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Stuart Pearce: One-on-One

Stuart 'Psycho' Pearce, Nottingham Forest legend, England U-21 manager and new boss of Team GB, answers readers' questions with refreshing honesty back in January 2003, when he was coaching at Manchester City.

It's 8.30am and the car park at Manchester City’s Carrington training complex on the outskirts of the town is almost empty. Psycho’s hard at it, though. Dressed in regulation City T-shirt and shorts, he cuts an odd figure sitting behind a desk wading through paperwork. You still can’t quite believe that one of England’s best-loved players ever finally hung up his boots and is now full-time ‘management’. But once he’s put the kettle on for a brew, things seem a lot more normal. As on the pitch, it doesn’t take Stuart Pearce long to get stuck in.

As a QPR fan, did you ever have a trial with the Rs?
Richard Young, QPR supporter, via e-mail
I did have a trial, yes. All my family are QPR supporters and I was as well; I used to go down and watch them. My old man wrote away for a trial for me when I was 13. I went down there, passed the trial and trained there for six months. Then the season ended, so I went back the following year and bumped into one of the coaches, who said, “Oh, training’s not this week, it’s... whenever.” I just got the impression it was “Thanks, but no thanks – you’re not good enough." So I stopped going down there.

I didn’t have any more contact with a professional club until I was 17. I was playing for Wealdstone part-time and Hull City asked me and our captain to play in a practice game. They actually offered me a contract, but at the time I was 17 years old and I didn’t fancy it. It seemed a long way from home and I’d just started a job as an apprentice electrician. If I’d gone to Hull and wasn’t happy, who knows what would have happened to me? I’m not one that you could say had an old head on young shoulders. Probably the opposite actually! But every time I make a decision in football I think it’s the right one at the time and I stick by it.

Why do you think you weren’t spotted until relatively late on? While you were playing for Wealdstone did you think you would make it as a pro?
Steve Bell, Surrey
I wasn’t spotted purely because people didn’t think I was good enough. I probably wasn’t good enough either, though I do think I was one of the better players. I used to play centre-half and didn’t really play left-back until I left school, so maybe I was playing in the wrong position at first. Plus I was small and didn’t really grow until I was 18 or 19.

Did I think I would make it? [Laughs] As soon as you leave school and start going to work ever day the last thing you dream about is being a professional footballer. You don’t go, “Hang on, I work I a warehouse down in Stonebridge now. I hope I’ll be a professional footballer tomorrow.” You just don’t think that. As a kid I did, but as soon as I had that disappointment of being released by QPR when I was 13 I thought, well, maybe I’m not good enough. Then you tick along and you play to the highest standard you possibly can.

With Wealdstone, aged 17

What is the tattoo on your arm? Is there a story?
Mark White, Northampton
Me and my mates were bored one day. I was 17 at the time and we went somewhere like Slough to get a tattoo. We all wanted the cross of St George or whatever, but the place was shut. So we marched over to Stanmore to a fella over there and four or five of us all had tattoos. It’s supposed to be an eagle with the sun behind it, but it has been described by a few people as a porcupine having a period!�

Everyone’s got a tattoo nowadays, but I did it when it was very unfashionable. You had to be a sailor or an idiot to do it when I had mine. I don’t know what I was… a nautical twat, probably!

How did you get the Psycho nickname?
Langers, Woodbridge
In the ‘80s anyone who kicked anyone at their football club was called Psycho or Rambo. I got the name from the Forest fans and it stuck. It was a bit of fun, it got the supporters going and it got me going at times as well. I never really tried to live up to it; I always thought I was a little bit cuter than that and I think my disciplinary record will probably bear that out. I’ve got a reputation, yes, but I think I’ll be remembered as someone who played the game hard but fair... maybe hard and not fair at times, but I’ll live with that. I never went to Lancaster Gate for a disciplinary hearing and I only ever got sent off five times, which in the modern game isn’t too bad.

So, Psycho. A film about a creepy motel owner who dresses up as his dead mother. Not really you, is it?
Norman Bates, via e-mail
It sounds very much like me.

To what extent did the hard man reputation help you? Did it intimidate some opponents and render them less effective?
Mark Allen, via e-mail
I would say maybe, yes, sometimes. When I was at Coventry, Bobby Gould said to Terry Gibson, “Who would you rather come up against: Graham Roberts or the other centre-half at Tottenham?” Terry Gibson said, “Well, the other fella.” “And why’s that?” said Bobby. “Because Graham Roberts kicks me all over the pitch,” said Terry. “Well, there you have it,” said Bobby.

