When, in November 1974, Cambridge United’s directors appointed 35-year-old Ron Atkinson as manager, they said they felt they’d chosen one of the bright young bosses of the future, and that the partnership would benefit all concerned. They never spoke truer words.
Over the next three years Big Ron, as he would inevitably become known throughout football, also validated the board’s feeling that the new boss had the kind of personality that supporters would love. But what the fans liked most was Ron’s habit of getting his players to win football matches, and do it in swashbuckling style.
Of all United managers who have been in charge for more than fifty games, only 1950s legend Bill Whittaker has a better points-per-game record. Ron took United to the Fourth Division title in 1977 and laid the foundations for promotion to the second tier the following year, and along the way inspired his teams to the kind of fearless, free-flowing football that fans love.
As captain of Oxford United he had guided that club’s rise from the Southern League to Division Two, displaying the confidence in his own ability that became his trademark as a manager. Players couldn’t help but respond to his outstanding man-management style and his ability to transmit his own belief to others.
He wasn’t at the Abbey Stadium long enough, of course, but after he left for West Bromwich Albion in early 1978 those skills brought him acclaim and worked wonders at the very top of the game.