As we stand in our sapphire blue slippers on the yellow brick road to the Emerald City (well, Champions League) at the outset of the Martinez Era (for all managers must have an era in the hyped up discourse of football), it pays to look back to the start of previous eras and assess how they turned out. It’ll take all the brains, heart and courage Martinez can muster to succeed, but it always did.
Gordon Lee started in the middle of the 1977-78 season and almost immediately sent us to Wembley for a League Cup Final in which I was one of 96,223 who saw a 0-0 draw and, believe it or not, no extra-time. That curious mix of success and failure and excitement somehow raised and flattened, was to characterise Lee’s four years in charge. We weren’t losing often, but we weren’t winning much either (especially compared to the behemoth rising on the other side of Stanley Park) and just 256 goals in 188 matches tried the patience of fans brought up in the School of Science, not the Palace of Pragmatism.
Howard Kendall succeeded Gordon Lee at the start of the 1981-82 campaign and, by the time I stood on a shale bank amongst 16,148 in February 1982 at the Goldstone Ground watching us lose to Brighton and Hove Albion, we were halfway through the season, halfway up the League and out of both cups. By December, we were fifteenth and, after a second consecutive 0-0 at Goodison, hard on the heels of the infamous “Glenn Keeley derby” drubbing, there were plenty of voices amongst the 13,707 present who wanted an end to the Kendall era. How little we knew of what was to come.
In November 1994, Joe Royle steeped into the mire that Mike Walker left (his 27 points from 31 league games fortunately straddling two seasons, otherwise our fate might have been that of Wolves or Sheffield Wednesday). Royle immediately lifted us off the bottom of the Premiership with an unforgettable 2-0 win over Liverpool. His Dogs of War were to finish the season with the last trophy we won – the FA Cup – after an extraordinary run, all the sweeter for the media’s unrequited longing for our failure.
David Moyes inherited a team from Walter Smith that always seemed to include four full-backs and had the job of avoiding relegation from 16th place with nine matches to play. We put two goals past Edwin Van Der Sar in Moyes’ first 15 minutes, but Thomas Gravesen walked in the next fifteen and we hung on as Fulham battered at the door. We went to Champions Arsenal for the last match of the season safe and happy.
What will Martinez bring to the Grand Old Club? Whatever it is, we’re unlikely to know until his team have played a season or more. So let’s give him the time we gave his predecessors – most of whom did okay in the end.