Harry McNally, who sadly passed away in December 2004, began his managerial career at Wigan Athletic in 1983 spending two years in charge narrowly missing out on promotion from the old Third Division by just one place. A rare manager in that he never actually played league football, spending his playing career at Skelmersdale United.
Following his time at Wigan, Harry moved on to manage Chester City in 1985, where he remained until 1992 - making him one of the longest serving managers in the league at the time. During his tenure the club moved from Sealand Road to the Deva Stadium via 2 years at Moss Rose. It is often said that teams reflect their managers and if this is the case Harry's teams were known for 100% commitment to the cause, and during his time at Chester City, it is a fact that his teams were rarely beaten by more than a goal. This is all the more amazing when you consider that he managed Chester for 378 games, losing only 145 in total.
Highlights during his Chester City career were keeping the club in the Football League Division 3, promotion in 1985-6 and their 8th position in 1988-9 - playing on a level playing field with the likes of Birmingham City, Preston North End and West Brom - all at times of immense difficulty for the club without a ground.
Following his managerial career, he stayed in the game principally as a scout, using his canny knack of spotting a player for a whole host of North West clubs including Stockport County, Preston, Blackpool and Tranmere Rovers.
His major legacy was the signing of Wigan manager Paul Jewell, who he signed from Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool in 1984 after watching the then young striker in the reserves at Anfield. Signed for £15,000 (incidentally McNally felt this was the best investment Wigan have made, when you consider Jewell's impact on the Lancashire club as manager) Harry later said
"Paul was clearly a pup for Kenny Dalglish, whom he had obviously learned from. I followed his progress with great intensity. There was no doubting the boy's pedigree. He was not the biggest of players, but boy, was he clever and skilful. Paul could also score goals and displayed tremendous bravery. I was determined to take him to Wigan."
Though a difficult decision to move for Liverpool-fan Jewell, the facts bore out Harry's faith as he went on to score 47 goals in 145 appearances before moving on to Bradford for a £65,000 profit. Harry recalled the lengths to which he went to get Jewell's signature saying,
"I'm just glad I was able to bring him to Wigan. I had to track Kenny Dalglish down in a London hotel because you could not get his mobile number at any price. I finally got him ahead of a match at Wimbledon. He told me to speak to Joe Fagan and after they both agreed, the deal was completed with Peter Robinson."
He did bring into the game a whole host of players including Roger Preece, Graham Barrow and Milton Graham, but his highest profile 'spot' will always be Paul Jewell. In one of his last interviews he backed Jewell and Wigan for promotion to the Barclays Premiership saying, just before his death
"He is clearly a very good boss who sets high standards and works hard. I like how he goes about his business - keeping himself to himself. Paul does not give much away but he obviously knows how to bring out the best in those around him. He has good players and a fine back-up team. Don't bet against either him or the Latics!"
Wherever one looks Harry is regarded fondly with players, clubs and supporters alike rarely having a bad word to say about him - according to Wigan's official website, current Latics first team coach David Lowe said
"He had a fiery temper at times, but he also enjoyed a laugh and got involved in the general banter that went on. He was a real character and straight out of the old school in terms of his beliefs and the way he enjoyed football. Myself, Steve Walsh and Mike Newell were just three players who came through when he was in charge of the reserve team."
Another former player, Alex Cribley said (again on Wigan website)
"No matter who you spoke to they knew Harry. Right from the very top level through to non-league, everyone knew him. He could tell you tales that would make your ears curl and hair stand on end at the same time. Because he was such a character, what often gets forgotten is what a knowledgeable football man he was and he really did recognise talent when he saw it."
Even Paul Jewell was moved to remember
"Everybody has a story about Harry, there are hundreds of them and the best thing about it is that they are all true. I'll never forget one of my first games for the club away at Rotherham when Harry was sent off after about 10 minutes, and was then followed by Steve Johnson and Steve Walsh as the game went on. Anyway somehow we got a 3-3 draw with nine men, but I remember wondering what an earth I'd let myself in for - it was never dull but it was certainly enjoyable and that's why Harry will always be talked about and always be remembered by people with a smile on their faces"
In the year of his death, who could doubt Harry McNally's contribution to Wigan, especially if his protégé manages to do the unthinkable and take the club up to the highest league in English football, a fitting epitaph for a true footballing man, who will be fondly remembered as one of the game's true characters.