BBC BLOGS - Paul Fletcher
« Previous | Main | Next »

Royle return for no ordinary Joe

Paul Fletcher | 23:17 UK time, Tuesday, 31 March 2009

It all happened so quickly.

Joe Royle was walking his dog in the woods near his Merseyside home when his mobile phone rang.

It was Sunday, 15 March and within hours the 59-year-old was back in management after an absence of almost three years.

Joe Royle during his time as manager of Ipswich TownRoyle's last position had been with Ipswich, but he left Portman Road at the end of the 2005-06 season after almost 200 games in charge.

He felt he had done a pretty good job at the East Anglian club, taking them to the play-offs twice in his final three seasons, only narrowly missing out on automatic promotion in 2004 despite financial problems that forced Royle to slim down his squad.

After regarding his time there as a qualified success Royle expected to return to management, but as time rolled on he began to think otherwise.

"I had applied for three or four jobs recently and did not get any replies," Royle, who has also managed Manchester City, told me.

"I thought that perhaps football had forgotten me."

But this isn't just an ordinary story of a last chance for an ageing manager. What gives his latest appointment added poignancy and romance is its location. Big Joe was back at Oldham Athletic, the club he managed with notable success between 1982 and 1994. It was one of football's fairy stories.

Those of a certain age will clearly remember the exploits of 1990. Royle's Second Division Latics pushed Manchester United all the way in their FA Cup semi-final, eventually losing the replay, which went to extra-time, 2-1 after the first game had finished 3-3. The club did reach the final of the Littlewoods Cup but were beaten 1-0 by Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. Scalps such as Arsenal and Everton were taken along the way.

Royle's team, with the likes of Andy Ritchie, Earl Barrett, Roger Palmer and Nicky Henry in the side, caught the imagination not only of the residents of Oldham but the wider public. His team played with a directness and intent that was exciting and fearless. Oldham's tale was also one of the classic British stories of the mouse that roared even if they fell short of a fairytale ending.

However, his team did go on to win promotion from the old Second Division in 1991 and remained in the top flight to become an inaugural member of the Premier League in 1992.

"They were magical times," recalls Royle, whose first four seasons at the club had resulted in mediocre league finishes.

"We had the pinch-me season in 1990, the fans couldn't believe it. At one stage we had three queues outside Boundary Park - one for FA Cup tickets, another for Littlewoods Cup tickets and a third for league tickets.

"Gates were up to around 17-18,000. It was a fantastic time for a club that at times struggled to get 3,500 fans."

Eventually the financial realities of life in the Premier League caught up with the Latics, always a selling club, and Oldham were relegated at the end of the 1993-94 season.

The Oldham years, however, always remained special to Royle, who regards the Latics promotion to the top flight as he his greatest achievement in management alongside keeping Everton in the Premier League after he left Boundary Park to take over at Goodison Park in November 1994 with the Merseyside club in a perilous position.

"I have always kept in touch with the club," said Royle, whose two sons still live in Oldham.

Most of his Saturdays over recent seasons had been taken up with media work but an occasional weekend off would see him down at Boundary Park. He had been three times this season prior to his appointment.

He accepted the offer of a return in seconds, but what about the old adage that you should never go back? Doesn't he risk sullying some rich and cherished memories?

Howard Kendall (Everton) and Kevin Keegan (Newcastle) all tried it without success to rekindle past glories but Royle rejects such negative talk out of hand.

He prefers to point instead to Graham Taylor, who took Watford into the Premier League during his second spell at Vicarage Road.Joe Royle during his first spell at Oldham Athletic

"I am well aware of the unwritten rule but there are exceptions and there is no scientific reason why it will not work second time around," said Royle.

Unfortunately for Oldham, results so far suggest that anyone hoping of a sensational return will be disappointed.

After his first game in charge, a 2-0 home defeat to Tranmere, Royle visited an Indian restaurant he used to frequent during his first spell in charge, taking his sons along with him. Ian Stott, the chairman at Boundary Park during the Royle years, and several former directors turned up to see the manager's first game back. "It was just like old times - except that we lost," Royle told me.

