Monday, October 11, 2010

Maverick Mal - A Short Biography of Malcolm Allison

Malcolm Allison was born in Dartford, Kent on the 5th September 1927.

'Big Mal' became one of British football's most colourful, charismatic and controversial characters to have ever graced the game, as well as being an incredibly innovative coach of his era.

His naturally flamboyant, outspoken and brazen nature made him the maverick character that he indeed was.

He played football for Erith & Belvedere before signing for Charlton Athletic in 1945.
He only played two first-team games for the club before Ted Fenton signed him for West Ham United for a fee of £7,000 in February 1951.

Allison had a poor relationship with Ted Fenton and openly described Fenton as a "useless manager."
The under pressure Fenton eventually agreed that Malcolm Allison should take over the training sessions, where he in turn he acted as mentor to a young Bobby Moore. He introduced all-day training which included weights in the afternoons. In fact he more or less ran the playing side of things, and the fans enjoyed the style of football introduced by Allison.

His playing career was cut short when on 16th September 1957, at the age of 30 Allison was taken ill after a game against Sheffield United. Doctors discovered he was suffering from tuberculosis and he had to have a lung removed. He made well over 200 appearances in his time with the East London club.

Allison took on a coaching role at Cambridge University, and moved into management at non-league Bath City in 1963. His moderate success at Bath City had alerted a number of Football League clubs, and in May 1964 he took up the position of manager of Plymouth Argyle. He soon returned to Bath to sign full-back Tony Book. However, Allison knew the Plymouth board would be reluctant to permit the purchase of a player with no League experience, who was approaching his thirtieth birthday. Allison encouraged Book to doctor his birth certificate, making him appear two years younger.

However all his trophy wining success in English football was crammed into a four year spell at Manchester City in the late 1960's.
Joe Mercer was named City manager in July 1965, but due to poor health Mercer sought a younger, energetic man to be his assistant. He offered the position to Allison, who he knew from coaching courses at Lilleshall.

The Mercer-Allison era is believed to be strongest in Manchester City's history. Renowned for a free-flowing style of football, developed by Allison in their first season City they won the Second Division championship. Two years later (1967-68) they won the First Division league title. The club won the FA Cup (1969), the League Cup (1970) and European Cup-Winners Cup (1971).
Allison was also responsible for introducing a red and black away kit because he wanted his side to look like AC Milan.

The following year Allison took over from Mercer as manager of the club, with a team including such greats as Bell, Summerbee and Lee.

City nearly won the League in Allison's first full season but lost key matches after the balance of the side was disrupted by the signing of the flamboyant Rodney Marsh, along with Allison's repeated desire to tinker with the side to little effect.
Although Allison resigned the following year he had left a lasting impression. It was said that during his time at City, "His influence was felt throughout the club and his approach was refreshing. His charisma and style brought excitement to sixties Manchester."

On the 31st March 1973 Allison was appointed manager of Crystal Palace. Despite his arrival the Eagles were relegated, losing five out of their last seven games.

Malcolm immediately instigated a huge stylistic shift both on and off the field, raising Palace's profile with his charismatic media appearances, rebranding the club’s rather homely nickname ‘The Glaziers’ as ‘The Eagles’ and ending the club’s 68-year association with claret and blue kits. Palace’s highly recognisable red and blue striped home kit was introduced, and later, the all-white strip with red and blue sash, changes which still reflect in the character of the club today.

The following season (1974-75)was even more disastrous because of a second successive relegation.

However the 1975-76 was Allison's most successful season at Selhurst Park as he spurred his side onto a fantastic FA Cup run. Brilliant victories against higher league opposition in the shape of Leeds United, Chelsea and Sunderland lead to the club's first ever FA Cup semi-final. Palace lost the semi-final to eventual winners Southampton at Stamford Bridge, with Allison resembling a Chicago gangster in his fur or sheepskin coat, 'lucky' fedora hat, and a cigar never far away.
With the team failing to reach Wembley and win promotion Allison resigned in May 1976.

Despite two successive relegations during his tenure, Palace supporters will always remember the mid 1970s as the era of FA Cup runs and Allison's fedora hat. His period at the helm of 'The Eagles' was not the most successful but during his time in charge the seeds were sown for the success that would follow under Terry Venables.

Much in line with his flamboyant persona, his career was shrouded in numerous controversies. His outspoken nature and 'laddish womanising antics' were ideal for the tabloids but nothing topped Allison's decision in 1976 to invite the famous porn star Fiona Richmond to Palace's Park Langley training ground for a photo shoot with a cameraman from the News of the World.

Richmond went in goal while Palace's slightly bemused but uncomplaining players took penalties at her, and the session ended with the club's goalkeeper Paul Hammond covering the former Playboy model in mud.

But that was just the start of it. Moments later, Richmond appeared in the dressing rooms wearing only a fur coat, which she promptly whipped off before jumping in the players' communal bath, along with Allison.

Then Crystal Palace player, Terry Venables later said of the incident, "I was in the bath with all the players and we heard the whisper that she was coming down the corridor." So far, so good. "We all leapt out and hid, because we knew there'd be photos and that wouldn't go down too well. Malcolm and Fiona dropped everything and got in the bath."

Allison received a Football Association disrepute charge after a photograph was published in the News of the World showing him in the Crystal Palace players' bath with the porn star.

Among Big Mal's 'other women' were Roger Moore's ex-wife Dorothy Squires, 1950's movie legend Jane Russell, Profumo scandal hooker Christine Keeler, two Miss UK's! and a Playboy Club employee called Serena Williams!

After Palace, Allison had short managerial stints at Galatasaray in Turkey, and back at Plymouth before Allison returned to Manchester City as manager in 1979. It was an unmitigated disaster and he left for Palace again in 1980.
Stints with a number of other clubs never saw Allison scale those giddy City heights again, apart from a golden period out of the British spotlight where he won the Portuguese league and cup with Sporting Lisbon.
Allison’s final spell in management came at Bristol Rovers in the early 1990's, where he introduced a tactical concept called the 'Whirl' which involved players regularly swapping positions on the field of play.

Allison settled into semi-retirement as a radio pundit on Teeside, despite being 'accidentally' caught on air using an array of expletives!

With his enthusiasm for expansive football, Allison would have made a fine director of coaching at the FA, but his extravagant lifestyle seemed to colour his approach to club management - he couldn't be left alone with a chequebook!
He remains the only English football manager to have published an autobiography that sounds like a psychedelic LP, 'Colours of My Life.'

Sadly his health is in decline. In 2001 it was revealed by his son that Allison was suffering from alcoholism, and he is now in a care home suffering from Alzheimer’s. It's a heart-rending end for one of football's greatest entertainers.

As a football manager, he was moderate, his achievements as a coach far outweighing his titles as a number one.

But as a PR guru, he was simply peerless!

Friday 15th October 2010, only four days after writing my short biography on Malcolm Allison -
I am truly saddened to say that today Malcolm Allison passed away, aged 83.
God bless you 'Big Mal' and may your rest in peace.

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