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Sir Trevor Brooking CBE: Part Two

Filed: Thursday, 18th October 2001

By: Graeme Howlett


One of the club's favourite sons - step forward West Ham and Sport England's Trevor Brooking for part two of our Q&A.

KUMB: You quickly became a favourite with the fans after settling in.

TB: I think that during my time certainly, the home produced player was the focal point of the club.

KUMB: And I think perhaps as well the fact that you epitomised everything that people attached to West Ham; the quality football, the skillful player, the ball being played on the ground and not just being hoofed in the air ...

TB: That was the luxury player tag I suppose that some coaches didn't want. You know, we went through the three World Cup lads but even in that era lots of the players had come through the youth system. Then through my period of time certainly; Frank and myself stayed all our careers, and Bonzo was another one who immediately won the crowd because of his .. his merit. and yet he was a different type of player to me.

KUMB: You two complemented each other perfectly; you had the skill and the grace, and Bonzo the grit ...

TB: I think you're right to a certain extent but actually he rubbed a bit off on me - you know, now and again you have got to look after yourself. And secondly Bill had far more skill than people ever gave him credit for. I can't speak highly enough of Bonzo, you know I'm biased anyway but how he was never capped for England I will never, ever know. He could have walked into any team in the country I can assure you; Man Utd, Liverpool, and been a regular and he'd have got 40 or 50 caps. But he was very quiet off the pitch - you cannot believe how quiet Bill is away from the game.

Back in those days we used to finish at twenty to five, and Bill would be changed, dressed, out into the car park and on his way before five o'clock. Without fail he would have left the ground by five, and that was because he wanted to get away. Same with training - he was just a fantastic trainer. I trust him more than any person I've ever met; I mean he's just as genuine as you can get so, I couldn't speak highly enough of Bill. And he played as he is - people quickly recognised that and I think that's where Bill won them over a bit.

Some like the skill factor, others like the work rate and there was a mixture of both. But, I think after a period of time they knew I was a West Ham fan who had came through the system and gradually worked up. I was one of them; I lived locally - Barking - and you were often seen round the locality. Naturally that style of football - after the world cup trio - we began a new little era of Bonzo, and Frank and myself, and brought in others as well because then we'd developed a bit. Certainly the 1981/2 and 3 years were for me probably the best West Ham side I had played in.

KUMB: Really? Better than the Cup winning sides?

TB: Yeah; Parksie was in goal, then you had Ray Stewart, Alvin Martin, Bonzo and Frank. And then Pat, Pikey myself and Alan Dev, and Crossie and Paul Goddard - that was the best balanced team that I played in.

First of all because the defence was better, what I had behind me. Whenever I played throughout my career, the biggest problem was the soft goals we conceded, whatever anyone says. People said: 'How come you've got the three World Cup players and not be higher up the league'? Although we didn't have the depth in squad we lacked quality, real quality in at least two of the defensive positions. If we'd have had a good defence there's no reason why we couldn't have been challenging.

In fact in my last year - 1984 - we were second in the table at Christmas. Then, unfortunately Alan Devonshire did his cruciate in the middle of January and Alvin Martin and Steve Whitton had a car crash and were both out for seven weeks, so we lost three of an eleven. But of that eleven, Stevie Whitton played in Pat's position because Patsy [Holland] had some knee trouble - but that side was almost then [in 1980/81], the back four with Parksie, Steve Whitton instead of Patsy, Geoff Pike, myself and Dev, with Paul Goddard and Norman [David Cross] up front. We could beat anyone with that eleven, we had a great balance.

Pikey was hugely underrated in that team for me; he did a great holding job. He used to slip the ball to me and he had the secret of creative midfielders, you have to have the ball early - you often have man markers or whatever and whoever knocks it up to you mustn't be scared by the fact that you probably had got somebody within five yards. And if Geoff knocked it away from the marker he was unmarked ... I could twist and turn and lose them because that was one of my strengths.

KUMB: That's one of the things I really enjoyed watching you do; the way you'd spin away from a defender. But you were never known for possessing great pace Trevor - so did that particular skill develop to compensate for that?

