Case on Albion and his time at Southampton and Liverpool

Pep Guardiola and Johann Cruyff did it. Kenny Dalglish and Harry Redknapp have done it and Eddie Howe is doing it. Frank Lampard has just started trying to do it.

By Nick Szczepanik • 21 August 2019

Jimmy Case

All have managed clubs where they were known and loved as players and Lampard will hope to be as successful as the two former Barcelona greats were at the Nou Camp or do at least as well as Redknapp at West Ham or Howe at Bournemouth.

But every ex-player who goes back to his former club as manager risks tarnishing good memories and being reviled where he was once revered. Alan Shearer presided over relegation at Newcastle and Osvaldo Ardiles forgot about defence when he took over at Tottenham. Leeds tried employing members of the Don Revie team as managers to take them back to the top but Billy Bremner, Allan Clarke and Eddie Gray all failed. Gareth Southgate was kicked upstairs at Middlesbrough but took them down.

Former Albion players have had mixed fortunes in the club’s hot seat. Nathan Jones was unbeaten in two games as caretaker after Sam Hyypia resigned. Chris Cattlin succeeded Jimmy Melia in autumn 1983 and masterminded a 7-0 victory over Charlton but also a 5-0 defeat at Grimsby, Dean Wilkins promoted youth and showed great coaching promise. Brian Horton led us pretty effectively for a time during the wilderness years at Gillingham, but never oversaw what any of us would regard as a true home game.

But none took over with the club at a lower ebb than did Jimmy Case, appointed in November 1995 to succeed Liam Brady when the club were reeling from news that the Goldstone Ground had been sold by Greg Stanley and Bill Archer, aided by their chief executive David Bellotti.

Jimmy, of course, is an absolute Albion legend, if only for his exploits in the run to the 1983 FA Cup final, scoring winners against Liverpool and Norwich and a screamer of a free kick in the semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday. He arrived at The Goldstone from Liverpool as part of the deal that took Mark Lawrenson to Anfield in summer 1981 and bossed the right-hand side of the Albion midfield for the best part of the next four seasons.

By Rex/Shutterstock
Jimmy Case in action for Southampton

He later joined our next opponents, Southampton, and then moved on to Bournemouth, Halifax Town and Wrexham. His career seemed to be winding to a close at Sittingbourne when, in December 1993, he took a call from former Albion teammate Gerry Ryan, who was assisting new boss Liam Brady. Jimmy was invited back at 39 to play a deep midfield role in the first team and pass on his experience as reserve-team player-coach.

The playing side ended in November 1995 following a collision in a reserve game against Arsenal. He was stretchered off after falling heavily and temporarily losing sensation below the neck. “I had to face up to the fact that I was getting a bit too old to compete against tough young players who hadn’t been born when I made my Liverpool debut,” he wrote in his autobiography, Hard Case. “They didn’t care that I was the oldest outfield player in the game. My medals meant nothing to them.”

The plan was to continue looking after the reserves despite an absence of coaching badges. “No one had badges at Liverpool. I think Bob Paisley had a paper for physiotherapy but that was about it.” But events were to overtake him. Dismayed by the developments in the boardroom, Brady walked out, although he still continued to do his best for the club, as outlined last week

“He decided he had little option but to resign as manager,” Case recalled. “That’s when he gave me the call that shook my world. ‘Hi Jimmy, I am going to quit,’ he told me, ‘and I think they will probably turn to you to take over.’

“That took the wind out of my sails, I can tell you. It was hardly the most attractive managerial job in football, and I didn’t want to appear disloyal to Liam. I had enjoyed my time with him and for my money he was one of the best managers I had ever worked with.

“He had begun to turn Brighton around and I got him to agree that if I took it on, as soon as Dick Knight’s consortium took over, he would come back. It sounded like a plan, but we all reckoned without Bill Archer’s refusal to give up control of Brighton.”

So Jimmy took over but despite the goodwill he was entitled to as a playing legend of the club, the distractions of the off-field protests were all too much, and the team was relegated to the fourth tier.

But that was almost incidental compared to the events of the home match against York City in April 1996, abandoned after 20 minutes following a pitch invasion by fans who feared it would be the last at the Albion’s traditional home before a planned move to a groundshare with Portsmouth. “We had riot police in the tunnel, and I locked the referee and linesmen in their room,” he told me later. “I was concerned for the safety of everybody.”

