On this day in 1994, Mick Buxton banned players from tackling in training, due to fears of how FIFA’s latest crackdown on tackling would be interpreted by referees.
New regulations were introduced after the USA 94 World Cup, and Buxton wasn’t happy at all.
“Under the new system, if you touch a player before the ball, you’re cautioned. If you do it again, you’re sent off,” said the former Scunthorpe and Huddersfield gaffer, who’d arrived at the club the summer before as part of Terry Butcher’s coaching staff.
“I’m all for a good, clean game, but there’s a real danger that a glut of players will be sitting out matches.”
Buxton, who’d managed over 600 lower league games before arriving at Sunderland, was starting his first full season in charge of the club after taking over from Butcher midway through the previous year.
He was the third internal managerial appointment in a row, and had steadied the ship to a degree, guiding the club to a credible 12th place in Division One.
He didn’t add to the squad during the summer, however – the only summer transfer of note was Dariusz Kubicki’s loan deal being made permanent.
Whether Buxton’s fears were unfounded, or the ‘non-tackling’ regime had a marked effect, we only registered six yellows and no reds in the first five games during which we achieved four draws and a single victory. Two of those yellows were awarded to Kevin Ball, still adjusting to his relatively new midfield role.
It was a period of instability at board level - owner Bob Murray had stepped down as chairman, leaving John Featherstone as the club’s chairman, and the lack of investment in new signings certainly hindered Buxton’s spell at the club. Subsequent additions during the season were loan deals – Ian Snodin (brother of Simon Grayson’s coach Glyn) from Everton and Paul Williams from Crystal Palace - that had little to no positive impact.
It was a season of struggle, however, and, looking perilously close to relegation, Buxton was sacked with seven games remaining – ironically, a week or so after finally being allowed to splash the cash on striker Brett Angell – and replaced by a certain P. Reid.