Lawrie McMenemy: “Never forget where you came from”

Southampton's legendary manager Lawrie McMenemy reflects upon the 1976 FA Cup Final victory, signing Kevin Keegan – and creating the academies that produced Shearer and Bale

Lawrie McMenemy is a legend of Southampton Football Club. Saints manager from 1975-87, McMenemy led the team to their greatest triumph, winning the FA Cup in 1976, beating Manchester United at Wembley in front of 99,115 fans, thanks to a goal by Bobby Stokoe.

Speaking exclusively to The Big Issue for our special edition magazine, which will serve as the official matchday programme this Saturday – sold at St Mary’s by Big Issue vendors to kick off the new Premier League season – McMenemy opens up about his best day in football.

I didn’t have to buy a drink that year. The trouble was it was the same for the players!

“If I could relive one day from my career it would be that FA Cup Final win,” he says.

“No one thought we would win, we were total outsiders. By tea time we had surprised everybody and the celebrations went on and on. The open top bus tour should have been 45 minutes, but it went on for four and a half hours.”

Lawrie McMenemy leads out Southampton FC in the FA Cup Final at Wembley in 1976
Lawrie McMenemy leads out Southampton FC in the FA Cup Final at Wembley in 1976

And the hangover lasted an entire season, the legendary former manager, now aged 81, recalls – perhaps delaying Southampton’s return to the First Division by a season.

“I didn’t have to buy a drink that year in Southampton,” laughs McMenemy. “The trouble was it was the same for the players!”

In a wide-ranging interview, for the Big Issue’s showpiece Letter To My Younger Self feature, McMenemy talks about leadership, luck and his life-long love of the game that began on the streets of Gateshead as a youngster.

“Everybody wanted to be a footballer,” he says. “We played in the avenues we all lived on, we’d come home from school and the goal posts were the lamp posts at each end of the street. You’d start with three a side, then more people would join in as they got home from school.”

Leadership Skills

During National Service in the Coldstream Guards, the young McMenemy picked up a foot injury. “I was never the same player again,” he says. However, the tall, commanding youngster also developed the leadership skills that would serve him so well in his management career.

“It helped me,” he says. “After nine months in the guards, I was the youngest with three stripes, a Lance Sergeant.

Becoming a Freeman of Southampton at St Mary's in 2007
Becoming a Freeman of Southampton at St Mary's in 2007

“From then on, I was in charge of groups of people – and when you add your coaching certificates, you are used to leading people. You could be the best player in the country, but you have to be able to communicate.

“The greatest players sometimes struggle as managers because they can’t understand why lesser players can’t do what they did naturally.”

DID YOU KNOW…

There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

McMenemy reveals that a note from Don Revie helped him get the Southampton job, after previously finding success in the lower leagues with Gateshead, Sheffield Wednesday, Doncaster Rovers and Grimsby Town – where his management skills came to the fore.

“I took the players down to the docks one day where the dockers started working at 4.30am one morning,” he tells us.

“The players had their collars up and were shivering. Afterwards we got together, had a cup of tea, the dockers called the players all sorts of names and we had a laugh.

I took the players down to the docks at 4.30am one morning

“I sent the players home for the day and said: ‘Never forget, the dockers do that every day of their working life to earn money to watch you play.’ That team went down in history, they are all legends in Grimsby.”

McMenemy regards persuading Kevin Keegan to join the Saints as one of his finest achievements in the game.

“That has to be the signing of all time,” he says. “He had been European Player of the Year twice before he came to Southampton. When we played away that season, the home teams got their best crowd.”

Lawrie McMenemy receiving his MBE at Buckingham Palace in 2006
Receiving his MBE at Buckingham Palace in 2006

The Kids are All Right

But he reckons his younger self would be even more proud impressed that he gave kids like him their start.

“I started Southampton’s academies off at Newcastle and Bristol. Newcastle produced Alan Shearer and many others, Bristol eventually produced Gareth Bale and Jason Dodd. We ran the academies for pennies and they produced millions,” says McMenemy.

These days, McMenemy watches Southampton FC alongside his wife and friends at the ground. But his managerial instincts are as sharp as ever.

“I don’t miss the Monday-Friday of being a manager – except for the patter, and the atmosphere of the changing room – but Saturday is different. Watching the players, wondering whether the manager will make a change – you never lose that…”