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Ron Atkinson

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Title: Ron Atkinson  
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Subject: 1980–81 in English football, List of Premier League managers, Cyrille Regis, Gordon Strachan, 1994–95 FA Premier League
Collection: 1939 Births, Aston Villa F.C. Managers, Aston Villa F.C. Players, Atlético Madrid Managers, British Association Football Commentators, Cambridge United F.C. Managers, Celebrity Big Brother (Uk) Contestants, Coventry City F.C. Managers, English Football Managers, English Footballers, Kettering Town F.C. Managers, Living People, Manchester United F.C. Managers, Nottingham Forest F.C. Managers, Oxford United F.C. Players, Premier League Managers, Race-Related Controversies in the United Kingdom, Sheffield Wednesday F.C. Managers, Sportspeople from Liverpool, The Football League Players, The Guardian Journalists, West Bromwich Albion F.C. Managers
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Ron Atkinson

Ron Atkinson
Personal information
Full name Ronald Frederick Atkinson[1]
Date of birth (1939-03-18) 18 March 1939
Place of birth Liverpool, England
Playing position Wing half
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1956–1959 Aston Villa 0 (0)
1959–1971 Oxford United 384 (14)
Teams managed
1971–1974 Kettering Town
1974–1978 Cambridge United
1978–1981 West Bromwich Albion
1981–1986 Manchester United
1987–1988 West Bromwich Albion
1988–1989 Atlético Madrid
1989–1991 Sheffield Wednesday
1991–1994 Aston Villa
1995–1996 Coventry City
1997–1998 Sheffield Wednesday
1999 Nottingham Forest

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

† Appearances (goals)

Ronald Frederick "Ron" Atkinson (born 18 March 1939) commonly known as "Big Ron" and (earlier in his managerial career) "Mr Bojangles"[2] is an English former football player and manager. During the 1990s and early 2000s he was one of Britain's best-known football pundits. His idiosyncratic turn of phrase has led to his utterances becoming known as "Big-Ronisms" or "Ronglish".

He spent his entire playing career at Oxford United, where he still holds the record as the club's highest appearance maker.[3] As a manager he won the FA Cup with Manchester United in 1983 and 1985 and the Football League Cup with Sheffield Wednesday in 1991 and Aston Villa in 1994.


  • Playing career 1
  • Managerial career 2
    • Kettering Town and Cambridge United 2.1
    • West Bromwich Albion 2.2
    • Manchester United 2.3
    • Return to West Bromwich Albion 2.4
    • Atlético Madrid 2.5
    • Sheffield Wednesday 2.6
    • Aston Villa 2.7
    • Coventry City 2.8
    • Return to Sheffield Wednesday 2.9
    • Nottingham Forest 2.10
  • Broadcasting career 3
    • TV work 3.1
    • Music 3.2
    • Racism controversy 3.3
    • Other TV work 3.4
    • Radio 3.5
  • Director of Football 4
  • Honours 5
    • Managerial 5.1
  • Managerial statistics 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Playing career

Atkinson, who was born in Liverpool but moved to Warwickshire shortly after his birth, did not achieve great heights in his playing career. He was signed by Aston Villa from works team BSA Tools at the age of 17, but never played a first-team match for them.[4] He has referred to then Villa coach Jimmy Hogan as his biggest influence.[5]

He was transferred to Oxford United (then called Headington United) in the summer of 1959 on a free transfer. There he played alongside his younger brother Graham Atkinson. He went on to make over 500 appearances in all competitions as a wing-half for the club, earning, in his playing days the nickname: "The Tank", and scoring a total of 14 goals. He was United's captain through their rise from the Southern League to the Second Division, achieved in only six years from 1962 to 1968, an impressive achievement. He was the first ever footballer to captain a club from the Southern League through three divisions of the Football League.

Managerial career

Kettering Town and Cambridge United

After retiring from playing, Atkinson became manager player of non-league Kettering Town in 1971, aged only 32. His success there led to a move to the league with Cambridge United, going on to win the then Fourth Division in 1977 and leaving them when they were on the verge of promotion to the Second Division.

West Bromwich Albion

At the start of 1978, Atkinson moved to manage First Division West Bromwich Albion. He soon signed black player Brendon Batson from his former club, to play alongside the black pair of Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis. Never before had a team in the top division of English football simultaneously fielded three black players on a regular basis.

Atkinson led West Bromwich Albion to third place in the league in the season 1978–79 and also to the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. On 30 December 1978 they achieved a famous 5–3 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford. The club were second in the table at the time, only beaten off top spot from Liverpool by goal difference. They finished fourth in 1981, and shortly after this Atkinson became manager of Manchester United on the dismissal of Dave Sexton.

Manchester United

Atkinson was seen as the man who could bring the spark to Manchester United that had been so sorely lacking under his predecessor. Dave Sexton had taken them to second place in the league in 1980 but did not win a major trophy in his four years at the club.

United had finished eighth in the season before Atkinson's appointment, and Atkinson had actually missed out of the chance of overseeing a UEFA Cup campaign by departing from Albion and taking over at United.

In 1981–82 United finished third in the First Division, to qualify for the UEFA Cup, though for much of the season they were one of several teams who topped the table before a late surge from Liverpool saw Bob Paisley's team seal the title. Early in the season he had paid a national record £1.5 million for Bryan Robson from his old club West Bromwich Albion, and shortly afterwards also added midfielder Remi Moses (also from West Bromwich Albion) and Arsenal striker Frank Stapleton to his ranks. He also gave a debut to promising young forward Norman Whiteside in April 1982, just before the player's 17th birthday.

In 1982–83 two appearances at Wembley, one of which was an FA Cup victory against Brighton & Hove Albion, coupled with another third-place finish in the league, fuelled speculation that United were back in a big way. During the first half of the season, they had topped the league more than once but a storming run of form by Liverpool beginning before Christmas meant that the title headed for Anfield for the second year running. 1982–83 also saw the breakthrough of young Norman Whiteside as one of the best performing players in the First Division. Whiteside was also on the scoresheet for the FA Cup final replay as United beat Brighton 4–0 after drawing the first game 2–2.

In 1983–84, Atkinson's side reached the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners' Cup although their defence of the FA Cup ended at the first hurdle which a shock 2–0 defeat at Third Division Bournemouth. They finished fourth in the league, having topped the table at several stages once again, before injuries to key players counted against them and they dropped points.

The end of the season saw the sale of key midfielder Ray Wilkins to A.C. Milan of Italy for £1.5 million, while the duration of the season had seen the breakthrough of young striker Mark Hughes. Rather than plunge into the transfer market for a big name, Atkinson shifted 19-year-old striker Norman Whiteside into midfield to fill the gap left by Wilkins and allowed Hughes to form a partnership with the experienced Frank Stapleton.

In 1984–85, United again won the FA Cup. However, Atkinson and his team were denied the chance of another European Cup Winners Cup campaign as the Heysel disaster at the European Cup final that year, resulted in an indefinite ban on all English clubs in European competitions (ultimately lasting five years).

In the 1985–86 they won their first 10 games of the league season and were unbeaten after their first 15 games to build a comfortable lead at the top of the table that lasted into the new year. However, their form tailed off badly and they again finished fourth, with Liverpool (who also won the FA Cup) finishing the season as league champions for a record 16th time. With the ban on English clubs in European competitions continuing, there was not even the consolation of a UEFA Cup place. United's title chances were not helped by the fact that captain Bryan Robson was only available for half of United's league games due to injuries. It is also worth noting that most of the teams that United defeated in their 10-match winning start to the season failed to finish anywhere near the top of the league, and two of them finished the season relegated. And United only took 10 points out of a possible 30 from the five other teams who finished in the top six.

