Premier League Clubs Managed: Oldham Athletic (1992-1994), Everton (1994-1997), Manchester City (2000-2001)
He achieved great success on limited resources at Oldham Athletic and got Manchester City back into the top-flight in 2000. However, Joe Royle’s name will forever be linked with Everton. As a player, he was one the club’s greatest goalscorers. As a manager, his ‘Dogs of War’ approach got some great results out of the players, achieving a top-six finish in 1996. Royle is currently the last Everton manager to win silverware too when he side defeated Manchester United 1-0 in 1995 to lift the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium.
Making his mark as a Toffee player
Manchester United were actually interested in signing Royle before he made his Everton bow in 1966. At the tender age of 16, he made his debut for the Toffees against Blackpool. It was a proud record he would hold for almost 40 years until James Vaughan surpassed it when he featured for the first-team in April 2005.
He scored 102 goals for Everton across eight seasons, finishing as the club’s top marksman in five successive seasons. He won the league championship with the Merseysiders in 1970, scoring 23 goals along the way, only narrowly missing out on the Golden Boot to West Bromwich Albion great Jeff Astle.
In 1974, he left Goodison Park behind to join Manchester City and added the League Cup to his list of playing honours in 1976. Further spells followed at Bristol City and Norwich City before retirement in 1982, aged 33 due to a knee injury. Royle won six England caps between 1971 and 1977, scoring twice. However, he never played at a major tournament as the 1970s was a period where England lost their way in the international spectrum.
Getting the maximum out at Oldham
Royle went straight into management once his playing days ended, taking the reins at Oldham Athletic. He spent a phenomenal 12 years at Boundary Park, making them a cup specialist side and also guiding them into the First Division in 1991 and therefore, a place in the newly-formed Premier League a year later.
Oldham reached Wembley Stadium in 1990 as a Second Division side but lost the League Cup final to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. Later that year, the Latics made the semi-finals of the FA Cup and drew 3-3 in the first tie at Maine Road with Manchester United. The Red Devils would win the replay. Four years later, the sequel took place at Wembley and Royle’s side were within moments of beating the dominant team in the country until a dramatic extra-time equaliser by Mark Hughes took this game to a semi-final replay too. Again, Alex Ferguson’s side were simply too powerful in the return, winning 4-1 and they would play Chelsea in the final.
Oldham were a favourite with many supporters outside of their own fans. Their cavalier style made them a very entertaining watch and their pitch was always a real challenge to play on. Joe’s exploits at Oldham even had him on a three-man shortlist for the England national job when Bobby Robson announced he was quitting after Italia 90. Royle would ultimately miss out on the position to the Aston Villa manager Graham Taylor. Considering what happened to Taylor, maybe it was a blessing in disguise.
Among the players who worked under Royle were Graeme Sharp who had been part of the Everton team that enjoyed success in the late 1980s, left-back Denis Irwin and right-back Earl Barrett. Both Barrett and Irwin were sold in the early 1990s for far bigger sums of money than they arrived for. Oldham were often seen as a selling club but often made decent profits for their transactions.
After a 17th place finish in the last season of the First Division before the formation of the Premier League, Oldham survived on the final day of the first Premier League campaign courtesy of goal difference. A 4-3 win over Southampton was enough to keep them in the division at the expense of Crystal Palace. Survival was always the priority for Oldham but they lost the battle in 1993-1994. They went down on the final day at Norwich, failing to win any of their last eight matches that season.
In November 1994, a new challenge awaited Joe. He took charge of 608 games in the manager’s post at Oldham, achieving an impressive win ratio of 37%.
Lifting the Goodison gloom
When he arrived back at Everton as the boss, the club were in dire straits. They were bottom of the FA Carling Premiership and had endured their worst start in their history. Everton had achieved only one league victory all term and Mike Walker had been sacked after a hideous 10 months in-charge.
Royle’s first match was a Merseyside Derby against a revitalised Liverpool FC side and there was an immediate bounce. Second half goals from Duncan Ferguson and Paul Rideout steered Everton to a 2-0 victory and lifted them off the bottom of the table. In fact, he would remain unbeaten in five Merseyside Derbies as Toffees manager.
Another win followed days later at Chelsea and Everton didn’t concede a goal in his first five matches in the job. With four clubs going down in 1994-1995, Everton remained in the drop zone until February when a trademark Ferguson header beat Manchester United at Goodison Park. Royle spearheaded the club towards safety, losing just one of their last 11 matches in the process. There would be a real silver lining to the season too.
Everton had reached the latter stages of the FA Cup, having scrapped their way to the semi-finals. Dave Watson’s header had put Newcastle United out in the quarter-finals but many expected a Tottenham Hotspur side with the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham and Darren Anderton in their ranks to brush the Merseysiders aside at Elland Road. Arguably, this was Everton’s best performance in the Royle managerial era. They dispatched Tottenham 4-1 to reach the final, where they’d play Manchester United in a repeat of the 1985 final.
In the final, a counter-attacking goal settled the match in Everton’s favour. Graham Stuart’s shot hit the crossbar and fell kindly for Rideout to nod home the only goal of the game. The 1995 FA Cup remains Everton’s last piece of silverware.
League progress followed in 1995-1996, despite Ferguson being jailed for a month for an offence he committed whilst playing in Scottish football with Rangers. Everton finished sixth in the table and only missed out on a second successive term playing European football courtesy of a late Dennis Bergkamp goal that ensured Arsenal beat Bolton Wanderers to take the UEFA Cup spot for fifth place.
The 1996-1997 season was less convincing. Star player Andrei Kanchelskis was sold and Royle was not permitted to sign Norwegian players Tore Andre Flo and Claus Eftevaag by Chairman Peter Johnson. Royle resigned in March 1997 and would be succeeded for the rest of the season by club captain Watson on a caretaker basis.
Reviving Manchester City
After nearly a year away from the game, Joe accepted the challenge to revive the fortunes of Manchester City who were in desperate trouble and staring a second relegation in the face in just three seasons. He couldn’t save them from the drop to Division Two but won them promotion back to Division One at the first attempt in 1999 after an extraordinary play-off final victory over Tony Pulis’ Gillingham.
He guided them to back-to-back promotions and therefore, back to the promise land of the Premier League in 2000. However, the return to the Premier League was disappointing. Manchester City conceded too many goals and were relegated on 7th May 2001 after a 2-1 loss at Portman Road to high-flying Ipswich Town. Royle was told after the relegation his job was safe but two weeks later, the City board changed their mind and decided for a fresh approach.
He was sacked and ultimately replaced by Kevin Keegan for his first job since the end of his England reign. Joe’s final serious stint in management came at Ipswich Town where he guided them to successive play-off campaigns in the First Division between 2002 and 2006. However, they were beaten on both occasions in the semi-final stage by West Ham United and with many of Ipswich’s assets being sold to Premier League clubs, he stepped down after a disappointing 15th place finish in 2005-2006.
Since then, Royle has done some co-commentary work for BBC and Channel Five and had a brief stint as a football consultant at Norwich City. He returned to his club, Everton, in July 2014, working alongside former player David Unsworth as they oversaw the youth development at the club. He even returned to the dugout on the final day of the 2015-2016 Premier League season, assisting Unsworth to a victory over Norwich following the dismissal of Roberto Martinez. He stepped down from his role with the club in December 2017.
Joe Royle was a strong performer as a player and revived Everton’s flagging fortunes in the mid-1990s. He enjoyed his time as a manager too and succeeded in winning silverware at Goodison Park whereas the likes of Moyes, Martinez and Koeman did not.