Two football characters gone

Malcolm Allison born in Darteors, Kent was the son of an electrical engineer where Eddie Baily, a characteristic Cockneu, was an east Londoner from Clapton. But both had an unending passion for the game and a desire to succeed.

Eddie Baily and Malcolm Allison recently died within days of each other. Baily's death was strangely ignored, though not by me, who published an obituary of him. Allison by contrast, dying so soon after him, generated multiple articles in the English national press. Baily with nine England caps and a fine record with Spurs, was far and away the better footballer, an inside left, as we called it then, of speed, skill and intelligence. A vital member of Tottenham's so called “push and run team” which won consecutive second and first division titles in 1950 and 1951, who made his England debut in 1950 in Rio at the top of the tree: A World Cup match against Spain.

Allison, by contrast, was an effective first division centre half whose playing career came to a sad and premature end when at the age of 29 he contracted tuberculosis and had half a lung removed. It was as a coach and manager that he was flamboyantly destined to make his name; above all at Manchester City where he'd achieve so much, only and typically to become his own worst enemy.

Baily too became an effective coach, though never as prominently as Malcolm, with his Fedora hats, his big cigars, his champagne. Indeed I remember Eddie telling me once with disapproval, when coaching, that the young players mistakenly went out to enjoy themselves on a Saturday night after a match, where he in his playing day would limit himself to pushing his child about in the pram. And this was long before the current era of our millionaire players, carousing in hugely expensive west end of London night clubs.

This was far more Allison's style. Born in Darteors, Kent, the son of an electrical engineer where Eddie, a characteristic Cockneu, was an east Londoner from Clapton, Malcolm's desire to become a professional footballer was such that he deliberately failed the 11-years plus exam which would have got him into a grammar school, then a major ambition, because he knew he would thus be obliged to play rugby. Going to the inferior secondary modern school he could at least play soccer. So he found his way to Charlton Athletic. Never a shrinking violet, he once reproached the club's distinguished manager Jimmy Seed when one day when training Seed tried to introduce a guest to him. Allison said, “It's the first time you have ever talked to me.” He moved on to West Ham.

There he grew friendly with the Irish international left back Noel Cantwell who shared his interests in tactics and training. He became the first team centre half, a solid, uncompromising player but aged 29, he was cruelly struck down by tuberculosis and had half a lung removed.

I first saw Eddie Baily in 1944; for Amateurs Finchley of north London, when they met a team called Acton Town in a local Cup final. I was 12-years-old and sat on the grass beside the pitch. Finchley's inside right was Gerge Robb, he too destined to play for Spurs and just once as an outside left; in the team thrashed 6-3 by Hungary at Wembley in 1953. Baily joined the army, played impressively in their Army on the Rhine team, then joined Spurs, for whom Fincheley were then a “Nursery” club, though he might have joined Chelsea.

For a while, after convalescing, Allison was left in limbo and was allegedly given to gambling. There was a curious episode in which it was whispered he was involved when West Ham lost 5-3 at home to Newcastle, giving away some soft goals. The bookmakers most unusually refused to pay out on that match or on a similar surprise which had occurred across London at Brentford. Later when Malcolm became a manager, that Hammers keeper seemed to follow him from club to club.

As for Baily, he was an essential figure in the Tottenham team built by their manager a pre-war centre half Arthur Rowe. Years later when he became the Tottenham coach under his ex-team-mate Bill Nicholson, Baily, never a “physical” player, became the noisy proponent of what might be called an “up guards” and at “em' policy,” never so hilariously described as by Hunter Davis in his book “The Glory Game.”

During a European match at Bucharest against Rapid, Baily on the touchline ceaselessly bellowed at Spurs big centre forward, Maartin Chivers till Chievers, moving in at a tight angle from the right, scored with a spectacular shot. The words of abuse stuck in Baily's throat till at last he was able to emit a strangulated, “Well done Martin!” which Chivers ignored. Strange to relate, in Baily's last years, Chivers became a close friend.

Baily left Spurs to play for Nottingham Forest and was an ebullient presence on the train back to London after one had reported a Forest game. He was also ebullient when later coaching at Leyton Orient — “Nicknames, that's what this game's about!” — but in his later years became a sadly embittered figure.

As for Allison, his coaching career took him in time to Manchester City where as coach, under the benign managership of the former Arsenal, Everton and England star, Joe Mercer, he and the team thrived, winning the championship and lesser titles besides. It was in 1970, however, and I well remember covering the story in Manchester, that he took a step too far. Appalled at the prospect Malcolm might leave, a fanatical group of supports paid GBP1000 for his shares to a greedy director in Frank Johnson. In those days, shares as such were worthless, but these enabled the group to seize control, kick Joe Mercer upstairs as general manager and give Malcolm his job.

Rashly, Malcolm bought the brilliant maverick centre forward Rodney Marsh from Queens Park Rangers, dropping the forceful right half and captain Mike Doyle, destroying the balance of the team which narrowly lost the league title. Malcolm would ultimately lose his job, gravitating to third division Crystal Palace whom he inspired to a superb FA Cup run beating the top teams. But leaving Palace after three years he wandered the world, managing three times in Portugal, once in Kuwait, Turkey and two years at Middlesbrough. I remember once sitting behind George Best on the Manchester United team coach. “They're making Malcom Allison the England coach,” he said. “They're putting the seats in his mouth,” Malcolm died a sad alcoholic.