"Maybe I'll be remembered as being hard but not fair at times, but I'll live with that"

Any player who you’ve particularly looked up to?
Michael Reynolds, via e-mail
David Webb was my hero, and when I was at school I wanted to be a goalkeeper, so I really liked Gordon Banks. I liked watching Ryan Giggs when he first came on the scene. He’s an exciting player. Sometimes you like people who can do things you can’t – you respect that. On the other hand, you like players who have similar traits to the ones you had. I look at Roy Keane, at his good points, and think, if I had someone in my team with that heart, I’d be delighted. Jaap Stam, I liked him. He was never in the newspapers, he was never doing anything except going out there and playing good football. He was the ideal professional for me.

How did you keep your cool after your infamous meeting with Basile Boli in Euro 92? Have you met him off the pitch?
Ian Harding, via e-mail
You just have to use things like that as a positive to spur you on. He headbutted me because I'd caught the fella I was marking – the winger – and Boli had seen it. It was a reaction to something I’d done. So I’ve gone down, maybe out of shock. It definitely wasn’t the blow that put me to the floor. It was more, "Hang on a minute."

You’d get crucified for saying it nowadays, but if a player headbutts you, common sense says go down, stay on the floor, they get a player sent off and on you go. People can't say it’s diving, not if someone headbutts you in the face and splits your chin open, know what I mean?

So I go on the floor, the referee doesn’t see it and I think, there’s no point lying on the floor any more. I’d better get up. So then I went over to the fella I was marking and said it was him that done it. Just to put him on the back foot. And he was busy for the next 20 minutes denying it was him and probably sh*tting himself a little� bit. So you use a negative as a positive to help your team. It was just one of those things.

The first question I was asked in the press conference was, “Were you headbutted?” and I said, “No, it was an innocent clash of heads,” because common sense told me that if I’d said it was deliberate, then the first thing they would have done was dig out all the footage of me over the years and I’d be crucified.

Boli faxed me at the hotel where we were staying afterwards and said, “Thanks for your sportsmanship,” because he realised that if I’d made a meal of it he’d be in the sh*t. But I’m of the philosophy that whatever happens on the football pitch stays there. That’s the way I’ve always lived my life and the way I’ve played the game. And no, I’ve never met him since.

Is it true that after he Germany semi-final at Italia 90 you spent the night with severe bladder problems?
Aidan Staunton and Tomas Blake, via e-mail
Definitely true, yes. They drug test players from each team after every match. Two Germans, myself and Shilts [England keeper Peter Shilton] got pulled out after the game. So Shilts goes in, has a quick p*ss, and leaves. Credit to the Germans, they sat there really quiet. You wouldn’t have known which set of players had won the semi-final and which set had lost. They gave a sample and left.

Now bear in mind that we were losing six or seven pounds in sweat per game, so I must have been there a good one-and-a-half to two hours just drinking, drinking, drinking... trying to have a pee. And I couldn’t! I was even walking round the running track outside and it just went on and on – it was ridiculous. So by the time I’d finally had a pee, got back to the hotel, had something to eat and gone to bed I was up all through the night, I couldn’t stop!

I was rooming with Des Walker and I got up on about five occasions because I’d drunk so much water. I didn’t want to turn the light on and disturb him, but I thought, this is ridiculous! So I found one of those wastepaper bins, the tin one with no holes. And every time wanted a slash I just rolled over, pissed in the bin, rolled back and went to sleep! In the morning there was loads in there. It was ludicrous. And Des slept all the way through.

If you hadn’t scored in the penalty shootout against Spain at Euro 96 and England had still gone through, would you have stepped up to take one against Germany in the semi-final?
Simon Murray, Kingston-upon-Thames
That’s a good one. I think the answer is yes. I was happy to take a penalty with six years gone since my miss in the World Cup and I think if you go up to take a penalty then you also have to be prepared to miss a penalty. I think I would have taken one, though I don’t know if that’s naïve. The only time I would have told someone to go ahead of me would have been if I genuinely thought they had a better chance of scoring than I did. Shearer, Platty and teddy were all better penalty takers than me. So it wasn’t about bottle; it was about the best man for the job.

Kevin Keegan made a point about penalty takers. He said to me that he was always happy for me to take penalties for him because he knew that, score or miss, I would still play exactly the same way after the incident. He knew my head wouldn’t go.

That penalty against Spain in Euro 96 – never in any doubt

What did you say to Gareth Southgate when he missed that crucial penalty against the Germans in the semi-final of Euro 96?
Andy Heron, via email
I basically consoled him. The philosophy of the squad – and it was a very tight squad at the time – was we’re in it together. It didn’t matter who missed or who scored. I suppose I could associate with him. I got on well with Gareth. He is someone I clicked with right away, and he’s a decent guy – a bloody nice bloke. When someone turns round and says, “I know how you feel”, normally they don’t. In that case I did. We spent the evening together having a few beers and a chat back at the hotel. I’d like to think it helped him.

