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The Major

A post by Tony Ridge

Franklin Charles Buckley, born 3rd October 1882, was by many accounts an inspirational man and one of the forefathers of modern football management. He was also a brave man as evidenced by his military record in the Great War. Frank Buckley, or “The Major” as he became universally known, was the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers FC from 1927 to 1944. His methods paved the way for the great pantheon of managers who followed him in the professional game - Stan Cullis, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Alex Ferguson. More of that later. Frank was born in Lancashire and, in 1900, he followed his father into the army, expecting to be sent to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. But he ended up in Ireland and swiftly moved up the ranks to Lance-Sergeant. He excelled in sport and played cricket and rugby, and it was while playing football that he was spotted by an Aston Villa scout.

Career as a Footballer

Young Frank was persuaded to buy himself out of the army (for £18) and after successful trials joined Aston Villa in 1902. He failed to break into the 1st team and the next few years saw him moving around the country playing for Brighton and Hove Albion, Manchester United, Manchester City, Birmingham City and Derby County. It was with the latter two clubs that he established himself at last as a regular on the team sheet, and he was a Derby County player when he won his one and only England cap in 1914 as a big, physical centre half in a surprise 3-0 defeat by Northern Ireland. Shortly afterwards he played just four games for Bradford City before the war intervened.

Back into the Army as a fighting soldier

Frank volunteered and enlisted in the 17th Service Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment - nick-named “The Football Battalion”. It is claimed he was the first to sign up. He was soon commissioned and later as a Major took command of the Football Battalion in France and was badly wounded by shrapnel. After hospital treatment in England he was back on the Somme in 1917. His lungs were already weakened and he succumbed to a gas attack and was sent home for the second and last time, but not before he had been honoured with a Mention in Dispatches (one source claims he was honoured on two separate occasions) for his bravery.

Back to Civvy Street

Now discharged from the military and at the veteran stage and medically unfit for league football, Buckley was appointed manager of Norwich City in 1919. He actually played one game for the club during his management tenure, but left after 18 months after a disagreement over finance and transfer issues. He sold confectionery for a while until a chance meeting with a director of Blackpool FC led to his appointment as Manager encouraged by the promise of funds to spend in the transfer market. After 4 years with The Seasiders he joined Wolves.

Molineux stadium on the 1930s

The Major’s Management style

Frank Buckley brought in many football management techniques and practices that are taken for granted in the modern game. He was a disciplinarian tracksuit manager who didn’t suffer fools gladly according to his protégé Stan Cullis ; he espoused personal fitness and strength ; he insisted on his players having early nights and keeping off cigarettes in the lead-up to a game ; he preferred his players to be unmarried as “wives get in the way” ; he brought in medical staff ; and he arranged previous-day travel to distant grounds so that his players took the field relaxed and stress-free. He pioneered scouting and youth systems, and he manipulated the press when required. The Major was not averse to seeking an “unfair” advantage on the pitch. His style of football was of the very direct sort - for instance he would water the pitch heavily and ensure his players could cope by wearing a longer stud. He famously instigated so-called monkey gland injections which were alleged to aid performance. True or not, this is a subject which attracts much debate !

Was Buckley a successful Wolves manager ?

In terms of transfers Buckley was a clever operator in the market. He used a scouting network which owed much to his wartime football contacts and in one season made a massive £100,000 profit. When it came to results during his tenure things could be described as gradually improving. He won Division 2 in 1932, and runner-up in the 1st Division in 1938. The 1938/9 season saw Wolves as runners-up in both the 1st Division and the FA Cup. Who knows what would have happened next but for the Second World War ? A possible clue to the answer lies in the fact that the club won the Football League War Cup in 1942. This was the wartime version of the FA Cup.

Buckley’s REAL Success

Arguably this lies in the great Wolves team of the 1950’s which benefited from the youth and scouting systems he introduced, and from the management skills of his protege Stan Cullis. European teams were beaten and the club won three Division 1 Championships and two FA Cup Finals.

Post War Jobs

Frank Buckley left Wolves in 1944 and went on to manage Notts County, Hull City, Leeds United (where he helped to develop the great John Charles), and returned to the area to finish his career in football management at Walsall FC in 1955.

Major Franklin Charles Buckley was an innovator, talent spotter and mentor in his football life. He was also a patriot - he volunteered again for the army at the outbreak of the Second World War but was deemed unfit for active service. Undeterred, he commanded a Wolverhampton Home Guard unit. The Major passed away in 1964 and his ashes were scattered on the Malvern Hills. Fifty years later he was posthumously honoured by the English Football League with their prestigious Contribution to League Football Award.

Picture Acknowledgments - England Football Online.Frank

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