Pools legend Brian Honour gives us an insight in to life under Cyril Knowles, 27 years to the day since he was appointed boss at The Vic.
Hello and welcome to my latest Blog here on the Official Website.
I think it’s fair to say I had a weekend of mixed emotions because, like every Pools fan, I went home angry and disappointed on Saturday night following the defeat to Cambridge. But then come 8.30am on Sunday there was a life-changer when my grandson was born. On Saturday night I couldn’t speak to anyone I was so down and then by Sunday morning I was full of the joys of Spring! It certainly put things in to perspective for me.
It’s my first grandchild and he’s been named Roman. People used to say to me that I would have a son who would play for Pools – well, I ended up having two daughters but to have a grandson now is the next best thing. Obviously, he’s booked on one of my football courses next week… Haha!
I have visited the Club Shop a few times over the last couple of months buying bibs and stuff for him. The reason being that his dad is a Sunderland fan and, as you know, my side of the family tend to lean more towards Newcastle. So the compromise is that both Sunderland and Newcastle are out of bounds so I would love his first football experience to be watching a Pools game from the Town End.
The main thing is he’s here and he’s healthy – but I’m not going to lie, it would be a Brucie Bonus if he played for Pools!
One of the reasons I wanted to do my Blog today is because it was pointed out to me that it’s 27 years to the day since Cyril Knowles was appointed manager – and I can tell you, there’s not one of us who played for the Club at the time who won’t remember it!! I remember it clear as day.
I’d worked under him at Darlington so as soon as I heard he was coming in I had warned the rest of the lads what to expect – but I don’t think many of them fully believed me! I was actually out injured with my knee at the time but I told the rest of the lads to brace themselves!
We were gathered in our dressing rooms and he walked in looking immaculate in his shirt and tie but he was a big fella and very intimidating. “It’s been like a holiday camp over the last year here and I aim to put that right,” he told us.
His very first day he put on an 11 v 11 on the pitch with the eleven who had played on the Saturday against any of the Reserves and young lads who could make up the opposition. He put a tracksuit on and stood on the sidelines to watch, shouting at everyone who put a foot wrong. There were four of us sat on the sidelines next to him and he turned and asked us what we were doing and then told us we had to run around the pitch while the game was on so off we galloped and we were running for about an hour!
It was amazing to watch him in action. He’d only known the lads twenty minutes and yet there he was storming on to the pitch to challenge anyone who passed the ball out of play. He had this way of clenching his fist with his thumb tucked tight inside his hand – when you saw him do that, you knew someone was about to get both barrels!
After an hour of the game he told us to put our flats on and the next thing he’s leading us out on to Clarence Road and sending us on a double dock run! Even though we weren’t fit, the injured lads had to do it so we were off down the road too.
I remember Ronnie Harrison, the groundsman, asking Cyril if he was alright to get on the pitch and replace the divots but he just got told not to bother – but he did ask him to set up six lanes of 100metres down the side of the pitch. And when we got back to the ground we all had to do six sets of 100metre runs! And then we found out he’d transformed the players’ bar in to a gym and we were in there doing circuits to round-off the first day!
The next day we had to run to Seaton Carew and when we got there he set Pop Robson miles and miles up the beach – and we had to run round him! We just kept running and running and eventually Pop came in to view. As we were heading back there were two figures in red tracksuits in the distance – it was new signings Ian Bennyworth and Paul Olsson. They asked how far they had to go and we just told them to keep running – all we could hear as they set off again was “What have we done coming here?” Haha!
When we got back to the ground, Cyril had set up a circuit to finish us off. He was an absolute animal. If it was a holiday camp to start off with then it was like a prison of war camp by the time he’d finished with us!
To be fair, when you look back on it, he was probably ahead of his time because he got us mentally and physically fit for every game – and it worked because it got us results. He stopped us having massive meals on Friday nights or fry-ups on the morning of the game which is what we’d been used to and he got us in shape. The closest we got to a pudding was a fruit salad. I remember one night Ian Bennyworth ordered a shandy with his main meal and afterwards Cyril called a team meeting and fined him £25! He was probably only on £100 a week!
One day he wanted us all to do some skipping but the Club didn’t own any skipping ropes. He sent someone to the local DIY place and they bought 50ft of blue toe-rope and then he cut them in to the lengths he wanted. I was one of the lads who couldn’t skip – my co-ordination just wasn’t good enough – so he sent me home and told me to learn! So there I was later in the day in my back yard in Blackhall skipping!
One afternoon Paul Baker was made by the rest of the lads to go and speak to him about doing some ball work. He walked in to Cyril’s office and explained he was just the messenger but the players were wondering if they could do some ball work instead of just the running. The next day when we came in there was a small pitch set up with two goals so we were all buzzing. But then Cyril walked out with a medicine ball under his arm, put us in to two teams and then told us we had to get the ball in the opposition goal using whatever means necessary. Have you ever tried to stop Mick Smith when he’s running straight at you with a medicine ball in his arms?!
We would train on the pitch every day of the week and then he’d get the Fire Brigade in to make sure it was an absolute mudbath on matchday. The wingers had to just cross the ball every time they got it – and if they couldn’t they just passed it to the full-backs and they put it in the box. That’s when Paul Baker would go and challenge for it (and probably get his nose splattered all over his face!) and then Joe Allon would run in like a spring lamb and score the goals!
To be fair, when teams came to The Vic and saw the changing rooms and the state of the pitch they wondered what was going on. We were 1-0 up on some teams before the first whistle even went!
He was a legend though, a hard man. He didn’t care who he put down or spoke to harshly, it was just his way. He shouted at Mick Smith one day just for having a moustache! He’d absolutely destroy you if you weren’t mentally strong enough.
There was a lad we signed called Alan Lamb who was such a skilful player, he was a box of tricks who played in the Number 10 role. Cyril hated him! One morning we were training at the Mill House Leisure Centre and I was playing in a five-a-side game when I got a tap on the shoulder from Cyril – I thought “great, I’m even getting subbed in the five-a-sides now!”. Anyway, I went off and he went on and Alan had the ball in the corner of the court doing a couple of step-overs when out of nowhere Cyril tackled him at hip height and he went flying up in the air and landed heavily on the wooden floor. “Get up you softie” he shouted and then ran off! I can laugh about it now but at the time I was struggling to sleep thinking about what might happen the next day!
Whether his exact approach would work in this day and age is debatable but he had success everywhere he went if you look at it – Darlington, Pools, Torquay. I still firmly believe if he hadn’t come in when he did in 1989 then we would have gone down that season – he saved the Club because if had got relegated I think we would have gone by the wayside. His approach was what was required at the time and he set the foundations as we went on to get promotion the next year. Great times!
Anyway, back to the present day, and all we can do is just look to bounce back on Saturday. We have to learn from the Cambridge game, take the lessons from that and make sure we respond in the right way – and what a game to do it in. Nobody will give us a chance of getting anything at Portsmouth but how many times have we seen this scenario in the past when teams who have had a bad defeat get a result. That’s what we have to aim to do.
Never Say Die.