Matt Healey continues the series.

Greg Downs was born in Carlton on the 13th December 1958. He began his career at Norwich City and remained at Carrow Road until 1985. He then moved to Coventry City where he won an FA Cup winners medal in 1987. He left there in 1990 and spent a year at Birmingham City. Downs arrived at Edgar Street in 1991. When John Sillett returned as manager at Hereford United he appointed Downs as his Player Coach.

Downs told me it was a title just in name “I came down to Hereford United officially as player coach, but John Sillett liked to be in full control, so I didn’t really have chance to input my ideas”

Hereford United 1991/1992 Team Photograph

Hereford were in the old Division Four which is now League Two. They started superbly and were top of the league in September 1991. John Sillett had won promotion to what is now the Championship during his first spell as Hereford manager in 1976 and the club was flying, unfortunately by November 1991 the club was slipping down the league. Downs scored his first Hereford goal in a 3-2 loss at Maidstone. The game is remembered for the opposition goalkeeper Iain Hesford scoring the winning goal from a punt up field.

Hereford would reach the 4th round of the FA Cup that season and lost 2-0 at Nottingham Forest.

Nottingham Forest v Hereford United – 26th January 1992

Hereford were inconsistent in the league, but Downs scored the winning goal against Northampton in a 1-0 win at the old county ground on the 29th February 1992.

Around the Spring of 1992 Sillett then started to simmer down his role at Edgar Street.

“It was a strange time, John and me lived in Coventry and we travelled down together, out of the blue he announced he was going to pack it in, I was just about to move into a new house in Malvern, it was a bit stressful as I had made this commitment in moving closer to Hereford. John kept coming to games, but from about the end of March 1992 I was in full control”. At the time the supporters didn’t know that and it wasn’t until near the end of the season that John resigned”.

Sillett officially left the club at the end of the season as Hereford finished in a disappointing 17th position. Downs was announced as the new player manager, but Hereford were in financial strife.

Hereford United – 1992/1993 Team Photograph

“When I got the job the board told me the club was £400,000 in debt, we had to slash the wage bill from £9,000 a week to £5,000 a week. I wasn’t allowed a coach or an assistant manager, the physio was part time too, I also had to play as well”

Downs was one of the four players sent off in the infamous 1-1 draw against Northampton on the 6th September 1992. The referee, a certain Mr Brian Coddington is still not a popular name in the Downs household.

“I remember the game very clearly, it was a nothing game the score was 0-0 with about twenty minutes to go. I was debating whether to make changes, I thought we would get a draw as we were defensively in control and that would have been a decent point away from home. So I decided against making any subs, then all of a sudden it all kicked off”

Downs continues “Our centre half Andy Theodosiou, had a coming together with the Northampton player manager Phil Chard who grabbed him by the legs, the linesman said he thought he saw Theodisiou stamp on Chard, this was on the on the edge of the D. He sent off Theodosiou for violent conduct. I asked my captain Derek Hall to speak to the referee to see what went on as none of us saw the incident as we were trying to move up the pitch, he then booked Derek, so I went and spoke to him, I asked the referee what happened, the referee kept waving me away, I said ok, if you don’t want to talk to me I will put that in my report, he then sent me off for two yellow cards as I had been booked earlier. So we are down to nine men and the referee has also given a penalty for an incident that happened outside of the area. They then score and take the lead.

“Unbelievably we equalise and make it 1-1. Simon Brain broke away and scored, the ref totally lost it, David Titterton then gets a 2nd booking for wasting time, even though he has already blown his whistle because a Northampton player kicked the ball away, so we are now down to eight men, Richard Jones then gets sent off for a bad tackle and we are down to seven, the Jones foul was the only one that was deserved. I remember at the time even the Northampton press backed us, but the FA upheld the sending’s off so we had a sixteen man squad, but would have four of us suspended two weeks later (Different rules then on suspensions)

Downs had to work within a meagre budget, but dabbled well in the loan market. The signing of Marcus Browning from Bristol Rovers was a shrewd move. The striker scored 5 times in 7 appearances.

