3 Times runner up
If there was an unsung hero amongst SAFC’s backroom staff over the past few years, Ricky Sbragia is that man. The merits – and otherwise – of Messrs Saxton, Heath and, of course, Reid have been discussed at length in the pages of this magazine and across the drinking establishments of Wearside, but the name Sbragia is one that has remained relatively unuttered… and not just because nobody has a clue how to pronounce it.
Whenever the former York defender-turned-youth team coach, later to become the reserves boss, did crop up in the conversation, it was ‘that Scottish bloke… you know, the one with the funny name.’
Sbragia was, until his departure, the longest-serving member of the coaching staff, joining Mick Buxton’s backroom boys as Under-17s coach in 1994. During the past eight years he has guided the likes of Thomas Butler, Michael Proctor, Kevin Kyle and George McCartney and then seen them make the step up to Premiership football.
An almost complete unknown outside Sunderland and York, his star is now very much in the ascendancy having replaced former Manchester United defender Mike Phelan as Reserve Team Coach at Old Trafford. As he settled into his new job, the Glaswegian said: “I’ve had eight good years at Sunderland, the club has been tremendous to me and have worked hard to keep me, but this offer has been a dream come true.”
Sbragia’s background isn’t particularly illustrious but he has enjoyed success in some quarters. After turning pro at Birmingham City in May 74, Sbragia went on to play for Morton, Walsall and Blackpool, before arriving at York City in August 82. It was at Bootham Crescent where the Scot found a niche. An ever present in his first season, his partnership with John McPhail during the next campaign helped a Denis Smith inspired York to lift the 83/84 Fourth Division Championship with a ludicrous 101 points.
Regarded as one of City’s best post-war centre halves, one of Sbragia’s finest moments in a York shirt came when he scored a rare goal in a tie against Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup to earn the Minstermen a replay at Anfield. Unfortunately, he required an operation after slipping a disc in the replay and the injury effectively finished his playing career. After finally hanging up his boots in May 87, he became Youth Team Coach at Bootham Crescent and remained there until Sunderland offered him a similar position in September 94.
On my visits to the Charley Hurley Centre as I kid, I remember Ricky as the most vociferous of coaches on the training ground and the first to sign autographs as the players bolted for the showers come the end of the session. Ironic really, as most kids didn’t have a clue who the bloke was, and I certainly didn’t prize his signature as highly as that of Mickey Gray or Craig Russell. I’ve still got it though.
The hole Sbragia’s departure has left in the coaching staff is belied by Wilkinson’s blasé attitude to finding a replacement. The gaffer reckons there is ‘too much going on’ to appoint a permanent replacement. Wilkinson took time out from making cups of tea for supporters to pay tribute to Sbragia. “I’m very disappointed to lose Ricky,” he said. “In the time that I’ve been here I have come to see him as an extremely valuable member of staff. This has been proven by my efforts to keep Ricky, but I understand his desire to pursue a dream.”
Sbragia’s move to Old Trafford comes at a time when Alex Ferguson is talking of having to build a United team for the future. With their league form patchy, don’t be surprised to see the influence of Sbragia’s coaching in future generations of United wonder kids.
4 foot tache
Have you ever heard the story about the cup final in 1973 where the underdogs overwhelmed everybody’s expectations and against the odds, lifted the trophy? Do you also remember the lad who played on the wing with his shirt hanging out while sporting a massive tache and a pair of white football boots? Well, that was Jocky Scott.
OK, the reason you can’t remember was because it was the Scottish League Cup Final where crowd favourite Scott was helping Dundee to victory against Celtic whilst pioneering rubbish white boots and giving Tom Selleck ideas about facial grooming. Following the departure of Ricky Sbragia to Manchester United, Scott was appointed as new Killer Bs boss, albeit on a temporary basis, so we decided to find out how he’s fared in the past.
After becoming a firm crowd favourite during his playing career at Dundee, the moustachioed maestro took the managerial reins at the club in August 1986 where he created a side that played attractive passing football before he moved to Aberdeen in the summer of 1988. Many fans believed that the board were hindering his progress at Dens Park but his move to the Dons was the first of many that would see him develop a reputation as “a bit of a mercenary.”
It was at Aberdeen where Scott enjoyed most managerial success. Having been appointed co-manager with Alex Smith, the Dons won both the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup in the 89/90 season. By now the tached tactician had already developed a reputation as a strict disciplinarian and his change of preference to less blasé methods on the pitch coincided with the arrival of silverware. However, the ship soon began to sink and Scott left Aberdeen in 1991, shortly before Alex Smith became the first manager in the club’s history to be formally dismissed.
After doomed spells at Dunfermline – who were in a complete mess when Scott arrived – and Hibernian. Scott eventually returned to Dundee, now in the First Division, in controversial fashion in the summer of 1997. When current club owners, the Marr brothers took control of Dees during the same year, they had plans afoot and ousted popular John ‘Cowboy’ McCormick in favour of appointing Scott.
Our reserve boss led Dundee back to the SPL at the first attempt but, after a couple of indifferent seasons, the Marr brothers decided not to renew his contract, largely because maverick Italian Ivano Bonetti had expressed a desire to take the reins.
In summer 2000, our meandering manager crossed the border to try his hand in England after Notts County offered him the role as boss following the departure of Sam Allardyce. Though he won more games than he lost at Meadow Lane, he failed to produce the kind of results expected of him in the wake of his predecessor’s excellent record and left after fourteen months.
It is widely considered that two factors led to his downfall at the Magpies (boo, hiss, etc). First, his reputation as a guru of free flowing football still remained though, realistically, this thinking had been confined to history. Secondly, his decision to stick two fingers up at the fans and tell them to f*** off didn’t help his cause. In all fairness, it hadn’t helped when he did the same at Dunfermline and Dundee either.
After failing in his attempt to keep a desperate Raith Rovers safe from relegation in a six month stint last season, Scott had been taking it easy until the recent call came from Howard Wilkinson. He may have his critics but the bottom line is that he’s another member of staff on board with silverware to his name and, if he can produce results and keep his hand gestures to a minimum, we wish him all the best at Sunderland, however long he stays.