Premier League Clubs Managed: Sheffield Wednesday (1992-1995)
The name of Trevor Francis will always go down in British football folklore. He became Britain’s first-ever £1 million footballer when he signed for Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in the 1970s and won the European Cup in 1979 when his header beat Swedish outfit Malmo in the final.
For 15 years, Francis experienced the highs and lows of football management, winning the League Cup with Sheffield Wednesday in 1991 and taking Birmingham City to the final of the same competition a decade later.
The million pound man
A skilful forward at an early age, Trevor joined Birmingham City as a schoolboy and was in their first-team by the age of just 16 in 1970. In one of the early matches of his career, he scored four times against Bolton Wanderers, showing everyone how good he really could be.
At this point, Birmingham were a regular side in the top-flight during the 1970s but never had the budget or the playing squad to launch a serious challenge to the main sides in the decade – Liverpool FC, Leeds United and Derby County.
In 1978, he went to experience another country as he joined Detroit Express on-loan in the United States and played alongside the great German, Franz Beckenbauer. He scored an incredible 36 goals in 33 matches in two separate off-season spells in the States. After his first period in Detroit, he returned to the Midlands to make the move that would define the history of the football transfer.
Reigning First Division champions Nottingham Forest put in a £1 million transfer bid which was accepted by Birmingham. Francis was famously introduced to the media next to Clough who was keen to wrap the press conference up quickly so he could play a game of squash!
Forest retained the League Cup shortly after his arrival but Francis was ineligible to take part. He could play though in the European Cup from the semi-final stage and he repaid all of the money spent on him just before half-time in the showpiece event in Munich.
Winger John Robertson curled a cross towards the far post. Francis managed to sprint into the perfect position and his low header ended up in the roof of the Malmo net. Forest won the match 1-0 to become Champions of Europe and an iconic photograph of his header is still present on the main entrance to The City Ground today.
Attempting to crack Serie A
An injury to his Achilles tendon meant Trevor missed out on the 1980 European Cup final which Forest defended successfully and in truth, he struggled to show the consistency that Clough really wanted from a player he’d paid plenty of money for (in those days).
In September 1981, he was sold to Manchester City for £1.2 million and although he scored 12 goals in 26 games, his transfer did cause some friction between manager John Bond and the board. Finances were a problem for City and with injuries still a bugbear, Francis moved to Serie A in 1982 for a four-year stint with Sampdoria.
On the international scene, he played 52 times for England across a nine-year period, scoring 12 goals and was part of Ron Greenwood’s squad at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, scoring in group stage games against Kuwait and Czechoslovakia.
He was part of the Sampdoria side that won the Coppa Italia for the first time in their history in 1985; playing alongside former Liverpool FC captain and future Premier League boss Graeme Souness. They’d link-up again in September 1987 when he returned to British shores to play for Rangers via an unsuccessful season with Atalanta. He won the Scottish League Cup in 1988 but management was about to take more of a prime focus in his career.
His first crack at management was as a player-manager at Queens Park Rangers, taking over when Jim Smith departed to fill the vacancy at Newcastle United. He spent a year in the position at Loftus Road but it proved to be a tough baptism in this form of the game. He was replaced by Don Howe in November 1989 and would eventually move away from the capital for what turned out to be a much better experience in Yorkshire with Sheffield Wednesday.
The Sheffield experience
He joined Sheffield Wednesday initially as just a player in February 1990 but couldn’t stop them dropping out of the First Division. Promotion was achieved a year later and Trevor won the League Cup in the same year as the Second Division side conquered Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.
He got his opportunity to manage the club when Ron Atkinson left acrimoniously to take the role at Aston Villa. He made a brilliant start, helping an exciting and ambitious Wednesday side finish in third place in 1992 behind Leeds United and Manchester United. He even had the chance to sign Eric Cantona after a trial period but elected against this and Cantona ultimately spearheaded Leeds to win the championship.
The 1992-1993 season turned into a near-miss for Sheffield Wednesday. They experienced one of the best runs of the league campaign and finished in seventh position. The club reached both domestic cup finals, playing Arsenal on both occasions. In the League Cup final, John Harkes put the Owls ahead after just eight minutes before Paul Merson equalised. In the 68th minute, Merson set-up Steve Morrow who scored the winner and ensured Arsenal won the first of three Wembley finals between the teams.
A month later, it was FA Cup final time and this time, a replay was required. The first match finished 1-1 with goals from Ian Wright and David Hirst. Five days later, over 60,000 fans returned to Wembley in driving rain for the third instalment of this gripping rivalry. Again, Wright opened the scoring but the Owls responded again when Football Writers’ winner, Chris Waddle saw his shot deflect off Lee Dixon to beat David Seaman and level the match up. The match went to extra-time and just when it looked like penalties would be needed, Andy Linighan outjumped Mark Bright at a corner and the Gunners had the domestic cup double.
It was desolation for the players, fans and manager of Sheffield Wednesday and it would be as good as it got for Trevor. Another seventh-place finish was achieved in 1993-1994 but 1994-1995 didn’t go well. The club weren’t officially safe until a final day victory over Ipswich Town but finished 13th in the final standings. Francis was sacked shortly after the season concluded.
Trevor moved into the media and was a regular co-commentator for Sky Sports Premier League coverage over the next five years, dovetailing this commitment with a spell in the second-tier as manager of Birmingham City. He took over in 1996 and stayed with them for five years. Birmingham regularly finished in the play-offs but failed to win promotion and lost the League Cup final in 2001 on penalties to Liverpool FC.
His last managerial spell came with Crystal Palace before stepping down in April 2003. He has since worked in media on a regular basis for the Premier League’s world feed service.