Of all the managers you played for, who did you get on best with? And who was the best tactically?
Andy McIntosh, Leeds
I’ve always said that Venables and Hoddle are the two who are tactically good. I learnt quite a bit off Glenn. Maybe it’s because he does things that suit my personality. I’m quite regimented and I think he is as well. He likes order and I’m the same way. I’ve learnt a lot diet-wise from him. The general vibe about him is that he’s dismissive, but bear in mind he took the England managers’ job when he was 38. That’s two years younger than I am now and he was at the peak of his managerial career.

I’ve always said that if we weren’t as blinkered and if we didn’t get rid of managers in a way that shuts the door, then why couldn’t we go back to Glenn in 10 years’ time and say, “Would you like another bash at the job?” England played some of their best ever football under Glenn, but that all gets brushed aside in favour of the personal slur and the bits and pieces that went on.

Different managers have different strengths and you pick bits and pieces up from all of then. You wouldn’t say Brian Clough was a fantastic coach, but he would leave you a line to decipher for yourself and you’d go home at the weekend thinking about what he meant. When the penny dropped you’d know exactly what he meant without him having gone on about it for hours.

I’m at Manchester City with Kevin Keegan now and people really want to go and play for him. He has great man-management skills. He brings that bubbly personality and that’s a big strength, the sheer likeability of the man. I wanted to leave my home in Wiltshire to come and work for him, so that shows you how I get on with him.

Brian Clough said that while injured as captain during what turned out to be Forest’s relegation year in 1993, you could have done more to lift morale. Is he right?
Jez Durie, via email
He was spot on. I’d had a wrangle with him pre-season which I felt let down by. Now I’ve got my side of the story, he’s got his, and I’m quite happy to state my case and let other people judge. I fell out with him for the whole season, really. I had a groin operation, so I couldn’t help that. But I had a very poor season – probably the worst I had as a professional – purely because of the fact that my mind was taken off the game and I had a personal vendetta with the manager. I could have done more for the morale of the team and I could have done more physically, but that just shows me that if you’re not 100 per cent right mentally when you go on a football pitch, then your standards are going to drop, no matter who you are.

I felt let down by Brian. No doubt he’ll have a different view, but I’m reasonably confident that I had good reason to feel aggrieved after working for him for eight seasons. I’ll keep my mouth shut about exactly what went on between me and him – it was private – but I honestly don’t believe I was in the wrong. My reaction after the argument might not have been ideal from the club’s point of view, so to answer your question, he was right, yes.

Your most admired qualities were passion and commitment. Does it frustrate you when other professionals don’t put in the effort?
Sue Phillips, Forest and England supporter, Hemel Hempstead
Yes. �That’s the bare minimum you can do. You get out what you put in, and people sometimes don’t realise it. They think they can have a shortcut here and a shortcut there, but it catches up with you in the long run. People talk about sacrificing a lot, but how many actually do? I can assure you I did. Last year I lived away from my family. I have a three-year-old daughter and it’s very difficult, but I’ve got a very understanding wife. She’s got her own interests and they keep her busy, so she’s not sat at home waiting for me to come through the door.

When I worked for West Ham I used to say to Harry Redknapp, my manager at the time, “Harry, I’m going to stay at home today and go and work out over the park, rather than driving up to London.” He’d say, “OK, Pearcey, no problem.” They trusted me. And every time I said I was going over the park, I went over the park.

I trained every year on Christmas Day and people couldn’t believe it. Even in my non-league days. Harry let me have Christmas Day at home once, but on Christmas morning I got changed to train and my wife said, “Where are you going?” I said, “Down the park.” She said, “It’s Christmas Day.” I said, “Yeah, but I told Harry I would.” I couldn’t walk in the next day, look him in the eye and say I trained when I knew I hadn’t.

That famous passion, as Forest knock Newcastle out of the FA Cup in '97

What Lurkers album cover do you appear on? Also, do you listen to any of the modern punk bands, like Rancid or Dropkick Murphys? I recommend the above and Lightyear, a fine ska-punk band from Derby.
Ray Smillie, Dunfermline
I’m on God’s Lonely Men, but only on the inner sleeve. I do listen to modern punk and it’s not at all bad. I like some of the American bands that are coming through. I saw Green Day a couple of weeks ago. Would you class them as punk? I think both Green Day and Blink 182 are fantastic. I’ve not heard Lightyear, though.

What’s your biggest regret?
Robert Cockerill, via email
Not winning four semi-finals – two against Liverpool in the FA Cup with Forest, one World Cup semi-final and one European Championship. Can I lump them all together?

