Joe’s not for keeps

joecorrigan

After an illustrious career with Manchester City, Joe Corrigan had a short spell with Seattle Sounders before the club folded in the summer of 1983. The 34 year old ex-England international keeper then returned to the United Kingdom, with Brighton & Hove Albion in September 1983.

Memories from Seagulls’ supporters on Corrigan’s year on the south coast tend to be very positive. Most memorably, the experienced shot-stopper performed admirably in front of the ‘Big Match Live’ cameras in Brighton’s famous 2-0 victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup in january 1984. Disappointingly, the keeper himself is far less positive about his experience with Albion, in his autobiography ‘Big Joe’:

On his signing

I returned to England in September 1983 ready to begin life as a Brighton player. It would be the first time I’d played for a club outside the top flight having never actually seen any first-team action during my loan spell at Shrewsbury. They had the makings of a decent squad and most people felt we could bounce back to the top flight at the first attempt. It was a beautiful place to live, but completely different to life in Manchester. I’d come from an area where you could nip down to the local and have a pint on your own if you felt like it. At the same time, you were never lonely as punters would always come up and talk about City. It was much more standoffish in Sussex, where, if you went out on your own, you probably wouldn’t talk to a soul. Neither Val nor I knew anyone in Brighton apart from the players and so we decided to rent a house in Hove rather than diving in feet first and buying a place.

The sea was five minutes away and we enrolled the kids at an excellent local school, so, off the pitch, everything was great, which, as any player will tell you, is just as important as everything being right on it.
I had always negotiated my own contracts so when I sat down with chairman Mike Bamber and manager Jimmy Melia, I was surprised that Jimmy was asked to leave the room before we began to discuss my terms.

For some reason, I asked the chairman what would happen if I was badly injured. What would happen to my wages? He asked me why I asked that and I didn’t really know the answer but he added, ‘Don’t worry about it, Joe. We’ll insure you for £100,000.’ That was the first time I’d really heard of insurance policies on players, but it would turn out to be a question well worth asking, though I’m still not sure why I’d asked in the first place.

On the phantom Keegan transfer

‘Jimmy Melia stitched me up,’ chairman Mike Bamber told me. I asked him what he meant and he replied: ‘Well he promised me you and Kevin Keegan, but only you turned up.’ I thought that Jimmy had probably been sacked because of poor results, not because he’d failed to get Keegan, but it was hard to imagine Kevin ever signing for Brighton.

On Chris Cattlin

Jimmy Melia was sacked shortly after I’d signed my contract. Maybe that’s why he’d been excluded from the negotiations – and Chris Cattlin took over. He was a former Coventry City left back and would turn out to be the worst manager I’d ever played under. He owned a rock shop in the town and also had a home in Brighton so whether that swung the job for him, I don’t know. He brought in former Arsenal player Sammy Nelson as his right-hand man. Cattlin just didn’t have the right character to manage, in my opinion, and things deteriorated pretty quickly during his tenure.

On being an Albion player

Playing for Brighton felt a little like being on holiday. It was by the sea, we were renting a home and the players had a different attitude. The lads enjoyed a good social life and I felt things weren’t as focused as they should have been, but whether that was down to the division we were in, the lads at the club or the manager, I’m not sure, though Cattlin was certainly part of the reason. We had players like Steve Gatting, Steve Foster, Jimmy Case, Tony Grealish and Gordon Smith – a terrific bunch of lads – but we lacked direction and drive. It was hard to get used to the smaller crowds at the Goldstone Ground after so many years at Maine Road playing in front of crowds of 40,000 or more.

On playing while drunk

Brighton had been an experience and while I’d been there I learned a lot about myself. I also realised how much drink was influencing my life, more than at any other club I’d been at. It was while playing for them that, for the only time in my career, I went into a game drunk. There is no excuse for such a lack of professionalism, but it was the laid-back culture at Brighton that made it so easy. On a Friday after training we went to an Italian restaurant in the town and everybody would have a couple of glasses of wine and then go home. But I was too easily swayed and if anyone said, ‘Come and have another one, Joe,’ I would tag along. Travelling to Watford on one occasion, I got on the coach with two bottles of brandy in my pocket and drank one in my hotel room the night before the game. We were beaten 3-0 by a very good Watford side – managed by Graham Taylor and with the likes of John Barnes in the side – but while I wasn’t to blame for any of their goals, it was totally unacceptable. It made me realise how far I’d allowed myself to drift and since I had more time on my hands than ever before, I had to make sure the boozing didn’t get out of control.

