EASTERN PROMISE My father was in the Royal Navy and he was based in Singapore when the British navy was in all its glory. My mother came out to join him, and I was born there. I was two years old when we went back to the UK so I can’t remember anything about it. But it’s always been quite a good question for people: which former English international was born in Singapore?
LOCKED IN We went back to Lowestoft, in Suffolk [eastern England], which is where my parents are from, and where my wife, Rita, was born. My father ended up leaving the navy and becoming a prison officer, and I actually played for the prison officers’ football team when I was young. It was fiercely competitive, the prison officers wanted to win to make sure the inmates didn’t win their bets. We ended up playing at some strange locations all across the country. We played one game in the grounds of a mental asylum. Some of the patients started wandering across the pitch halfway through the game.
GOOD ENOUGH I always said I didn’t want to be a professional footballer because I didn’t want someone to say to me, “Sorry, son, but you’re not good enough.” I was never tracked as a younger player. I played for Suffolk County under-19s for two years because I was put up a year at school, so age-wise I would play ahead of my time. I was spotted by a good supporter of Ipswich Town, Mike Regis, who wrote to the club and said, “I think you should look at this guy,” so I was invited for a month’s trial and, after three weeks, they signed me as a professional. That was my dream as I supported Ipswich as a boy. It was £50 a week in 1976, signed by Bobby Robson (who would go on to manage the England team). I was earning more than my dad.
LOVELY BOBBY Bobby Robson was a massive influence on my career. To be at a club with Bobby was just brilliant. He was funny. He didn’t mean to be funny but he was. He used to sometimes say the wrong thing, he’d get names wrong. I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t love him. He was like a favourite uncle or your grandad. He was just a special guy and he made you feel 10 feet tall. You’d go through brick walls for him. And he was a clever guy, way ahead of his time in the tactics we used and the preparation for games.
NORTHERN SOUL I joined (Glasgow team) Rangers because of two words: (then manager) Graeme Souness. He’s very persuasive. Great guy. I fell out with him for a month then got sold, but before that we had four years of fun. The whole of Scottish football was transformed at that time because of the influx of money and players, and other clubs trying to keep pace with Rangers. And there was no European football for English clubs (due to a six-year ban after the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985). It was a great place to be.
ENGLAND EXPECTS Pulling on an England jersey meant everything to me. To play for your country is the ultimate dream. I hated England training because there were so many good players, they used to make you look a right Charlie. John Barnes, Chrissy Waddle, (Gary) Lineker, (Peter) Beardsley … I don’t think the England players now have anywhere near the laughs and the fun that we had. At the World Cup in 1990 (in Italy), we were bored so I said, “Let’s have a back-to-front meal,” and so we came in with our clothes on the wrong way round, walked in backwards, had the dessert first, then the main course, then the starter, then walked back out backwards. All the other players thought we were mad. They loved it, though – we got a round of applause. I can’t see England players doing anything like that today. It’s lifeless, sterile. In a way it’s become too professional. It should be fun.
TAKING THE LEAD When I was the manager at a club (he became the youngest manager in the Football League on joining Coventry City aged 31 as player-manager, in 1990) I’d always say, “I’m not a manager, I’m a leader.” You lead by example, you lead by your actions. You set the tone of what the players should do on and off the pitch. But it was always the senior pros who made sure the younger ones stayed in check. And if they stepped out of line, it was the senior pros that would pull them to one side. But that’s all gone now. I think most of the senior players now are concerned with themselves and making sure they fulfil their careers and push themselves to their maximum potential – which is understandable considering there are such big sums available.
THE BUNG STOPS HERE In all my years as a manager, I’ve never been involved with “bungs” or underhand payments. I know it goes on. There was a transfer a few years ago that didn’t go through because the manager wanted money in a brown paper bag. So I stopped the deal. Managers earn a lot of money these days. Why then go and look for other money? I can’t believe a man of (disgraced ex-England manager) Sam Allardyce’s experience would fall for that. I’m shocked and stupefied that English football is now at this point. It’s like Laurel and Hardy are running the (Football Association). When England lost to Iceland in the Euros it felt like being relegated and I didn’t think we could get any lower, but we’ve certainly plummeted to new depths now. The England manager’s job isn’t like a soap opera – it’s worse than that. It’s a tragedy. Shakespeare could have written the script for it.
THE NEXT GAME I miss playing. I miss being fit. My knees now set off every alarm possible when I go through the security at airports. But I do a lot of biking, a lot of walking, I play golf. Nowadays, I do a bit of punditry – I’ve got a good face for radio – and I do my column in the Sunday Mirror every week. I enjoy the media side because you can walk away afterwards and you’ve got no worries. As a manager you’ve got injuries and suspensions and the chairman and the board and the press and agents. It’s 24/7. I don’t miss the management side. It’s awful when you lose a game as a manager. It was horrible as a player, but you knew there was always the next game and you knew you had training to get it out of your system, but as a manager it was so hard because you had to go through everything again and build it up for the next game. That’s the thing about football: there’s always the next game.
Terry Butcher was in Hong Kong to speak at the Indochina Starfish Foundation Charity Sportsman’s Dinner.