Sad To See You Leaving 2010: Malcolm Allison

by Ray_North on December 30, 2010

There was a time when giant dinosaurs bestrode the world of football, often wearing an unusual hat and smoking a top-notch Havana cigar. One of the biggest of all these beasts was Malcolm Allison – Big Mal, he of permanent Marbella suntan (no sunbeds for him!) and Fedora hat, a ‘dolly bird’ on both arms and glass of champagne in hand. I am unashamedly sentimental and fiercely conservative when it comes to football and that is why I particularly lament the passing this year of Malcolm Allison.

Some try to write the likes of Big Mal off as posing amateurs in a gentle era – cobblers, the genius of Malcolm Allison, just as it was with the likes of Brian Clough, Bob Paisley, Bill Shankly, Matt Busby, Bill Nicholson and others, was in his ability to discover players usually on a shoestring transfer budget, improve them, motivate them, get them fit and get them playing in a team that would often lead the way in terms of tactics.

When Manchester City won the league in 1967/68, they didn’t do it with the billions of a Saudi Sheikh, Allison and Joe Mercer weren’t able to simply go out and spend millions of pounds on players from anywhere in the world who had been scouted and assessed by computer programmes and video analysis, they had to go to the lower leagues to buy players, they had to bring on players from within their clubs youth teams and reserves – that team included some of the greatest players ever to play for Man City: Colin Bell, who had been signed from Bury; Mike Sumerbee from Swindon Town and Frannie Lee from Bolton, all were nurtured by Malcolm Allison’s visionary training methods and went on to play for England.

It was Malcolm Allison who transformed training in English football from a bit of a kick about with a few shuttle runs to keep the weight off which had traditionally been the case at most clubs into something which more closely resembles the carefully planned physiologically sessions and tactical coaching that we take for granted today. It was also Allison who set up the academy system at Manchester City, a system which eventually brought about the likes of Peter Barnes, Gary Owen, Paul Power and others.

No, you don’t win the league if all you can do is pull a bird or two and wear a big hat, but, in the 1960’s and 70’s there was an innocent flamboyance to football that made it far more fun than it sometimes seems today –  and Big Mal embraced that in spades, he was rarely out of the headlines, usually because of his penchant for Beauty Queens and his unerring ability to deliver the type of quote to the hungry red-tops that would make today’s press trained and media savvy football managers choke into their chairmen’s wine glass.

Alas, I fear that there aren’t many Malcolm Allison’s left today, indeed he had probably had his day by the time he returned for a second, disastrous, spell at Manchester City in 1979, but for me it was the likes of Malcolm Allison that got me into football when I was a boy and I will defy anyone to tell me that football is better today than it was then.

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