Don Howe sadly passed away on the 23rd December.
The former right-back turned professional with West Bromwich Albion before being transferred to Arsenal in 1964 and gained 23 England caps during his playing career.
Later he became the Gunners first team coach and then in 1971 he managed West Brom. After a spell as Wimbledon’s assistant manager, Don joined the Rangers to assist Trevor Francis and then succeeded him in November 1989, a post he held until May 1991.
The following extract comes from an in-depth interview that appeared in the QPR home programme (Coventry City – Littlewoods Cup 3rd Round), dated 25th October 1989:
‘Don Howe has an uncanny knack for juggling three demanding and diverse roles in football and at the same time keeping a low profile. In one week he can be involved in a league match at Rangers Stadium, providing informed commentary on South America’s World Cup qualifying matches for satellite TV on Sunday and coaching the England team midweek.
And yet he stays quietly in the background, rarely speaking out in the Press and never involved in the tumult of controversy that seems to court football’s leading personalities. Little has been publicly seen or heard of Don Howe, coach to QPR and England, since it was revealed the FA would not make his England role a full time, full salaried post.
But the effects of his hard work behind the scenes can be clearly seen on the pitch and have culminated in the England team booking a ticket for Italy and the World Cup finals next summer.
Don joined Queen’s Park Rangers in July from Wimbledon, already familiar with the club’s England internationals David Seaman and Paul Parker. He has formed a quick and ready rapport with Trevor Francis, has an easy communication with the players and co-ordinates tactics in the dugout on a match day when his manager is in action on the pitch.
With typically quiet modesty Don brushes aside suggestions that combining a league and national job in the run up to the World Cup is demanding and diverts any credit for England’s qualification to Bobby Robson.
“I am very much like a player in that I turn up for an international match. I work with Bobby Robson and the players until the game, and afterwards I go back to my proper job,” he says: “Bobby is the full-time man and has to take the responsibility for how the team plays and he makes the decisions.”
“I try and help him in any capacity I can. Obviously we have a lot of discussions but I’m just a part-time bloke there and my responsibilities are to QPR. Once I have left the England camp, I wouldn’t say I forget about England, but my responsibility is to QPR. I do the England job for pride, not for financial reasons, because the finances of it aren’t very good!”
Don has struck up a genuine friendship with Bobby Robson, based on mutual respect and shared insights into football. Win or lose, Robson must sometimes feel he can do no right. He came in for criticism for England’s disastrous performance in the European Championships, and now that England are in the World Cup he has been criticised again for a negative display in Poland.
Don Howe has supported the England manager through thick and thin, and now finds himself defending Robson again. After the 0-0 draw in Poland he said:
“Obviously just like a league side you don’t want to give anything away when you are playing away from home and trying to win your qualifying group. That is exactly how it has been planned, and it’s worked very well. All the supporters want to see England play well at Wembley and in Poland and in Sweden and wherever, but more times than not you have to make sure you qualify and that’s what has happened in our group.”
“We’ve now got enough points to qualify for one of the two wild card entries into the World Cup finals, and will win our group if Sweden don’t manage to win in Poland.”
“With the greatest respect to Alf Ramsey, his England team qualified in 1966 because they were the host country and then in 1970 because they were the holders. Bobby Robson has qualified twice for the Word Cup through doing well in England’s groups.”
Queen’s Park Rangers own players David Seaman and Paul Parker seem to have been knocking on the door of the England team for a long time now. Don works with them all week, oversees their performances for QPR in the league and teams up with them again for national training. Neither has yet progressed from the training squad and subs bench to a regular first team place for England.
Don says: “Both of them are playing a part in England’s success. David Seaman was always the third choice keeper behind Peter Shilton and Chris Woods, and now all of a sudden he’s Peter’s deputy. In time he will get on, but Shilton’s playing so well at the moment that David has to be patient, work hard, and be ready when the chance comes his way. If there’s one keeper that can fill Shilton’s place its David.”
“He’s getting a lot of experience without pressure. He’s watching international games and training alongside Peter Shilton, he’s seen how hard Peter trains and David’s doing the same kind of work. I think David’s chance will come after the World Cup, unless Peter gets a knock of any kind.”
“Paul Parker has been brought into the squad and what has impressed Bobby are his defending qualities. Paul is like Des Walker – he’s just waiting for his chance.”
“He could play anywhere in the back-four which will be to his advantage and that’s why Bobby always puts him on the subs’ bench – now he just needs the opportunity to come on. Once he’s given the chance I think he will be there to stay. Paul is such an outstanding defender, and he’s improving every year.”
“There are a few friendly games between now and when we go to Italy, and I think Paul will be in the team for those.”
When England get to Italy they will be able to draw on the invaluable knowledge Don has picked up while commentating on the other World Cup qualifying groups.
Apart from getting to grips with some tricky name pronunciations, Don provides a narrative of the game far beyond simply announcing each player in turn as he receives, passes or shoots. And it reflects his extensive knowledge of the sport as a whole and a comprehensive interest in football worldwide, at club and national level.
“It’s terrific homework” he readily admits. “It’s given me an insight into all the South American teams. I have always been a student of the game itself. It’s always been my hobby to look at world football and I have been lucky enough to go on three tours of South America.”
“I know for a fact that Brazil and Uruguay are going to be exceptional teams in the World Cup, in fact they are the best two teams and I rate them in front of Argentina. It’s opened my eyes to the type of players South America is producing and should it be one of those teams is in our group in Sardinia, I will know all about them.”
Rest in Peace Don.