He is now known as the rather opinionated Director of Football at Newcastle United. Back in the 1970s, though, Joe Kinnear was a classy full-back for Tottenham and the Republic of Ireland, winning four major cup competitions in a glittering career lasting over a decade at White Hart Lane.
When the 28 year-old was signed by Peter Taylor for Brighton, part of the deal involved the defender enjoying a benefit match between his old and new club in March 1976. Tottenham won 6-1 at the Goldstone with Kinnear scoring a consolation penalty. While the score was not to their satisfaction, Brighton fans must have rubbed their eyes in disbelief to see Jimmy Greaves, Rodney Marsh and Terry Venables all appearing for their side.
In ‘Still Crazy,’ his biography with Hunter Davies, Kinnear’s account of his time on the south coast rather unintentionally gives an impression of a pampered professional footballer chasing one final pay cheque. When Peter Taylor departed for Nottingham Forest, new boss Alan Mullery was not impressed with his former team-mate. In Joe’s own words:
I signed for Brighton and Hove Albion in August 1975. The transfer fee was officially £40,000. That’s what was announced, a reasonably average sum for the times, but it was agreed that I would get it all. Normally, with a transfer fee at the time, a player only got a small percentage. I think it was really a sort of thank you, for the years of loyal service. I didn’t get it in one lump sum. It was to be spread over several years, as part of my salary. I paid tax on it all, in the normal way.
We kept on our home in London, in Woodside Park, Mill Hill, at least for the time being. I decided I could commute by train each day to Brighton, getting off at Hove, returning in the afternoon after training. On match days, Bonnie would come to watch me. We’d have a meal in Brighton after the match, then come back to London together. That was the plan.
When I arrived at Brighton for the first training sessions, I did still worry if I’d done the right thing. My pride had been hurt by being transferred. I still wondered if I should have stayed, played in the reserves, fought to get my place back. But I couldn’t have faced the reserves any more.
I knew it was a come-down, going to a smaller club, in a lower division, down in the third division, after the glamour of Spurs. Still, Phil (Beal) had told me the club was ambitious and had a good set-up. It turned out to be not quite what I expected.
First of all, Peter Taylor was hardly there. Dunno where he was, what he was doing, but we only saw him on Fridays after training, then on Saturday at the match.
Second, we didn’t have our own training ground. We’d assemble at the Goldstone Ground, the club’s stadium in Hove, which wasn’t bad, but we rarely trained there. Instead, we’d jog for 15 minutes or so through the streets and do our training on a public park. There would be dogs walking over the pitch, mums with prams. There weren’t even any goalposts. We just had cones on the ground or a pile of bibs.
Third, the coaching was mostly a joke, when you consider it was a so-called professional club with paid coaches. I don’t know how one of the coaches got his job. We called him the Spud Man. We were told that he sold potatoes, that was his real job. Apparently he’d been providing Cloughy and Peter Taylor with potatoes. He had a job as a coach. That’s what we heard anyway. I’m sure it was just a joke. But it was clear all the same that he had little idea about coaching.
In the first season I was there, we did quite well. We were on the fringes of promotion to the Second Division. Then in an away match at Port Vale, I got tackled by their left winger. Not a nasty tackle, but I did my cruciate ligaments. My knee got twisted round, ending back to front. I’d snapped the ligaments. That was it, stretched off.
In fact, the match Kinnear refers to was the last-but-one of the 1975/76 season against Gillingham at the Goldstone in April. Here’s a photo of him being stretchered off in the 70th minute with what was reported by the Evening Argus’ John Vinicombe as a ‘locked knee that could mean a cartilage operation’:
The injury capped a disastrous Easter 1976 for Kinnear. In the game with Millwall, Joe’s calamitous backpass to Peter Grummitt gifted Millwall’s second goal in a 3-1 defeat at The Den. In the match where he got injured, his eighteenth and last for Brighton, Joe had also missed a penalty against Gillingham after Dave Shipperley had handled. He hit the spot-kick to the goalkeeper Phil Owers’ right with insufficient power and the shot turned around the post.
I couldn’t play for six months. I could have had an operation, but I was told the success rate was only 50-50. I did try to come back and started training again. I had my leg all strapped up but I was still limping. Then I had a brace, but it was agony every time and it just swelled up.
I’d begun by then to get on quite well with Peter. He’d call me in to discuss the team, who should be played, the tactics. We chatted generally about ideas, how football should be played, or discussed the opposition, the strengths and weaknesses. I did tell Peter that I fancied going into coaching. He was quite encouraging.
Then he left. I’m not sure if he got the sack or just packed it in. But anyway, that was it, he was gone.
If I’d been stronger at the time, as a person, and more confident, I might have asked what the chances were of me being considered for manager. But I didn’t say anything, I didn’t push myself forward. The chairman, Mike Bamber, did call me in and told me who they were thinking of appointing – Alan Mullery. He asked me what he was like, as I’d played with him at Spurs. I said his pedigree is terrific – Spurs captain, England captain – can’t get a better CV than that.
So he was appointed. I was looking forward to working with him again – I hoped that as I knew him, and had been his team-mate, he’d give me some sort of coaching job. That was my hope. But then when he arrived he’d brought his own coaching staff.
Kinnear never featured in a game under Mullery and instead left Brighton for Woodford Town becoming player-manager. Who knows how things would have turned out if the Eire international has become one of the coaching staff at the Goldstone? Would he have been with a chance of eventually progressing to the manager’s hot-seat at Brighton? Impossible to say. However, if you are puzzled as to why the new boss was not impressed enough to offer Kinnear a coaching job, you can find the answer in Mullery’s ‘An Autobiography’ from 1985:
“A few old pros had heard that under Taylor and Clough there was a few bob about and it was up to me to get rid of the driftwood, keeping the players I wanted and bring in some youngsters. It wasn’t an easy time and a few of the senior stars gave me a rough ride. Kinnear was the worst and, after watching him play in a friendly at Maidstone, I accused him of still behaving as if he was at Tottenham or in Europe and I ordered him to lose a stone in weight. We had a number of rows and so I threatened to end his contract only to discover from secretary Ken Calver that the club owed him £18,000. He continued to rebel and eventually left the club without getting all his money.”
So, that was that. Mullery won his first real test as a manager. Kinnear, for his part, proved to be a very different character as Wimbledon boss to his lackadaisical approach as a player, relying for much of his managerial success on his ability to motivate his players. In terms of priorities, at least this was something he and Mullery could both agree upon!