Atkinson back on television with fly-on-the-wall role at Swindon

RON Atkinson is to make a return to football today for the first time since he was sacked by ITV as a match pundit 18 months ago.

The former Manchester United and Aston Villa manager departed in disgrace after making racist remarks aimed at black player Marcel Desailly.

It was reported yesterday that Atkinson is to be a consultant to Swindon Town's black manager Iffy Onuora.

However, it emerged that the Coca-Cola League One club have only invited Atkinson in as part of a Sky TV team filming a behind-the-scenes documentary which will be aired in the coming months on Sky One.

Swindon, who have the Scottish former Derby-winning jockey Willie Carson as chairman, are currently sitting bottom of League One, but Onuora revealed Atkinson will not have a role at the relegation-threatened club and will not act as a consultant.

Onuora has spoken to Atkinson about his racist comment and believes he should be allowed to take up his new role. Onuora said: "We have got a staff of people here which I am very happy with. Results are showing we are not doing too bad. Any other help we will get will be great but Ron is here to front a TV show."

Onuora explained that he had addressed the racist comment with Atkinson. "I've spoken to Ron about that," he said. "I was blunt in saying how appalled I was. We've got to move on as people. I think everyone deserves a second chance, but I'm not saying I condone what he said.

"I don't think you necessarily have to bury a guy into the ground over that. He did express his regrets. He said it was something he said out of frustration.

"I think anyone could accept that, it was the racist element which everyone found hard to take. I'm sure in some respects he'd like to be rehabilitated, if that's the right word, in the public eye.

"The reason we decided to go ahead with it (the documentary) is it gives the club a bit of a higher profile. I was surprised people have run with it in the way they have. He hasn't come in in a football capacity and he doesn't have a title of any kind."

The 66-year-old Atkinson was earlier reported as saying: "It will be great to be back around a football club again. It has been a long time.

"I am not going there to do a Clive Woodward. Iffy is the manager and I am there when he needs me. Yes, it is a TV project but I am taking this seriously. I will see where we go."

High-profile black players such as Ian Wright and Robbie Earle have been damning in their condemnation of Atkinson, whose off-microphone comment about Desailly - in which he was heard to describe the Chelsea captain as a "f***ing lazy, thick nigger" - following Chelsea's Champions League semi-final defeat to Monaco in 2004 was accidentally broadcast in Dubai and then relayed around the world.

League Managers' chief John Barnwell has backed Atkinson's return to the game - providing Onuora is happy with it too. But he feels Atkinson has served his punishment and will be welcomed back by the football fraternity with open arms.

"Ron made a big mistake," said Barnwell. "His remarks were totally unacceptable. But you cannot hang a man twice. He still has great respect for the game and the game still has a lot of respect for him.

"He achieved a great deal as a manager over a long period of time and, providing everyone at Swindon remembers Iffy is the manager and he is comfortable with it, Ron's experience can be a useful sounding board."

Atkinson's role has been funded by BSkyB, who will make a documentary about the time he spends at the County Ground titled "Big Ron Manager".

Although he has not been involved in the management game since leaving Nottingham Forest in 1999, Atkinson will be given unlimited access at Swindon. He insists his arrival should not be seen as a Clive Woodward-type football director's role but he will be there to offer Onuora guidance if required.

Onuora was appointed caretaker manager at Swindon when Andy King was sacked in September, but despite losing just one of their last 10 matches, the club remain bottom of League One.

"Iffy prepared himself for football management in the best way he possibly could," said Barnwell. "He seems to be making a decent fist of the job under incredible financial restrictions.

"If what Ron is saying about the situation is correct, it will be useful for Iffy to be able to tap into his thoughts. But the Swindon board must remember Iffy is the manager and not be tempted to go to Ron for advice instead.


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