It was never going to be easy for a new manager to follow Hammers managerial legend John Lyall.
In Lyall’s 15 years at West Ham, he built a tremendous reputation. He won the FA Cup twice, took the Hammers to the final of the European Cup Winners Cup, and led the Hammers to third in the league.
He left after a disappointing relegation, which opened the door for former Celtic and Manchester United player and Swindon Town manager Lou Macari to manage West Ham United.
Macari joined the club in July 1989 – and he knew he’d have big shoes to fill. What followed was a challenging stint in a club he retains a fondness for and what is still, at the time of writing, the shortest shift a manager has put in at West Ham.
Macari was no stranger to the challenge he faced in replacing Lyall at West Ham – but it didn’t put him off a move to east London.
‘Obviously John had been in charge for 15 years,’ Macari said in an interview for Blowing Bubbles.
‘You manage a football club for 15 years because you’re a top manager. It was always going to be a hard act to follow, but I wasn’t too concerned about that because I knew it was just a good football club.
‘I did realise it was a situation that, for whoever followed John, it was going to be difficult for them.
‘But I was still willing to take that chance because I didn’t want to miss out on going to a club like West Ham as it was brilliant.
‘I never applied for jobs that I didn’t feel that I was suited to. I always took the view of what do they have to offer, are they a good club, have they got a good support with them, do they stick with the manager through thick and thin – and of course that’s another reason that John was there 15 years.
‘People stuck behind him and it was that type of football club and I thought – that’s the right place for me.
‘I went for an interview and got the job and I wasn’t interested in who else had applied, who had interviewed. It was the right thing for me to do at the right time.’
After Macari’s success at Swindon Town, including two promotions and five Manager of the Month awards over five years, he was keen to get stuck in at West Ham.
There were some things at the club he felt needed changes, and others he was happy to keep as they were – including the team he inherited from his predecessor.
‘I kept on John Lyall’s team because I just thought they know the ins and outs of West Ham,’ he continued.
‘I knew West Ham as a player, and going there, and the atmosphere, and all that, but I didn’t know about the football club.
‘I thought I’d stick to the people that do know the club, let them get on with it more or less and every so often I’ll change things around slightly.
‘I was coming from a club that had built its reputation on blood and thunder and aggression and fitness and all those things, and I was now going to a club that I wouldn’t say didn’t have the same beliefs, but a club that was all about football.
‘I thought I’m going there and that’s what it’s going to be about. I’m not going to change anything and so I decided to stick with the team and everyone else that was there.’
This was not without its challenges however, the first one presented by wantaway midfielder and modern-day Judas, Paul Ince, who wanted to move to Manchester United and was pictured in a Manchester United top whilst still being a West Ham player.
‘My first problem was a problem I couldn’t see coming.’ exclaims Macari. ‘Paul Ince! I couldn’t see that coming, and when it was all over I’m thinking well that was nothing at all to do with me, it was instigated by his entourage.
‘As a result, what I was told was a top young player is out the door and gone. I even fell out with Alex Fergusson over it.
‘I told him he wasn’t getting him. I said “I don’t care, he’ll stay here and he’ll play here”.’
Ince did play the first game of the 1989/90 season, but he received a poor reception from angry West Ham fans – a reaction that prompted Macari to agree to the transfer.
‘That was enough for me then,’ he said. ‘The fans had said what I was thinking anyway.
‘I had to see what the reaction would be and I thought the best thing for Paul is to move on, even though his party have instigated it all and I didn’t like that.
‘I decided that whatever way Man Utd wanted to play it, which was that he failed the medical and he came back and then there were different conditions in the contract about him playing games – I was never worried about that.
‘I knew he’d play the games. He was young and he was trying to make a career for himself, so whatever it was he’d tried to change, we ended up back at the same amount once he’d played all the games – and back then that was a fortune.’
Players’ fitness was a major consideration for Macari at the start of his West Ham reign.
While he wanted to keep the team as is and operate with business as usual in mind, there were surprises waiting in store for both players and manager when it came to diet and, particularly, the training at West Ham.
‘I found it strange the first day, I’ve got to admit,’ Macari recalls. ‘I was in my office and training was at ten o’clock and I came out at ten o’clock, and because I always allowed the coaches at Swindon to get on with training, I didn’t interfere with that and didn’t brief them on what I wanted, because it was simple.
‘What you want to do with the players, you go and do it. I open the door at five past ten and they’re all sitting there.
‘I said – “what’s up lads” and they said “normally in the morning we get instructions from John about what he wants done and this and that”.
‘And I said “oh no, that’s not going to be happening with me, I should have told you that. Just you take them out and it’s up to you to do whatever you think, and then when I come out I’ll do my little bits and pieces that I want them to do but mainly you’re in charge and that’s why you’re a coach at West Ham United”.’
Macari’s style of play also came under scrutiny, with some feeling he was an early-day long ball merchant, but this is something Macari still finds frustrating to this day.
