John H Stracey

Ron Atkinson

3 stars

  • One Of Britain’s Best-Known Football Pundits
  • Many Interesting & Funny Stories To Reveal From A Glittering Career Spanning More Than 50 Years

Ronald Frederick ‘Big Ron’ Atkinson was born on 18 March 1939 in Liverpool and is a former football player and manager. In recent years he has become one of Britain’s best-known football pundits. He is perhaps most famous for his idiosyncratic turn of phrase: his utterances have become known as “Big-Ronisms” or “Ronglish”, the most famous of which is the term “early doors” (English: early), which has worked its way into the English vernacular – although in recent times, he has also attracted a lot of controversy over a racist comment broadcast on a TV sports show when he believed he was off the air.
Atkinson did not achieve great heights in his playing career. He was originally signed by Aston Villa F.C. at the age of 17, but never played a first-team match for them and was transferred to Oxford United F.C. in 1959. He went on to make over 500 appearances as a wing-half for the club, and earned the nickname “The Tank”. He was United’s captain through their rise from the Southern League to the Second Division, achieved in just seven seasons.

After retiring from playing, Atkinson became manager of non-league Kettering Town F.C. in 1971. His success there led to a move to the league with Cambridge United F.C., going on to win the then Fourth Division in 1977 and leaving them when they were on the verge of promotion to the Second Division. At the start of 1978, Atkinson moved to manage First Division West Bromwich Albion F.C.. He soon signed black player Brendon Batson from his former club, to play alongside the black pair of Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis. Never before had an English team simultaneously fielded three black players and the Three Degrees, as they became known in reference to the contemporary vocal trio of the same name, challenged the established racism of English football and marked a watershed that allowed a generation of footballers to enter the game who would previously have been excluded by their ethnic background.

Atkinson led West Bromwich Albion to third place in the league in the season 1978/79 before catching the eye of Manchester United F.C., one of England’s biggest clubs. In June 1981 he became their manager. After the dull years of Dave Sexton, United appointed a manager with charisma and sparkle. Sexton had replaced a larger than life character in Tommy Docherty and once again United went for flamboyance. In all of his seasons with the Reds, United did well. In 1981/82 United finished third in the First Division. In 1982/83 two appearances at Wembley, one of which was an FA Cup victory against Brighton, coupled with another third place finish in the league, fuelled speculation that United were back in a big way. In 1983/84, Atkinson’s side reached the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners Cup and finished fourth in the First Division. In 1985 United again won the FA Cup and ten successive victories in the 1985/86 season put him well ahead of the pack. However their form tailed off badly and they again finished fourth.

Although the club won two FA Cups during his tenure, he had spent heavily, paying over £8 million for new signings. He had recouped more than £6 million with the sale of players, amongst whom were Ray Wilkins and Mark Hughes. The 1986/87 season opened disastrously and in November 1986 with the club fourth from bottom, Atkinson was sacked. He returned to West Brom in the Autumn of 1987 for a year and then had a high-profile move to Atletico Madrid of Spain. This spell lasted a little over three months (96 days).

He was manager of Sheffield Wednesday from February 1989 to June 1991. Although the club were relegated in 1990 to the Second Division, a year later in 1991 he guided them back to promotion. They also won the League Cup by beating Manchester United 1-0 at Wembley. He offended some Sheffield Wednesday fans by saying on 31 May that he would be staying as manager, but a week later leaving to become Aston Villa manager.

Taking over from Jozef Venglos, he led Aston Villa to second place in the inaugural 1993 FA Premier League and to League Cup victory in 1994. However, he was sacked on 10 November 1994. After this he became, for a spell, director of football at Coventry City.

His last managerial job came with Nottingham Forest F.C., who he briefly managed in 1999, fairly unsuccessfully, once climbing into the wrong dug-out and saying he thought Dennis Bergkamp was in the Forest squad. 

Atkinson was already working as a pundit for ITV and after leaving management he continued in this role. For a number of years he covered most of the channel’s live matches, sometimes as a studio pundit, but more often as the “ex-football insider” member of a two-man commentary team. This exposure led to “Ronglish” becoming known to a wider audience. With his permanent suntan and taste for chunky, gaudy jewellery, he was often portrayed as a loveable buffoon in the UK media.

Ron is available for Q & A, after dinner speaking and corporate events and is a superb speaker, with many interesting and funny stories to reveal from a glittering career spaning more than 50 years.