Tony Waddington

Football's Pioneering Managers: Tony Waddington

For several seasons, Leicester City Football Club has worked with De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History and Culture on various heritage projects.
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This season, in a new series of articles, staff and students from the Centre focus on pioneering and innovative football managers who did much to change the game. Today, Professor Matt Taylor recalls Tony Waddington, who transformed Stoke City in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Probably Stoke's greatest-ever manager, Waddington transformed the Potters into one of the Football League’s elite teams during the 1970s. “For a brief period”, it has been argued, “the repository of supreme skill rested at the Victoria Ground.” Combining youth and experience, he secured successive FA Cup Semi-Final appearances in 1971 and 1972 and the first major honour in the club’s history, the 1972 League Cup. 

Waddington was born in Manchester in 1924. He turned out as an amateur for Manchester United during the Second World War before making nearly 200 appearances as a wing-half for Crewe Alexandra after the conflict. In 1952, he became a coach at Stoke, slowing moving up the hierarchy to become assistant manager and then manager in 1960.

Waddington inherited a team that had just finished in the bottom half of the Second Division. He persuaded the board that it was crucial to bring in a star player. His eventual choice was the great Stanley Matthews, who re-joined the club in 1961 at the age of 46. He also signed Jimmy McIlroy from Burnley and Dennis Viollet from Manchester United. Stoke finished the 1962/63 campaign as Second Division champions. In 1964, Waddington’s revitalised side made it to the 1964 League Cup Final, losing to Leicester City over two legs.

‘Waddo’ was particularly successful in the transfer market, persuading seasoned England internationals such as Gordon Banks, George Eastham and Geoff Hurst to come to Stoke. Around the ‘veterans’, he built a balanced side based on local talent and astute acquisitions. 

Two years running, the Potters were narrowly defeated in FA Cup Semi-Finals by Arsenal, but they did win the League Cup in 1972 at Wembley, defeating Chelsea 2-1 with goals from Terry Conroy and Eastham.  

Stoke’s progress was built on a resilient defence – the so-called ‘Waddington Wall’ – but the later successes were the result of the freedom given to the club’s skilled players and a dynamic attacking formation. The best league finishes under Waddington were 1973/74 and 1974/75, when the Potters took fifth spot on each occasion. In the latter case, they ended up just four points behind champions Derby County.     

Financial difficulties meant the club had to sell many of its star players, which led to relegation and Waddington’s departure in March 1977. He went on to manage Crewe Alexandra between 1979 and 1981 but remained ‘Mr Stoke City’ at heart. He was a man who brought ‘style, elegance, grace and a monumental excitement to the club and the city.




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