The management merry-go-round is one of the unfortunate features of modern soccer that seems to be here to stay. Fortunately, for the development of football, managers in the early days had more in the way of job security and Aberdeen's first-ever manager, Jimmy Philip, had more than two decades in the post as Pittodrie supremo.
In the days prior to the amalgamation of Aberdeen, Victoria United and Orion, Jimmy Philip, a local wood turner, was well-known in local football as a leading referee. Indeed Philip was the man in the middle at the first game ever played at Pittodrie between the original Aberdeen and Dumbarton in 1899. He was also recognised as a good organiser and a shrewd assessor of football talent, and his appointment as the first manager of Aberdeen FC Ltd, was met with universal approval among the members of the three founder clubs.
In March 1904 Jimmy's appointment as Secretary and General Manager of the club was announced, drawing this glowing tribute from local magazine 'Bon-Accord': "The appointment of Mr. James Philip as manager of the club is a wise step, and should make its mark felt in the team next season. He will devote all his time to the duties, and his wide experience in regard to the game should stand him in good stead, We hope that the directors will allow him a free hand with regard to the team, for in football, as in other matters, "too many cooks spoil the broth." Mr. Philip's first duties will be to see to his club getting into the first division of the league, and while this will take some canvassing to secure the requisite votes we believe the work could not be in better hands. We wish Mr. Philip bon voyage."
In those days, of course, the manager had slightly different duties to those of a modern football manager. Jimmy had a hand in team selection, but the training and conditioning of the players was left up to the trainer. Philip's right-hand man was his good friend and former referee Peter Simpson. While Peter ensured the players were fit for action, Philip's role was more as an intermediary between the players and the club's directors. He was also responsible for signing new talent and championing the club's cause within organisations such as the Scottish League and Scottish Football Association.
With Philip's astute powers of persuasion much to the fore, Aberdeen progressed from the Northern League to a place in the Scottish First Division within two years of formation in 1903. The manager's determination to put the Dons on the Scottish Football map was exemplified by the rapid influx of talent from all over the country, the most notable being Willie Lennie, a shrewd Philip signing from Fulham.
With Philip's hand on the tiller, the "Wasps" went from strength to strength, reaching their first Scottish Cup semi-final in 1908 - the year that also saw a first international honour for an Aberdeen player when Willie Lennie was picked for Scotland. The 1910-11 season saw Aberdeen as genuine title contenders, and Jimmy Philip rewarded his players by demonstrating that his pioneering spirit was not extinguished by promptly leading them off on a tour of Moravia, Bohemia and Galicia during the summer of 1911.
Ever the referee, Jimmy simply couldn't resist invitations on tour to give the locals a lesson on the art of refereeing and his own players were quick to discover they would get no favours from the manager! Rules were rules to the Aberdeen boss in his League role, but if he thought that Aberdeen FC would benefit from a slight or even sometimes severe bending of those rules, then he would not hesitate to act - he was reprimanded by the authorities on more than one occasion over the signing of a new player.
The scaling down of football during World War One saw the manager's duties at Pittodrie severely reduced until the club withdrew from all competitions in 1917.
Football returned with the peace and in 1919, Aberdeen were back playing with Jimmy Philip as manager. In April 1920 the club offered the boss a full time contract which, after due consideration, he accepted. The appointment had an immediate consequence, when then Chairman, Tom Duncan, who was the only surviving member of the original board of the Club, chose to resign over the matter. Football, however, like everything else in the wake of the Great War, had changed. The game had progressed from being a pastime to becoming a business.
In 1922, Peter Simpson retired as trainer and ex-player Paddy Travers was appointed in his place. Philip carried on as usual, but it must have been strange to have a new right-hand man after almost 20 years of working with his old friend. Then on Sunday, September30 on 1923, Jimmy Philip indulged himself once again in a little bit of rule bending on behalf of Aberdeen Football Club. At the home of Alexander Ross, a local Richmond player, Dundee officials obtained the signature of the aforementioned gent. The following morning at 6am, Jimmy Philip arrived at Ross's home and convinced him that his signing, having been on a Sunday, and also un-witnessed, was therefore illegal, and promptly signed him up as an Aberdeen player.
Philip then went personally to Glasgow to register Ross the same day. Not surprisingly, Dundee objected to the case and it was subject to an SFA ruling. On October 16 the SFA ruled Ross a Dundee player and Aberdeen were fined £100 for their part in the affair. What part that affair and later SFA sanction for fielding an allegedly weak side in a game against Queen's park in April 1924 had on Jimmy's decision to retire from management in July 1924, can only be guessed at, but it's more than likely that they had a bearing.
Characteristically, with virtually his final act as Aberdeen manager, Jimmy signed up one of Scottish football's true greats, future Wembley Wizard, Alex Jackson. Ultimately, Jimmy became a club director himself but a road accident in Belfast on July 11, 1930 led directly to his untimely death at home at 13 Erskine Street, Aberdeen on Sunday 12th October 1930 - he had attended the match at Pittodrie the day before when Aberdeen took on St Mirren and the board meeting that same evening.