There was more disappointment for United's fans when the sale of Mark Hughes to Barcelona of Spain was announced at the end of the season. Atkinson had prepared for Hughes's departure in March 1986 by paying Nottingham Forest £570,000 for England striker Peter Davenport. Although Davenport did play some good games for United and was United's top scorer in the 1986-87 season, he failed to achieve the success that Hughes had achieved and was not a popular figure among fans even when performing well.

Despite media speculation that Atkinson would be sacked in favour of Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson or FC Barcelona manager Terry Venables, but the 1986–87 season began with Atkinson still at the helm.

His two FA Cup wins and five successive top four league finishes had made him more successful than any manager at Manchester United since Matt Busby, but the pressure to build on the earlier successes was becoming more intense than ever.

The 1986–87 season opened disastrously with three successive defeats, and despite a minor upturn in September and October which included a 5–1 home win over Southampton in the league, the pressure on Atkinson remained intense and the board finally ran out of patience on 6 November 1986 when he was dismissed as manager two days after a 4–1 exit at the hands of Southampton in the League Cup. United were still in the bottom four of the First Division with a third of the season already gone.

Return to West Bromwich Albion

He returned to West Brom in the autumn of 1987, by which time they had fallen into the Second Division and were battling against relegation to the Third Division. Survival was achieved, as Albion finished the 1987–88 season in 20th place, and they began the 1988–89 season well, looking like serious promotion contenders. But then he had a high-profile move to Atlético Madrid of Spain.

Atlético Madrid

Atkinson's tenure at Atlético was quite a turbulent one and despite relative moderate success in terms of league position, a clash of personalities with the then-owner of the club, Jesús Gil, led to Atkinson being sacked after just three months as manager. His right-hand man at West Bromwich Albion, Colin Addison, was appointed – much to the distaste of Atkinson, who went on record in the English media as saying Addison had "stabbed him in the back". The pair never worked together again following the events at Atlético. Atkinson's departure to Spain also had an adverse effect on West Bromwich Albion, whose promotion bid dramatically collapsed under new manager Brian Talbot.

Sheffield Wednesday

He was manager of Sheffield Wednesday from February 1989 to June 1991. Although the club were relegated in 1990 to the Second Division, a year later in 1991 he got them promoted back to the First Division. They also won the League Cup by beating Manchester United 1–0 at Wembley. He offended some Sheffield Wednesday fans by saying on 31 May 1991 that he was staying as manager but a week later left to become Aston Villa manager.

Aston Villa

Taking over from Jozef Venglos, he led Aston Villa to second place in the inaugural FA Premier League season in 1992–93 and to victory in the League Cup in 1994, securing (ultimately short-lived) UEFA Cup campaigns for both of these successes. As of 2012, Atkinson's second place remains the highest ever finish by an English manager in the Premier League, subsequently equalled only by Kevin Keegan in 1995–96.

Despite leading Villa to their first major success since their 1982 European Cup triumph, a mutual disliking between Villa chairman Doug Ellis and Ron that developed from 1992, inevitably resulted in him being sacked on 10 November 1994 following a 4–3 defeat at the hands of Wimbledon – three days after Ellis had given Ron a 'vote of confidence' in the media, stating that Atkinson was one of England's top three football managers. By this stage, an ageing Villa side that had so nearly won the league title 18 months earlier were now among the relegation battlers. He was replaced by Brian Little, who kept Villa in the top flight and built a new younger team.

Coventry City

Three months after being sacked by Villa, he became manager at Coventry City replacing Phil Neal who was purposely and acrimoniously replaced to make way for Atkinson. He took over in mid February 1995, with the Sky Blues just above the Premier League relegation zone.[6] His new team managed some good results, namely a 4–2 home win over local rivals Leicester City, a 3–2 away win over Liverpool and a point against a Blackburn Rovers side who ended the season as champions.[7] With survival looking certain several games before the season ended, Atkinson was named Premier League Manager of the Month for March 1995. The penultimate game of the season brought another fine result when the Sky Blues travelled to North London and beat Tottenham Hotspur 3–1.[8] Survival was finally confirmed as Atkinson guided the Sky Blues to a 16th-place finish.[9]

In December 1995, Atkinson guided the Sky Blues to one of their best results of the 1990s – a 5–0 home win over defending champions Blackburn Rovers.[10] During his spell as manager of Coventry, he brought in high profile players including Gordon Strachan, Noel Whelan and Gary McAllister (although in his autobiography he states that this latter signing was Strachan's initiative and he was opposed for tactical reasons) but they continued to struggle in the Premier League and by November 1996 he had become Director of Football, handing over managerial duties to former player and subsequent assistant boss Gordon Strachan.

