Book Review: Lawrie McMenemy ‘A Lifetime’s Obsession’
Lawrie McMenemy was a man who came from the lower reaches of football to reach the very top. His personal journey is wonderfully told in ‘A Lifetime’s Obsession’ a well overdue autobiography.
Saints fans will instinctively love this interesting and thoughtful book, but to enjoy it you don’t have to support Southampton football club who Lawrie managed for 12 years wining the FA Cup in 1976 and coming second in Division one in 1983-84 season. No mean feat for a provisional club without the financial resources of the bigger clubs.
As Saints supporter Steve Eckersley said ‘For those Saints fans who lived through the McMenemy years, it was indeed a golden time and reliving it has been a fabulous experience’. Eckersley knowing much of Lawrie’s Southampton years commented ‘I was more interested in the events that surrounded him during the subsequent 30 years. This is not covered in anything like the same detail – Sunderland? The Club was a shambles when I arrived! England? If only Graham Taylor had listened to me! Northern Ireland? What did you expect with the players that I had? Rupert Lowe? Arrogant, upper class twit!’.
McMenemy’s shock signing of Kevin Keegan (European Footballer of the year & England captain) is a remarkable tale. Along with his working relationship with England manager Graham Taylor acting as his assistant in the early nineties which is scrutinised in gripping detail. Including the behind the scenes thoughts on the famous Graham Taylor documentary for channel four ‘An impossible job’ later released on video ‘Do I not like that’. A topic Lawrie is asked about more than any other.
He also lifts the lid on his long running feud with fellow Saints legend Terry Paine, he believed Paine, now club president, was trying to undermine him when he first landed the job as Saints manager, taking over from Ted Bates. Even when the pair last met just a couple of years ago he admitted suspicion remained. Lawrie says in the book “He was a major problem I found myself having to confront.”
Having met McMenemy a couple of times, he is amusing, a wonderful public speaker and makes those around him feel important with a smile and sense of humour that if you were a footballer you would want to play for him or in a pub you’ll want to chat with him. But under that northern charm, there’s real steel which a few of his players encountered as highlighted in the book.
He signed and took on some established talented but maverick players such as Peter Osgood, Alan Ball, Charlie George, Frank Worthington, Peter Shilton and promising youngsters like Steve Williams all needed careful man management which Laurie displays with in the pages of the book excellently. One Saints fan commented ‘I admit that one of my heroes was Alan Ball and Lawrie’s revelation about how the totally realistic Bally finally walked away with his best days behind him is truly moving’.
His close relationship with Brian Clough is also examined with some typical entertaining ‘Cloughie’ stories and incidents including the one that eventually finished their friendship. You get the feeling that even with McMenemy’s people skills he was no nearer to really understanding Brian Clough than anyone else in the game.
Lawrie McMenemy still lives near to Southampton and carries out public speaking engagements, charity work and is involved with Solent University in ‘The Lawrie McMenemy Centre for Football Research’ (LMCFR) which is a multi-disciplinary football education, research and consultancy centre which provides expert support for the football industry, students and the media in a number of areas.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.