“Yes, Marcus Browning, he was a good player, he added a lot of quality to the side, Rovers wanted money for him, we just didn’t have anything. I remember the saying old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard ,but we didn’t even have a cupboard”

Another blow to the coffers was losing out on a lucrative FA Cup 3rd round clash with Arsenal in early 1993. Hereford played Yeovil in the 2nd round but Downs was sent off in the replay.

“We drew 0-0 down there and bought them back to Edgar Street, we were 1-0 down at the time in the replay, the professional foul rule had come in, at the time referee’s were a bit too keen to send players off when they were the last man, I was playing as a sweeper, which made me see the game a bit more, I made the challenge and bought the lad down, I knew Steve Devine was close by, but I was still sent off, we lost 2-1, they scored in the last minute and we missed out on match with Arsenal”

Hereford finished in 17th place at the end of the 1992/1993 season.

The 1993/1994 season saw another struggle where Hereford finished 20th.”I was out most nights watching games to see if I could find players who would work within my budget. I remember the old joke I was out so much I had to introduce myself to my kids again at the weekends, I didn’t have any help and was doing so many roles at the club by myself. We had the lowest wage bill in the league”

Hereford United – 1993/1994 Team Photograph

In the Summer of 1994 Darren Peacock was sold by QPR to Newcastle for a reported fee of £2.7 Million. The relevance of this is Peacock was a former Hereford player and when he was sold to QPR from Hereford in 1990. The Bulls Chairman Peter Hill inserted a 10% sell on clause. This paid dividends when Hereford received a financial windfall on the Peacock move to St James Park.

Greg Downs 1994

Due to the financial injection the 1994-1995 season saw investment in the squad. Greg Downs had significantly changed his team that summer, the likes of Colin Anderson, Dave Morris, Leroy May, Gareth Abraham and Alan Judge departed, and the new arrivals at Edgar Street included Steve White, Gary Pick, Dean Smith, Nicky Cross, Tony James and Richard Wilkins.

“I was having to work with free transfers and no signing on fees, Prior to that I had the lowest wage bill in the Football League, I signed Dean Smith from Walsall, he was a natural leader and its no surprise he has become a great manager, we beat West Brom in the League Cup, so more money came into the coffers, we played Wigan on the Saturday and went 1-0 up. I remember telling my physio we needed to get a second goal pretty quick, we had put so much into the game four days earlier against West Brom, we tired and lost 2-1, we then played Torquay a few days later, We were 1-0 up and hanging on, then near the end a lad called Gregory Goodridge equalised for them and we drew 1-1”

Downs was dismissed the following day on the 14th September 1994 “I saw the Managing Director (Robin Fry) and he said bye bye. I was disappointed and upset, I had put my life and soul into the job for the previous two and a bit years and the squad needed more time to gel”

Downs definitely should have been given a bit longer. His assistant John Layton would then take over as Hereford manager.

“John signed Murray Fishlock who I would have signed anyway as I had my eye on him, but there seemed to be a lot of upheaval at the club and John left at the end of the season. Graham Turner came in the following campaign and he took the club to the Play Offs, bar a couple of players it was my team that did that. There was a bit of frustration on my part as I put a lot of effort into it and there were plenty of politics going on behind the scenes”

Downs then played part time and had spells at Kettering, Merthyr and Raunds Town, but is still sad that Hereford was his last Football League job “I would have loved to have got back in the game full time, but it didn’t happen. I managed a team called Wroxham in Norfolk and we won the league, I then got involved in the media and commentate on Norwich City games for local radio. I became a police officer but retired a couple of years ago from the force”

Downs ends with these final comments “I loved players who expressed themselves, the likes of Dean Smith and Gareth Davies went on to better things and i’m glad I was able to help them on the way”

Greg Downs 2019

*Photos supplied by Ron Parrott, MH Archive and Twitter