Return to Sheffield Wednesday

In November 1997, he returned to Sheffield Wednesday following the sacking of David Pleat. Wednesday had made a poor start to the 1997–98 season, including a 7–2 loss at Blackburn and a 6–1 loss at Manchester United. Under Atkinson, Wednesday's form picked up immediately and they pulled well clear of relegation trouble, but he was not rewarded with a permanent contract.

Nottingham Forest

His last managerial job came with Nottingham Forest, for the final four months of the 1998–99 season. This spell was not a success and at his first home game against Arsenal he even climbed into the wrong dug-out.[11] He also managed to upset many Forest fans following an 8–1 defeat at home to Manchester United, when he stated in an interview after the game that his team had given the fans a "nine-goal thriller".[12] In a 2007 interview, Pierre van Hooijdonk, who was a Forest player at the time, said he sometimes got the impression the side was managed by Rowan Atkinson. In 1999, having resumed playing for Forest (following a somewhat petulant 'strike' by Pierre van Hooijdonk), Atkinson was quoted as saying that "his (Pierre van Hooijdonk) biggest talent was upsetting his team mates."

Atkinson took over as manager in mid January 1999, and Forest's relegation was confirmed on 24 April with a 2-0 defeat at his old club Aston Villa. He announced his resignation as manager within hours of the final whistle, with effect from the final game of the league season on 16 May, and said that he would be retiring from football management.[13]

Broadcasting career

TV work

Atkinson was already working as a pundit for ITV Sport and after leaving management he continued in this role. For a number of years he covered most of the channel's live matches, sometimes as a studio guest, but more often as the "ex-football insider" member of a two-man commentary team. His commentaries with Clive Tyldesley provided the basis for the late-1990s and early-2000s ITV Champions League nights. He also fronted two series of Extra Time With Ron Atkinson for Central ITV with Ron interviewing football personalities like Kevin Keegan, Terry Venables and Martin O'Neill.

This exposure led to "Ronglish" becoming known to a wider audience. With his permanent suntan and taste for chunky, gaudy jewellery, he was often portrayed as a lovable buffoon in the UK media. Examples of Ronglish includes the adopted footballing phrase "early doors", a phrase that has been a subject of debate in football circles (partly because its precise origin and meaning is unclear). It is credited as one of Atkinson's most famous and original pundit quips. Another famous line regularly heard during Atkinson's 1990s ITV football pundit work was exclaiming in disbelief at a miss, stating "you would have put your mortgage on him (the player) scoring there".

In 1997, he appeared as manager of Harchester United in Dream Team.

In August 2013, Atkinson became a housemate on the twelfth series of Celebrity Big Brother. He was the second housemate to be evicted on Day 9 after receiving the fewest votes to save him against Charlotte Crosby, Courtney Stodden, Lauren Harries and Louie Spence.

Atkinson is now working on Manchester United own TV Channel MUTV.


In 2002, Atkinson released a Christmas song, "It's Christmas – Let's Give Love a Try",[14] but this failed to gain chart success. The following year, Ron Atkinson guested on an episode of TV chat show Room 101 and host Paul Merton played the video as outro to the show.

Racism controversy

Ron Atkinson's media work came to an abrupt halt on 21 April 2004, when he was urged to resign from ITV by Brian Barwick after he broadcast a racial remark live on air about the black Chelsea player Marcel Desailly; believing the microphone to be switched off, he said, "...he [Desailly] is what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy, thick nigger".[15] Although transmission in the UK had finished, the microphone gaffe meant that his comment was broadcast to various countries in the Middle East. He also left his job as a columnist for The Guardian "by mutual agreement" as a result of the comment.

