Alec Stock (2017-2001)
When Alec Stock died in April of 2001, Yeovil Town were about to take on one of the biggest matches in their history up until that point, the Conference title showdown with Rushden and Diamonds. Stock was the man who had brought the Glovers nationwide headlines in 1949 when as player-manager he masterminded the run to the FA Cup 5th Round including a famous win over the ‘Bank of England’ Sunderland team which still stands as one of the greatest shocks of all time. However, this was just the beginning of a long and illustrious managerial career which would see him win numerous honours while managing in the Football League with Leyton Orient, QPR, Luton and Fulham. He finished his career with Bournemouth in 1981 and was still a regular visitor to Yeovil during retirement, being interviewed after the 2-0 FA Cup win over Northampton in 1998.
Stock was known in his time as ‘The First Gentleman of Soccer’. He was a softly spoken and humble man, who treated the players as equals and had little time for board members and directors who who knew less about the game than the playing staff did. However he was also a workaholic with a determination to succeed which brought results. He was a man of principle who walked away from Roma when the executives decided to pick the team, and Luton when a disloyal board of directors attempted to overthrow a chairman who was sick in hospital. He always thought fondly of his time at Yeovil, remarking in his memoir that Bert Smith was “one of the best Chairmen I had, with a deep feeling for the game.”
He had a preference for flair players, and his mantra was “Football is a simple game. The crowd want to have fun, and there is no reason why we should not give it to them.” Newcastle legend Malcolm Macdonald said of him, “He listens, he talks sense, and in the end you do what he says.”
Alec William Alfred Stock was born just outside Bath in 1917. He was a rugby player at school, but also played cricket and football as an amateur. He signed for Charlton in 1936, but did not make a first team appearance for them before signing in for QPR in 1938. His playing career was hampered by injury and the outbreak of World War II, and he made his reputation mostly as a manager.
During the war, Stock signed up as infantry with the Northampton Yeomanry. When this became an armoured division, he was made Captain and was a tank commander and gunner during the brutal fighting in Caen as part of the Battle of Normandy in 1944. He was wounded in an explosion which killed the rest of his crew, and left him missing presumed dead for several days. When he was found, he was sent to convalesce in a nursing home in Wales for three months. His injuries left him partially deaf, and he walked with a limp as a result of shrapnel fragments. He would later say that he could never hear the referee’s whistle from the sidelines as he was unable to hear higher frequencies, including some people’s voices, although he resisted the use of hearing aids. Despite this disability though, he was very fond of a sing-song with players after matches as a way to unwind.
After looking at potential careers away from the game when he left the army in 1946 knowing that he would be unable to play at a high level due to his war wounds, Alec was persuaded by his wife Marjorie to apply for the job of player manager at Southern League Yeovil. He beat out around 60 other applicants and took the role at the age of 29. He remained at Huish for three years including that famous win over Sunderland in 1949. Stock scored the first goal which is the one regularly seen on FA Cup coverage to this day, as Sunderland’s equaliser and Eric Bryant’s winner were obscured by dense fog which threatened to abandon the game. Despite being 1-1 at full time, there was no replay due to fuel shortages in post-war Britain and the game went to extra time. In the dying moments, Sunderland were awarded a free kick just outside the area. Lining everyone up in the wall, Stock told his players “If anyone ducks – you’re fired”. No-one ducked and the Glovers held out for a famous win.
At the end of that season, Stock joined Leyton Orient where he managed from 1949-59, but not quite continuously as he left briefly for unsuccessful spells as assistant manager at Arsenal in 1956 and manager of Roma in 1957. During his tenure, Orient won Division Three South in 1955/56 – it was their first major title, one of only four in their history. He also took them to the FA Cup Sixth Round, twice, and turned down an approach to manage Liverpool.
From Orient he moved across London to Queen’s Park Rangers, where he managed from 1959-68. He is still remembered as one of their greatest ever managers, and was the man to sign Rodney Marsh. They were Third Division (now League One) champions in 1966/67, and during the same season were the first ever third tier club to win the League Cup, coming back from 2-0 down to beat West Brom 3-2. It remains the only cup the club has ever won.
The following season, QPR came second in the old Second Division, and were promoted to the top flight for the first time in their history. They became one of only a handful of teams to secure back to back promotions from the third tier to the top division tier of English football.
Having won the opportunity to manage at the highest level for the first time, Stock’s career at QPR was cut short by ill-health, combined with the ruthlessness of owner Jim Gregory who had taken over during Stock’s tenure. Following the League Cup win of 1967, Alec suffered his first ever asthma attack. He attempted to keep his condition secret from the players and struggled on with the condition through the promotion campaign of 67/68. He was ordered to rest by doctors, which triggered the worst attack yet for the workaholic Stock.
Alec had fully intended to spend the rest of his managerial career at Loftus Road, but the ambitious Gregory had other ideas. He promoted Stock’s assistant to the top job while the manager was still in hospital. With the team struggling in their first campaign in the top flight Stock, unable to keep away from football, had a meeting with Gregory in November 1968 during which he expected to take over first team duties once again as the team clearly needed him. However in a brief meeting he was unceremoniously fired, being told “You are incurable and I want you to go.” Stock’s entire family was devastated as he was denied the opportunity to manage in the top flight that he had earned, with his wife Marjorie telling him “we climbed a mountain only to found rubbish at the top of it.”
Despite his poor treatment at the hands of the chairman, Stock is still well regarded by QPR today, and an ‘Alec Stock Day’ was held at Loftus Road when they played Yeovil in the Championship in March 2014.
Determined to prove himself to his former employers, Alec had to work his way back up with another club, managing Luton from 1968-72. The Hatters were promoted as runners-up of Division Three in 1969/70, and signed a young Malcolm Macdonald who would go on to achieve legend status with Newcastle. Although Stock left in 1972, the team he assembled would go on to be promoted to the First Division in 1974. Once again his time was ended by behind the scenes strife, as Chairman Tony Hunt ran into financial difficulty and the club were forced to sell Macdonald to raise funds. While Hunt himself was ill in hospital, the remaining directors fought it out amongst themselves for control of the club and Stock, disillusioned with the whole affair and finding the only decent man among them to be comedian Eric Morecambe, resigned.
He spent the years 1972-76 at Fulham, which were all in Division Two – the first League club with whom he was not promoted. During this time, he signed former World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore and took the club to their only FA Cup final to date in 1975, which they lost 2-0 to West Ham. Stock noted in his memoir that he felt at the time, at the age of 58 the FA Cup Final with Fulham would be his last great achievement. He returned to QPR as a director in 1977, serving briefly as caretaker manager in 1978. He became manager of Bournemouth in 1979, finally retiring from management in 1981, remaining at Dean Court as a director.
Looking back on the man’s career, there can not be any doubt that he enhanced the reputation of every club he managed, winning promotions with Orient, QPR and Luton, and bringing FA Cup success to Yeovil, Orient and Fulham. Had three-up / three-down been in place, his clubs would have been promoted nine times. He took two clubs to the verge of the top flight, but due to circumstance was unable to manage there himself.
Stock definitely left his mark on the game, and is fondly remembered by every club he managed. He has also left his mark on popular culture, as the Fast Show character Ron Manager, who would talk wistfully about ‘small boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts’ was confirmed by creator Paul Whitehouse to indeed have been based on his memories of interviews with Alec Stock. He would do impressions of him with co-creator Charlie Higson, while they were still working as plasterers and long before they had ever worked in television.
Marvellous, isn’t it?