Martin O’Neill cut his teeth at Town

Martin O'Neill welcomes new signing Terry Curran to Grantham Town.
Martin O'Neill welcomes new signing Terry Curran to Grantham Town.

FORMER Nottingham Forest star Martin O’Neill began what would prove to be a glittering career in football management 25 years ago this week when he took over as boss of our own Grantham Town.

O’Neill, a former Northern Ireland international and European Cup winner under Brian Clough, became Grantham Town manager in July, 1987.

Grantham Town chairman Tony Balfe welcomes Martin O'Neill to the club.

Grantham Town chairman Tony Balfe welcomes Martin O'Neill to the club.

He was pictured in the Journal of July 24 shaking hands with then Town chairman Tony Balfe as his appointment was announced.

As well as lifting the profile of the club, the aim of O’Neill’s appointment was a loft target of reaching the Vauxhall Conference.

A short-term boost would be the addition of former Football League stars such as John Robertson, Alan Kennedy and Terry Curran.

But in those early days O’Neill was reluctant to build hopes of an influx of such high-profile players.

He told the Journal: I have to look at the playing staff before I make any decision.

“I’m told they are of good quality. I’ll see for myself and strengthen the squad where necessary.”

A week into the job O’Neill was already finding the task more difficult than he’d anticipated.

He told the Journal: “I’m having to do in a week what I needed three weeks for.”

He added: “I was told this was a part-time job. It was just supposed to be two evenings and a Saturday.

“It’s been more like five nights.”

The difficult start continued in the beginning of the 1987/88 season with Town suffering three defeats in their first five games and going out of the FA Cup and FA Trophy at the first hurdle.

But it was to be a memorable and successful first season in which Grantham narrowly missed out on promotion on the final fixture.

The following season Grantham Town finished fifth with O’Neill departing in the summer of 1989.

His next post would be at Shepshed Charterhouse before he really began to build his reputation as one of British football’s brightest managers whilst at Wycombe Wanderers. He took the non-league side from the Conference to Division Two thanks to three promotion seasons.

An extremely brief spell at Norwich City was followed by an extremely successful spell at Leicester City where he won the League Cup in 1997 and 2000 before heading north of the border to take charge of Celtic. He led the Glasgow giants to three league titles and three Scottish Cups, along with an appearence in the UEFA Cup Final.

O’Neill’s spell at Grantham can only be judged as partly successful given he was unable to achieve promotion in his two seasons but it was a memorable period for Gingerbread fans...and it did his career no harm at all!