Despite a one-year stay of execution for The Goldstone, the decline on the playing side continued, and reluctant manager Jimmy Case could not stop it. “All any manager wants from any club is the chance to actually manage but that had become impossible after the way the owners and Bellotti were behaving.

“At another game two rockets went off, which was the signal for the latest protest to start. All the fans got to their feet and walked out of the ground. It was just to protest to the board but it didn’t help the team. That’s what we were up against – manager, staff and players – but I didn’t blame the Brighton supporters for the actions they took. They are as fanatical about their club as any group of fans in the country and they deserved better.

“They were obviously annoyed at the owners who had sold the ground, and I didn’t want to go to Portsmouth either, but I'm so pleased for them now. [The Amex] is a lovely stadium and the fans deserve it. They have been through everything that can be thrown at a set of supporters, but they've survived.”

He describes managing Albion at that time as an impossible situation and says that he did not care when David Bellotti sacked him in November 1996. “I hadn’t wanted the job in the first place and by then I had had more than enough. It had been 24 hours a day, seven days a week of stress and as anyone will tell you, I don’t handle stress very well. So when I got my P45 it came as something of a relief. There was little doubt in my mind that I was better off out of it.”

He doubts whether coaching at first-team level was really ever for him. “I watch players now and get frustrated when they don’t play to a particular standard. Having to work with them year in, year out would have been too much for me. I couldn’t have done it. I was comfortable working with the reserves and didn’t see myself taking it much further, but what happened next was beyond my control.”

Jimmy is taking things easy these days and no longer gives interviews - “Bit old for that now,” he says - but has been spotted at St Mary’s when Liverpool play there, working for BBC Radio Merseyside and revisiting the club he moved on to from Albion.
His transfer from Brighton to Southampton in March 1985 had been a surprise but he jumped at the chance to return to the top flight. “I’ve heard all sort of things about the transfer over the years,” he says. “[Saints manager] Lawrie McMenemy said he bought me as a stop-gap after Steve Williams went to Arsenal, me being 31 at the time. But I was still playing first-team football at The Dell long after Lawrie had left. And I heard from a Brighton director that [manager] Chris Cattlin had told the board that my legs had gone. Whatever the reason, I made the switch for £30,000 and played for six seasons at Southampton, hardly missing a match. So much for those legs!”

By Rex/Shutterstock
Jimmy Case lifts the European Cup with Liverpool.

As a Liverpool player, Jimmy won four league titles, three European Cups, a Uefa Cup and the League Cup but missed out on the FA Cup with both Liverpool and Albion, even if he scored one of the best goals in a final in 1977 when the Reds lost 2-1 to Manchester United.

I spoke to him before Albion’s tie away to Liverpool in 2013 about his memories of the goal at Anfield in 1983 that provided the shock of that season’s fifth round.

“I still get asked about it to this day,” he said. “Talking to Brighton fans, I say: 'What a cracker, it came out to the edge of the box, I didn't even think, I just unleashed it with my right peg and it flew in the top corner and it put us into the next round.'

“But then with Liverpool fans, old friends, I answer: 'Well, to be honest it wasn't my fault, it just came to me on the edge of the box, I just had a speculative shot and it hit Ronnie Whelan' – which it did, it just clipped the top of his shoulder – 'and it dipped over Bruce Grobbelaar'.”

That put Albion 2-1 up. But there was still time for Phil Neal to miss a penalty in front of The Kop. “And I've thanked him every day since,” he said. “He didn't miss many. I got asked as I came off by an interviewer 'Do you realise it was Bob Paisley's last chance to win the FA Cup?' I didn't know what to say, I'd just come off after scoring the winning goal, so I just came out with: 'Well, I haven't won the FA Cup either.' Because I had won everything Bob had won.”

It was the first match played on a Sunday at Anfield, and Paisley vowed afterwards that Liverpool would never play at home on the Sabbath again, unaware of the later demands of television. Jimmy kept a low post-match profile.

“We were due to go out as I hadn't been back to Liverpool for a while, but we ended up at a small local hotel rather than going into the city centre,” he said. “We were basically hiding away, otherwise me dad, me mum and me brothers would be getting it the neck. They were pleased for me to go through, even though they were all Liverpool fans, but there were a lot of questions, like 'What have you done? I can't go out for a week now'.”

“We had a decent side, hardworking, but the whole town would come alive in an FA Cup week, and although we were up against Newcastle, Manchester City, Norwich, we just kept going through.” And it will be as the goalscoring midfield inspiration of that side, rather than the reluctant Albion manager, that we will always remember him."