Since the Desailly incident, Atkinson has claimed that the comment was an aberration and that he is not racist, citing in his defence that his West Bromwich Albion side was the first high-profile British club to have a significant number of black players. This, however, has not diminished the condemnation he has received from anti-racist groups and the public at large, who question whether Atkinson would have resigned had the comment not been accidentally broadcast and note that it was not the first time he had used racist language. In an article published in the Sunday Times on 19 September 2004, Atkinson was referred to as "Racist Ron".

However, Carlton Palmer, one of Atkinson's players while he was manager at Sheffield Wednesday, defended his former boss by saying, "I'm black and I'm sitting here and I'm gonna stand up for Big Ron not because he's a friend of mine, I'm standing up for him because I know what he's like as a bloke. If we're going to deal with racism then let's deal with the bigger picture of racism not about a throwaway comment that wasn't meant in that manner."[16] A BBC Radio documentary about The Three Degrees, repeated on 16 May 2004, was cancelled owing to Atkinson's central contributions.

Later in 2004, the Daily Mirror reported how he sparked more hostility among fans by making derogatory remarks during a meeting over a meal about Chinese women, "I can't understand why there is such a population problem in China as they have the best contraception going: Chinese women are the ugliest in the world."[17]

Other TV work

It was reported Atkinson was being brought in to support Iffy Onuora at Swindon Town in December 2005, and Atkinson and the club appeared to confirm this. However it later transpired that Atkinson's role was simply as part of a Sky One documentary about the club being filmed at the County Ground.[18] In late January 2006, Atkinson and Swindon Town parted company, with Swindon manager Onuora citing interference as the main reason for stopping the documentary from going ahead. Just a week later the cameras turned up at Peterborough United's ground, London Road, to begin filming for the documentary called Big Ron Manager. Peterborough were paid £100,000 to allow the filming to take place.[19] Just three months later on 22 April the club was thrown into turmoil as caretaker manager Steve Bleasdale resigned just 70 minutes before kick off against Macclesfield Town, citing interference from a number of people in the running of first team affairs.

Atkinson spent the 2006 World Cup recording an amateur video blog and distributing it through the UK-based video sharing site, He also provided commentary on the World Cup for the UK digital channel UKTV G2.

In 2006, Atkinson took part in the BBC Two programme Excuse My French.[20] Atkinson, comedian Marcus Brigstocke and television presenter Esther Rantzen were immersed in the French language by staying in a remote town in the Provence region, being compelled to adapt to the French lifestyle and speak the language. His assignment at the end of the course was to provide a match analysis on a football match (Paris Saint-GermainAS Monaco) in French for a French radio station. Being a complete beginner to the French language, he found the experience a considerable challenge, although he succeeded. The assignment was made more difficult by the fact that the match concerned was a dull goalless draw, leaving him with little to talk about.

He briefly made a return to television, appearing as a pundit on Football Italia broadcast on Bravo. Since Serie A coverage has been shown on Five and ESPN however, Atkinson has not been invited as a pundit.

Atkinson returned to the screen on 16 August 2009 on the Channel 4 reality show Celebrity Wife Swap. However, when questioned about his controversial comments by swappee Tessa Sanderson, he became very defensive and refused to discuss it. "The whistle has gone. Full time. End of story... the subject is closed."

Ron Atkinson brought out a warts-and-all autobiography upon the airing of Wife Swap60 Minutes with Ron Atkinson, in which he talks about his controversial comments and his football career.


Atkinson is currently a pundit on William Hill's "The Punt" podcast and on Manchester United's channel MUTV.

