. Forest were having fun now, with the long-striding Metgod joining in, running through and clipping the bar. Finally, a corner, again only half-cleared, came back in and Webb scored unhindered.

No doubt there were some bleak thoughts on the trip home, including some musings on Neil Webb, the signing that Turner had wanted to make, only for Brian Clough to snatch him off to the East Midlands from under our noses, just a year before. The death knell for Turnerís spell at Villa Park was duly sounded after the ritual of the walk around the rose garden at Little Aston the next day. So much for his vote of confidence.  Doug sought to sweeten the pill, saying, ďIt is with regret that we have terminated Graham Turnerís contract. It has been extremely difficult for the board, and me in particular, because of his qualities as a man.Ē Not that Graham was out of work for too long. Within a few weeks he had taken up the reins at Wolves who were at an all-time low. He lifted them up to the second tier, but couldnít quite make it back to the top. He then rescued Hereford from non-league football and then took them another rung up the league ladder. In all, he won six promotions, an impressive record. As these were all in the lower leagues, they merely make the view of Turner as a boss not good enough for the top level more concrete in the eyes of some.

Graham Turner was perhaps too inexperienced to handle a chairman who seemed determined to take a wrecking-ball to one of Villaís greatest sides. It may even have been the case that he should have stayed at the second level where he had a more than decent record. Not that thereís too much wrong with plucking a manager from the second tier and hoping for him to work the odd miracle or two. If he gets the right backing, things can turn out quite brilliantly, as any current Villa fan might tell you.

Dave Collett


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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2021, 02:41:59 PM »
Enjoyable read if not some of the content 🤔😳

Offline Luffbralion

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2021, 05:08:19 PM »
"The new chairman's ego".
I remember taking the Villa Park tour back in the 1990s when dear Doug saw himself as "Mr Aston Villa".
On entry to the Directors Box I was looking forward to all the mementoes of the club's achievements and, especially, due recognition of that marvellous night in Rotterdam. They were conspicuous by their total absence.
In fact, pride of place was given over to..... an encased salmon which our erstwhile chairman had caught in Scotland.

Offline bill

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2021, 05:52:34 PM »
I was told by someone who worked at VP, that during Herberts tenure, there wasnít a single photo of the European Cup winning team on display.

Offline ldavfc4eva

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2021, 09:17:39 PM »
A very good read Dave, I love reading about our past before I was a supporter (I was born in 86) and this was another gem.

Offline West Derby Villan

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2021, 11:02:42 PM »
Surely a sobering read for all those supporters of mr Aston Villa!

Online Villan For Life

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2021, 06:58:33 AM »
Following the Villa has never been dull has it?

Offline tomd2103

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2021, 10:36:24 AM »
The comparisons between that era and the Lerner era post O'Neill are quite stark really.  Both of course ended in relegation, just took a little longer under Lerner.

Offline 260475

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #8 on: February 20, 2021, 11:55:00 AM »
Good article, enjoyed reading that thanks. I recall wondering who was GT when he was announced, and in my mid twenties wrongly assumed the board (or in fact Doug alone) knew what they were doing. I also recall the rapid decline as described, and I had forgotten how many personnel changes there had been. Wasn't the case of wrong man for the job, rather wrong time for the man, and good to read of his subsequent success which I didn't know about.

I learnt of the Didier Six signing whilst I was on a return UK coach trip from Le Mans that made a stop over in Paris, and heard it on french radio. It must have been the "club Anglais Aston Villa" that made my ears prick up as after a weekend on the sauce I was rather the worse for wear!


Online robbo1874

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2021, 09:27:18 AM »
I went to the match against Albion at VP - may have been New Yearís Day and there was big excitement around the ground to see what Six could do. Bit of a fizzler it was really. Ended up 0-0 or 1-1 and the crowd seemed a bit pissed off by it, as I recall.

Online robbo1874

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2021, 09:31:34 AM »
In fairness, Albion probably still had a half-decent side in those days. We were on a steep decline towards the 2nd division.

Offline dcdavecollett

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #11 on: February 22, 2021, 02:42:23 AM »
Albion ended up going down before we did!

Offline Paulo

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #12 on: February 22, 2021, 04:04:13 PM »
A good read, thanks.

I went to my first ever game the season Turner took over, Six's debut vs Man Utd, we won 3 0 and were amazing.

I was 8 years old and don't really remember the previous few seasons where we won everything.

I started going down just as we started to be awful!
« Last Edit: February 22, 2021, 04:23:48 PM by Paulo »

Offline DYWTBAU?

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #13 on: February 22, 2021, 06:55:01 PM »

The death knell for Turnerís spell at Villa Park was duly sounded after the ritual of the walk around the rose garden at Little Aston the next day.

Great read Dave. I wonder whether the privilege of a trip around the rose garden was afforded to the outgoing boss based on success, popularity, in comparison to, or relationship with, the Chairman? I find it less easy to envisage Big Ron, Tommy Doc or John Gregory taking that gentle stroll through the rosarium with Doug than I can Turner, Dr Jo or Sir Graham.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2021, 06:58:44 PM by DYWTBAU? »

Offline eamonn

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Re: The End of the Line - Graham Turner
« Reply #14 on: February 23, 2021, 02:52:14 PM »
Interesting that Franz Carr scored the all-important opener against us in Turner's last stand but would finally atone a decade later against his old team.


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