Johnny Giles: I am going to win the European Cup with Shamrock Rovers

An interview with Johnny Giles


Why did you come back to Dublin to Shamrock Rovers?

Ultimately, to win the European Cup with Shamrock Rovers. This may sound fantastic, but when you consider the great amount of football talent there is in Ireland, as shown for instance by Frank Stapleton, Liam Brady, Gerry Daly and other players who have gone abroad, it isn't all that outrageous an ambition. We have proved at internattional level, that we can compete with the best, and if we can identify the promising youngsters here, sign them up, and keep them here, then there is no reason why we shouldn't succeed. Reemember, St. Etienne won the European Cup, and who ever heard of that town before then? Several other highly sueecesful continental sides are from towns smaller than Dublin. And then, of course, there is the vast pool of young people here, and a great natural foottball ability. We can succeed if we orrganise properly, and if we motivate our players sufficiently, and above all, get them to remain on in Ireland, instead of being lured away by the glamour sides in England.

We have already got in six young players, among them Dave O'Leary's brother, Pierce, who is showing treemendous promise, as are indeed several of the other young signings. Our hope is to get in about 15 youngsters evenntually. We are trying to organise a scoutting system to monitor the more promissing schoolboys, and in the meantime, Eamonn Dunphy, Ray Tracey and myyself will see as many schoolboy and junior matches as we can.

I think we have a good chance of winning the League this season, and getting into Europe straight away. Our hope would be to start winning matches in Europe from the beginning, although our ultimate goal will take several years. However it can be done.

What do you think of League of Ireland football and of the opposing teams?

The standard is quite good, someewhat equivalent to the English Third Division. However, the atmosphere is much better, and as I have said, the excitement at Milltown is now exhilaratting. Bohemians were the best side we have played against so far, (the interrview took place before the game with Finn Harps) and they beat us well (3-0). Billy Young has organised a good side there. I was also impressed by Waterford, with whom we had a one-all draw, and by Drogheda with whom we also drew. But one of the problems I have had is not knowing much about the opposition until we actually play them.

The opposing players that have most impressed me have been Frank O'Brien and Pat Byrne of Bohemians; the limerrick full back, Pat Nolan, Al Finnucane, and Bobby Tambling of Waterford; and Paul McGee of Sligo, though he has now left them.

How do you rate the Shamrock Rovers team?

Obviously, I'm not going to get involved in a personal criticism of my own players, but I brought Eamon Dunphy, Eoin Hand and Ray Tracey

back from England with me. I had hoped that Paddy Mulligan could come too, but West Brornwich wouldn't release him. We have two English players with us on a temporary basis, Dave Irving and Denis Burnett. We needed players immediately because of the need to produce ~n instant· team.

Why did you leave British football when prospects for you there seemed so bright for you managerially?

I had done two years at West Brommwich, Albion, as player/manager, and the general consensus was that I had done a good job. (He had brought them from the middle of the second division to the first division in the first year, and to six off the top of the first division in the second year). I thought I could continue to improve on that record in the immediate future but, in the long term, prospects are bleak for managers in the English football league. It is almost inevitable that a manager will get sacked some time or other, irrespective of his capabbilities. Basically, the problem is that one is judged by people (the directors) who don't have any great experience in football.

Why did you go into management when you did, and why did you go to West Brom?

During my last few years with Leeds, I began to think about going into management. In the end I made the move about two years earlier than I anticipated. The precipitating impulse was the European Cup Final in 1974 against Bayer Munich I which Leeds unfairly lost. After that I didn't see any great prospects with Leeds, and when the prospect arose of managing West Brom, I decided to go.

Of course I, had very nearly become a manager of Leeds one year before. When Don Revie was appointed manaager of England, in 1974, he recommendded me as his replacement. The club chairman, Manny Cousins, agreed, but several of the other directors, annoyed With Revie's departure, thought it was

presumptuous of him to attempt to dictate his successor. Revie's recommmendation was made, incidentally, after he had consulted with senior club players.

Brian Clough was appointed manager at that time and, as is well known, his 44 day tenure in office was not a happy one. Leeds had been one of the outtstanding teams in the English League throughout the previous decade and had just won the League Championship. It was difficult for any manager to come in and take over the side, at that time. All the more difficult for someone like Brian Clough, who instinctively wanted to make changes, and mould the team to his personal liking. He attempted to make immediate and radical changes in the make up of the team by bringing in Duncan McKenzie, John O'Hare and John McGovern; all of whom had been with him at Derby.

Clough never allowed himself the time to evaluate the talent at his dispossal at Leeds and the players were not disposed to accept sweeping changes after stability and success under Revie.

When Clough left, my attitude to the management of Leeds had changed considerably. When Revie resigned, I made up my mind to accept the job of manager if it was offered to me, but after Clough I had changed my mind. I certainly didn't want to give the directors the impression that I was desperate for the job, so before their Board meeting, I informed' them that I was not available. I had reason to believe that there would have been a split decision in the Board between Jimmy Armfield and myself. I was informed, however, that the likelihood was that they would have finally opted for me, but I didn't want to start my managerial career with a split decision. And I wanted to continue playing at that time. .

