Premier League Clubs Managed: Queens Park Rangers (1992-1994), Tottenham Hotspur (1994-1998)
Gerry Francis was a club legend at Queens Park Rangers and guided Tottenham Hotspur through a challenging but exciting period in the mid-1990s when he could call on the likes of Teddy Sheringham, Jurgen Klinsmann and Darren Anderton to drive the team on in the Premier League.
Management for Gerry in the top-flight ended over 20 years ago but he was still involved as a coach in the top-flight all the way until Tony Pulis’ departure from Crystal Palace on the eve of the 2014-2015 season getting underway.
QPR and England hand-in-hand
In his playing career, Gerry Francis made his name at Queens Park Rangers. He made his first-team debut against Liverpool FC back in March 1969. Throughout the 1970s, he was part of a Hoops squad that were thrilling to watch and challenged the elite in the old First Division. He was captain of the club during that period and also got the thrill of winning 12 international caps for England, skippering the Three Lions in eight of those games after being appointed captain by Don Revie. Unfortunately, this was during a difficult period for the men’s international team, who failed to qualify for the World Cup finals in both 1974 and 1978.
After a decade of loyal service to QPR, Francis left for Crystal Palace in 1979 but already troubled by a persistent back injury, his influence on sides he played in afterwards were limited. He ended his playing career in 1987 having had stints at Coventry City, Cardiff City, Swansea City, Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers which is where he hung up his playing boots. It was at Bristol Rovers where he would enjoy his managerial breakthrough.
Gerry had already a season on his books as a player-manager with Exeter City in 1983-1984 so he wasn’t a complete rookie when he took over as manager of Bristol Rovers. They were in the Third Division and he succeeded Bobby Gould in the role. Bristol Rovers were a club who often sold their best players and didn’t have much of a transfer budget but Francis often got the best out of his players. In 1990, he guided the club to the Third Division title which remains the only honour of his managerial career. In 1991 though, a return beckoned to the club he called as home.
Lack of consultation
Having made 313 league appearances across two spells as a player at Queens Park Rangers, the fans were thrilled to have Francis back as their manager when he returned to Loftus Road in 1991, succeeding Don Howe as manager. Like his playing days, Francis’ insistence was clear – to go out and have fun and thrill the supporters and at QPR, his sides definitely did that.
In the inaugural Premier League season, QPR finished fifth and were the highest-placed of all the London clubs in the division. Les Ferdinand flourished and finished as runner-up to Teddy Sheringham in the race for the Golden Boot and the Londoners were becoming a good watch for all concerned.
A ninth place finish followed in 1993-1994 and once again, Ferdinand was amongst the goals but Francis was becoming frustrated by the club’s desire to sell its best assets available. In March 1994, ambitious Wolverhampton Wanderers offered him the chance to manage them but Francis turned them down, staying loyal to QPR despite being annoyed by seeing Darren Peacock transferred to Newcastle United on transfer deadline day. Wolves eventually appointed the former England boss Graham Taylor as their new manager.
His resolve was being tested and in October 1994, his patience finally ran out. QPR made a slow start to the season and were amongst the relegation strugglers. Owner Richard Thompson decided to offer another club legend, Rodney Marsh, the opportunity to return to the club in a Director of Football capacity. Francis was not consulted about these desires and was absolutely furious. Ever the professional, he got on with the job in-hand and back-to-back home victories in three days over Aston Villa and Liverpool FC started to guide Rangers away from danger. This time though, he knew he couldn’t stay.
He tendered his resignation a week later which was reluctantly accepted by the board. Five days later, a new opportunity emerged at another London club who were in a spot of bother.
Tottenham Hotspur had sacked Ossie Ardiles in early November 1994 after a string of poor results which had culminated with a shock 3-0 loss to Notts County in the League Cup third round. Off-the-pitch, the club was facing a deduction of points for financial irregularities and had been banned from playing in the FA Cup. It didn’t seem like the most enticing job available.
Francis though realised there was plenty of potential in the squad and he took the job when offered the position by owner Alan Sugar. His principles remained the same as at QPR but also, defensive responsibility was required after the Ardiles reign which often bordered on recklessness. Tottenham immediately improved defensively and the likes of Sol Campbell, Colin Calderwood, Dean Austin and Justin Edinburgh became better players due to confidence and also, Francis’ coaching. Their improvement meant the likes of Klinsmann, Sheringham, Anderton and Nick Barmby could focus on doing the damage in a potent attacking line-up.
Tottenham became the first team in the campaign to stop Manchester United scoring at Old Trafford, beat champions-elect Blackburn Rovers 3-1 in February and with their ban successfully overturned, also reached the FA Cup semi-finals, knocking out Liverpool FC 2-1 at Anfield in the quarter-finals. They were tipped to go all the way in this competition but lost 4-1 in the semi-finals to a Daniel Amokachi-inspired Everton at Elland Road. In the Premier League, Tottenham finished in seventh place which was a good achievement considering they were just outside the bottom four relegation positions when Francis took over.
The summer of 1995 saw Klinsmann return to Germany and Barmby sold to newly-promoted Middlesbrough. Chris Armstrong arrived from Crystal Palace and formed a good partnership with Sheringham, whilst Ruel Fox added pace to the flanks after his October arrival from Newcastle United. Tottenham finished in eighth position in 1995-1996, with a 4-1 home victory over Manchester United on New Years’ Day among the highlights.
Fans though were unhappy with his handling of Anderton, who was developing a reputation of becoming an injury-prone player. Across his two full seasons at White Hart Lane, Darren was restricted to just 25 Premier League appearances due to injuries with many supporters believing he wasn’t given enough recovery and rehabilitation time by the manager after his latest injury setbacks.
In October 1997, supporters had had enough. Before a televised home game with Sheffield Wednesday, two fans were interviewed on television saying: “Had his time, spent his money, not producing results” and “Just get rid of him, he’s useless!”
Tottenham won that match 3-2 but despite the arrivals of David Ginola and Ferdinand that summer from Newcastle United, results just weren’t coming. 11 days after a second half collapse at Anfield which saw Spurs on the wrong end of a 4-0 scoreline, Francis resigned as first-team manager, despite Sugar trying to do all he could to persuade him to change his mind.
In September 1998, Gerry decided to return to Queens Park Rangers as manager for the second time with the club now in the First Division. He couldn’t rekindle the magic of his first spell and despite keeping them in the division; they were often closer to the relegation strugglers rather than the play-off positions. He resigned in February 2001 before returning to Bristol Rovers four months later for a second time as manager there too. Like at QPR, it was a bad move and after a family illness meant he had three weeks of compassionate leave, he resigned just before Christmas 2001. That was the end of his management career.
Gerry returned to the Premier League in October 2008 as a first-team coach at Stoke City to work underneath Tony Pulis. That was after rejecting a similar role at Newcastle United due to the club’s uncertainty regarding the future of owner Mike Ashley at the time. When Pulis left Stoke in May 2013, Francis left too and resurfaced with the Welshman when Tony took over at Crystal Palace in November 2013. He stayed with the Eagles until Neil Warnock’s appointment as manager for the second time was confirmed in August 2014. Although Warnock wanted him to stay on, Francis elected to leave due to his close links with the previous manager.
Gerry Francis is a proud man and actually was never sacked as a manager which is an impressive feat. He might lack the managerial honours but often got the best out of his players and enjoyed some whirlwind moments whilst the no.1 at both Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur.