Sunday, 3 December 2017

Allan Harris RIP

It's sad to report the death of former City defender Allan Harris who passed away last week at the age of 74.

There are not many former Coventry City players whose CV includes coaching one of the top club sides in the world and managing a national team but Allan Harris did both. The modest former City, Chelsea and QPR full-back was coach of Malaysia’s national football team and in the late 1980s was assistant to his former Chelsea team-mate Terry Venables at Barcelona.

Although born in Northampton during World War Two, his family came from East London and grew up in Hackney along with his younger brother, Ron “Chopper” Harris. He made an early mark as a schoolboy as a full-back and both boys joined Chelsea. Allan won England schoolboy caps and then progressed to the national Youth team, playing alongside Martin Peters. He was a member of an outstanding Chelsea Youth teams that won back to back FA Youth Cups in 1960 and 1961.

At Stamford Bridge he got a first team chance at the age of 18, making his debut in Chelsea's first ever League Cup game, a 4-2 win over Workington. He kept his place and was on the winning side in his first six games during which the Blues netted 27 goals. It was a golden period at the Bridge with 'Ted Drake's Ducklings' as the press called them, scoring goals for fun. The side included an 20-year old Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Tambling, Terry Venables and Peter Bonetti. John Sillett was also at the club, as well as his brother Peter and competition was tough at full back.

In 1961-62 with Greaves sold to AC Milan the Pensioners struggled and Drake's departure opened the door for Tommy Docherty to become manager. 'The Doc' couldn't stop them being relegated and Allan was now playing in Division Two with his appearances were restricted by the form of Eddie McCreadie. The team bounced back at the first attempt but Allan was no longer a regular and in November 1964, after making 80 league and cup appearances, manager Docherty accepted Jimmy Hill's offer of £35,000 for Allan.

A number of years ago he told me: “I didn’t really want to leave Chelsea or London but when I saw the set up that Jimmy Hill and Derrick Robins had created at Coventry I was very quickly sold on the club.”

He made his Sky Blues debut in a 1-0 defeat at Carrow Road but got a shock a week later as City, without the injured George Curtis, were hammered 5-3 at home by Rotherham. Allan however quickly settled into the Sky Blues team becoming the first-choice left-back and impressing the fans with his stylish play. In 1965-66 he played 40 league games and eight cup games, netting his only goal in a League Cup victory at Leyton Orient.
                                                Allan supporting the legendary George Curtis

Towards the end of the season he told Jimmy Hill that he and his wife had struggled to settle in the Midlands and he was keen to move back to the capital. He made his 69th and final appearance in a City shirt in the penultimate game at Huddersfield when City won 2-0 to keep their thin chances of promotion alive. Before the final game of the season he was transferred back to Chelsea (with JH netting a profit of £10,000). The Blues had an injury crisis ahead of their Fairs Cup semi final with Barcelona and four days after appearing at Huddersfield he played in the first leg of the semi final as Chelsea won 2-0, and two weeks after that he was in the team at the Nou Camp as Barca trounced the Blues 5-0.

His second spell at the Bridge was frustrating and he made only 20 or so appearances, the last of which was at Wembley, alongside brother Ron, as Chelsea lost the FA Cup final to Tottenham. He joined QPR in 1967 where, in his first season, he was a member of Rangers’ Division 2 promotion team under Alec Stock.

He left QPR in 1971 and after brief spells at Plymouth, Cambridge United, Hayes and St Patricks Athletic Allan decided to move into management. In 1976 his ex-Chelsea teammate Terry Venables became manager at Crystal Palace and Harris joined him as a coach. Two promotions in three seasons made Venables and Harris hot property and in 1980 Allan followed Terry to QPR.

At Loftus Road the pairs’ reputation was enhanced by an FA Cup final appearance in 1982 (they lost after a replay to Spurs) and promotion to Division 1 the following year. In May 1984 Venables received a huge offer to manage Barcelona and Allan was Terry’s right hand man as they helped Barca win their first Spanish league title for 11 years. The following season they were surprisingly beaten by Steaua Bucharest in the European Cup final and in 1986 when Venables resigned Allan followed him to Tottenham.

In 1989 he left Spurs to manage Spanish club Espanol. Later spells managing club sides in Kuwait, Egypt and Turkey enabled him to achieve his ambitions and see the world. His last post in England was a spell as number two at Reading in 1997 and between 2000-04 he held the top job in Malaysia and was highly rated in South East Asia.

He retired to his home in Epsom, Surrey but in recent years has been suffering from Alzheimer's and in a care home.

In 2003 he told me: “I had a short but very enjoyable stay at Coventry. The fans were great to me and I have great memories of a club going places in the 1960s. I had no doubt that the club would reach the top division and it was no surprise that they stayed there so long.”

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