John Bond at Burnley
It’s a name that stirs the same emotions and reactions as that of Bob Lord. There are those who say that both were villains. There are those like me that take the view that they are both much maligned. It may well be true that Bob Lord in his final years ran the club into the ground and it was near insolvent; it is perfectly true that he was bluff, rude and dismissive, but he was also the man who spent years building it up into the club that was so successful until the mid-seventies.
John Bond was possibly a fish out of water at Burnley. He was John Jackson’s appointment and if blame is to be attached to anyone, then it is wrong to apportion blame solely to John Bond for the mess that the club was in by the end of his season. It was a small group of directors and after hours of talking to one of them, Derek Gill, and having been through his diaries of the time, it is abundantly clear that the chemistry that existed between all the characters in the Bond drama was totally wrong. It was a deeply flawed appointment.
Derek Gill had set the club back on the path to prosperity after Lord’s final years when the club was as good as insolvent. He made deal after deal and the sale of Trevor Steven banked a huge amount. It is Bond who is criticised for spending it all. But as Bond once said, he was no different to any other manager; a manager will spend what he is allowed to spend. So, it could be argued that the directors were just as culpable for signing the cheques.
The key moment in Bond’s tenure came after an early season defeat to Crewe. The fans were furious already. The defeat was an eye-opener. The directors knew that the appointment was a mistake and stayed in the boardroom until the small hours debating the situation. In their hearts they knew they should dismiss him, but they didn’t.
The season progressed to the stage where Burnley played some superb football under him, Reeves was a superb signing. But he received a career-terminating injury. When his goals stopped so did Billy Hamilton’s, a great striker who had benefited from Reeves’ presence alongside him. From that point on the team struggled, attendances dropped, the money in the bank dried up, and the season ended in acrimony. Bond was the scapegoat and villain.
No Nay Never Vol 2 has the full story and makes great use of the riveting Gill diaries. In short, Bond was John Jackson’s appointment. I have a letter from Bond in which he explains he was appointed by Jackson, and told then to keep quiet until it was announced.
Derek Gill, who learned of the Bond appointment from a day-old newspaper in Tenerife, as well as giving me a copy of his 135+ page diary of the time, also gave me two volumes of bound programmes. In the back of one of them were some old faded clippings. One of them related to a Granada Kick-Off TV programme when Bond in the studio answered his critics. It was only when one of these volumes fell on the floor as I pulled out another book from underneath, that I found the cuttings in the back.
BOND BLASTS BACK one of them is headed on Saturday January 21st, 1989
‘John Bond the man Clarets loved to hate admitted last night that he made mistakes during his short stay in charge of Turf Moor. He faced the cameras to defend criticism of the disastrous 12 months four years ago which led to Burnley crashing from the Third to the Fourth Division for the first time in their history a year later. On Granada TV’s Kick Off programme he confessed he made errors but he said he had no guilty feelings over anything he did.
Bond, in the TV station’s Manchester studio faced a grilling from members of Burnley Football Supporters’ Club at the Centre Spot. His biggest blunder he said was in sacking Frank Casper as coach and bringing only ‘his own’ men in.
Bond was also forced to admit it was a mistake selling Brian Laws and giving a free transfer to Lee Dixon – both defenders now are starring for Nottingham Forest and Arsenal respectively. And he admitted it was a mistake to sign players such as Gerry Gow, Dennis Tuert and Joe Gallagher who he claimed was not fit when he joined the Clarets.
But first he reacted to a claim made by Burnley veteran Leighton James who claimed in a national newspaper that during his time at Burnley Bond was out of touch with the man in the street. Bond retorted: ‘Burnley were not exactly top of the First Division when I took over. They were in the Third Division and maybe it was other people who were out of touch as well as me’.
Supporter Michael Rumney asked: “Despite your lack of success as manager why do you always blame directors when you leave a football club?”
Bond replied: Well I wouldn’t like to say that. If you were to speak to Sir Arthur South at Norwich, Harold Walker at Bournemouth and Peter Swales at Manchester City, maybe they would not agree with you. I think I have had my fair share of success within the game. And I think that at certain clubs I have done well.”
Another fan Derek Adamson asked: You had Brian Laws and Lee Dixon at Burnley and released them both. Do you not consider this a serious misjudgement as they are both now playing for top First Division clubs?”
Bond said: “Just let me tell you. I hold my hand up about that but I am prone to making mistakes as you are or anyone else is in life. At that particular time, we sold Brian Laws and I thought we got good money for him. I’m not saying we got the earth but we got fairly good money. Dixon – I didn’t see it that way and I just let Lee Dixon go.”
Duncan Wood asked: “You brought another three Johns to the club, Benson, Doherty and Sainty – do you think your loyalty to these three contributed to your downfall?”
Bond replied: “Well I don’t see it that way. I think John Sainty was a great coach with me at Manchester City and I don’t think he lost his way at all when he came to Burnley.” Presenter Elton Welsby then interrupted and pointed out that Bond had told him earlier that using the benefit of hindsight he would have taken someone with him who knew the club.
Bond continued: “Well, I think that’s the thing I did wrong. Frank Casper was in charge I believe just before I took over and maybe I should have kept Frank with me. I had no grudge against him. It was just that I wanted to keep my own men with me and maybe that was a big mistake not keeping him at the club because I do believe you do need somebody who has been at the club and who knows the club.”
Maria McWilliam asked: “You left Burnley with nothing, not even its once proud youth policy. Do you not feel guilty about this?