After the initial phone call, Royle met officials from Oldham in a hotel in Worlsey and talked about the squad and Oldham's prospects for the remainder of the season.

Royle did not feel the need to formally sign a contract and took over with nine games left to salvage a season that had promised so much but lost its way. His position will be reviewed at the end of the campaign.

John Sheridan had been sacked amid some poor results and a night at the dogs that allegedly spiralled out of control, with one player holding the manager in a headlock.

Royle needed a good start to boost the Latics play-off prospects but after the defeat to Tranmere it took a 94th-minute equaliser at lowly Cheltenham to rescue a point in his second game.

The manager was less than thrilled with his team's first-half showing at Whaddon Road and delivered the first serious rollocking after his return to the game.

"Some were starting to put on their shorts and get on the suntan cream but it's a bit early for that," said the Latics boss.

And last weekend Oldham lost 2-1 to Leyton Orient and are now eight points off the play-offs with just six games left to play.

Royle is savvy enough to know that his team are up against it and just wishes that he had taken over with five more points. Then again, if Oldham had five more points they probably wouldn't have sacked Sheridan.

Oldham's current standing means that Royle will probably be denied a first outing at the new Wembley when the League One play-off final takes place on 24 May.

But given the history of Royle and Oldham Athletic, don't write off the prospect just yet.


  • Comment number 1.

    Its great to see Joe back in management. After a pretty decent spell with Ipswich i was probably like many others a little surprised that no club would go anywhere near him with a ten foot barge pole!

    Hes a good manager and realistically too good i think to be managing in League One but then again its shows the romantic in him that he would go back to the club he enjoyed managing for so long. He deserves to be kept on for at least next season as he hasnt exactly come in at the perfect time so near the end of the season and with the club in disarray ever so slightly with results and team affairs but id bank on oldham gaining promotion next year if the keep Joe in charge!


  • Comment number 2.

    2003? You mean they were never on Sky Sports for 10 years and yet still in the Premier League... Here's me thinking we went down '93/94 when actually Joe saved us...and Graeme Sharp's managerial career never happened (although I did like him and Killer Kilcline)... Oh... Ooh Roger Palmer!

    Please Joe Don't Go [again]...

  • Comment number 3.

    I heard on his first day back at Oldham, Joe was going through his mail when he came across a huge Electric bill forwarded by Everton.

    He rang Bill Kenwright demanding to know what it was all about. Kenwright replied, 'you were the last one in the trophy room and you left the light on!'

  • Comment number 4.

    Number 4, woo hoo, a new high !!

    Good to see Joe back in charge, though i hope the chairman gives him a couple of years to put his thoughts into the team.
    It was always going to be hard for Joe, the team was (is)currently playing with no confidence. We had a superb start to the season, but had lost our way under Shezza, as he put it, it wasn't the incidents at the dogs that cost him the job, it was 2 wins from 10 previouly that did it.
    The reception he got walking out was as good as i've seen at BP for a long time.

    BTW, You missed the fact that we didn't just win promotion, we were champions that season, and i for one will never forget that final day against Sheff Wed.

    Good luck Joe

  • Comment number 5.

    Welcome back big fella.

    I am realistic enough to know that the football landscape has changed in the last 20 years and we can probably never see a repeat of the succes we had back then, with Joe or any other manager.

    I enjoyed the cup runs of '90 and '94 (I still play my old VHS of the '90 season now and then), but my greatest memory is the inaugural Premier league season. We played well most of the year but couldn't score away and we were 8 points adrift with 3 games to go, with a worse goal difference than our nearest rivals.

    Then we beat Aston Villa 1-0 away on the Sunday to gift Man United their first League title for 26 years. Then, on one of those wet Wednesday nights at ice station Zebra, we beat Liverpool 3-2. Then did Southampton 4-3 in a thrilling match on Saturday to take 9 points in the last week of the season. Thanks to Arsenal spanking Palace on the last day, we stayed in the Premier League against all odds. Still the greatest ever escape. Fantastic! All my mates were either Latics or United fans, we were drunk for a fortnight.