What was Revie 's greatest strength as a manager?

He had great drive and a compelling will to succeed. He gave great attention to detail, he had an outstanding knowwledge of the game and above all, the willl to win again and again, even after great successes. Leeds under Revie was often accused of being dour and unimaginative, but that became a jealous cliche rather than. an accurate characterisation of our playing.

If you give a dog a bad name, it sticks, and so it happened with Leeds. The team was promoted in 1963, with basically the same squad of players that played with the club throughout the sixties. They were young and determined then, and in their first year in the first division, they came second in the League and were also Cup finalists. This was achieved mainly by determination.

These youngsters developed into great players, and in the early seventies Leeds played the best football I have ever seen. I find it very unfair that nowadays that team fails to get the recognition that is its . due. It was widely acknowledged to be the best team in England in its time and arguuably the best team of the past several decades.

Why do you think that Revie, having been such a huge success as manager of Leeds, was such a failure as manager of England?

Being manager of England is a different job in the first place, and secondly, to be blunt about it, he had a "better selection of players at his disposal at Leeds, than he has as manager of England. He was also unfortunate that during his tenure as England manager, he didn't have outstanding players for key positions. There were no Bobby Charltons around when Revie was manager, no Bobby Moores, no Ray Wilsons, who formed the basis of the Alf Ramsay team of 1966. It is also not properly appreciated that English managers do not have the pick of the players of the English football League because of the preesence of Scottish, Welsh and of course Irish players. Liam Brady, for example, would certainly be on an England team were he eligible, and I think that Gerry Daly would also be in contention.

Have you been disillusioned by the recent revelations about Revie?

No, I have not, but I have been dissillusioned by the kind of gutter reportting that has been done on him, and on the great Leeds team of the early seventies. Isn't it strange that all these allegations about fixing matches have proliferated, while all the matches that were supposed to have been fixed were lost?

As far as I myself was concerned, I never heard even a whisper of an attempt to fix a match, never in my playing career was I approached with a view to fixing a match, and frankly I don't believe it possible at that level. It would be necessary to 'fix' about 8 players on a team, and in my experiience, it would be impossible to get 2 players on any team to agree to do such it thing, let alone 8.

Of course I was disappointed with the timing of Revie's resignation as manager of England, but I think of the pressure he was under from all sides at the time; the game is cruel, and sometimes drives people to do desperate things. But in the mountain of criticism levelled against the manner of Revie's resignation, it is never remembered that shortly before he resigned, the Football Association had made secret approaches to another manager to take over his job.

Where were you born and brought up, and what were the early influences on you as a footballer?

I was born in Ormond Square, off Ormond Quay, at the back of the Four Courts, on November 6, 1940. There were five in our family, two boys, including myself, and three girls. I went to Brunswick Street Primary School.

Initially my father, Dickie Giles, was involved with tea merchants but he was always tied up with soccer. He played for Shelbourne and Bohemians, and was later manager of Drumcondra. I believe he was a good footballer but I never saw him play.

My first recollection of playing competitive football is when I was 8, when I played inside forward in a Sunnday Solidarity League. But of course before then I had spent countless hours playing football on the streets, practiicing ball control, doing tricks with the ball. That is really the best kind of early apprenticeship one could get. As long as I can remember, I thought I could play football and play it well. Even at the age of 8, I was playing in an under-14 league. "

I played with a number of small clubs around Dublin then, St. Munster Victoria, the Leprachauns.and finally Stella Maris.

My father was perhaps the early domminant influence in my playing career. He used to watch me quite a lot, and talk to me afterwards, pointing out errors and suggesting techniques. When I was 14, I went to Manchester United for a month's holiday and, on the recommmendation of one of their scouts, they asked me to return on a permanent basis the following year.

I left school at 14, and never regrettted it. My mother was a bit concerned about my going to Manchester on my own, but I was unperturbed, and of course it was a big thrill to be joining such a famous club. I was 18 by the time I got on the first team, and that was a home game against SpUTS, when I came in as inside forward for an injured player. As you can imagine, that was a big occasion, but I didn't get back on the first team until two months later, and it was only for the last 12 matches in the i959/60 season that I commanded a permanent place on the team. This was a time when Manchester United was rebuilding itself after the Munich air crash, and there was a stunning gap between the stars and the Youngsters.

Things didn't go well for you at Manchester United. What went wrong?

I had some happy years at the club, but towards the end things started to go wrong. The schoolboy dream of stardom inevitably faded as I matured, and I suppose this was part of it, but there were other factors. Things weren't going well for the team in the 1962/63 season, though eventually we won the cup. We were losing League matches and there was a lot of internal criticcism in the club.