Director of Football

On 23 January 2007, Atkinson returned to Kettering Town, the club he had managed more than 30 years previously, as Director of Football.[21] However, it was announced on 19 April 2007 that he had left the post at the Conference North club following his disapproval over the sacking of manager Morell Maison.[22]



Manchester United
Sheffield Wednesday
Aston Villa

Managerial statistics

Team Nat From To Record
G W L D Win %
Kettering Town 14 December 1971 22 November 1974
Cambridge United 22 November 1974 12 January 1978 146 68 36 42 46.58
West Bromwich Albion 12 January 1978 9 June 1981 159 70 36 53 44.03
Manchester United 9 June 1981 6 November 1986 292 146 67 79 50.00
West Bromwich Albion 3 September 1987 12 October 1988 53 15 23 15 28.30
Atlético Madrid 12 October 1988 16 January 1989 12 6 3 3 50.00
Sheffield Wednesday 14 February 1989 6 June 1991 118 49 34 35 41.53
Aston Villa 7 June 1991 10 November 1994 178 77 56 45 43.26
Coventry City 15 February 1995 5 November 1996 74 19 28 27 25.68
Sheffield Wednesday 14 November 1997 17 May 1998 27 9 11 7 33.33
Nottingham Forest 11 January 1999 16 May 1999 16 4 10 2 25.00
Total 1,078 464 306 308 43.04


  1. ^ Hugman, Barry J., ed. (2005). The PFA Premier & Football League Players' Records 1946–2005. Queen Anne Press. p. 32.  
  2. ^ McGavin, Harvey (22 April 2004). "Ron Atkinson quits ITV after his racist remarks are heard on air". The Independent (London). Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  3. ^ "Ex-U's boss: ‘I can’t believe my pal Ron has gone in the Celebrity Big Brother house’". Oxford Mail. 24 August 2013. 
  4. ^ Hugman, Barry J., ed. (1998). The PFA Premier & Football League Players' Records 1946–1998. Queen Anne Press. p. 31.  
  5. ^ "How total football inventor was lost to Hungary". The Guardian (London). 22 November 2003. Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  6. ^ "Coventry City FC News – Coventry MAD". 11 February 1995. Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  7. ^ "Fixtures/Results – Coventry City FC – Coventry MAD". Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  8. ^ "Coventry City FC News – Coventry MAD". 17 April 1995. Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  9. ^ "Coventry City FC News – Coventry MAD". 14 May 1995. Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  10. ^ "Fixtures/Results – Coventry City FC – Coventry MAD". Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  11. ^ "Sporting spotlight: Ron Atkinson" BBC Sport 26 December 2012 Retrieved 20 January 2012
  12. ^ Thomas, Russell (26 February 2007). "Solskjaer shows plenty in reserve". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2007. 
  13. ^ "Big Ron retires as Forest relegated". BBC News. 24 April 1999. 
  14. ^ "Football legend hopes to score a Christmas No1". The Scotsman. 4 December 2002. 
  15. ^ Ron Atkinson calls Marcel Desailly a 'lazy nigger' on live TV. YouTube. 24 February 2010. Retrieved 27 January 2011. 
  16. ^ "Atkinson quits over racist slur". BBC News. 22 April 2004. 
  17. ^ Words of condemnation for Big Ron The Mirror, 2 December 2004
  18. ^ Stewart, Colin (29 December 2005). "Atkinson back on television with fly-on-the-wall role at Swindon". The Scotsman. Retrieved 7 October 2007. 
  19. ^ "Cambridgeshire – Sport – Big Ron Manager comes to Posh". BBC. 29 December 2005. Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  20. ^ "Cinq Jours En Juillet". BBC Kent. Retrieved 7 October 2007. 
  21. ^ "Atkinson named as Kettering chief". BBC Sport. 23 January 2007. Retrieved 7 October 2007. 
  22. ^ "Atkinson leaves post at Kettering". BBC Sport. 19 April 2007. Retrieved 7 October 2007. 
  23. ^ "Web Oficial de la Liga de Fútbol Profesional". Retrieved 26 November 2008.  (Spanish)

External links

  • Ron Atkinson management career statistics at Soccerbase
  • Example of Big Ron's chalkboard (text only) The Guardian,
  • Suntalk page at The Sun website
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