The real story behind the man they called 'the worst Burnley manager ever' / Dave Thomas column

I keep saying I won’t do another.

By Dave Thomas
Monday, 17th January 2022, 12:30 pm
John Bond with players (left to right) Vince Overson, Billy Hamilton, John Benson and John Sainty. (photo courtesy of Burnley Civic Society)

The older you get, the concentration levels start to dip and, in all honesty, the long list of titles I wrote down nearly 20 years ago has reached the end. Who else is there to write about?

The four ‘musts’ are all done. Harry Potts, Jimmy Adamson, Jimmy Mac and Bob Lord.

The latest book is now done and sent off to the publisher. I think it’s number 24. ‘A Director’s Tale' the story of four eventful years at Turf Moor.

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Mention the name John Bond and reactions will vary from outright rage to a more measured appreciation of what might have happened if Kevin Reeves had not had to retire in mid-season.

But overall, opinions are condemnatory. The man that spent all the money and signed poor players, is the general view. The 'worst Burnley manager' ever it is said. But there is more to it than just that.

This new book offers no judgements, but simply tells the story through Bond’s own words and interviews, plus the extensive diaries of director Derek Gill. The story starts with the promotion season of 1981/82 with the team lead by the incomparable Martin Dobson. The next season was a relegation season but with tremendous Cup runs including the memorable 4-1 win at Spurs.

In came John Bond for the next following season, and on his dismissal, John Benson took over and oversaw a relegation season. The Gill diaries cover all of these.

John Bond was the creation of chairman John Jackson. They met in Manchester in the summer of 1983 and Bond was offered the job. I have a letter from Bond that explains he was then told to keep quiet about it. Four other candidates were later interviewed but these were a sham. Bond had already got the job.

A stunned Derek Gill found out from a newspaper headline while he was in Tenerife.

What follows is a story of how things at a football club can go so wrong so quickly, of how sound finances can be replaced by disappearing income, of how differing personalities can lead to clashes and mistrust and harmony is replaced by discord. This is book that describes the blame, the failing relationships, club politics and resultant turmoil.

The key characters were men who were supremely accomplished in their own field, one a barrister and another an accountant running his own business. The third character was John Bond himself, and it was a mix that was doomed to fail. There are lengthy interviews with all three, their opinions and thoughts laid bare.

From a promoted club in 1982, managed by Brian Miller, with money in the bank, the decline through the 80s was then bleak and costly. Eventually it came to the Orient season when the club was so impoverished, the playing squad so small, that it all came down to the last game of the season that would decide if Burnley would exit the Football League. As well we know, they won that day, but the next seasons would be ones of dejection and failure until Jimmy Mullen lead the club out of the Fourth Division.

‘A Director’s Tale’ provides an opportunity to see warts and all, the workings and machinations of a football club’s boardroom. Derek Gill wrote his diaries with a style that was both erudite and pithy, and covered all the problems that befell the club after that Miller promotion. This was a promotion that followed the death of Bob Lord, in fact as he lay dying, the club was insolvent.

Several players from the time were interviewed, along with Frank Casper, who took over as manager from Brian Miller. It was Casper who was dismissed to make way for John Bond who later said he should have kept Frank with him and not doing so was one of his mistakes.

He was candid enough to say he had made several. His friends had advised him not to touch Burnley but he genuinely thought he could do a job there.

Alas he could not and ended up asking “Why did I ever go to Burnley?”

This will be a hardback book to be published on March 28th.