Chris Dunlavy looks at the career of Accrington boss James Beattie
WHEN Alan Irvine pulled up at James Beattie’s house in the summer of 1993, he expected to be welcomed with open arms.
Then a coach at Blackburn’s school of excellence, the Scot had come to offer the 15-year-old a traineeship at Ewood Park.
“I’d just recently retired and I was mixing coaching at Blackburn with work at a local private school,” said Irvine, who has since managed Preston and Sheffield Wednesday.
“The head of sports there came up to me one day and said: ‘You need to have a look at this lad we’ve got’.
“It was James, who looked like a young Alan Shearer at the time. He was big, strong for his age and very powerful, especially down the right hand side. And most importantly, he always scored goals.”
Unfortunately, when it came to signing the talented youngster up permanently, Irvine hadn’t reckoned on Beattie’s academic talents.
“I talked to his dad about him leaving school,” recalls Irvine. “And he said: ‘No – James is going to be a surgeon’. That was the level of his academic ability.”
Beattie – who also swam for England until a shoulder injury forced him to stop – did indeed stay on at school, finishing up with nine GCSEs, including As in physics, chemistry, biology and maths. But, in the end, the lure of dissecting defences was more enticing that slicing up bodies.
He signed a permanent contract in March 1995, just a month before Blackburn secured their sole Premier League title. And there he learned at the heels of Shearer, a man he still regards as “the Master”.
But with such stiff competition chances were always slim and in 1998 Beattie joined Southampton as a makeweight in the £7m deal that took Kevin Davies to Rovers.
Though he “nearly cried” upon hearing the news, it was to prove the making of the young striker. Again there was a fine mentor in Matt Le Tissier, who struck up a friendship with Beattie and impressed on him the importance of an unwavering penalty routine.
Le Tissier missed just one of his 49 career penalties; Beattie missed one in 36. “I just imagine I’m taking them against my son James in the back garden,” he said.
He also got to work with managers who believed in him. First Dave Jones and then Gordon Strachan.
“Gordon was the best manager I ever worked for,” said Beattie. “He always knew where the line was. He could have a laugh in training but he was brilliant at getting the best out of people.”
After a slow start, Beattie had his best season at Saints in 2002- 03, striking up a partnership with Brett Ormerod and netting 23 goals, behind only Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Thierry Henry in the Premier League goal charts.
He also won the first of five England caps, but was not selected for Euro 2004 and would never make the national team again.
Partly that was down to the failure of a £6m move to Everton in 2005. Though appreciated for his effort and a hit in the dressing room, he left two years later having scored just 13 goals in 76 league games. “Everyone loved him as a lad,” said Irvine. “People sometimes had this image of him as bigtime Charlie but he wasn’t at all. He worked very hard. But I think being the club’s record signing maybe weighed on him.”
From there he dropped into the Championship, scoring an impressive 34 goals in 62 league games for Sheffield United before a £3.5m switch to Stoke in 2009. His stay ended – very publicly – after a punch up with boss Tony Pulis. And after barren stops at Rangers and Sheffield United, Beattie pitched up at Accrington Stanley in 2012.
Now he is manager, and a man once paid £35,000 a week is paid £50,000 a year to keep the Football’s League’s smallest club out of the Conference.
And far from feeling out of his depth, Beattie appears to be relishing the challenge – cleaning toilets, painting dressing rooms and, earlier this year, personally paying the club’s five-figure tax bill.
“He’s a good manager and a good bloke to have at the club,” said Stanley skipper Luke Joyce. “He’s adjusted to management fantastically well and he’s been great with us, especially with the bad run we had at the start of the season.
“He’s not lost faith with us and he’s kept us positive, even on the back of some disappointing defeats and performances. He’s great to have around.”