Special Agent Bond Almost Killed the Clarets

Last updated : 10 May 2020 By Dave Thornley

Following relegation from the second division in 1983, Burnley chose not to continue with Frank Casper as manager; instead Chairman John Jackson sought a high-profile appointment in an effort to ensure an immediate return to the second tier. 

Earlier that year, John Bond has resigned as manager of Manchester City; after a promising start, which included an appearance in the 1981 Cup Final, his tenure had run out of steam, but he was still a regular visitor to the TV pundits’ chair and his profile around the domestic game remained high. 

And so it was that Jackson was able to secure Bond’s services for the 1983-1984 season and afforded him the luxury of financial backing for new signings on a level (adjusted for inflation) that Burnley managers before and since could have only dreamt of. 

That, though, is where the problems started; Bond swept in with a “new broom” mentality and set about completely over-hauling the team. That was fine were it not for the fact that, save for one, possibly two, exceptions, the players he brought in were not as good as those who he discarded. 

Those exceptions were; Tommy Hutchison, a Scottish international who had played for Bond at City and, despite his advancing years, was never anything other than a consummate professional who could be relied upon give of his best; and Kevin Reeves, Bond’s son-in-law who pretty much followed him from club to club but who was a talented striker and forged a potent strike partnership with Billy Hamilton. 

On the debit side however; he allowed Lee Dixon, Brian Laws , Kevin Young and Andy Wharton  (all graduates from the youth academy) to leave for next to nothing and replaced them with ageing players who arrived with big reputations and big wages but who frankly were long past their best and lacked commitment. 

Also allowed to leave was Terry Donovan, a perfectly serviceable Irish International striker whose departure left Burnley without back-up to Reeves and Hamilton in attack and thus forced Bond to continue to play Reeves whilst carrying a hip injury which got progressively worse and would eventually end both his season and his career.  

Bond further made an error in stripping club legend Martin Dobson of the captaincy, and it was clear that the two did not see eye-to-eye. “Dobbo” would leave midway through the season to take up the player-manager position at Bristol Rovers, he deserved a better send-off from the club he adorned so majestically in two spells as a player. 

The John Bond season wasn’t all bad, there were some thumping wins to savour: 5-1 over Bournemouth; 5-0 over Scunthorpe; 4-0 over both Exeter and Lincoln and 7-0 over Port Vale; in addition, there was a pulsating match against Sheffield United which ended in a 2-1 win. But after losing Reeves and Dobson, the season would unravel alarmingly, the last ten games yielded only four points and the gamble on employing a big reputation manager and splashing the cash ended with Burnley in an undistinguished 12th place. 

Bond would leave; and so too in time would Hamilton, Michael Phelan, Vince Overson and most of the Bond signings. What remained was a club in an accelerating downward spiral with no cash, no direction and no hope.  

A further relegation and a series of poor managerial appointments would follow and any player who showed a modicum of ability and desire would not stick around in what was becoming a toxic working environment. Even the town and the supporters who lived there were losing interest and for a club so entwined within its community, that was probably the hardest thing to observe. 

There was a smug conceit about Bond which verged on arrogance. Football fans want their manager to display some self-confidence, but also some soundness of judgement and in that regard, Bond was found to be seriously wanting during his time at Burnley. Neither did he display any knowledge of, or sensitivity towards the values and traditions of the club he inherited and that attitude found no congruence whatsoever with Burnley supporters. 

All clubs occasionally make bad managerial appointments, but few had such damaging and almost terminal effects as John Bond’s season at Burnley. The club would survive – just, as we will recall next time. 

Dave Thornley continues to reminisce about the club he loves. After bleeding our resources dry, in my own opinion 007 John Bond was never a “Special Agent” for the Clarets. (TEC).