I was playing on the wing at the time, and I felt I was playing well. However, others thought otherwise, and I lost my place in the latter part of the season. I feel I would have been left out of the cup side when we won in 1963, had Nobby Stiles been fit. As it was, I was in the side, and the general consensus was that I played well. "But there were other irritations. At the time, I was earning a mere £30 a week, while playyers that had been brought in by the club were being paid far more. This inevitably caused resentment.

The end at Manchester United came very quickly. I was left out of the team for the first league match of the 1963/64 season, and immediately applied for a transfer. I was put on the transfer list on a Tuesday, and by the following Thursday" I had signed for Leeds for £30,000.

How did you estimate the great Mannchester United players: Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and latterly George Best?

Charlton was the best midfield player I ever encountered. He had great ability, pace, ball control, good power with both feet. He was very instinctive, unlike me. In contrast, I am more calculating than instinctive.

Denis Law was purely a striker. He was very quick, had marvellous reflexes, and was a very good header of the ball. I would say that as strikers, he and Jimmy Greeves were the best I ever came across.

George Best was the most gifted footballer I have ever seen. He had near perfect ball control, his distriibution of the ball was classic, he had lightning pace, his heading and tackling abilities were first class. He had all the conceivable attributes of the perrfect footballer, but he couldn't handle his abilities.

It was particularly difficult for him, however. He came on the scene at the height of the Beatles cult, and was intensely idolised as a youth hero, typical of the era.

Were you disillusioned at leaving Mannchester United, and how did you fit in to the Leeds team initially?

I wasn't disillusioned at the change.

I was confident I had an ability to contribute effectively to a team,and that confidence wasn't undermined by the experience with Manchester United. It was also very stimulating joining a team like Leeds at the time, for it was obviously one of great potential with players like Gerry Sprake, Paul Reaney, Willie Bell, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter, Paul Madeley , Terry Cooper and Peter Lorrimer.

There was also Bobby Collins, who played inside forward. If I was to identify another major influence on my football style and technique, it would be him. He was a great player and a great competitor, which, in a football context, is far from just a cliche. He went into every match with a driving determination to win, irrespective of the odds.

As a midfield player, what qualities do you need and when in your own career did these develop?

Your skills as a midfield player, or indeed as a foot baller, generally develop

gradually and almost imperceptibly, but I found that my own skills didn't mature until I was 29 or 30. A middfielder must be able to create for himself enough time and space to deliver telling passes, and then have the technical ability to make those passes. I developed that technique early on, but it was much later that I found I could create the necessary time and space.

Of course you must also get into a position in the first place where you will be able to receive the ball , and do with it what you need to do. Until you are mature you just don't have the concentration to think yourself into these kinds of situations.

I must emphasise, of course, that you must have the technical skills, and the fitness and mobility to exploit these situations. I remember watching Johnny Hanes playing once, and I thought his performance was the essence of everything a midfield player should be. I learnt a lot from that match.

Do you watch your own performances on television?

I rarely watch 'Match of the Day', and seldom my own performances on television. I have an ability to reemember what I did in a match quite vividly, literally for years afterwards, especially the mistakes. Without wishing to seem boastful, when I play well I take it for granted. The way I play, I should be able to maintain a high level of consistency because I rely so relatively little on instinct, as I was saying before. It should be largely a calculated thought-out process for me, with less room for inconsistency than for players of a more intuitive nature.

When I make mistakes, I remember them and brood about them. I can reemember mistakes I made in matches 10 or 12 years ago ...

Like the one you made in the World Cup qualifying match against France in Paris, when you were dispossessed and handed the French a goal?

That wasn't really my fault, although I was generally blamed afterwards. What happened was that an Irish player passed across the face of our goal to me, with a French forward almost on top of me. The referee obscured the forward from view so he couldn't have known that I was in such a vullnerable situation. The pass dropped short, and before I could properly control it, I was dispossessed and the French had scored a vital goal.

Who were the great players you enncountered during your career?

I've mentioned a few of them earlier; Bobby Charlton, George Best, Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, but also Bobby Moore, Alan Bell, Pat Jennings and Tony Dunne who was much underrrated; Dave McKay and Franz Beckennbauer, who I reckon was the best sweeper in the game.

Who was the player you most feared playing against?

There were no players one feared.

You sized up your different opponents, and decided on how to deal with them. But Peter Storey of Arsenal always gave me a hard time. He was sent out to mark me specifically, and he was very physical.

Ireland's failure to get to the World Cup finals was a significant set back for you?

Yes, but then the margin between success and failure at this level is very thin. Had two perfectly legitimate goals by us not been disallowed, one by Frank Stapleton in Sofia, and the other by me in Paris, our fortunes would have been very different. But we achievved a bit with the international side.

It began to come together when Mick Meegan took over the managerrship a few years ago, and Liam Tuohy also made considerable progress. When I took over in 1973, I concentrated on having many more get-togethers by the squad, in order to familiarise ourselves with each other's playing style. It was then a fairly simple matter of devising a straightforward pattern for the team to work within; as they were all professional and intelligent footballers, that wasn't too difficult. We have formed the basis of a formiddable international team, and I'm confiident that we can do well in the years ahead.