UNTOLD STORIES: VICTOR FREDERICK BUCKINGHAM

UNTOLD STORIES: VICTOR FREDERICK BUCKINGHAM

An unspectacular wing-half, his whole career was spent with then solidly second division Tottenham Hotspur. 

Towards the end of his time at the club a transformation began. Visionary manager and former Spurs player Arthur Rowe joined the side in 1949, the same year Buckingham would retire from football. The months Buckingham did work under him though would have a huge impact on his future career. In the two seasons following Buckingham’s retirement as a player would see Spurs win back to back second and first division titles, playing a distinctive style known as push and run. 

Push and Run was a simple yet devastatingly effective tactic. It involved quickly laying the ball off to a teammate and running past the marking tackler to collect the return pass. It proved an effective way to move the ball at pace, with players' positions and responsibility being fluid.

 

 

As Arthur Rowe’s Tottenham were sweeping away the giants of the first division in the 1950/51 season it would be Buckingham who would first get to exhibit Push and Run at England’s most hallowed ground, Wembley.

Following his retirement as a player Buckingham had moved into management, first with Oxford University and then the combined Oxford and Cambridge amateur side, Pegasus. Swift progress through the FA Amateur Cup found them in the final, facing off against Bishop Auckland in front of a staggering 100,000 people. Pegasus walked away victorious and Buckingham, it would seem, was very much on the map.

Perhaps he had expected managerial offers to come rolling in after his success and the plaudits his methods were receiving but in truth his first foray into the football league system came with lowly Bradford Park Avenue. A historic club but one that had already slipped to the obscurity of the 3rd division, a division in which they would remain for the duration of his three year spell. 

It would be in 1953 that Buckingham’s life would change forever. West Bromwich Albion plucked the young manager from footballing obscurity to leading one of Britain’s largest clubs. His impact was immediate, in just his second season at the club he lead them agonisingly close to an historic league and cup double, what would have been the first of the 20th century. After beating Preston North End (the club who first achieved the double) in the FA Cup final they fell just short in the league, finishing just four points of rivals Wolverhampton. 

The FA Cup would be Buckingham’s greatest success in the English game. Four years later and with West Brom achieving solid, if unspectacular results, Buckingham left the club. His 1954 FA Cup wins stands as his greatest achievement in the English game but perhaps his most enduring legacy comes in the nurturing of a young inside forward called Robert Robson, later to be known to the world as Sir Bobby Robson. 

What Buckingham did after departing West Brom, in many ways, defined his career in the game. Just as quickly as he had been plucked from obscurity to the upper echelons of the English game he was gone. 

He would resurface in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam, coaching the newly professionalised Ajax Amsterdam. He arrived in July of 1959 and once again had an immediate impact at a new club, winning the Eredivisie title in his first season as well reportedly initially recognising the talents of a scrawny 12 year old who had a proclivity to playing football on the streets around Ajax’s De Meer stadium. Johan Cruyff.  

Before he could establish himself fully in the Dutch game Buckingham’s spell was cut short due to personal issues and the 45 year old returned to the UK, picking up the reigns at Sheffield Wednesday. His time at the club would end in acrimony, three of Buckingham’s players had been charged with match fixing and although Buckingham himself was never implicated many pointed to finger of blame at his lax, hands off approach to his players lives. 

The outcome was a return to Amsterdam and Ajax in 1964. His second spell, however, would be as brief as his first stint. With Ajax struggling near the relegation zone he was dismissed by January of 1965 to be replaced by the up and coming Rinus Michels. What Buckingham had done however was to hand over to Michels the greatest young player in world football. The skinny 12 year old who’s talents Buckingham had noticed on his first stint was now a skinny 17 year old and was already on his way to becoming the greatest European footballer of all time. Buckingham handed him his debut in November 1964.

 

 

 

Three more years in England with perennially struggling top division side Fulham followed before he could do no more to save them from the drop. His departure in 1968 spelled the end of his time managing in Britain. The ever surprising Buckingham once again made a move that shocked the footballing world. If leaving the powerhouse West Brom side of the 50’s for virtual nobody’s Ajax had come as a shock, his January 1970 move to FC Barcelona was monumental. 

After leaving Fulham, Buckingham had spent several months with Ethnikos Piraeus of Greece before getting the call. 

As ever with Buckingham, life at his new club started well. As with West Brom he led Barcelona tantalisingly close to a league and cup double, once again winning the cup (A 4-3 extra time win against Valencia) but falling just short in the league. This time it would Valencia prevailing, with the season having finished with the sides level on points the league was decided by Valencia’s superior head to head record. 

In something of a familiar motif to Buckingham’s career history would repeat itself. Despite coming tantalisingly close to the double it was deemed insufficient by Barca’s board, he was sacked and replaced, once again, by Rinus Michels. Now a 2 time European cup winner and the most celebrated manager on the planet. 

 

 

That would effectively be it for Vic Buckingham. Unsuccessful stints at Sevilla, Olympiacos and Rodos F.C were an indicator that his career in management was over. In 1980 he called time on one of the most intriguing managerial careers in football history. An English man so throughly intertwined with the legendary Total Football of the Dutch that he spotted, nurtured and gave a debut to its greatest star as well as twice handing over the reigns to the manager who shifted it into the mainstream. He was a manager that almost never won anything but one who managed at two of the greatest European clubs of the 20th century. Most of all though he was a manager who, like his mentee at West Brom, Bobby Robson, was completely happy to remove himself from his comfort zone and use his football as a vehicle to experience the world and spread his knowledge. Had he just stayed at West Brom who knows how history would have remembered him. 

 

Words by Andy Gallagher

 

 

 

 

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