In an era during which it can be difficult to zone out the white noise of vitriol and rage that seems to accompany professional football wherever it goes, it comes as no little surprise to see the resignation of a manager from his position with a degree mutual respect between himself, the football club that they both represented and the club itself. So it was, however, today with the departure of Graham Turner from the managerial position at League One strugglers Shrewsbury Town. In a keenly-fought division, a run of just one win in their last eight matches had pushed Shrewsbury into the relegation places at the foot of the table, but today Turner departed from The New Meadow with his head held high, his reputation and dignity intact.
Graham Turner and Shrewsbury Town Football Club go back a very long way indeed. Turner first arrived at the club’s former home Gay Meadow as a player from Chester in 1973, and took over as the club’s manager five years later, at the age of thirty. It was from here that, under his tutelage, the club embarked upon its finest season. The continuing progress made by the other two clubs promoted from Division Three of the Football League that season, Swansea City and Watford, meant that Shrewsbury Town’s achievements that season perhaps didn’t quite get the recognition that team deserved, but it is well remembered in that corner of Shropshire that 1979 was the year that Shrewsbury Town not only pipped the upwardly mobile Swans and Hornets to the Third Division title, the first time in the history of the club that it had reached the top two divisions, but also made the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, beating Manchester City in front of the cameras of Match Of The Day on the way before losing at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers after a replay.
Having got the club into the Second Division for the first time in its history, Turner went on to keep the club there, eventually leaving Gay Meadow in the summer of 1984, to take over from Tony Barton as the manager of Aston Villa, a club who just two years earlier had been the champions of Europe. By the time of his arrival, however, the club was in a steep decline and, after a comfortable mid-table finish at the end of his first season in charge of the club, Villa only narrowly avoided relegation at the end of the 1985/86 season – his team finished that season in sixteenth place in the First Division, just three points above the relegation places – and, after a poor start to the following season, Turner was relieved of his duties at Villa Park.
A good football manager, however, will seldom be out for long and his next stop was Molineux. Wolverhampton Wanderers were finally showing signs of life again after a precipitous fall from the First to the Fourth Division in successive season and a close shave with bankruptcy over the course of the previous three seasons, but Turner rebuilt the team around the attacking partnership of Steve Bull and Andy Mutch and, after missing out in the play-offs in 1987, took the club back to the Second Division in successive seasons over the next two seasons, as division champions both times – as well as to Wembley, where his team won the 1988 Football League Trophy – before leaving in March 1994 as the expectations of both the club’s support and its owner rose to stratospheric levels.
At his next club Hereford United, Turner was unable to keep a listing ship afloat. The club was relegated from the Football League in 1997, but Turner’s reaction to this was to buy a majority share-holding in the club and become its chairman. Still, though, balancing the books at Hereford proved – just as it seems to be today – difficult, but he did get the club back into the Football League in 2006 and then into League One two years later. In 2009, however, he stood down as manager and a year later gave up his chairmanship and shareholding a year later.
The lure of a return to Shrewsbury Town, however, proved to be just too much for Graham Turner to resist. At the end of his first season back with the club, Salop were beaten in the semi-finals of the League Two play-offs by Torquay United. The following season, however, the club was promoted in second place in the table. It was here, however, that this story may have begun to reach its final stages. During the summer of 2012, several of the club’s our of contract senior players were only offered short-term contracts and it was a newer-look Shrewsbury Town team that started life back in League One for the first time in a decade and a half. The club finished last season in sixteenth place in the table, but this season began with just one win in the first seven games, and by the time of his departure from the club it had, perhaps, started to feel as if this was, although his contract was due to end this coming summer, a season too far from Graham Turner and Shrewsbury Town FC, this time around.
Still, though, supporters of the club will have their memories. For those old enough to remember it, the 1978/79 season will live long in the memory, as might the 1983/84 season, when the club finished in eighth place in a Second Division in which the top four clubs at the end of the season comprised Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and Manchester City, or another run to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup in 1982, which ended in defeat at the hands of Leicester City. For younger supporters, meanwhile, perhaps the memories of promotion from League Two at the end of the 2011/12 season will live for just as long. And in this atmosphere of magnanimity, Turner spoke the club this afternoon, giving an interview of refreshing honesty and genuine warmth for what he is leaving behind.
Perhaps the lure of a return to Hereford United might prove to be too much for Graham Turner. Goodness knows that club could do with all the help it can get at the moment. That decision – or indeed, the decision to return to Shrewsbury again some day, perhaps in a different role – is for another day, and as Turner said himself today, “I’ve got to be honest, you sit and contemplate the future, and I would think it would be fair to say that my managerial days are over.” Perhaps it is over, perhaps it isn’t, for Graham Turner. If it is, there will be few who don’t agree that he hasn’t thoroughly deserved a long and happy retirement.
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