RIP Terry Venables (1943-2023)

27th November 2023 · 2020s, 2023, My Writing

RIP Terry Venables (1943-2023)

Footballer, manager, writer, singer, Dagenham boy Terry played for Chelsea, Spurs, Queens Park Rangers and (briefly) Crystal Palace between 1960 and 1975. He then managed Palace (winning the Division 3 and 2 titles in successive years), QPR (winning Division 2), Barcelona (winning the Spanish league title) and Spurs (winning the 1991 FA Cup). He took over England in 1994 and guided them to the semi-finals of the Euro 96 tournament, where they lost on penalties to Germany.

When I worked at the Evening Standard in the 1990s I used to run into Terry Venables from time to time in the multi-storey car park in Young Street. He owned a wine bar beneath our offices, aptly called Scribes, where we used to hold leaving dos from time to time, and he would often hold court there.

He being the England manager at the time, and me being a Gooner, I often offered him my advice (translation: harangued him) that he should pick Ian Wright in his teams: something he chose to do only once. He was an affable and approachable chap and would listen patiently (translation: hasten his stride in an effort to get away from his stalker) to my delusional insistence that I knew better than him who should be playing for England, grinning good-naturedly until I had finished winding him up.

Other than that, I remember the utter tedium of his QPR team’s fiendishly efficient offside trap, in particular a game at Highbury in February 1984. They played what would now be called a high line about a yard from the halfway line and my main memory – along with the freezing weather – is seeing Tony Woodcock caught offside about a dozen times. I suppose you would have to call it tactical genius because newly promoted Rangers won 2-0 and finished the season in 5th place. But it was hard to watch. What’s worse, he passed on his secrets to his best mate George Graham who refined those spoiling tactics even further, condemning me to a decade of offside trappery.

That season with QPR earned Terry the move to Barcelona where he successfully imported his 4-4-2 system to a league where every team historically played with a sweeper, or libero, in a back five. El Tel retrained Barça’s defence to play his offside trap, confounding opponents unaccustomed to such chicanery, and won them the title in his second season in Spain.

The less said about his next managerial post the better, save to say that in 1991 he won his new employers what would turn out to be their last major trophy (thanks largely to a lucky semi-final goal by Gazza). Then there was his spell as England manager, culminating in that semi-final defeat on penalties in Euro 96. Obviously England would have beaten Germany if El Tel had picked Wrighty.

If only he’d listened to me.