He doesn’t feel that accusations of playing long-ball football is a criticism, and instead maintains that very little in the style of play had changed from that under Lyall.
‘I’ve got to be honest with you, that wasn’t a criticism. When I was there that wasn’t [considered] criticism. That’s why I kept the staff. I made sure I was never going to be accused of that. I know who I brought in and who was there.
‘Stuart Slater, now there who was a young kid who did brilliant for me. No way was I going to tell him not to get the ball down and beat five or six people because that’s what he was all about.
‘That’s what’s happening nowadays of course, you’ve got people and managers telling people not to do that and as a result we don’t see a great deal of individualism that has always been in our game – like Liam Brady.
‘I’m not going to tell Liam Brady not to do anything but that’s what made Liam Brady a household name all over the world. Alan Devonshire, who’s the same, liked to get the ball, liked to do his little bit of magic.
‘I think all that came from maybe one or two players who had maybe read about Swindon and thought well “if I’m not in the team or I don’t like it here, I’ll use that as an excuse”.
‘When you do things and they come off, as a manager, you’re delighted and you’re happy and you’re pleased.
‘The same works the other way; when you make decisions that don’t come off you’re disappointed, but I was always mindful if there was anybody out there who ever said anything but no that team continued to play the West Ham way.
‘I didn’t change very much and I can’t put a heart into people that don’t have a heart, I’m sorry. So that’s the one thing I will argue about. Many people say it and I think “you weren’t there” and they are just picking up vibes from years ago.’
During Macari’s time at the club, it was rumoured there were indeed a few senior players resistant to his management style, but he won’t be drawn on the players who proved tricky to manage. When asked about them, he laughs good naturedly and moves swiftly on to the positives.
‘I know the ones you’re talking about and I don’t want to mention them. I’ll tell you who else was brilliant, no matter what anyone says. Julian Dicks.
‘He was a bloody good footballer and that surprised me because I thought of Julian Dicks before I went to West Ham as being this aggressive left-back who would kick his granny.
‘He could get the ball down and he could knock it around, slip balls to the front people, go get them back, smash them from 25 yards. Julian Dicks should have been one of England’s greatest players.’
When it comes to players, it’s here where Macari’s successes at West Ham come into focus – the notable players he brought to east London.
While fans aren’t singing Macari’s name on the terraces today, the name of one of his best signings still rings out across the ground and the pubs. Macari was responsible for bringing in Luděk Mikloško (who comes from near Moscow, and plays in the goal for West Ham.)
Macari agrees wholeheartedly that the ‘keeper was a tremendous signing, even if he was difficult to obtain.
‘He couldn’t get a work permit and we’re talking about Czechoslovakia (at the time). I got recommended Ludo, he came to see me – and I saw him standing next to me and I thought “bloody hell, that’ll do me! He’s a monster”.
‘Then when we trained, he left everyone for dead – and he’s a goalkeeper! There’s no need to have such a high level of fitness, but everything he did he couldn’t do enough of it, he wanted to do more, and I decided that no matter what happens and no matter how long of a way to get him we needed him at West Ham.
‘I was in the PFA offices in Manchester with him trying to get it all pushed through, and then eventually a fax message came through that his permit had been granted and he lifted me up in the air and threw me up in the air and he was the happiest man in the world.
‘He actually said that he was a free man. Of course he never looked back, he was brilliant.’
Macari also brought in Hammers players Trevor Morley, Martin Allen and Ian Bishop – but didn’t get to watch them play under him for a notable length of time.
In early 1990, he abruptly resigned from the management position at West Ham United owing to an investigation into betting irregularities from his time at Swindon.
He was fined £1,000 by the Football Association for ‘unauthorised betting’ on Swindon to lose an FA Cup tie against Newcastle, but stepped down during the investigation.
‘I just felt it was a bit embarrassing for the football club. I had a journalist following me about everyday, that was one thing.
‘The second thing was I knew it wasn’t going to go away quickly. I didn’t have really any view of how long this was going to take. I just thought a year or two years, but it’s a long time for something to be hanging over your head.’
His brief time at West Ham saw him oversee 40 games for the Hammers. He won 15, drew 12, lost 13 – but Macari’s time at the club will be largely remembered for some dischord in the dressing room, and his abrupt departure to keep the incident at Swindon from hanging over the heads of the Hammers.
He currently works in hospitality for Manchester United, but would he ever return to management?
For Macari, management has changed too much in the modern day for him.
‘It’s changed dramatically,’ he says. ‘There are very few managers around because no one’s allowed to manage are they?
‘There’s a fault with somebody, there’s a fault with somebody else and that’s the way it is. I couldn’t have that. I’d like to be at a football club and at the end of my time there think to myself well what did I do here? Did I do any good for them?’
And when it comes to the legacy left behind by the players he brought, Macari did do some good for West Ham United.