Major Frank Buckley was already a highly experienced football manager when in May 1946 he was appointed to helm the Tigers as the Football League returned after World War Two. New funding and higher ambitions were in place at Hull City and Buckley, one of the game’s most progressive managers, was seen as the organised and discplinarian figure to bring new success to the Tigers, who had languished in Division Three North since 1936.
As with many clubs, the 1946/47 season was to be one of considerable turmoil. Players were returning from the war effort and conducting National Service duties, meaning that a regular side was often impossible to maintain. In addition, a severe winter shut down football for much of February 1947 and resulted in a fixture backlog extending into June, long after players had planned to depart their clubs to fulfil military duties. Buckley negotiated these challenges with aplomb, guiding the Tigers to a mid-table finish in a season that saw the club use 43 players in 47 senior fixtures.
The 1947/48 season saw Buckley’s Tigers start in superb form, going top of the Division Three North table in mid-October after a 1-0 win over Gateshead. However seven games without a win in February and March 1948 saw the Tigers drift into mid-table and Buckley came under pressure from the club’s board, who had expended significant resources to sign high calibre players such as Scotsmen Con Gallacher and Willie Buchan. On the last day of March 1948 the Tigers announced the signing of former England striker Raich Carter, a bona fide international class player in the latter years of his career. Carter was recruited as player/assistant manager and Frank Taylor, Buckley’s choice as assistant and brother of City full back Jack Taylor, was quickly jettisoned. Within a week Buckley had tendered his resignation and negotiated a new contract at Leeds United – while Buckley was officially in post until the close of the season, he was absent from the club and team selection was handled by the Directors, advised by Carter who they appointed as manager when Buckley’s contract ended in early May 1948. Buckley capped a turbulent April by receiving a fine for speeding in his car near Howden.
Franklin Charles “Frank” Buckley was born in Urmston near Manchester, his father was a military instructor from Cork in Ireland and his mother hailed from Kent. After attending school in Liverpool, Frank joined the Army’s King’s Regiment (Liverpool) as a teenager and served in Ireland before buying out his 12 year term in 1902 to take up a second career as a professional sportsman. He showed an interest in rugby league and was briefly associated with Swinton RLFC before he joined Aston Villa in April 1903, but in two years Buckley was unable to break into the first team. In May 1905 he transferred to Southern League side Brighton & Hove Albion then returned to Football League in June 1906 when he signed for Division One side Manchester United. Frank made his senior debut for the Red Devils against Derby County in September 1906, after three starts for Manchester United Buckley crossed the city to join rivals Manchester City in September 1907.
After 11 appearances in two seasons Buckley left the relegated Manchester City in July 1909 and joined Division Two side Birmingham. He combined playing football with the running of a farm in Redditch, in two seasons with the Blues he scored four goals in 56 appearances. In May 1911 he switched to Division Two rivals Derby County and helped the Rams to the Division Two title in his first season. Buckley spent two seasons in the top flight with Derby and attracted the attention of England’s international selectors – he won one England cap against Ireland in February 1914 – while scoring three goals in 97 appearances. The Rams were relegated at the end of the 1913/14 season and in May 1914 Buckley joined Division One side Bradford City, making four appearances in half a season at Valley Parade.
In December 1914 Frank left Bradford City and led a recruitment drive for the Middlesex Regiment’s Footballers’ Battalion, a group of sportsmen that came together to serve the Army in the First World War. With his previous military experience standing him in good stead, Frank was awarded the rank of Captain and became one of the most prominent faces of the Footballers’ Battalion during the subsequent hostilities in Northern France. He received injuries at the Battle of the Somme but served throughout the war, rising to the rank of Major – hence he became Major Frank Buckley throughout his managerial career.
Following his demobilisation Buckley was appointed manager at Southern League side Norwich City, a post he retained until June 1920 when he resigned as the Canaries successfully sought election to the newly formed Division Three of the Football League. Buckley returned to his farming interests and worked as a travelling salesman for a confectionery manufacturer, until August 1923 when he was appointed first team manager at Division Two side Blackpool. He spent four seasons at Bloomfield Road, leading the Tangerines – he changed Blackpool’s kit from red to vibrant orange – in 179 matches before resigning in May 1927. He had quickly made a reputation for signing little known players and selling them at a substantial profit, and also for maintaining the highest standards of fitness and recovery for his players.
It was these skills that meant within a fortnight of his Blackpool resignation Buckley had been appointed first team manager at Division Two rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, a club he would lead with distinction for twelve Football League seasons plus much of World War Two. Frank built a squad that won the Division Two title in the 1931/32 season and rose to Division One – in the previous 1930/31 season Wolves had reached the FA Cup Quarter Finals, losing out to local rivals West Bromwich Albion after a replay. Buckley’s patient building of a team continued and by the 1936/37 season he had piloted the Old Gold to another FA Cup Quarter Final – this time losing to Sunderland, for whom Raich Carter scored – and a fifth place finish in Division One. Fuelled by the unlikely medicine of monkey’s testicles, for the next two seasons Buckley’s Wolves side twice finished runners-up in Division One and reached the 1939 FA Cup Final only to lose to Portsmouth. They were regarded as one of the country’s finest teams when World War Two broke out in September 1939 – Buckley had led Wolves for 539 senior matches.
In February 1944 Buckley left Wolverhampton Wanderers after nearly seventeen years at the helm and joined Notts County, who made him the highest paid football manager in the country. Frank was given the task of plotting Notts County’s route to Division One football once the Football League resumed, but it was an ambition he never fulfilled because prior to the restart of league football in August 1946 he joined equally ambitious Hull City.
Within days of tendering his resignation at Hull City, Buckley agreed to take the manager’s role at Division Two side Leeds United – the West Yorkshire side had previously approached Buckley in August 1947 but were rebuffed. He led the Whites for five seasons and 224 matches, finishing regularly in the upper reaches of the Division Two table and reaching the FA Cup Quarter Final in March 1950, losing out to Division One side Arsenal. Frank left Leeds when his five year contract expired in April 1953 and immediately found a new job at Division Three South side Walsall. Now in his early 70s, Buckley led the Saddlers for two seasons – at the end of the 1953/54 season they finished in bottom place and successfully sought re-election, then the next season they finished just one place above bottom spot. After 103 matches in charge Buckley left Walsall in September 1955 and ended his involvement in the game he served as player and manager for over 50 years.
Buckley remained living in the Walsall area and died at home in the town in December 1964.
Date/Place of Birth: 3 October 1882, Urmston, England
Date/Place of Death: 21 December 1964, Walsall, England; 82 years, 79 days old
Appointed by Hull City: 17 May 1946; 63 years, 226 days old
Left Hull City: 6 April 1948; 65 years, 186 days old
Tenure: 3,330 days
Norwich City (1919-1920), Blackpool (1923-1927), Wolverhampton Wanderers (1927-1944), Notts County (1944-1946), Hull City (1946-1948), Leeds United (1948-1953), Walsall (1953-1955)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 88, Won 35, Drawn 21, Lost 32, Goals For 113, Goals Against 108
Achievements: 11th in Division Three North, 1946/47 season