Premier League Clubs Managed: Manchester City (1993-1995)
Brian Horton spent nearly two seasons in the Premier League, managing Manchester City. He is one of the few managers in English football to have taken charge of over 1000 games. Successes included winning the LDV Vans Trophy with Port Vale in 2001 and taking Hull City to promotion in the 1980s. He has managed for over 20 seasons in the professional game and specialised in taking control of struggling clubs and stabilising them.
Horton has managed seven clubs in his career and achieved a win ratio of more than 30% with all the sides he managed.
He did well as a manager but he was a decent player too in his playing days. Brian played for five clubs, most notably for Port Vale and Brighton & Hove Albion. He spent five seasons with each side and made over 200 appearances for both teams. Promoted out of the Second Division with both Brighton & Hove Albion and Luton Town, he was named in the PFA Team of the Year three times and ultimately played a total of 610 league matches. He retired in 1986 from playing but by then, he was already into management with Hull.
A tricky beginning at Hull
Success didn’t follow on the move into permanent management with the Tigers. He was sacked in 1988 after a 4-1 home defeat to Swindon Town, extending a terrible run which had seen the club slip out of promotion contention with just one win in 17 matches. The players accepted responsibility for their alarming dip in form and urged owner Don Robinson to reconsider his decision to dispense with Horton. He did and asked Brian to come back but feeling betrayed he refused the offer. Eddie Gray would ultimately be his successor.
His next move would be in a no.2 capacity at Oxford United, assisting the former Liverpool FC defender Mark Lawrenson who was experiencing his first role in management. In October 1988, Oxford star player Dean Saunders was sold to Derby County without the consent of Lawrenson. He left and the club elected to appoint Horton as his replacement. This came at the time where both Derby and Oxford were owned by members of Robert Maxwell’s family.
Horton kept Oxford safe from relegation in Division Two but they never launched a serious play-off challenge. 10th was the highest position he managed to finish in and after Robert Maxwell’s mysterious death in November 1991, Oxford were plunged into financial trouble. Top players Paul Simpson and Martin Foyle had to be sold to balance the books and replacements had to come from the club’s academy. Relegation to Division Three was only avoided on the final day of the 1991-1992 season with a win against Tranmere Rovers.
His solid work was noted by Manchester City who took a huge gamble on him in the early weeks of the 1993-1994 campaign.
Exciting football but lacking results at City
Four games into the season, Peter Reid was sacked by Manchester City. There were issues at boardroom level with a power struggle between Peter Swales and Francis Lee being played out in the media. Horton’s appointment came with plenty of trepidation from supporters, especially as the Citizens had just a single point to their name from those opening four games. This was definitely the biggest challenge of his management career.
Results were decent to start with. He began with an away win against the whipping boys of the season in Swindon Town, followed by a 3-0 home win over Queens Park Rangers. In fact, he lost just one of his first 10 games. His first setback was the Manchester Derby in November 1993. Two Niall Quinn goals had City 2-0 ahead against the runaway league leaders at half-time but they would end up losing the game 3-2.
A poor run followed and the club were flirting dangerously with relegation. Quinn picked up a cruciate knee ligament injury and the previous season’s top scorer, David White was sold to Leeds United in exchange for David Rocastle – a deal which definitely worked better in favour of Leeds. By mid-February, City were 20th and desperately needed a lift in their fortunes.
On transfer deadline day in March 1994, Paul Walsh joined the club from Portsmouth. Peter Beagrie arrived from Everton and German striker Uwe Rosler came in too. Horton’s late market moves paid off. The club collected 12 points from their final seven games and scrambled to safety, finishing in 16th position.
Bright start turns sour
In the summer of 1994, Horton added Nicky Summerbee to his ranks from relegated Swindon and a very exciting side was starting to emerge. Big victories were recorded over West Ham United, Everton and Norwich City. In October 1994, an attacking Tottenham Hotspur side turned up at Maine Road containing the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann, Ilie Dumitrescu, Nick Barmby and Darren Anderton. City simply blew them away, winning 5-2 in what was Horton’s finest 90 minutes as manager of the club.
Despite a 5-0 battering at Old Trafford, Manchester City sat sixth in the table in early December and an attacking line-up of Quinn, Rosler and Walsh would finish with 47 goals between them. However, the bright start turned sour, winning just four matches in 1995 and finishing just four points clear of relegation.
An Easter double over Liverpool FC and Blackburn Rovers was crucial and if they’d won their final day match against Queens Park Rangers, City could have still finished a solid 12th in the table. Ultimately, it was a 17th-place finish and Horton was sacked. His departure wasn’t a huge shock. Francis Lee had won the boardroom battle and taken over during Brian’s reign. He wanted a bigger name in the role and eventually acquired Alan Ball from Southampton. Manchester City were relegated a season later.
Despite this disappointment, Horton dusted himself down and would spend more time as a manager in the Football League with Huddersfield Town, Brighton & Hove Albion, Port Vale and Macclesfield Town. He has also worked as an assistant to Phil Brown at Hull City and Paul Dickov at Doncaster Rovers. He was most recently involved in a football coordinator role at Southend United; a role he held from August 2015 to January 2018.
Brian Horton’s results at Manchester City were mixed to say the least but he did promote an exciting, attractive brand of football to the suffering supporters in the mid-1990s and considering what would follow after his departure, they would have appreciated his spell in the aftermath of their decline which saw them playing Second Division football by 1998.