Sheffield-born Howard Wilkinson was a key part of the first Albion side I watched.
The former Sheffield Wednesday player was a speedy winger in Freddie Goodwin’s 1969 team.
But away from The Goldstone, he was already sowing the seeds of his future coaching and managerial success.
My father was a founder of local amateur side Shoreham United, a Brighton League team, and the future “Sergeant Wilko” (as the press liked to dub him) was brought in to do some expert coaching with United’s first team.
I well remember as a young boy sitting on the sidelines in Buckingham Park, Shoreham, watching him put the players through their paces with various routines.
I waited eagerly with my autograph book as Wilkinson shared the benefit of his skills and experience with the willing amateurs.
I was chuffed to bits when he rewarded my patience with his signature at the end of the session but who would have thought the man before me would go on to manage League Champions Leeds United as well as the England national team!
I’ve since discovered how in 1968 Wilkinson was already studying for his FA coaching badge so I imagine the Shoreham United experience was all part of it.
Wilkinson moved on from the Albion at the end of Pat Saward’s first season, having made only 18 starts under the new Irish manager, and began his coaching career as player-coach at non-league Boston United, leading them to several championship successes.
In five years with the Albion, he made 130 appearances (plus 17 as a sub) scoring 19 goals, a considerably better playing record than during his time at Hillsborough. He only played 22 games for the Owls between 1962 and 1966, although they were in the top division at the time.
I’m grateful to the excellent Albion retro blog, The Goldstone Wrap, for digging out a quote from Wilkinson’s 1992 book, Managing to Succeed, in which he revealed this nugget about life on the south coast:
“When I was a player at Brighton, under manager Archie Macaulay’s guidance, we had some remarkable preparations for important matches and cup-ties. There were liberal doses of sherry and raw eggs, calves foot jelly, fillet steak, and plenty of walks on the seafront where we were taken to fill our lungs with the ozone.”
It would be fair to say Wilkinson earned a lot more respect coaching and managing than he did as a player; initially with Notts County, then, in 1984, steering Wednesday to promotion from the second tier and keeping them among the elite for four seasons.
Undoubtedly the pinnacle of his career was guiding Leeds United to the League Championship in 1992. He moved to Elland Road in 1988 and built a decent side led by the now Scotland manager Gordon Strachan.
They won the last of the old Football League Division One titles and, remarkably, to this day Wilkinson remains the last English manager to achieve that feat. Not surprisingly he was that season’s Manager of the Year.
United fanzine The Square Ball had only good things to say about the man in a 2011 article. “Howard Wilkinson gave Leeds three fantastic seasons of unforgettable glory in 1989/90, 1990/91 and 1991/92; and the Charity Shield at Wembley and the European glory nights against Stuttgart and Monaco stand with the best memories of Leeds’ modern era. More than that, he gave Leeds United back its sense of justifiable self-worth; no longer living in the past, no longer derided in playgrounds, Leeds were a proper football club again, fit for the modern era.”
Sacked by Leeds in 1996, he then began to move ‘upstairs’ so to speak and was appointed as the Football Association’s technical director as the forerunner to several executive-style appointments.
However, he twice found himself in temporary charge of the England national team, firstly after Glenn Hoddle was forced to resign.
He oversaw a 2-0 defeat to France in a friendly at Wembley before Kevin Keegan took the reigns. Twenty months later he stepped into the breach again when Keegan quit and took charge of a World Cup preliminary match in Helsinki, England drawing 0-0 against Finland.
After England, he had a brief unsuccessful spell at Sunderland, assisted by Steve Cotterill, and more recently has been involved in and around the boardroom back at Hillsborough.
- Wilkinson pictured in the 1970 Albion team line-up.