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Big Ron and His Glittering Career

Tuesday Oct 29, 2019


 Photo by BigBrother Junkie Public Domain
 Big Ron has enjoyed a glittering career in all aspects of the game

 In case you have not heard, one of the most influential, successful and well known English managers of recent generations is coming to the Lamb in November. Big Ron, as he is affectionately known by those who do and don’t know the footballing legend, has had an incredible career in the game, on the pitch, in the dugout and in the TV studio. Here is a quick biography of the great man.

 Big Ron – The Player

 His playing career is often ignored completely, or dismissed as one where he didn’t pull up any trees, but that is doing Ron – who was actually born in Liverpool before moving to the Midlands – a disservice. Atkinson’s first professional club was Aston Villa, who he signed for when he was 17 years old. Though he didn’t manage to break into the first team, Villa coach Jimmy Hogan was to become one of his biggest influences in the game.

 In 1959 he went to Headington United (soon to become Oxford United) on a free transfer, and there he stayed for the remainder of his career. His time there was far from run of the mill however. Ron, playing as a wing half - a position that has gone the way of the Headington United moniker - alongside his younger brother Graham, picked up a nickname not too dissimilar to the one he would forever be known as in later days – The Tank. Until his retirement in 1971, Ron made over 500 appearances for the club – still a record - and captained the side through a remarkable few seasons. Between 1962 and 1968, the club went from the Southern Division to the Second Division (which of course was then the second tier in English football).

 Big Ron the Manager

 It is on the side lines that most of us remember this iconic figure. His was a career that took in some of the biggest clubs in world football, from Manchester United to Atletico Madrid, a club currently more fancied than the mighty Real Madrid for Champions League glory this year. His managerial career began when he was just 32, when he went to Kettering Town. He quickly found his stride in management, and after success with the Poppies moved to Cambridge United. There he won the fourth division title and was on the verge of promotion again when he left for what would be the career defining period of his working life.


 Photo by Elliott Brown CC BY 2.0
 The statue in West Bromwich depicting the ground breaking “Three Degrees” 

 It was early 1978 when Atkinson took over the reins at West Brom. One of his first moves was to sign Brendon Batson from Cambridge. Batson would play alongside Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis, the first time three black players had held such high and regular positions in the English game. The three – dubbed the Three Degrees – would prove to be incredibly influential, not just on the pitch but in society and the sport in general.

 In his first full season at The Hawthorns, West Brom finished third in the league and reached the UEFA Cup quarter finals. The success continued, with the club flirting with first place throughout the following seasons. In the summer of 1981, Ron was made manager at Manchester United. In scenes that mirror today’s situation at Old Trafford (without the poor results!), he was brought in to rejuvenate a side that was seen as dour and workmanlike, one that had not won a major trophy during Dave Sexton’s four years in charge.

 That changed with Ron at the helm. As well as the charity shield, United won the FA Cup twice. Injuries at key times hampered more than one title challenge, and English clubs’ ban from European football also meant he was not able to add any European silverware. He managed four successive top four finishes and was the most successful manager in the post-Matt Busby era.

 Big Ron in the Media

 After leaving Manchester United, Ron had spells at several Midlands clubs, as well as his stint in Madrid, and had success at each. Many of the younger generation will know Big Ron from his time as a pundit for ITV either as a studio guest or alongside Clive Tyldesley in the commentary box. In later life, Ron has appeared on Celebrity Big Brother and even released a Christmas song.

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