Freddie Goodwin

The death of former Birmingham City manager Freddie Goodwin was announced this week. Steve Beauchampé reminisces.

Freddie Goodwin – the surname alone filled you with hope and optimism. And in my formative years of watching Birmingham City there was reason to be hopeful and optimistic. My first Blues game had been in 1967 when Stan Cullis was in charge, followed by the occasional foray to St. Andrews until 1971, when I began attending regularly. By then Cullis – a great Wolves manager but an average one for Blues – had left, replaced by 37-year old Freddie Goodwin, latterly of Brighton and Hove Albion and the Goldstone Ground.

Goodwin, articulate and intelligent, a former Busby Babe (and Lancashire cricketer), was building a team that both promised and delivered exciting wing play and attacking football. With Blues stuck in the second division he brought in Gordon Taylor from Bolton (and had another fine winger on the books already in Phil Summerill), Bob Latchford from the youth team and later Bob Hatton from Carlisle. And then there was Trevor Francis.

Big crowds, noise, excitement, atmosphere, the new blue and white penguin shirts – it was a great time to be a teenage Blues fan. In 1970-71 Blues finished ninth after a poor start was followed by an unbeaten run of 15 matches, witnessed by rising home crowds as 16-year-old Francis, used sparingly by Goodwin initially, quickly became an essential selection, scoring an abundance of goals, highlighted by the home game with Bolton Wanderers: “Francis 4 Bolton 0” was the Sports Argus headline, “1-2-3-4 It’s Francis!” screamed the Evening Mail, as Trevor scored the lot.

Hatton’s arrival in October 1971 gave Blues a legendary front three as he, Latchford and Francis scored the goals that won promotion. Undefeated in the league after New Year’s Day, undefeated at home all season, Blues regularly performed before home crowds of 40,000 as St. Andrews, and in particular the massive Spion Kop side terrace, crackled to both league and FA Cup success.

Portsmouth were dispatched 6-3, leaders Norwich blasted 4-0 in the snow and Oxford United defeated away on Good Friday in front of 18,990 at the Manor Ground. My father and I gave up trying to get in for the home match with Blackpool, so great was the tumult around Railway End and Kop terraces, but we were there the following weekend when promotion rivals Millwall were beaten thanks to Latchford’s winner.

Promotion was ultimately secured at Leyton Orient on a Tuesday night as the season overran, the result of Blues journey to the FA Cup semi-final. A 3-0 loss to a Leeds side at their peak (and my first away game) had surprised no-one but the fact that we’d be playing them in the first division the following season would be compensation enough.

Under Goodwin Blues finished a very creditable tenth after a second half of the season surge saw them defeat champions Derby County, Bill Shankly’s Liverpool, Manchester United and a weakened Leeds. Every home game attracted at least 30,000 (today’s St. Andrews doesn’t even hold that many) with over 51,000 packed in for the visit of the admittedly fast fading post-Busby Red Devils.

It was a time when almost every football fan at school followed a local team (our class had just one Manchester United-supporting Irish lad) so Mondays involved dissecting the weekend’s games many of us had attended. It was a time when if your team weren’t on Match of the Day (which Blues rarely were) or ITV’s Star Soccer, the goals, the highlights, weren’t recorded for posterity and so lived on in words and memory only.

And it was a time when you could follow and relate to the careers and trajectory of the players your club signed and sold. They came from English or Scottish clubs (unless they came through your club’s youth team) and they moved on (if they moved on at all) to other English or Scottish clubs. You cared about them because they and their clubs were part of your wider football culture, whereas today I know nothing and care little for the myriad of overseas journeymen who flit in and out of my club and its first team squad for a season or two, or less.

For the final three seasons of Goodwin’s reign Blues struggled and plateaud at best, but at least avoided relegation. The youth team produced talent such as defender Joe Gallagher and defender turned forward Kenny Burns. Crowds fell a bit, hope and optimism dwindled quite a bit as the club failed to invest in Goodwin’s early success and the manager’s prediction of Birmingham City becoming the team of the seventies, one that would win more than Leeds United, failed to materialise in the slightest. On St. Valentine’s Day 1974, despite assurances to the contrary, Bob Latchford was sold, joining Everton for a then British transfer record of £350,000, with the very classy Howard Kendall and full back Archie Styles moving the other way as part of the deal.

The end came in September 1975 a few months after Blues’ failure to overcome second division nowhere men Fulham in Goodwin’s second FA Cup Semi-Final, despite being overwhelming favourites. Following his dismissal Goodwin relocated to the United States to coach Minnesota Kicks eventually retiring to Washington State.

Freddie Goodwin had five seasons at Blues. And unlike many contemporary managers, who sometimes receive as little as 15-20 games before being dismissed, he had the time and space (if not always the funds) to build a team, develop a philosophy, create a legacy, perhaps even a dynasty. Whilst Freddie Goodwin may have failed in the latter, his time at Blues, at least initially, created memories that have lasted over forty years and will continue doing so as long as those of us who witnessed them are here to put on the rose-tinted spectacles.

Footnote: It was a nice coincidence that Blues first game following Goodwin’s death was at home to Bolton, a timely reference to one of the most memorable moments of Freddie Goodwin’s reign at Blues.

(With thanks to Paul Baker)