New biography aims to give former Everton and Sheffield Wednesday manager Harry Catterick overdue recognition

  • Goodison Park legend lived in shadow of Merseyside rival Bill Shankly
  • Top-flight record better than Bill Nicholson, Matt Busby and Don Revie
  • Author granted exclusive access to lost manuscript

After the headlines that accompanied Roy Keane's autobiography and the debate that followed Matt Dickinson's unvarnished appraisal of the life of Bobby Moore, the long-overdue biography of Harry Catterick that appeared in 2014 may have gone unnoticed by many football fans.

That it did will not have surprised Catterick's admirers. Catterick, the manager of Everton during the first of their two golden eras in the second half of the 20th century, can almost be regarded as one of football's forgotten greats.

In the game's history, the managerial giants of Catterick's era  tend to be remembered as Bill Nicholson of Tottenham, Matt Busby of Manchester United, latterly Don Revie at Leeds and, of course, Catterick's rival from across Stanley Park, Bill Shankly.

Yet during the 1960s, when he led Sheffield Wednesday to second place in the First Division (behind Nicholson's Spurs) and then guided Everton to two League titles, no manager won more points in the top flight than Catterick. He also led Everton to success in the 1966 FA Cup final against Wednesday.

Rob Sawyer, who was born just as Everton were about to win the 1969-70 First Division championship, seeks to set the record straight and give Catterick greater recognition in a well-researched life story. Harry Catterick: The Untold Story of a Football Great coincides with the 30th anniversary of Catterick's premature death from a heart attack, aged only 65.

The author draws on many insightful interviews and, fascinatingly, a manuscript Catterick began to write in 1963, after his first Everton title, when he had the idea of penning an autobiography not as some exercise in vanity but because he wanted there to be a record of his life. His idea was that it would be published only after his death. It never was but the manuscript remained in the family and Sawyer has been able to reproduce many extracts from it.

In the eyes of some people, as Sawyer writes in his introduction, Catterick could be demanding and ruthless, secretive and introverted; to others he was an erudite visionary, sometimes surprisingly kind and thoughtful.  He was a man of whom opinions varied widely.

Yet it  was the way he was perceived by the media, inevitably, that determined many assessments of his character, and probably explains why Catterick's career attracted only muted acclaim.

Whereas others revelled in having the press hanging on their every word, Catterick disliked being in the spotlight to the extent that, when television began to take a serious interest in the game and the BBC launched Match of the Day in 1964, he wanted their cameras banned, at least from Goodison Park.
Former Everton manager Harry Catterick

He distrusted most journalists, with whom he was often stand-offish and reluctant to open his door, and whom he would sometimes set out deliberately to mislead, as Sawyer relates in a story passed on by Mike Ellis, who covered the Merseyside beat for The Sun during the height of Catterick's reign.

Ellis recalls taking a phone call from Catterick as the transfer deadline approached in March 1967 and was somewhat surprised when the Everton manager offered him a scoop. 'Liverpool are going to sign Howard Kendall from Preston tomorrow,' Catterick said. 'Now you've got that on your own.'

Ellis wrote the story, under the headline 'Shankly swoops for Kendall' only to discover the following lunchtime, as he listened to his car radio, that the promising young half-back had joined Everton.
It was a coup for Catterick, and he wanted to make the most of it, eager for the world to think he had pipped Shankly to one of the country's hottest prospects. In truth, Catterick knew that Preston were unwilling to sell to Liverpool anyway, having already allowed Peter Thompson to move to Anfield.

It was therefore Ellis, not Shankly, who suffered the biggest embarrassment.  "I nearly crashed the car, I was furious," he said. "I drove straight to Bellefield (Everton's training ground) to have it out with 'Catt' and -- surprise, surprise -- he wasn't available."

The story is an indication, too, of Catterick's intense rivalry with Shankly, who would often mock Catterick's demeanour by referring to him as 'Happy Harry', an ironic nod to his seemingly permanent miserable expression, although in a passage in his own manuscript, Catterick insisted that their relationship was misrepresented. "We could never be pals as we were on opposite sides but there was never any animosity as such," he wrote.

Catterick's methods may have been unconventional, his attitude unapologetic, but his team, built around the 'Holy Trinity' of Kendall, Colin Harvey and Alan Ball, played with a wonderful combination of exhilarating skill and steely resolve. They were a great side in a glorious era and this book is a fitting tribute to their manager's achievement in leading them to such success.

Harry Catterick: The Untold Story of a Football Great, by Rob Sawyer, is published by De Coubertin Books.

Buy here from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

De Coubertin is a small publisher based in London yet with a special interest in Merseyside football.  Previous titles include autobiographies by Howard Kendall and Neville Southall, the comprehensively detailed Everton Encyclopedia and the similarly high quality Liverpool Encyclopedia.

More reading:

Neville Southall tells the story of his life in football

More football biographies:

Bobby Moore: New biography delves beyond the veneer of England's World Cup superhero

Stuck in a Moment: tragic story of Arsenal star Paul Vaessen brilliantly told



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