The worst Portsmouth manager you probably never saw

The name of Freddie Cox, may be unfamiliar to many of the Fratton faithful.

Monday, 14th December 2020, 11:00 am
Many believe Freddie Cox to be the worst manager in Pompey history. Picture: Graham Hunt/ProSportsImages/PinP

Yet according to those supporters present during his reign of two years and eight months, he ranks as the worst manager in Blues history.

Certainly it’s an opinion shared by one of his former players, the late Tommy McGhee, who cited Cox as responsible for the ‘ruination of Portsmouth Football Club’.

The former Bournemouth boss oversaw Pompey’s relegation from the First Division in 1958-59 – his first season.

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It arrived nine years after the Blues had been crowned champions of England for a second-successive season.

By the time Cox was sacked in February 1961, the Blues were heading towards Division Three.

And with a return of 28 league and cup wins during his two-and-a-half seasons, the statistics do little to disprove public opinion.

‘Never before in the club’s proud history had it been relegated – that was until he arrived in June 1958 to replace Eddie Lever as manager. In his very first season, Pompey left Division One – and it would be another 28 years before they returned.

‘Cox’s claim to fame was managing Division Three Bournemouth on their 1956-57 FA Cup run which saw them knock out Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur, before losing 2-1 to Manchester United in the quarter-finals.

‘I could have told the directors what he was really like, though, before appointing him.

‘I was in a Football Combination XI side asked to play in Holland, as was Tommy Godwin, the Cherries’ goalkeeper. He was a funny Irishman and talked about his then-manager – Cox. “The man’s an idiot,” he said.

‘Apparently the bloke would kill them in training to the point Godwin rode in on his bike, but had to walk home.

‘I featured at right-back in Cox’s opening three matches of the 1958-59 campaign – then he left me out.

‘When I enquired about the reason, he told me: “You play too much football at the back, for me”. I replied: “Well, it is called football!”. Just because you were in defence doesn’t mean you can’t play!

‘He was a detestable bloke and some of the antics he got up to were ridiculous.

‘At the time of his arrival, club rules stated that as long as Pompey were in Division One then the team would travel to matches first-class and stay in a luxury hotel. The first thing Cox did was put us into third-class railway compartments, which didn’t go down well.

‘The directors went mad and made him change it back. “As long as we are a Division One side we travel first-class,” they reminded him.

‘Back then there was no flying to away games, we travelled by train from Portsmouth Harbour railway station to London and then on to places such as Newcastle, Manchester or whatever.

‘We’d arrive at our destination, have a meal and then at 8pm were taken to the pictures by Cox. The only problem was the film would be halfway through! Such silly things.

‘Cox very rarely held team talks, he left it to the trainer, Cliff Parker, and others at the club. Among the players, he was liked only by those he recruited, but, let’s face it, he got rid of Ray Crawford to Ipswich Town after he came through our youth system. It did Ray a favour too, he went on to play for England.

‘Another thing was the way he portrayed himself as a bit of a dietician. During one pre-season, we stopped somewhere for a meal and afterwards he asked Michael Barnard and myself what we were doing – well we were eating cheese and biscuits. “You can’t have that,” he told us. He was instructing us what to eat! Detestable man.

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‘In February 1959, we played at Burnley in the fifth round of the FA Cup. After arriving at our Lytham St Anne’s hotel on the Friday, Cyril Rutter turned to me and asked: “Has he said anything to you?”.

‘Well, I didn’t know what Cyril was talking about, so I asked. “You’re not in the side tomorrow,” he replied. “It’s in today’s Evening News”.

‘It turned out Cyril had spoken to his wife on the phone – and she had read in the paper that Alex Wilson was replacing me, swapping one ginger for another. I was the only change.

‘When it was time to go to bed, I asked Cox for a word: “Am I playing tomorrow?”. He said: “I haven’t made up my mind yet”. “You’re a liar,” I told him. “It’s in The Evening News that you’ve dropped me. Why can’t you be man enough to tell me before you put it in the paper?”.

‘Cox informed me I would still be serving as 12th man at Burnley, to which I replied: “I’ve got news for you, I’m not going to Burnley, I’m going home to play in the Combination side” – and I did.

‘I actually turned out for Cox the following week in a 4-4 draw at Spurs, then never played for Pompey again.

‘He was that type of bloke, the club even tolerated him for a year-and-a-half after getting them relegated! When George Smith replaced him in February 1961, Pompey were already on their way down again.

‘Before Cox arrived, the club were in Division One – two years and two months later he had taken it into Division Three.’

Tommy McGhee made 148 appearances for Pompey from May 1954 until May 1959. He passed away in May 2018.

For player-autographed copies, with the signatures of Richard Hughes, Sammy Igoe, Martin Kuhl, Lee Bradbury or Dave Munks, email [email protected]

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