Brentford fans will be sad to hear about the passing of Fred Callaghan, who managed The Bees between 1980 and 1984. Fans of a certain vintage will no doubt remember Fred’s attack-minded brand of football and especially the likes of Stan Bowles, Terry Hurlock, Chris Kamara, Francis Joseph and Tony Mahoney who entertained us all in Division Three and live long in our hearts. On behalf of all Brentford fans, we wish Fred’s close friends and family our very best wishes and thank him for the happy memories. The following article was written by Mark Croxford and appears in the brilliant Big Brentford Book of the Eighties.
As a player Fred Callaghan was a genuine one club man –serving his apprenticeship before signing as a professional with Fulham in the summer of 1962. Having made the first-team breakthrough during the 1963/64 campaign as a midfield replacement for Alan Mullery, he went on to make the left-back shirt his own during a stay that lasted 12 seasons. Callaghan totted up 295 League appearances, scoring nine goals, as a tough defender who was not averse to crunching tackles and the occasional overlap down the flank. His playing career came to an end at a relatively early age when a serious back injury forced him into retirement at the end of the 1973/74 season.
Callaghan soon moved into coaching and was quickly marked down as someone with a bright future. He enjoyed a successful spell with Enfield, before moving to Griffin Park in February 1977 to assist Bill Dodgin with coaching duties – his three-month stay coinciding with an outstanding run of results and performances as the team soared up the table and, at the end of the campaign, he left to become manager at Woking.
When Bill Dodgin was given “leave of absence’ in March 1980 after a disastrous sequence of results, Callaghan was offered the opportunity to return in a caretaker role and decided to leave Woking just days before their FA Trophy semi-final clash with Dagenham despite vigorous attempts to persuade him to stay.
With three wins and two draws in the final seven matches, Fred steered the team away from the threat of relegation and safety was assured in the dying minutes of the last game against Millwall, by which time the board had offered him a two-year contract as manager.
In readiness for the start of the 1980/81 season, Fred set about rebuilding the squad, and the shock sale of prolific goalscorer, Steve Phillips, enabled him to fund the signings of non-League recruits
Terry Hurlock, David Crown and Gary Roberts, while a re-vamped backroom team saw the arrival of Chelsea legend Ron Harris as player/assistant manager and the re-formation of a youth set-up.
Brentford boss Fred Callaghan, on the eve of his first full season as a Football League manager, has put the players through sessions as tough as an Army assault course. He told me, “Training’s been hard, very hard. Paul Walker’s a good example of the benefits of hard training. I told him to lose weight otherwise he would never play another match. Within a few weeks he has lost weight, looks a lot better and has done well. I want to make sure all my players are very fit. At this stage, it’s all important.”
In giving the players marathon sessions, sometimes in the afternoon as well as in the morning, Callaghan has been instilling discipline with his straightforward, no-nonsense approach. The quartet of players – Len Bond, Dave Carlton, John Fraser and Barry Tucker – who refused to sign contracts soon found out where they stood in no uncertain terms. Callaghan told them bluntly that they could go. He is building the foundations of a Brave New World for Brentford after the near-disastrous season that ended in May with the Bees just avoiding relegation.
And his master-plan is a long way from completion. The plan includes improving the quality of player at Griffin Park up to the standards he is setting. He said, “I’m looking to get out of the Third Division as soon as possible. I’m only about halfway towards my plans to improve the quality. We are running a youth team as well as reserves this season. But to my mind, whether they get good results in their respective competitions is secondary to their importance to the first-team. I want to build up a first-team squad of about 16 players, all capable of stepping into the team. Everything at the club is geared to that.”
“At the moment it’s still in the transitional stage, but I’m confident that with this new set-up, with Ron Harris to assist me, we can do well. Last year the club was nearly relegated. This year I hope to give the fans less to worry about by staying clear of the relegation zone – well clear. It should be quite an interesting season, we’ll have to see how things work out.”
Callaghan has certainly rung the changes since he took over from Bill Dodgin. In has come Barry Silkman, Mark Hill, Dave Crown and Paul McCullough while Jim McNichol, along with the rebel quartet, can go. Steve Phillips has already gone.
He is certainly not afraid to rub people up the wrong way in speaking his mind and making decisions. When he barks out an order, he expects it to be obeyed. It remains to be seen whether his policies work or not. He knows the consequences, “If I fail, I’m out. I accept that, it’s football.”
Having established a solid defensive foundation Fred used the next season to work on his midfield, and although he put together the central trio of Hurlock, Stan Bowles and Chris Kamara, widely acknowledged as being one of the best outside the top two divisions, the team had a better record away than at home for the second successive year, which frustrated the supporters.
The signing of strikers Francis Joseph and Tony Mahoney for the 1982/83 season appeared to put in place the final pieces of Fred’s jigsaw, but when Mahoney tragically broke his leg midway through the campaign, the team began to struggle and the decline continued into the following campaign.
With Third Division status looking precarious, and the manager’s self-acknowledged brusqueness towards supporters adding to his unpopularity, the board decided that a change was needed and, in February 1984, Callaghan was dismissed, ending his near-four-year tenure in the hot seat.
As the holder of a London black cab license, Fred returned to his primary occupation as a taxi driver although he continued to work for more than a decade in local non-league football as both a manager and coach with Kingstonian, Woking, Basingstoke, Wealdstone, Walton & Hersham and Carshalton – eventually returning to Fulham as a hospitality host in Craven Cottage’s Riverside Restaurant.