Bond replied: “No I don’t feel guilty about anything. I don’t think they had any youth policy. You know as well as I do the players Burnley had when I took over. And I must tell you with all this talk that has gone on that I bought players to the club, the cost of bringing in players was £308,000. And I’ll tell you what they got back. They got £150,000 for Kevin Reeves in insurance compensation and they pulled in another £575,000 on other sales. You ask me how they found themselves in so much debt and I will ask you the same question because I don’t know.
Paul Grace asked: “Why did you offer lucrative contracts to players who then left the club in dire financial circumstances especially as some hardly played for the club?”
Bond: “I will sit here now and hold my hand up and tell you I made mistakes with the likes of Gerry Gow and even the likes of Dennis Tuert. I certainly made a mistake with Joe Gallagher. But something you don’t know is that it wasn’t entirely down to me. When we got Joe down to the club, I told the doctor I didn’t think he was fit. We took him to a specialist in Manchester and the doctor came back and said he was OK. I didn’t agree with the doctor but by that time we had to keep him.”
It’s a selective account of what was presumably a 30-minute programme and Bond probably doesn’t come out of it all that well. The £575,000 he refers to includes the sales of Brian Laws, Trevor Steven and Mal Waldron.
The purchase of Joe Gallagher is probably one of the great mess-ups of Burnley player purchases. He had knee problems when he was bought but with all player purchases it is a case of buyer beware. The doctor in question was the club doctor, Doc Iven. Derek Gill has always been one to question the medical that Doc Iven gave Gallagher. One of the tests was to have him running up and down a flight of stairs. Derek has since frequently asked: “Since when has a game of football been played on a flight of stairs?
Clearly there is more to all this than the newspaper account of the TV programme. It’s pretty much all in NNN Vol 2 where great use was made of Derek Gill’s diaries. The best bits are probably unprintable alas. There’s an eye-opening book in there somewhere. With the Paul Weller book about his battles with illness now completed I do mull over, whether or not the next one should be a full account of the John Bond season. Like the old tyrant Bob Lord, Bond is a much-maligned character in Burnley, but doesn’t merit every criticism that comes his way.
Strange how football repeats itself; in just the same way that the board knew very early that Bond was not the right man for Burnley, so did certainly one director realise quite soon that Eddie Howe was “not the right man for Burnley.” Both boards stuck with their decision. Whilst Howe was in no way a disaster as Bond was, nevertheless it’s certainly my contention that the club was going nowhere with him at the helm.
In 1988 Paul Fletcher put together a booklet of articles written by many club legends, to raise money for the club. One of the articles was written by John Bond and in it he gave his own account of his year at Turf Moor.
‘When I joined Burnley Football Club as manager, I had only one thought in mind. The First Division. My only real knowledge of this great club, steeped in tradition, was of my playing days, battling at Turf Moor in front of capacity First Division crowds against McIlroy, Adamson, Pointer and Miller. The club had a playing pitch, stadium and training ground to match anything in Europe. I had been promised support without interference from Chairman and directors so how could I fail? But I did. And I remember my stay at Burnley as the biggest disappointment in my football career. So, whose fault was it?
Certainly, as manager I take a large share of responsibility. But not all of it. Strangely, even after a few months at the club, I still felt like an outsider. Looking back, I feel that no-one can be blamed for that, just the history of the position. I realised in fact, that I was the first outsider to be appointed manager. Before, the post had been filled from within the ranks. Alan Brown, Harry Potts, Jimmy Adamson, Brian Miller, Frank Casper had all established themselves as players before becoming the manager. All were northerners and had learned the way that this successful, town club, survived amongst the big name, city clubs.
Then suddenly, this southerner arrives to manage, obviously wanting his own way and using management techniques both tried and tested in the upper divisions. The club at that time was in the middle of transition. The great Bob Lord era was over and a new, young chairman, John Jackson, headed the board. His inexperience as chairman, coupled with a relatively new board of directors, added to my determination to have my own way, and all this was a recipe for disaster. The only remedy was success on the field, and that’s when fate, bad luck, call it what you like, took a hand.
Firstly, the Hamilton and Reeves partnership ended in mid-season. Kevin Reeves was tragically injured with an injury that effectively ended his career. Then, Trevor Steven was transferred to Everton in the famous Burnley tradition of selling a player each year, a product of the youth policy. Unfortunately, after Trevor Steven, no other young players were coming through. I made an error when I bought Mal Waldron from Southampton and my other boys were struggling for success on the field. All, except Tommy Hutchison, a great player and good professional, but felt he was never really accepted at the club, even though he was voted player of the year for two consecutive years.
Amongst the gloom, every now and then I could see what this team was capable of. We kicked off at 3 o’ clock against Port Vale and at 3.30 we were 6-0 up. Brian Flynn was playing as well as at any time in his career and I knew if I could only combine a few good results, with a slice of luck the team would believe in itself… and the directors would believe in me.
But it was not to be and I left the club with great sadness in my heart. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I can see clearly now a few mistakes I made. But each was made with a desire for success for the club.
I have no animosity towards Burnley Football Club or anyone associated with the club. It was simply a plan that did not work, a relationship that because of inherent traditions, never had a fair chance. But that’s happening every day in this wonderful game of football, a game to which we are all addicted. I hope the club returns one day to a rightful place in the top flight of British football. I am only sorry I was unable to lead the way.
(Bond died at the age of 79 in 2012. The Guardian obituary referred to him being reviled by Burnley fans. Alas, the fans that reviled him, and maybe still do, know only half the story. It’s a story worth telling. He would have seen the club return to the Premier League in 2009.)Share this page :