Premier League Clubs Managed: Norwich City (1995), West Bromwich Albion (2002-2003, 2004), Bolton Wanderers (2007-2009)
Abrasive is one of the best words to sum up Gary Megson’s management career. If he liked you, you’d play pretty well and frequently too. If you fell out with him, Megson could be a nightmare for your career. He was never the fans’ popular choice at any of the clubs he managed which probably explains why his best finish in top-flight management is 13th with Bolton Wanderers in 2008-2009.
In his playing days, Megson was a tough-tackling, committed defensive midfielder who would play for nine different clubs. The best time of his career was during two spells with Sheffield Wednesday in the mid-1980s, scoring 25 goals in 233 appearances. His worst spell was a five-month period at Nottingham Forest where he didn’t make a single appearance and the late Brian Clough described him as “he couldn’t trap a bag of cement!” Ouch!
Brief fling at Norwich
Megson featured in the first three seasons of the Premier League as a player at Norwich City and when Mike Walker abruptly quit for Everton in January 1994, Megson combined his playing role with a coaching position, working as assistant manager to John Deehan. Towards the end of the 1994-1995 season, Deehan walked away from the job and under-fire owner Robert Chase elected to promote Megson into the hottest of hotseats.
He had five games to try and save the club’s Premier League status but collected just a single point from those matches. Norwich’s relegation to Division One was confirmed on the final Saturday of the season at Elland Road. They collected just 11 points after Christmas which saw them plummet from seventh at the midway point to relegation.
Megson did leave Carrow Road that summer to resume his playing career at Lincoln City and Shrewsbury Town but was back at Norwich before 1995 was out. Martin O’Neill had left for Leicester City but there was to be no magic spark for Megson. The Canaries’ finished a dreary 15th in Division One and he left that summer (this time for good), to seek further opportunities in management.
Beating the odds with the Baggies
Management spells followed at Blackpool, Stockport County and Stoke City. There were good sequences with all these sides but Megson just missed out on possible playoff positions. In March 2000, he was hired by West Bromwich Albion. He preserved their second-tier status against all odds and then spearheaded the Baggies’ to first a playoff finish in 2001, before promotion to the top-flight for the first time in 16 years in 2001-2002. In the closing weeks, Albion had obliterated an 11-point disadvantage on their Black Country rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers to finish runners-up to Manchester City. An unexpected Premier League chance was there for the supporters to savour.
There were no surprises though that relegation followed a year later. Just six wins from 38 matches were achieved and there were to be no wins on home soil from the end of November onwards. In many games, Albion competed well enough but they simply didn’t have the ultimate quality to stay up. Megson mounted a successful promotion campaign the following season but by the summer of 2004, the relationship between the manager and his owner Jeremy Peace had become strained.
It became known that some players weren’t keen on playing for Megson. In 2004, ex-Coventry City forward Darren Huckerby had a choice of joining either Norwich City or West Brom. He chose the former and didn’t hold back either on criticising Megson’s coaching style when asked why he signed for Norwich. He said: “I told him I didn’t like the way he coached, I didn’t like the way he shouted at his players and didn’t like the way he treated seasoned professionals like 15-year-olds. I was just being honest with him. I said: “I’ve seen you on the sidelines and you look like a crazed animal.”
In September 2004, Megson’s job appeared to be under threat after a poor start to Albion’s Premier League return. A month later, he confirmed he would leave at the end of the season and the board decided this was a good reason to wield the axe. Three days after a 3-0 loss to relegation rivals Crystal Palace, Megson left the Hawthorns. He wouldn’t return to the Premier League until October 2007.
Never popular at Bolton
When appointed, the fans at the Reebok Stadium were not impressed with the choice. Megson had been hired despite having only been in charge for nine games and 41 days at Leicester City. He took over with Bolton in the bottom three, having amassed just five points from 10 matches under Sammy Lee’s difficult stint. There was early progress though, including a first home win in 30 years over champions Manchester United.
League form was still ropey in 2008 though. Star striker Nicolas Anelka was sold to Chelsea and no obvious replacement came in. In early April, Bolton slipped back into the bottom three but they rallied to take 11 points from their last five matches and therefore stayed up. It was Megson’s first survival as a Premier League manager.
2008-2009 was a progressive season. He spent £13.2 million on Johan Elmander and Fabrice Muamba in the summer transfer window and guided the club to eighth in the table by November 2008. That was good enough for Megson to claim his one and only Manager of the Month award. Although they dropped to 13th by the season’s end, relegation talk was never considered all season for the Trotters.
It was a different story in 2009-2010. Bolton led several matches but couldn’t close games out and by Christmas, they were in the dreaded drop zone. After throwing away a two-goal lead at home to Hull City to draw 2-2 with their rivals in distress, the board elected to sack Megson two days before 2009 drew to a close. His last management job was at Sheffield Wednesday which ended in February 2012 after a derby loss to Sheffield United.
After a lengthy spell out of the game, Megson returned to West Bromwich Albion in the summer of 2017, becoming Tony Pulis’ assistant manager at The Hawthorns. It is a new role and a new challenge for him after being the no.1 for such a long time.