On playing Manchester City

It hadn’t seemed like I’d been gone five minutes and already I was on my way back to Maine Road, this time in the colours of another team, which would be very strange. I flew up to Manchester before the rest of the team travelled so I could spend some time with my mum and dad and then I met up with the squad at a Manchester-airport hotel and we were soon setting off for Moss Side. The drive along Princess Parkway was surreal and I kept away from the windows, trying to keep my emotions in check. When I got off the bus I got a lovely reception from the fans around the main entrance and all the old feelings started to flood back, though it was a bit odd getting changed in the away dressing room. Finally, it was time to walk down the tunnel and as soon as I stepped on to the pitch I was greeted by the most wonderful standing ovation from the entire ground. It seemed to go on for an age. It was incredible and brought a lump to my throat. The rest of the Brighton team may have lost their focus in the emotion of the occasion and we didn’t perform at all on the day, going down 4-0.

corriganaxed

On being axed

Our season bumbled along and the return match with City a few months later was also a memorable encounter. I took a whack on my elbow, the one I’d had floating bone in, and was given an injection at halftime and told I’d be going out again, which I’d wanted to do anyway. Again, I got a fabulous reception from the travelling City fans and the match ended one apiece, honours even. I’d signed a three-year deal and the first season passed without much incident or success and I returned to pre-season training hoping that things would pick up and we could have a crack at winning promotion. Then Cattlin asked me to meet him in his office shortly after the first training session of the summer.

‘I’m just telling you now that you’re not going to play for the first team again.’
‘Oh,’ I replied. ‘For what reason?’
‘Why? Because I’ve made my decision and we’ve decided to go with Perry Digweed this season. In fact, I don’t want you here any more and would prefer it if you left the club.’
‘Fair enough,’ I said. ‘You find me a club and I’m gone.’

The main reason, I assumed, was my wages. Getting me off the payroll would free up enough cash to pay two or three decent players. I understood it was a business decision and didn’t take it personally.

On his tribunal victory

When I was interviewed a little while into the season, I told the reporter in so many words that I was disillusioned with life under Chris Cattlin and his attitude towards me, which I found disrespectful and ignorant. After it appeared in the paper, he fined me two weeks’ wages for ‘going public’.

I wasn’t having that because all I’d done was spoken the truth and if Cattlin didn’t like it, so what? He had made it clear I was surplus to requirements so I owed him nothing and I launched a formal appeal, which my union, the Professional Footballer’s Association, fully supported. Gordon Taylor, their top man, called me up to tell me they’d had enough and that if managers could speak publicly about players, why shouldn’t players be able to speak up when they wanted? It was deja vu because it had happened before at City under Malcolm. As things stood, we were fined every time we opened our mouths.

A tribunal was arranged at FA headquarters in London. Chris Cattlin, Gordon Taylor and I were in front of a panel and Gordon was magnificent. He put everything across in a manner that would have been beyond me and despite Brighton’s protestations that the ruling would open a can of worms, the panel ruled in my favour.

Cattlin was livid. ‘I can’t fucking believe you, Joe,’ he said. ‘The club will never let this lie.’ Whatever he thought, Brighton had to refund my fine. I had got one over on him and I wondered what his reaction would be. I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

On Cattlin’s revenge

The day after I received a phone call from Sammy Nelson telling me not to report for training, but to meet him at the ground at 4.30 that afternoon. I said that would be no problem and arrived at the designated time. Only the kit man was there, so I got changed and eventually Nelson turned up and said, ‘Right, you’ve got to run and run and run …. ‘ I told him that was fine by me and began to jog around the pitch as slowly as I possibly could. In my opinion it showed how petty Cattlin and company were; they’d obviously spat their dummies out of the pram. It seemed to me they were trying to break my resolve but they couldn’t. I’d been through a lot in my career. I was a thirty-five-year-old former England keeper and this was child’s play to me, though I admit it was the worst period of my career. It must have taken me three or four minutes to complete the lap and while I was meandering round Sammy was watching me, so I said, ‘Look, I’ll do what I have to do, but you’re going to stand there and watch me until I’ve finished.’ I continued my gentle jog around the Goldstone and took forever to complete the task.

The next morning Cattlin hauled me in.

‘We’re not having that again.’

I retorted, ‘Chris, let’s get this straight. I’m not twenty-five, I’m thirty-five and coming to the end of my career. I’ve got a good contract so if you want me to go, find me a club. If you want me to play in the youth team, fine. If you want me in the reserves, I’ll play. That’s what I’m paid to do – play football. That’s what the article was all about: playing for the first team.’

Out of favour in 1984/85, Corrigan had a loan spell with Norwich in September 1984 and then with Stoke City in November. He eventually retired in 1985 after a disc in his neck burst during a Brighton reserve match.

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One thought on “Joe’s not for keeps

  1. Chris Worrall says:

    Mmmmm. If Chris Cattlin was so bad then how come he built (and as we know wasn’t allowed to carry on building) potentially the best side we’ve ever had?

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