What did Portsmouth keeper Dave Beasant say to you before you took the penalty in the final City match of last season, your last every game?
Dave Kay, via email
We were in the fourth minute of injury time and I told him I was on 99 goals and needed just one more for my hundred. He laughed at me. Then I missed the target for the first time in my whole career. He came out, looked at me and said, “What the f*ck are you doing?” then just started laughing again. It was a nice moment between two experienced players who have given a lot of time and dedication to the game. But it just about summed me up. I couldn’t come up with the fairytale ending!

A few years back I went to a dinner at which Norman Hunter was the guest speaker. I asked him if there was anyone playing who would have been able to cope with the ‘competitive spirit’ of [Tommy] Smith, [Billy] Bremner and himself. His sole response was ‘Stuart Pearce’. How do you think you would have fared?
Jason Kneafcy, Wigan
I like to think I encompass both the old school and the new. I was probably robust enough to have survived the ‘60s and ‘70s, but I was clever enough not to be a dinosaur. I think I did evolve. The people who I consider hard men aren’t the likes of me. The players who took the punishment but got up wanting to receive the ball are the true hard men in my opinion.

Which player has p*ssed you off the most during/before/after a match? And can I take you out for a drink?
Natasha Harpley, via email
That’s really difficult. I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Paul Devlin, maybe. He plays for Birmingham now, but he used to play for Notts County. We played them in the County Cup a lot when I was at Forest and he was a niggly little so-and-so. In one particular game he really did p*ss me off. A drink? Ha ha!

You fly a St George’s cross at your home. Would you like to be England manager one day?
Ally Barron, Forest fan
At the moment I would say no. I would like to be a club manager – that’s my aspiration at present. After that? Well, thinking about the prestige of the job I would say yes. For the chances to work with the top players in the county? Yes. You don’t get to work with them every day, but then you don’t have to worry about signing anyone and you don’t have to worry about Man United nicking in a signing a player before you. But dealing with the personal intrusion? No. I’ve been around the England scene with five different managers and it can be appalling. I don’t know if I’d put my family through that.

Powell 'n' Pearce, gaffers for Team GB in the 2012 Olympics

Describe the worst foul you’ve ever committed.
Tony Philipson, Bangor
It was against Leicester in 1989 and it was my first ever sending-off. It was two bad ones on the same player, a right-winger called Reid. I can’t remember his first name [Paul]. I got booked for the first one, when these days I’d probably have been sent straight off and even banned for it. I caught him from behind with no intention of getting the ball. At half-time Cloughie says, “Watch what you’re doing” and gives me a couple of choice words. Two minutes into the second half I’ve mistimed another one, caught him again, and I was gone. They were two poor tackles and you wouldn’t get away with even one of them in the modern game.

Was Steen Nedergaard of Norwich really so good that you had to spend a whole game kicking, elbowing and pushing him over?
Mark Shepstone, via email
This is where psychology plays a large part in the game. This was last season and it was a big game for us. They were fourth in the league when they came to Maine Road. The lad got involved with Danny Tiatto, Danny got sent off and it was the same situation as Basile Boli. In this case Danny got himself sent off. The lad made a bit of a meal of it, but he wasn’t to blame. I knew that, but I wasn’t going to let him know I knew that. Straightaway I went to Steen Nedergaard and said, “You’re responsible: you got him sent off” – to pin everything on his shoulders. It raised my game, it raised the team, it raised the crowd, and I had a player with only one thing on his mind. He wasn’t concentrating on the game.

He did say to me in the second half, “You used to be my hero, but not anymore.” I told him, “It’s because I’m this way that I am your hero.”

Did you make any really close friends in football?
Jimmy Meach, via email
One or two. Trevor Peake, who I was with at Coventry, was best man at my wedding; he’ll be a lifelong friend. I take the odd one or two from clubs I’ve been at. I’ve got maybe 10 friends from football that I keep in contact with, no matter where I am. I don’t collect friends. I have friends from school who are still my mates and we get together once a year or go to concerts.

But I’m not bothered about having famous mates. I don’t live a superstar lifestyle. I went up to Blackpool on my own to see The Damned last Monday.

Do you reckon you could have Roy Keane?
Sam Graham, Essex
Oh, Roy would turn me over. He’s got more fire in his belly now. I’m a retired old man.

Roy Keane cites you as a huge inspiration for the aggressive, tenacious side of his game. What advice would you give him?
Alan Hardingly, via email
I wouldn’t give him any. I wouldn’t go out of my way to give advice to any player who’s already established. But if someone came to me and asked how I would have done something, all I would say is that there’s no point shouting your mouth off in newspapers and magazines. You go out and play as well as you possibly can, then you turn around and say, “You judge on what you see.” That’s how I’ve lived my life and how I’ve approached my career. If you think I’m some thug because of what you’ve seen on a pitch, then that’s your opinion and I’m not about to try and change your mind. I think I’m a reasonable geezer. But I’m biased!

Interview: Howard Johnson. From the January 2003 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!