Obituary: Jimmy Frizzell, football player and manager

Born 16 February 1937, Greenock. Died: 3 July 2016, Oldham.

Jimmy Frizzell, popular footballer and manager who brought success to Oldham Pathetic. Picture: Contributed
Jimmy Frizzell, popular footballer and manager who brought success to Oldham Pathetic. Picture: Contributed

Scot Jimmy Frizzell enjoyed a long and successful football career as player and manager, most closely associated with Oldham Athletic, for whom he played 350 games in the 1960s, scoring 58 goals before going on to manage them for 12 years .

A cult figure at Boundary Park, he was revered by the fans who christened him “Sir Jimmy”. As a player his goals helped the ‘Latics’ gain promotion in 1963 and despite limited resources as manager he twice achieved the feat, notably winning the old 3rd Division title in 1974.

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Thereafter he stabilised them in mid-table respectability in the old 2nd Division until his shock sacking in 1982, by when he had become the second longest serving manager in the Football League.

Thereafter he joined Manchester City, initially as assistant manager to former Celtic legend Billy McNeill, with whom he won promotion for City to the old 1st Division in 1985. On McNeill’s departure to Aston Villa a year later, he took over as manager for a year prior to becoming general manager then chief scout, retiring in 2001.

Born and brought up in Greenock, he was selected for West of Scotland schoolboys and played for local juvenile side Belleaire. He then joined junior side Largs Thistle before signing in 1957 for Morton, for whom he would play 41 games as a part-timer while working as a ship’s plumber. In the summer of 1960 he signed for Oldham for £1,500, subsequently described as “the club’s all time bargain buy,” making his debut against Northampton on 20 August with fellow Scot, goalkeeper Jimmy Rollo, from Helmsdale.

A tenacious, hard-tackling player, he found the circumstances of his early days at Oldham were not the most auspicious. The club had just finished second bottom of the 4th Division, had financial problems, was beset by allegations of player corruption and its new Scottish manager Danny McLennan had resigned after a month in post just before the start of the season.

Despite these problems, goals from Frizzell and former Hibs Famous Five favourite Bobby Johnstone hoisted the team up the table to 12th while in his second season Frizzell was the club’s top scorer with 25 goals from inside forward.

Promotion followed the next season with Frizzell playing a prominent role alongside Scot John Colquhoun, father of the player later of Hearts, Celtic and Scotland. However by 1969 the team was back in the old 4th Division with the outlook bleak when Frizzell was appointed caretaker manager in December, having played his last game for the club in October against Newport County. By that stage they had only won four games but Frizzell’s shrewd stewardship saw them go on a winning run helped by his astute purchase of Jim Fryatt from Blackburn Rovers who scored 11 goals in 16 games.

Their status secure, the Scot was appointed permanent manager and in his first full season in the role in 1971 won promotion to the old 3rd Division, helped by another clever purchase, captain Bill Cranston from Preston North End.

That success also won the club the ‘Ford Sporting League’, a competition across all four leagues awarding points for goals scored offset by disciplinary offence deductions. This earned a prize of £70,000 which enabled the building of a new ‘Broadway’ stand. Three years later Frizzell led them to the old 3rd Division title. Although in 10th place at New Year, they then went on a run of 10 straight wins, still a club record, to secure the league. A delighted chairman stated: “A few years ago we were a joke, known as ‘Oldham Pathetic’. This is a great achievement.”

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Despite ongoing financial issues Frizzell managed to maintain the club’s second tier status until he was surprisingly sacked in 1982 after 22 years as player and manager, having just finished 11th in the table. The club announced: “Oldham needs a new challenge to attract the fans.” This sparked fans’ protests and a campaign for a takeover. Frizzell himself was shocked as the sacking came as a complete surprise.

Lawrie McMenemy, Southampton’s FA Cup winning manger, commented: ”Not only can Jimmy Frizzell make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, he can fill that purse with money with the ridiculous profits he makes in his transfer dealings.”

Frizzell’s managerial success undoubtedly rested on his eye for a player and his ability to gel a team together from not the most obviously promising components.

After a year he joined Manchester City where over 17 years he fulfilled a number of roles, latterly as stadium manager. However Oldham was where his heart was and he remained particularly attached to the town, living in retirement within sight of Boundary Park and enjoying occasional games of bowls. He married an Oldham girl, Wendy, whom he met in a local nightclub, Candlelight, and they enjoyed a long and happy marriage, raising two sons.

When Oldham fans set up their Trust about ten years ago, Frizzell chaired the initial group which oversaw its establishment and remained a popular visitor at matches.

The club is to host a Jimmy Frizzell Day in tribute at its opening league game and plans to name a stand after him. Former secretary Bernard Halford commented: “Jimmy was a diamond of a man. He did so much to build up Oldham and had such respect in the dressing room.”