    I was a radio sports journalist in Gtr Manchester for several years in the late '90s and early '00s and had the pleasure of speaking to Joe Royle on several occasions, in his roles as City manager and as media commentator/contributor. The guy is class. Confident, funny, generous. His teams play good attacking football and his record in the transfer market (profit and loss) is second to none.

    A big personality with a real belief in how the game should be played. Like Kevin Keegan, but with backbone and a sense of humour. His personality reflects that of Oldhamers, that's why we loved him. We loved him long before the cup runs and Premier League adventures.

    I just fear that if we finish this season strongly it won't quite be enough to get us in the play-offs, but Championship clubs might realise what they have been missing when they see Joe on the sidleines and on the telly, and try and nick him away.

    I hope he stays beyond this season, and if he does I will make this commitment - even though I live in Nottinghamshire now and have done for years, I will come home to Boundary Park whenever possible to see Joe put the pride back, raise the profile, play with wingers and see smiles again at Boundary Park.

    I don't expect miracles - but I wouldn't be surprised if we get em.

    ...........all the lads and lasses with all the smiling faces, walking down Sheepfoot Lane - to see Joe Royle's aces.

  • Comment number 6.

    I too agree with pretty much everyone connected with Oldham that it is great to see Big Joe back at the club. Everyone talks about not going back and when you look at how Mickey Adams got on at Brighton this season in his second spell at the club you can understand why I suppose. I think if it had been anyone else (Dowie for example) I would have subscribed to this theory but not Royle, the man is class through and through, as a person and as a manager... Whilst we may have too much to do this season now, if Big Joe is still at the helm come the end of August expect a title charge from the Latics next time around.

  • Comment number 7.

    Goodwill - That game against Sheff Wed was awesome, last minute penalty to win the league. I can't remember any other time where I was so excited my head nearly burst, it seemed to take forever to take that pen and the crowd exploded onto the pitch when Neil banged it in (good job it was a plastic pitch).

    I played there several times when we had the plastic pitch. You could rent it out for something like 80 quid in the off-season. I scored a cracking volley from the edge of the box at the (old) Rochdale Road end. In the same game I lost 1/2 pound in weight after ripping the skin off my right thigh in a sliding tackle, they had just sanded the surface - ouch.

  • Comment number 8.

    FormerChaddyEnder76 - you are of course quite correct. The older I get the most the decades blur into one and become confusing.

    Most of the comments here indicate that Oldham fans would love Royle to stay at the club. Shouldn't that depend to a degree on how well he does between now and the remainder of the season?

  • Comment number 9.

    Paul - not necessarily. I suspect most of my fellow Oldham fans feel the same way I do: that Royle was brought in to oversee a turnaround in attitude and discipline that had fallen massively by the wayside during John Sheridan's tenure.

    I also suspect that maybe, just maybe, we've been blinded by the past a little. Yes, Royle had us playing some terrific football; however, we are talking 15-20 years ago when football was a very different game to the one it is now.

    My personal wish is to see Royle take the reins for next season and bring the best out of our youth players, or bring Jim Gannon in, as he's arguably the best manager in the lower leagues, and certainly has a reputation for bringing in and utilising technically sound youngsters.

    Who knows? With a couple of quality signings and the discipline we've lacked for a while, we may challenge for a promotion spot. Stranger things have happened.

  • Comment number 10.

    I still hope Scholes may have a role to play in the long term future of our club.

    A year or two left at Utd doing his coaching badges, then maybe a player/coach role at Latics. His love for the club is legend, he would still be a wonderful player at championship/league 1 level, even in his late 30s.

    His standards would be high, he would be respected by the players for his achievements and respected by Oldham fans as one of their own. There could be a transition period with Joe at his side. Great profile for the club and his reputation and contacts would help attract some superb players if we could get ourselves into the Championship. Pie in the sky, dreamworld stuff, I know.

    I used to see him at Boundary Park and at Oldham Snooker Centre when he was young. Even saw him having breakfast with his Mrs at Debenhams cafe in the Spindles in '99 a few days after Utd won the Champs League. Quality, you wouldn't get Ronaldo doing that.

  • Comment number 11.

    Good luck Joe, top man!

    The game is richer for his presence.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.