The Crystal Palace and ex-England coach started his coaching journey after taking a phone call from a priest in Limerick. Father Joe Young, the chairman of Limerick FC in 1991, was seeking a new manager. His team had just been relegated from the top flight of Irish football and a coach was required to rebuild the club. Fr. Young had received a list of recommendations and decided that a young Sam Allardyce fitted the bill.
Unemployed and looking for a break
Allardyce had been released by Bury in the summer of 1991. At the age of 36, his playing career was winding down and the no-nonsense defender was looking to break in to management. When he received a call out of the blue from the chairman of Limerick FC, according to Fr. Young, his initial reaction was that he thought it was a wind up:
“He said to me: ‘Are you f***ing with me, Reidy?’. He thought I was Peter Reid playing a trick on him!”
While Allardyce now receives lucrative managerial offers from the Premier League and China, the outlook was bleaker in 1991. Limerick FC had just suffered their first relegation from the top flight. They had also lost the League Cup final to Derry so spirits were low. A larger than life motivator was required. Allardyce signed on the dotted line, and became the Limerick F.C player-manager for the 1991-1992 season. Funds were limited, and Allardyce had to work his magic. Recalling his time with the club and the financial struggles, Allardyce eloquently recalled:
“We had a nice set-up at Limerick University with an office and training pitch, but that didn’t last long because we couldn’t pay the rent, so we really were Raggy-Arsed Rovers and the future looked grim.
Big Sam was undaunted and went about building a successful team. His now famous motivational tactics were already evident. Fr. Young recalls his inspirational ability back then:
“When he was with the players he had a power to motivate them that scared me. He had a way of inspiring people through the drama of what he felt in his own heart. When he was in the dressing room I never went in to give a blessing, like I normally would.
A REALITY CHECK IN THE MID-WEST
While Allardyce has spent the last few weeks preparing his side to face teams like Arsenal and West Ham, things were very different in 1991. Limerick FC’s opposition included sides like Monaghan United, Kilkenny City and St James Gate F.C. As the old saying goes “ you can only beat what is put in front of you’, and Allardyce’s team did just that. Somewhat against the odds, Big Sam managed to win the First Division title by five points. In his usual understated manner, Allardyce holds a slightly different version of events:
“We won the league by about 16 points but knew we wouldn’t survive in the Premier. The club might even go bust before that.”
Making 23 appearances for the Blues and scoring 3 goals, Allardyce showed that he still could compete on the pitch. This would be his last serious playing assignment before focusing on management full time. At the end of his triumphant first and only season in charge of Limerick FC, Allardyce began receiving offers from across the pond. After accepting an assistant manager role at Preston, he informed his chairman. Fr. Young was devastated by the news:
“When Sam told me he was moving on I was very sad – in fact I cried. If I had won the lottery I would have held on to Sam Allardyce because he would have taken us into Europe”
BIG SAM AND FATHER JOE
Allardyce would go on to have well documented successful spells at Notts County, Bolton, Blackburn, West Ham and Sunderland. Such was his development, Big Sam was the obvious choice for the England post. A sting operation by a journalist and some naive words from Allardyce led to a quick departure from his ‘dream job’. Never one to indulge in self sympathy, Allardyce brushed himself off and is now coach at Crystal Palace. Looking back fondly at his time with Limerick F.C, Allardyce was particularly impressed by his chairman:
“Joe was a treasure and I wanted success for him as much as anyone. He deserved it for all his hard work.”
The Palace boss also recalls that first phone call from Fr. Young, and his reaction to what he believed was a bad joke:
“The phone rang one evening. ‘Hello Sam, it’s Father Joe Young here!’ ‘P**s off’, I said, and put the receiver down. I couldn’t be bothered with any prank calls. The phone went again: ‘Sam, please, I really am Father Joe Young and I’m the chairman of Limerick. We wonder if you’d be interested in becoming player-manager?’ What did I have to lose? Limerick was nicknamed Stab City, which didn’t exactly encourage me.”
NEVER FORGETTING HIS ROOTS
Limerick F.C would spend the next decade facing one financial issue after another. However, the foundations that Big Sam laid were evident in the following season. Limerick managed to finish in a respectable 6th position in the top flight, plus they won the League Cup for only the second time in their history. Allardyce has regularly commented on his time in the League of Ireland over the years. This even included a reference to Limerick FC on his slightly embellished C.V, during his unveiling as England manager:
“I’ve been a success at every club I’ve been at, starting with Limerick FC, by the way,
Allardyce’s partnership with a priest proved to be the starting point of a successful managerial career. Do you think the ex-England boss is the best coach to have ever managed in the League of Ireland? Vote below: