In part one of Ed’s three-part interview with City legend of the 1970s John Ryan, they talk about his brush with Billy Wright while at Arsenal, an embarrassing encounter with Johnny Haynes and a close call with Bobby Robson and Ipswich Town.
John Bond was never happier as a manager than when he was out on the training pitch amongst his players.
He didn’t believe in rationing his appearances at the training ground in the manner some of his contemporaries. Brian Clough tended to wear his tracksuit only when he fancied a quick game of squash but Bond virtually lived in his from dawn to dusk on weekdays, saving the expensive suits and cigars for his adoring public on a Saturday afternoon.
He was a showman who demanded entertaining football played by charismatic footballers. So he made sure he was surrounded by them wherever he went.
It was Bond who brought Ted MacDougall and Phil Boyer to the wider attention of the footballing world at Bournemouth. Harry Redknapp – no shrinking violet himself – had to defer to him as the gaffer at Dean Court while, during his time at Norwich, Bond indulged fully in his passion for big names and even bigger personalities by persuading the likes of Martin Peters, Martin Chivers, Peter Osgood, Jimmy Neighbour, Graham Paddon (for the second time) and Alan Taylor to bring their undoubted talents to Norfolk.
Some of them thrived on it. Peters, for example, ended up playing more league games for Norwich than he did for Tottenham and came close to an England recall during his time at Carrow Road. Chivers, on the other hand, saw himself as bigger and better than both the club and his new manager and, as a consequence, swiftly found his services were no longer required.
Yet, despite all that and the obvious allure that went with players who’d won World Cups, scored in FA Cup finals and represented their countries on countless occasions, one of Bond’s best ever signings for Norwich was a hard working 29-year-old defender who he snatched away from Luton Town for just £50,000 in August 1976.
John Ryan had been at Kenilworth Road for eight years and may well have been expecting to see out his career at the club, one which had included a fleeting glimpse of top-flight football during the 1974/75 season, their first at that level since 1960. Sadly, their stay was a short one and the Hatters went straight back down again though Ryan did, at least, get the chance to play against Arsenal, his first club for whom he signed for back in October 1964.
“I signed for Arsenal as a young pro in the afternoon and played in a South East Counties cup match that same evening at Highbury. We won 7-0 and I scored one as well as making a couple more. Back then I played primarily as a left or right winger, which had been my position at Maidstone United who were my home town club.
“I was a regular in their reserve team as well as the youth team there, which my dad had helped to set up and run.
“While I was at Maidstone, we played in a preliminary round of the FA Youth Cup against Ashford Town and Folkestone Town and smashed both of them. I scored six goals in total, four against Ashford and two against Folkestone which meant we had to play league side Leyton Orient in the next round.”
John, however, would not get the opportunity to play against the cream of London E10.
“Unbeknown to me, Arsenal had sent George Male, who was their chief scout down to watch me and he’d seen enough to want to sign me for them so I was offered a contract. Unfortunately, as I was cup-tied, I couldn’t play for them in the FA Youth Cup which was a shame as they got to the final where they played Everton at Goodison Park.
“That Arsenal youth team was special. It consisted of ten youth internationals, including the captains of England, Scotland and Wales at that level – and me!
“I was paid £15 per week and became one of 44 players on their staff at the time.”
John soon started to move his way up the playing ranks at Highbury.
“I played in 18 games for the reserves through to the end of the 1964/65 season in a team that usually featured six or seven full internationals every week. Jack McClelland, Jimmy Magill, Freddie Clarke, John Sneddon, Peter Simpson and Bob Wilson. Plus me.
“Everyone thought I was doing well for a kid. And that was the problem. I was still classed as an amateur, I just happened to be getting paid and didn’t become a full time professional for many years”.
The Arsenal manager at that time was Billy Wright, as much a legend both in and out of the game then as David Beckham is regarded today. He’d won 105 caps for England and had led them at three consecutive World Cup Finals from 1950 to 1958. John couldn’t, surely, have a better mentor to help advance him in the game?
“Billy Wright was the only manager of the 12 I ended up playing for who I neither liked or respected. His playing career is, of course, beyond criticism but he struggled as a manager and was sacked about a year after I signed for Arsenal.
“He seemed to take an instant dislike to me and would single me out for some vicious treatment in front of the other young players. Looking back, I think that, after playing in around 550 top flight matches over a 20-year playing career, I sometimes wonder if he wasn’t using that as something that might push me on to want that sort of career for myself and with Arsenal?
“But if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think he was. He never tried to help or really develop me as a player, he just threw me into a team containing players that were, at the time, far more talented and capable than I was and then ranted and raved at me after a match for not doing this, that or the other properly.
“I don’t think the management team at Arsenal appreciated just how far I’d come in only a few months. I was a skinny young slip of a boy who came from a relatively affluent background and had never really played any level of men’s football, only youth at Isthmian league reserve level. Some of the men’s games I went onto play in and the challenges that were going on in them, well, they frightened me to death.”
It soon became evident that Wright had decided that John was not going to be good enough for his Arsenal team, no matter what methods he employed to motivate that particular ‘skinny young slip of a boy’.
“At the end of that season, I was sitting in the digs I shared with David Jenkins and Brian Tawse when two large brown envelopes and one small registered white one dropped through the front door. As I opened the small white one that was addressed to me, I wondered where the other two lads had disappeared to?
“It turned out that they’d read the situation as my letter was from the club notifying me I was being given a free transfer whilst the two brown envelopes that were for them both contained contract offers.
“Funnily enough, Arsenal rang me up three weeks later and said that maybe they’d been a little too hasty with their decision and that I could go back. But I’d already signed for Vic Buckingham at Fulham by then.”
Signing for Fulham finally gave John the opportunity to push on with his career. He was also able to work with another former England international and legend of the game, one who he ended up having entirely different feelings for, compared to the relentless taskmaster that was Billy Wright.
“Vic Buckingham was the Fulham manager and he came down to my home in Maidstone to meet me and my parents as part of their efforts to sign me on now I’d left Arsenal. My lasting memory of the man will always be that he wore a very elegant jacket with a floppy silk handkerchief in his breast pocket.
“He really impressed both my dad and me with his thoughts on me as a player as well as what his plans were for Fulham and said that, if I signed, my wages would be doubled to £35-a-week. So eat your heart out, Alexis Sanchez! I was more than happy to sign for them and reported in for the first day of pre-season training on July 18 (1965) and started to get to know the place as well as some of my new teammates.
“Two days in, I was walking out of the gate at Craven Cottage when who should walk in but Johnny Haynes. I didn’t know what to say or where to look so kept my eyes looking firmly down at the pavement before, to my astonishment, I heard him say, ‘Morning Johnny, how are you settling in?’ I mumbled something stupid in reply and, with a face blushing fit to bust, almost ran out of the ground.
“This was the great Johnny Haynes and he had spoken to me as if I was a friend which he very soon became. But it was at that precise moment that I realised what a wonderful man he was, taking the time just to talk to a young and very shy player, an unknown really and, in the big scheme of things, a bit of a nobody.
“I’d been at Arsenal for seven months and had not spoken to, let alone been spoken to, by any of their big stars. Not, I should add, that I think George Eastham, Joe Baker or Don Howe wouldn’t have spoken to me but, at Arsenal, that sort of thing just wasn’t done, indeed, all of the apprentices would have called them ‘Mr Eastham’ or ‘Mr Baker’ if they ever did engage them in conversation.
“Fulham were different, it was a much more friendly place, a proper family club.
“I was a hard-working player and that included in training. We used to do a training run every Tuesday at Fulham, one called ‘Increase and Demand’ where a group of you run at a decent pace for a quarter of a lap of the pitch before jogging the other three quarters. You then run a half and jog for a half, then run for three quarters and jog for a quarter before, finally, doing a fast lap of the whole pitch. Then it got tough. Because you did it all again but in reverse.
“I was out in front as usual and that didn’t suit the senior players, so Johnny Haynes and Terry Dyson complained one day, ‘…get an ‘effing rope around him’, that sort of thing. I was out in front but it wasn’t because I was so much quicker than the others, more that I just tried harder than them. We talked about it after training and I explained that I could hardly ask Johnny to hit poor passes in training because he was better at that part of the game than anyone else at the club, such was his talent.
“It, therefore, made sense for me not to be asked to run slower or not work as hard as I could, as that was the great strength of my game.
“I was at Fulham for just over four years and ended up making 47 league appearances for them, scoring just the one goal. Vic Buckingham, who brought me to the club was eventually sacked and replaced by Bobby Robson who struggled from the start really and we ended up being relegated at the end of the 1967/68 season.
“Johnny Haynes took over for a while and I played quite a few games under him but it was clear that Bill Dodgin, who came in from QPR to take over didn’t fancy me one little bit and, to be fair, he was probably right not to at that time.”
Bill Dodgin Junior’s (his father had also managed Fulham) conviction that John wasn’t good enough for the side that he was going to build at Craven Cottage meant that John was soon in receipt of a familiar item in the post.
“I received another little white envelope, another free transfer and, at that time, I was beginning to think, ‘What now?’ Luckily for me, I got an answer to that question, and not for the first time, in Harry Haslam. Before that, however, I’d got a call from Bobby Robson who was now at Ipswich. He’d clearly rated me whilst he was at Fulham because he rang and asked me to come up and see him as he could see me playing a part in the new look team he was putting together at Portman Road.
“I drove up to Ipswich from Maidstone and had a very long chat with Bob but, when I asked for what was a very modest signing on fee, he said it wasn’t possible.
“I then got a call from Harry asking me to come and see him at Luton. He was chief scout at the club at the time and was very keen for me to come and meet Alec Stock, who was the manager. I went along but as a favour to Harry more than anything, as he’d been very supportive of me and my career up until then. However, once I got there and started chatting to Alec, I was impressed enough by him to have signed within an hour.”
Tomorrow, all roads lead to Norfolk and John Bond…