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Remembering Danny Williams

8 February 2019

Stags' supporter and journalist Tim Morriss reflects on the career of Danny Williams - our former manager in the early 70s - who died recently.

This was originally written in September 2015 for our official match programme 'The Stag' as part of a season-long series reflecting on some of the club's managers.
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In our opening look back at some of Mansfield Town's post-war managers, I mentioned that Andy King was probably the most bubbly of all.... but Danny Williams ran him a close second.

His often jocular style of dealing with the media in the early 1970s won him many friends off the pitch and life was never dull during his time in charge of the Stags.

Over the decades, Mansfield Town's owners have sometimes been criticised for not appointing managers with experience and pedigree, but Williams also bucked that trend.

When he came to Field Mill [now called One Call Stadium] in 1971, Williams was already a Wembley winner after guiding Swindon to a stunning, most unexpected League Cup final triumph over the mighty Arsenal at Wembley. But more of that later...

Williams arrived at Field Mill following the sacking of Jock Basford and his own dismissal from an unsuccessful period at Sheffield Wednesday.

His first game ended in victory - success on New Year's Day against the old enemy, Chesterfield.

Remarkably, it was the Stags' first home win of the season, but the new manager was unable to guide the Stags away from relegation, despite improved results at home.

They needed a win on the last day of the season to avoid the drop into the Fourth Division, but a late Wrexham goal and subsequent results elsewhere spelled relegation.

There was more heartbreak for Williams on the last day of the following season, a real campaign of two halves.

Up to Christmas the Stags were amazing, topping the Division Four table and stretching their unbeaten home record to 27 matches, before tailing off. They still had a chance of promotion on the final day, but needing a win at Cambridge, they threw away a 2-1 lead to lose.

While Williams wasn't successful in terms of honours, he will go down in history for establishing the likes of Kevin Bird, Jimmy McCaffrey and Terry Eccles as first-team regulars - and bringing back the mercurial Duncan McKenzie from Nottingham Forest for a remarkable second loan spell.

The tricky striker scored seven goals in six games, but perhaps he was too successful and hopes of a permanent deal were scuppered when he was recalled by Nottingham Forest.

Had he stayed, surely Williams would have guided the Stags back into the Third Division and who knows what might have happened? Certainly his attacking philosophy at times deserved success.

The following season again started promisingly, particularly at home where the Stags won their first seven matches. However, they failed to gain an away success all season and the campaign faltered. Perhaps that was why Williams was tempted to leave Field Mill in March 1974 to return to the scene of his greatest managerial success, Swindon.

It was reported that he left with the blessing of the Stags’ directors and that seemed to be the case a few years later.

I well remember a trip to Swindon in the 80s with the Stags, then Chad sports editor Stan Searl and some of the club's directors.

Williams spotted Stan as we entered the club and made a beeline for him, greeting him like a long-lost friend and telling me that I would do well to follow any advice Stan passed on to me. He was also warmly greeted by the directors and there was no hint of animosity.

The respect our ex-manager had for Stan was reciprocated. "A real character. A football man through and through, but straight as a dye," was how Stan described him.

That meeting has stuck in my mind for many years, mainly because I was fascinated to meet the man behind the famous Wembley win of 1969.

A one-club man as a player, Williams made more than 450 appearances for Rotherham, and it was there that he started his managerial career.

He was appointed manager of Swindon for the first time in July 1965 - four years later he led Swindon to that unexpected 3-1 victory over Arsenal.

Swindon played many matches on their way to Wembley and their first major cup final. They defeated Torquay, Bradford City after a replay, Blackburn Rovers, Coventry City after a replay and Derby County in the quarter-final. The two-legged semi-final with Burnley ended all square and it needed a replay for Swindon to get to Wembley.

Against all the odds, they shocked Arsenal in the final, winning 3-1 thanks to two Don Rogers’ goals and becoming only the second Third Division side to lift the trophy.

On a heavy pitch ruined by heavy rain and the Horse Of The Year Show, Swindon's hopes of an upset against the Division One giants looked to have ended when Bobby Gould capitalised on an error to equalise.

However, in extra time Rogers struck twice to delight Williams and make him a lifelong Swindon hero.

Arsenal and their household names, including Frank McLintock and Bob Wilson, blamed the state of the pitch and ‘flu in their squad, but nationally Williams got a lot of credit for masterminding a famous cup upset.

Just as in his time at the Stags, Williams loved attacking football and was rewarded. Many managers would have moved Rogers from midfield into the under-pressure defence after Arsenal's late equaliser. Instead, he moved him up front... and the rest is history.

In his second managerial spell at the County Ground, Williams remained for three more seasons, before moving upstairs into a general manager role and later a commercial position.

Almost inevitably, he was unable to replicate that League Cup success, but he is still fondly remembered by Stags’ fans of a certain generation who acknowledge the part he played in bringing in - and blooding - players who would go on to play a major part in the club's future success.


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