Ron Atkinson

From Academic Kids

Ronald Frederick "Big Ron" Atkinson, born 18 March 1939 in Liverpool, England is a British former football player and manager. In recent years he has become one of Britain's best-known football pundits. He is perhaps most famous for his idiosyncratic turn of phrase: his utterances have become known as "Big-Ronisms" or "Ronglish", the most famous of which is the term "early doors" (English: early), which has worked its way into the English vernacular.

Atkinson did not achieve great heights in his playing career. He was originally signed by Aston Villa at the age of 17, but never played a first-team match for them and was transferred to Oxford United in 1959. He went on to make over 500 appearances as a wing-half for the club.

After retiring from playing, Atkinson became manager of non-league Kettering Town in 1971. His success there led to a move to the league with Cambridge United, going on to win the then Fourth Division in 1977.

At the start of 1978, Atkinson moved to manage First Division West Bromwich Albion. He soon signed black player Brendon Batson from his former club, to play alongside the black pair of Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis. Never before had an English team simultaneously fielded three black players and the 'Three Degrees', as they became known in reference to the contemporary vocal trio of the same name, challenged the established racism of English football and marked a watershed that allowed a generation of footballers to enter the game who would previously have been excluded by their ethnic background.

Atkinson led West Bromwich Albion to third place in the league in the season 1979/80 before catching the eye of Manchester United, one of England's biggest clubs. In June 1981 he became their manager. Although the club won two F.A. Cups during his tenure, the dominance of the Merseyside clubs in this era meant that success in the league was elusive and Atkinson was sacked in 1986. He returned to West Brom for a year and then had a high-profile move to Atletico Madrid of Spain. This spell only lasted 96 days. In the 1990s, Atkinson was employed by several English league clubs, often in a "fire-fighting" role after a previously unsuccessful manager had been sacked. Taking over from Jozef Venglos, he led Aston Villa to second place in the inaugural 1993 Premier League and to League Cup victory in 1994. He performed this role on two separate occasions for Sheffield Wednesday following the disastrous reigns of Peter Eustace and David Pleat, and it was on the first of these occasions that he guided the resurgent Second Division side to an unexpected League Cup victory. His last managerial job came with Nottingham Forest, whom he briefly managed in 1999.

Atkinson was already working as a pundit for ITV while still employed as a manager, and since leaving management he has continued in this role. In recent years he has covered most of the channel's live matches, sometimes as a studio pundit, but more often as the "ex-football insider" member of a two-man commentary team. This exposure has led to "Ronglish" becoming known to a wider audience. With his permanent suntan and taste for chunky, gaudy jewellery, he has often been portrayed as a loveable buffoon in the U.K. media.

This changed on 21 April 2004, when Atkinson resigned from ITV after making a racist remark live on air about the black Chelsea player Marcel Desailly: believing the microphone to be switched off, he said, "He [Desailly] is what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy thick nigger." Although transmission in the UK had finished, his comment was broadcast to various countries in the Middle East. He also left his job as a columnist for The Guardian "by mutual agreement" as a result of the comment. Since the incident, Atkinson has claimed that the comment was an aberration and that he is not racist, citing in his defence that his West Brom side was the first high-profile British club to have a significant number of black players. This, however, has not diminished the condemnation he has received from anti-racist groups and the public at large, who question whether Atkinson would have resigned had the comment not been accidentally broadcast and note that it was not the first time he had used racist language. A BBC Radio documentary about the 'Three Degrees', due to be repeated on 16 May, 2004, was cancelled owing to Atkinson's central contributions.


Cambridge United: Breaking into the league

Ron Atkinson's first spell in football league management began in 1974 when he was appointed manager of Cambridge United in the Fourth Division. He guided them to the Fourth Division championship in 1977 and was soon being hunted by bigger clubs who had recognised his flair for management.

West Bromwich Albion: Making an impact

That inevitable move to a bigger club came in the summer of 1978 when Ron Atkinson turned his back on Cambridge United in favour of a move to First Division club West Bromwich Albion. He quickly turned the unfashionable midlanders into one of the most exciting sides in the country, and soon brought in three talented black players - Brendan Batson, Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham - who soon earned the nickname 'The Three Degrees'. A fourth black player, Remi Moses, later joined the club and other players like Brian Talbot and Bryan Robson went on to establish Albion as one of the finest teams in the land. Atkinson's first season at the helm brought a third-place finish in the First Division and a 5-3 away victory over Manchester United. They qualified for the 1979-80 UEFA Cup and reached the competition's quarter-finals as well as finishing fourth in the league and qualifying for the competition once again.

Manchester United: Cup glory ..... twice

Although Ron Atkinson established himself as a top manager with West Bromwich Albion, he did not collect any trophies at the Hawthorns. In 1981 he moved to Manchester United to succeed Dave Sexton as manager, and within weeks of moving broke the English transfer fee record by paying 1.5million for Albion's Bryan Robson - a record that was unbroken for six years. Atkinson kept United up the top as one of England's top clubs, and in his second season (1982-83) they won the F.A Cup - Atkinson's first major honour as a manager. That United side contained some of the finest players in the league - Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins, Norman Whiteside and Frank Stapleton. This cup success was repeated two years later, and Atkinson's side began the 1985-86 season in fine form with ten successive league wins. It seemed inevitable that United would win their first league title in 1967, but their form faltered towards the end of the season and they finished fourth. A terrible start to 1986-87 saw United slip into the relegation zone at the beginning of November, and a League Cup exit against Southampton finally resulted in Atkinson being sacked after five years at the helm.

