What if... Laws and Bonetti were friends

Cod Almighty | Article

by Ron Counte

18 May 2017

In the swish surroundings of Peaks Parkway, Ron was granted an interview with Town's greatest manager. It produced a stunning revelation

It was almost noon by the time I turned into Peaks Parkway and headed up towards the stadium. It was always good to get to the ground early, especially when we were hosting bitter rivals Manchester City, but today of all days I had a special reason for arriving in good time.

I pulled into the executive car park. There should have been a statue to him, but there wasn't. Well not yet anyway. It would indeed be a shame if we had to wait until he had passed away before giving him the honour he so richly deserved.

After flashing my VIP pass I went into one of the many restaurants scattered around the stadium complex and walked up to a reserved table in the Laws Lounge. I thought this was a fitting place to meet the man himself. In many ways it was an echo of the days of going into McMenemy's at Blundell Park. That too had been named after a former town manager with England connections but there the similarities ended. There was simply no comparison between a man whose claim to fame rested on winning the fourth division championship and the man who had, against all the odds, won the Premier league.

Always generous with his time, Brian Laws had graciously consented to give me an interview for the online fanzine. We talked about the very early days, when taking over from Alan Buckley in 1994 he steered the club to 10th place in the championship. Of course several of the elements so crucial to the later success were already there. In the following season Clive Mendonca simply couldn’t stop scoring notching up 37 goals in league and cup. It is estimated that at least 25 of them were laid on for him by the mercurial Ivano Bonetti.

Just as significant though was Bonetti’s promotion to assistant manager, in which capacity he managed to persuade four of his old Juve colleagues to come over and play for Town. The play-off triumph two years later was hardly a surprise given that the Laws and Bonetti partnership had built a team with formidable defensive robustness whilst possessing lethal attacking power via Bonetti and Mendonca. Of course Laws also had an outstanding eye for talent and over the years complimented the Italian imports with some very shrewd signings, notably Keough, Sharp, and Hooper.

It’s amazing to think that the bookies were crazy enough to offer odds of 5000/1 against them winning the league in 2005. I, like many others, had slapped £10 on that one but never really expected it to pay off. It just so happened that with many of the top clubs in transition the impossible dream came true and we won the title by 10 clear points from a badly faltering Tottenham side who barely picked up a point in their last four games of the season.

It was inevitable given his feat, and as the only English manager ever to win the Premier League, that the call would come for Brian to take the helm of the national side. That unhappy spell had been his first real taste of failure for more than a decade, but then there are limits even to what the Messiah himself can accomplish. "Compared to winning the League with Grimsby, the England job really was Mission Impossible" he joked.

"Believe it or not, I almost came to blows with Ivano once"

With Brian gone Ivano took over as manager and steered the club to a memorable League Cup victory and a creditable quarter-final appearance in the Champions League. But even that could not compete with the achievements of his illustrious predecessor. Brian smiled as I pointed out the injustice of the fact that the magnificently appointed Bonetti Brasserie was more than twice the size of the Laws Lounge. "He always did love his food," smiled Laws, "Especially chicken."

He then went on to tell me a quite astonishing story. "Believe it or not", he started, "I almost came to blows with him once. We had just thrown away a lead and lost 3-2 against Luton. I came into the dressing room seething and there he was, tucking into some chicken drumsticks. The red mist descended and I felt like punching his lights out. Fortunately one of the players intercepted me and the moment passed.

"But it's amazing to think what might have happened if a fight had broken out. We became such great friends and such a fantastic management team that I've heard people mention us in the same breath as Clough and Taylor, or Mercer and Allison. Of course we were never in that league but certainly I don't think that we could ever have achieved individually what we managed to achieve as a team."

A sobering thought indeed. Who knows we may even have gone the way of those poor souls in Scunthorpe who, with ex-Mariner Neil Woods in charge, saw their team relegated from the Football League. Oh, what might have been!

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