John Flanagan enjoyed a long and successful sporting career but he never quite came across a character quite like Trevor Anderson.
“An absolute disaster,” was how he summed up the Belfast man’s spell at Oriel Park when looking back on it this week.
Flanagan, who made 200 appearances over two spells at Dundalk, actually scored the first goal of the Anderson era when he came off the bench to rescue a late point against Galway Utd at Terryland Park in October 2002.
However, he looks back on that half season he had under the former Northern Irish international as the least enjoyable of his career and still wonders how Ollie Ralph failed to get the job following Martin Murray’s departure just five months on from guiding the club to the FAI Cup the previous April.
Ralph had taken temporary charge after Murray’s resignation with Dundalk winning both games – away to Kildare County and home to Finn Harps – before Anderson was appointed somewhat unexpectedly on October 16th.
“Ollie took over for a few weeks and we were flying,” recalls Flanagan.
“There was a great buzz around the place and we were near the top of the table. We were either first or second in the league but we were doing really well. Everyone thought Ollie would get the job but he wanted an 18 month deal or something like that and they only wanted to give him six months so whatever happened there, he went.
“Then the other fella came in and he was an absolute disaster.”
Flanagan, a teacher in De La Salle college in Dundalk, said it was all downhill right from the start under Anderson.
“He used to come in and try to do training in a suit. He’d stand in the middle of the field, smoking a fag, with a whistle in his mouth.
“It was a culture shock for us having had Martin and Ollie for a couple of years who were real hands on.
“He brought in a few experienced pros who were good lads but they were finished. The arse just fell out of the season. We went from challenging to win it to being near the bottom at the end.
“He just didn’t fit the club. The way the club had been for the previous years, there was a certain way it was ran and the players loved that. I know we had just got relegated and stuff like that but when he came in it was a real culture shock. He didn’t inspire you to play for him whereas you’d go the extra mile for Ollie or Martin.
“This man was standing in the middle of us in Hiney Park with a whistle and fag in his mouth, just blowing a whistle making you sprint laps around the field. There wasn’t a whole lot of modern coaching involved, it was just four cones and a whistle.”
After taking just two points from his first four matches in charge, Anderson finally claimed his first win when a brace each from Garry Haylock and Martin Reilly saw Dundalk win 4-2 away to Dublin City in mid-November. An Andrew Duffy goal then helped the side to a 1-1 at home to Limerick three days later but any hope of a late season revival for the nine remaining matches was ended following a stand-off between manager and players following a 0-0 draw away to Cobh Ramblers at the end of that month.
“One of the stories I always remember about him was the weekend we were down in Cobh and we drew.
“We went back to the hotel and usually Cobh was your team bonding weekend away so we went out for dinner and at that stage he turned around to (assistant/player) Paul Curran and said you can bring them out.
“He gave us a curfew of 1 o’clock but we were all out in the nightclub and when it got to 1 o’clock Paul said it’s all right lads, you’re with me so we stayed out as a team.
“When we got back to the hotel he was sitting in the reception with a cup of coffee and a notepad taking the names of everyone who came in late, even though we had all come in with Paul, who was assistant manager at the time.
“The following morning we got up and we were all absolutely dying but when we got on the bus he just sat at the front with two trays of water and wouldn’t give anyone a drink on the way home. He wouldn’t stop at a shop, wouldn’t give us a drink of water. He was just an asshole. Needless to say it didn’t really enthuse people to want to play for him.”
Flanagan never saw eye to eye with Anderson and would depart at the end of that season to spend two seasons in the Premier Division with hometown club Drogheda Utd.
While that worked out for him in hindsight, he admits to being shocked at being released at the time.
“I had done reasonably well under him but me and him just didn’t see eye to eye at all,” he said.
“I went into see him towards the end of the year and he just said to me ‘I don’t see a place for you here next year’. He said you’re unfit and overweight and I don’t want you.
“I’ve been accused of many things but they’re things I would never have been accused of before.
“He had a real disconnect from the fans and the media. He was just a different character and I’ve never experienced anything like him. I’ve worked with the likes of Paul Doolin, who might not have had the best of personalities but he was a fantastic coach. He had that X-Factor. This fella had that disconnect but there was nothing else replacing it.”
Looking back, Flanagan was surprised he lasted so long.
“I think with Linfield anyone could have won the league at that time because they were so far ahead. I think he maybe came down with a bolstered CV because of that.
“He came down with a big profile and obviously got a good wage out of the club and held them to it. I think anyone with a bit of pride would look at themselves from a professional point of view and say ‘Am I doing a good enough job?’ If you’re not and you’re being honest with yourself you walk away.
“Probably the only positive that came out of it was that a lot of locals got game time under him in that second season but whether they were good enough or not was another thing. Maybe that was the only budget he had left because he and a few others were taking it all.”
While Anderson left 16 years ago this Thursday, Flanagan feels it held Dundalk back for several more until they were finally promoted in his final game in the league away to Kildare County in November 2008.
“I know we had got relegated the season before that in 2002 but we won the Cup we had what I felt was a very good squad. We were challenging under Ollie but then the arse fell out of it. The arse fell out of the club.
“After that it went through the Jim Gannon years where he was trying to rebuild and after he left it still took a few years to get things back. That period I feel set Dundalk back a long way. He definitely left a lasting memory.
“There were bad years over the years at Oriel but they were never as negative as those couple of years with him. There was just a dark cloud over the club.
“His heart never really seemed to be in it. He never really seemed to be enthusiastic. There was never a ‘lets pull together here’. It was just roll on, roll on.
“He was just dreadful to deal with,” said Flanagan.