Them and us – Tommy Cavanagh (Manchester United and Wigan Athletic)

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The short trip to Salford on Boxing Day is perhaps time for this particular column to be slightly different, in that the person involved did not actually play for either Latics or Manchester United!  Although he never kicked a ball in anger on the field of play, he almost certainly did on the training grounds of both clubs.  Step forward Tommy Cavanagh.

Thomas Henry Cavanagh was born on 29 June 1928 in Liverpool.  His playing career took in six clubs, starting at Preston North End in 1949, but he failed to make the grade at Deepdale and he moved on to Stockport County in August 1950.  He was to spend two years at Edgeley Park and he made 32 league appearances, netting twice before signing for Huddersfield Town in May 1952.

His stay at Leeds Road saw him score 29 goals in  93 league appearances and after four years he signed for fellow Yorkshire outfit Doncaster Rovers in May 1956.  After making 119 league appearances and scoring 16 further goals he decided to make a slightly more southerly switch to Bristol City in June 1959.  Exactly a year later, after scoring 6 times in 24 league appearances, he decided to move back up North, this time to Carlisle United, who were to be the last Football League club that he played for.  He scored four times in 33 league appearances for the Cumbrian outfit and on hanging up his boots on a professional career he decided that he wanted to stay in the game in a coaching or managerial capacity.

With this in mind he then became the player-manager of Southern League outfit Cheltenham Town in April 1961.  His next port of call was Brentford initially as coach and then as manager in January 1965. However his stint at Griffin Park lasted barely a season and resulted in the  Bees being relegated to Division Four.

His next port of call was Nottingham Forest where he worked as coach under former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland star Johnny Carey.  During his time at the City Ground Forest reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and were runners-up in the First Division in 1967.  He was gaining a reputation as a first class coach and after a spell at Hull City in 1971, he was appointed as trainer at Manchester United following the arrival of Tommy Docherty to Old Trafford in December 1972.

The two men had been great friends during their time at Preston North End and the Doc ensured that Tommy was his first ever signing for the Red Devils.

Known among the United team as ‘the slave driver’, due to his punishing training schedules, the players could hardly poor scorn on his methods as the team went on to become Second Division champions in 1975 and FA Cup winners in 1977.

His talents were also spotted by Northern Ireland manager Danny Blanchflower who made Tommy his assistant from 1976 until 1979.  He carried out his international role in partnership with his United duties.  He also had a spell as United’s assistant manager after the Doc was sacked in 1977.  He spent three years as Dave Sexton’s right hand man before leaving Old Trafford following the appointment of Ron Atkinson in 1981.

His coaching skills were then witnessed at Newcastle United, for whom he was also the assistant manager and Norwegian outfit Rosenborg before he embarked on his last managerial stint at Burnley, where the club finished a lowly 14th in the Fourth Division after his eight months at Turf Moor in 1986.

His association with Latics came in 1988 when Bryan Hamilton appointed him first team coach during what was the Irishman’s second stint in charge at Springfield Park in 1988.  As at Manchester United previously, Tommy had to combine his training role at Latics with another job, as by then he was also a coach at the FA’s School of Excellence at Lilleshall.

Sadly, this great footballing man was taken from us in March 2007 after a long battle with Alzheimers Disease.


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