Atletico Madrid: A brief fling with Spain

Ron Atkinson returned to football management within months of being sacked by Manchester United, moving to Spain to take charge of Atletico Madrid. But he resigned within months, having failed to make a major difference to the club's flagging fortunes in the Spanish First Division. He was succeeded by his assistant Colin Addison whose spell was even shorter and devoid of success.

West Bromwich Albion: Back home .... for a while

On leaving Atletico Madrid in July 1987, Ron Atkinson applied for the manager's job at his old club West Bromwich Albion. In the six years since Atkinson had left the Hawthorns, Albion's fortunes had plummeted. They had lost many key players and by 1985-86 were barely the best team in West Bromwich as they finished bottom of the First Division with just four wins from 42 league games. Their performances in the 1986-87 Second Division campaign had not been anywhere near good enough to merit promotion. Atkinson guided Albion to a secure finish in the 1987-88 campaign and a good start to 1988-89 saw Albion briefly top the Second Division after the turn of 1989....

Sheffield Wednesday: Going down, coming up... and winning the cup

.... But then came an offer for the manager's job at Sheffield Wednesday in February 1989, which Atkinson accepted. He steered them clear of the First Division drop zone during the final weeks of the season, but they were relegated the following season in 18th place - because they had a lesser goal difference than 17th-placed Luton Town. But Atkinson helped the Owls bounce back in style in 1990-91. They were drawn with Atkinson's old club Manchester United in the League Cup final, and achieved a surprise 1-0 victory at Wembley thanks to a goal from midfielder John Sheridan - who later admitted being a Manchester United supporter. To round off an excellent season, Atkinson's side achieved promotion back to the First Division by finishing third from top in the Second Division - due to the league's decision to expand the First Division from 20 to 22 clubs for 1991-92, four teams were to be promoted and only two relegated.

Aston Villa: Life at the top

Within weeks of getting Sheffield Wednesday back into the First Division, Ron Atkinson was lured away to Aston Villa. He inherited a demoralised squad who had slipped from runners-up spot in 1990 to fourth from bottom in the First Division within a year. His task to revitalise the midlanders was made all the more difficult when high-scoring midfielder David Platt moved to Bari of Italy for 6.5million. But Atkinson spent heavily on new players, and the policy nearly paid off in 1992-93 when Villa came runners-up in the new Premier League. The likes of Dean Saunders, Dalian Atkinson, Earl Barrett, Shaun Teale and Steve Staunton were some of the best players in the Premiership that season. Villa slumped to finish tenth in 1993-94, but this blow was cushioned by a victory over Manchester United in the League Cup final - the second time in four seasons that Atkinson had triumped over his former club in a Wembley final. This victory was all the more significant because it ended United's hopes of completing a unique treble of domestic trophies - they went on to win the Premiership title and F.A Cup. But Villa's stars were fading fast when the 1994-95 season got underway, and Atkinson was sacked in November with the club battling against relegation to Division One. He later commented: 'In the morning I was shopping for Stan Collymore (on the transfer market), and in the evening I was shopping in Sainsbury's for a cauliflower. '

Coventry City: Defying the odds

Ron Atkinson was not out of work for long. In February 1995, he was named as the new manager of Premiership strugglers Coventry City, who had been in the top division for 28 seasons but had spent most of those seasons battling against relegation. Their record signing Dion Dublin (2million from Manchester United) was one of the few talented players in an otherwise unremarkable squad. Atkinson's brought in Leeds United midfielder Gordon Strachan, who had played under him at Manchester United during the mid 1980's, as his assistant, and was able to guide the Sky Blues to a secure 16th place finish. In 1995-96, Coventry finished 16th again and were saved on goal difference thanks to a goalless draw with Leeds on the final day of the season. But Coventry had a difficult start to the 1996-97 season and Atkinson was promoted to the position of Director of Football in November, handing over the manager's job to Gordon Strachan.

Sheffield Wednesday: Another brief return

Ron Atkinson remained as Coventry City's Director of Football until November 1997, when he accepted a short-term deal to return to Sheffield Wednesday as manager in place of David Pleat. Atkinson's second spell at Hillsbrough was short-lived and uneventful. They finished 16th in the Premiership and his contract was not renewed by the club's board.

Nottingham Forest: The End

Ron Atkinson's final management job was at Nottingham Forest. He arrived in October 1998 after the newly-promoted club made a poor start to the 1998-99 Premiership season, marred by the saga of Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk - who had refused to play for the first two months of the season after a fall-out with previous manager Dave Bassett. Although van Hooijdonk agreed to return to his duties after Atkinson's appointment, Forest's Premiership form failed to improve and they were relegated at the end of the season in bottom place. Ron Atkinson was then told that he would not be offered a new contract and his management career was over after nearly 30 years.

Some "Ronglish" terms

  • early doors: early
  • lollipop: a trick performed by a player, often a winger, consisting of passing the foot over the ball in an attempt to fool an opposition defender
  • amusement arcade: a skilful but ineffective player
  • reducer: a firm tackle made early in the game to reduce a skilled player's contribution
  • Hollywood ball: an overambitious pass
  • spotter's badge: plaudit given to a player who has made an accurate pass
  • little eyebrows: a header made which glances off the player's forehead intentionally

Preceded by:
Dave Sexton
Manchester United manager
Succeeded by:
Sir Alex Ferguson

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