“It was one of those nights where everything I touched seemed to go in – and those are very few and far between.”
Critics may say the appointment of a 55-year-old rookie to his first managerial role has all the hallmarks of a disaster, particularly when it is a club recently relegated to the basement division. Stabilising a club after the despondency of relegation is no easy task, and Oldham have turned to a club legend to drag them out of the mire.
It is unlikely that many football supporters under the age of forty will have heard of Frankie Bunn, but he is one of those rare players who have achieved cult status because of one event. In the case of Frankie, we can call it six events. All six of those events came during a third round Littlewoods (League) Cup tie between Second Division promotion-chasers Oldham and Fourth Division strugglers Scarborough on 25 October 1989. Oldham won the game 7-0 with centre-forward Frankie getting a double hat-trick, which still stands as a League Cup record. Bunn had his first hat-trick after twenty minutes and five goals by halftime. What is often forgotten is that Bunn also claimed an assist for the other goal as his flick on was finished superbly by strike partner Andy Ritchie.
Unusually for the time, the game was televised – the goals are readily available online. Oldham surprised the football world by going all the way to the final, where they lost by a single goal to Nottingham Forest. Bunn was substituted at half-time at Wembley and made just two more appearances before his career came to a premature end due to injury. Let’s go back to the beginning.
Born in Birmingham, Bunn started his football career with Second Division Luton after leaving school at the age of sixteen. Unfortunately he would make only sporadic appearances throughout his five seasons at Kenilworth Road due to the presence of David Moss, Brian Stein, Trevor Aylott and Mick Harford at various times. He did enjoy promotion to the old First Division in 1981-82 after an excellent run of just one defeat in their last twenty-two games secured the title by an eight-point margin. After another great end of season run, Luton famously retained their First Division status on the final day of the 1982-83 season when an 85th-minute winner from Raddy Antic relegated Manchester City in their place. More memorable was David Pleat’s equally famous run across the Maine Road pitch, although Bunn was not in the side that day.
Luton retained their First Division place by just three points in 1983-84, although their position was only endangered by a poor run of only three wins from their last twenty-three games. Bunn’s final season saw Luton reach the semi-final of the FA Cup, going down 2-1 to Everton at Villa Park. In the summer of 1985 he was taken to newly-promoted Second Division side Hull City by player-manager Brian Horton, who had been Bunn’s captain for three years at Luton. Bunn had the unenviable task of replacing Hull legend Billy Whitehurst, who had been sold to Newcastle. This time he managed to secure a regular place in the team, helping Hull to finish sixth in their first season and fourteenth in his second.
Having scored 23 goals in 95 games for Hull, Joe Royle took him to Second Division rivals Oldham for £90,000 in 1987. Oldham finished tenth in 1987-88, well off the pace at the top of the table, and endured a televised hammering from Spurs in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Early in the 1988-89 season Bunn picked up a knee injury that would eventually force his premature retirement from the game. He missed four months initially, but was destined to struggle on for a further nineteen months without ever really regaining full fitness. Oldham finished a disappointing sixteenth.
After two relatively quiet seasons, there was no sign of what was about to happen at Boundary Park in 1989-90. In what Joe Royle still calls his ‘pinch me season’, Oldham were destined to finish only eighth in the Second Division, but there were a few distractions. Further to that astonishing run to the League Cup Final, they also reached the semi-final of the FA Cup, going down 2-1 to Manchester United in a replay. In all, they played nineteen cup ties and 65 games in total. It was little wonder that a run of only fourteen points from their final twelve league games saw them miss a playoff spot by an agonising three points.