Joe Kinnear obituary: Archetypal colourful Cockney footballer straight out of Crumlin

Dublin native’s astute management took Wimbledon to another level

Born: December 27th, 1946

Died: April 7th, 2024

Joe Kinnear, who has died aged 77, was an archetypal colourful Cockney of the kind that proliferated in the world of 1960s and 1970s English football, despite his background being entirely Irish.

A no-nonsense full-back with Tottenham Hotspur for a decade, he later became a highly quotable manager whose resourceful coaching turned the underdogs of Wimbledon into a regular presence in the top half of the English Premiership.


Though born in Dublin, Kinnear was straight out of Londoner central casting. He worked on a fruit and veg market as a young man, later owned a pub, had shares in greyhounds and enjoyed a glass of wine with a meal. The devil-may-care streak in his character once prompted him to take the job of managing the Nepal national team in 1985. When the Daily Mirror flew their reporter Harry Harris 5,000 miles east to interview him, the resulting article began: “Joe Kinnear sits in his office overlooking Mount Everest . . .”

Steady operator

Joe Kinnear was born Joseph Reddy on December 27th, 1946 in Dublin, one of five children. His early years were spent in Crumlin and Kimmage. His father, also Joe, worked at Guinness brewery in St James’s Gate, while his mother Greta was a housewife. When the marriage crumbled, Greta moved to Hertfordshire in England, and her six-year-old son later joined her, taking his new stepfather’s surname.

After excelling in schoolboy football, the teenage Kinnear was playing for non-league outfit St Alban’s City when he was spotted by a Tottenham Hotspur scout and signed by their venerable manager Bill Nicholson. By the age of 20 he was the club’s established right-back and starred in their FA Cup final win over Chelsea at Wembley in May 1967. Three months earlier, he had made his Ireland debut in a European Championship qualifier against Turkey in Ankara.

Kinnear would win several more medals with Spurs: a pair of League Cups in 1971 and 1973, and a Uefa Cup in 1972. As a defender, he was a steady operator who was happy to mind the shop and rarely ventured forward. But one of his few overlaps produced the highlight of his 26-cap international career, when he crossed for Don Givens to head home the opening goal in Ireland’s memorable 3-0 crushing of the USSR at Dalymount Park in October 1974. The following season, he left Spurs for Brighton, but knee trouble forced him to retire in 1976, aged 30.

Management beckoned and Kinnear served his coaching apprenticeship as an assistant to his friend Dave Mackay at two clubs in the UAE. He later managed Nepal and India before returning to Britain. In 1992, while coaching Wimbledon’s reserves, he was promoted to manager following the sacking of Peter Withe. The job proved a perfect fit for him.

Wimbledon had won the FA Cup under Bobby Gould in 1988, but Kinnear’s astute management took them to another level, regularly getting the better of wealthier, more talented teams. Not everyone appreciated their scrappy, two-fisted approach. Gary Lineker once lamented on Match Of The Day that one of their games had been such an ugly spectacle that “you’d have been better off watching it on Ceefax”. In response, Kinnear called the former England striker an “arsehole”.

Dizzy heights

Arguably Kinnear’s finest moment as a manager came when Wimbledon thumped Ruud Gullit’s star-studded Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge in October 1996. The win lifted them to the dizzy heights of second place in the Premiership. Refusing to get carried away, Kinnear warned: “There could be an awful lot of banana skins around the corner”. But Wimbledon ultimately finished a commendable eighth in the Premiership that year, while reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the League Cup.

Earlier in 1996, the FAI had approached Kinnear to replace Jack Charlton as Ireland manager. He declined, staying at Wimbledon. Around the same time, he and his old friend Eamon Dunphy were heavily involved in the campaign to relocate the club to Ireland as the Dublin Dons. The initiative died a death following vociferous opposition from the club’s London fanbase but Kinnear’s personal popularity was unaffected.

In March 1999, he had a heart attack before a game and resigned at the end of the season. Back he came several years later, managing Luton Town, Nottingham Forest and, memorably, Newcastle United, where he was a surprise choice as caretaker manager after Kevin Keegan resigned in September 2008.

Kinnear’s time on Tyneside is mainly remembered for a farcical press conference six weeks into his tenure. When Mirror reporter Simon Bird asked him why he had given Newcastle’s players a day off following five straight defeats, he called the reporter a “c***”, then went on to swear 51 more times during the 13-minute exchange. “F***ing print it,” he exclaimed. “I don’t care.” The media duly dubbed him JFK (Joe F***ing Kinnear).

In February 2009, Kinnear suffered another heart attack, which ended his managerial career for good. He returned to Newcastle in June 2013 as director of football, but resigned in February 2014; the following year, it became public knowledge that he was living with dementia. He died on April 7th, aged 77. He is survived by his wife Bonnie and their daughter Russelle; a son, Elliot, passed away from cancer at 40.