Saturday, 14 July 2012

Joe Kinnear

At the foot of mountains

1978 : Al Sharjah (UAE)
1984 :  India 
1987 :  Nepal

Joseph Patrick Kinnear was born in Dublin in 1946. His family emigrated to England when he was just 7 years old, and Kinnear would grow up with his single-mother and four siblings in Watford. He played for St. Alban's as a lad and was snapped up at 19 by First Division giants Tottenham Hotspur.

Over the next 10 years at the club, the Irishman would play over 200 matches for Spurs. With English international Cyril Knowles, Kinnear would form a talented full-back pairing and help the club to 5 trophies, including the UEFA Cup in 1972. 

His international debut for the Republic of Ireland came in a 2-1 away defeat to Turkey in 1967. Kinnear would gain a further 25 caps for the Republic over the next 8 years. After leaving Tottenham in 1976, he spent a season with Brighton & Hove Albion making 16 appearances.

A young Kinnear at Tottenham
Kinnear retired from playing football in 1976 due to a knee injury, he was only 31 years of age. After two years out of the game, he took up his first management role. In an unusual move, and possibly motivated by money, he tasted coaching for the first time with Emirati side, Al-Sharjah. Established in 1966 as Al Orouba, the club known as the White Bees, have 5 Emirati League titles and 8 UAE President's Cups to their name. The club became known as Al Sharjah the same year as Kinnear took charge. His reign with the club did not produce positive results, and soon thereafter, Sharjah replaced Kinnear.

In five years however, he would be back in the UAE. In 1983 former Tottenham defender Dave Mackay was named manager of Al Shabab, and the Scot opted to hire his former Spurs team-mate Kinnear as his assistant at the Dubai-based side. This stint proved as unsuccessful as his first in the country, and within a year, both Kinnear and Mackay were sacked.

In 1984, he replaced Englishman Bob Bootland as manager of the Indian national football team. His task was to help them achieve qualification for the 1984 Asian Cup in Singapore. He only lasted three months in the job, loosing 9 matches, and was replaced by the former Yugoslavia, Lazio and Valencia manager Milovan Ciric. India subsequently qualified for the tournament for the first time in 20 years.

Three years later, he found himself in neighbouring Nepal. The country were relative newcomers to the international scene, having only been affiliated with FIFA in 1970. Between then and 1982, Nepal had not attempted to qualify for the World Cup. Kinnear's appointment came in the wake of the nation's first failed attempt at reaching the tournament of 1986. 

Nepal's Dasarath Rangasala Stadium

Kinnear enjoyed his time in the Asian country, and recalls it fondly years later. "It was an amazing experience. You have to do it when you are young".

"We trained at the foot of Mount Everest. There was a hotel right near and you could see it as you looked outside."

Ganesh Thapa, top scorer at the 1987 South Asian Championships
He inherited a squad though, severely lacking in quality but the sport was growing in popularity. "Most of the players were Guerkas and when we played World Cup qualifiers there would be 80,000 at every game. People would queue for days and sleep in the street to get a ticket".

The Dubliner's first challenge with the Gorkhalis was at the South Asian Football Championships in India. His side beat Bangladesh and Bhutan and topped their group, setting up a final encounter with the host nation. In front of 80,000 fans packed into the Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta, Kinnear's charges narrowly lost 1-0 through an 89th minute goal. 

Calcutta's 120,000 seater Salt Lake Stadium

This would be Kinnear's only major finals appearance with Nepal and he stepped down after the tournament. His achievements however, in guiding a small and emerging nation to a surprising 2nd place was not forgotten. Former referee Shree Sam Ranjitkar, himself a Nepalese national believes that "Kinnear led Nepalese football to bloom and did his best for the country." Ranjitkar also stated in 2008 that he felt that Kinnear "had done more than anyone for Nepalese football".

After leaving Nepal, Kinnear reunited with Dave Mackay at Doncaster Rovers. In 1993 he would take reins of Wimbledon FC and over the following 6 years, would establish the club as a regular Premier League outfit, known unceremoniousley as the Crazy Gang. In 1999 Kinnear suffered a heart attack and stepped down as manager. Wimbledon were relegated a year later.

After brief spells with Nottingham Forest and Luton Town; his last job was with Premier League side Newcastle Utd, but he had to resign his post in 2009 due to his recurring heart problems.

Best known for his time with Wimbledon, Kinnear's successes with Nepal also deserve credit. Taking a small nation so close to a major regional trophy, against all-odds and superior opposition is no mean feat. Sadly though, the Irishman is best known at home and in England as a swearing, conveyor-belt manager. Yet it must be said, Kinnear is no small personality. From Dublin to London, Dubai to Kathmandu and finally to Newcastle; his good nature, work ethic and adventurous spirit have made Kinnear remembered wherever he has gone.

As the Nepalese Association's treasurer Birat Krishna Shrestha once said; "we are still remembering him". It seems Kinnear's work there at least has not been forgotten.

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