TB: That was something I suppose that gradually developed; there were two things really - first of all, I was never a speed king but at school I was the 200 yards champion; I mean in athletics I wasn't slow but I had to get in my stride!

What I worked on in my early 20's was the first 5 yards, that was something that little Brian 'Pop' Robson had. I used to have 5 or 10 minutes after every training session where you just did standing starts and get that quickness off the mark.

But the second thing ... to my dad, because he made me two footed. If you twist and turn you can only do that if you can go both ways, you know in tight angles, so if you are only one footed you've got to go one way. But if I can, I could cross with my right and left; it didn't really matter as long as I had half a yard to do it. That was only because of when I was 5,6 or 7 - my dad said: 'It'd be very useful to kick with your other foot'.

KUMB: Did he play, your father?

TB: Yeah, he played a lot of police football; he was a centre-half actually - a pretty tough one. So we were different. My brother and I used to go over the park playing football and just kick with our left foot because we were both naturally right, and my left was the weaker one that I worked on. And yet I meet up with many people who think I was a left footed player - and that's really down to my dad, because from the time I was around seven or eight I just kicked the ball with whichever foot it came to because I was happy with the other foot.

So then you move on to the phase where you perhaps practice your individual skills. There's a big difference now because people say you're born a little bit with football, but up to when I was four or five I could not kick with my left foot and that would not have happened if I was born with it. That is something I would encourage any coach to tell any youngster.

KUMB: And once you began to play for West Ham, how big a part did Ron Greenwood play in your development?

TB: Ron used to say: 'Always have pictures in your mind' - that was one of his big statements. What he meant, what he was on about was - if you look at the top players, go to a top football game now and watch a top player, just concentrate solely on them for ten minutes - they never stop twisting and turning their head. And his argument was, during the 90 minutes you actually don't touch the ball for that long - you know, it's only a few minutes in the 90 so you've got to try and have that impact. And although more often than not you know when the ball's coming to you you actually do get the ricochets and such and whatever.

He said: 'Every instance when the ball does come to you, you should be able to freeze that moment'. And so you shut your eyes, and I would expect you to tell me what's happening within 20 yards of you. So I get the ball and I should be able to shut my eyes and say right - the right-half's 20 yards to my right coming towards me to close me down. I've the central midfielder two yards behind me; no one is behind me to the left and I've got somebody 10 yards away there. So actually, all that should be there so that when you get the ball you turn to your left. I turn to the left because I'd know that's where the space was when I looked a couple of seconds ago.

You watch any top player - pundits like myself say they always look like they've got a little bit more time than most, and the secret is they know where there's space. So when the ball comes to you you actually turn that way and you have got that vital two or three seconds longer to look up and decide what to do.

The number of times you see now midfield players who actually get the ball and then look up, and before you know it the player has lost possession. So always have pictures in your mind - that's absolutely crucial. And always get sideways on - that was his other great one. West Ham; colts, juniors, everyone used to go through sessions where you'd knock the ball up and receive it with your back foot to a player. All you're saying, instead of going towards the ball with your chest facing the ball you should always have one shoulder or the other [facing the ball]. So if you're sideways on my back eye should be able to see if my marker has come with me - if he's not then I can receive the ball on the half turn and actually go towards their play.

How many times now do you see a midfield player look at his defender, get it off him, and he's got space behind him but because he's square on he just knocks it back to him so they've done nothing? David Batty's the worst, he used to be dreadful. Everyone used to rave about him whereas if you actually watched him he never hurt the opposition at all. I mean he'd have had about ten touches and the side hadn't gone anywhere.

My guidance about how effective I'd been in a game was 'how many times did I hurt the opposition'? You have the Opta statistics now, but to me they're nonsense.

KUMB: You can interpret them any way you like, can't you?

TB: Yeah. I could make twenty accurate passes but I could have done it in my [own] half when it wasn't so crucial. I'd prefer to have ten attempts and have five of them really break up their defence. That five out of the ten is worth ten times more than the twenty out of twenty I've done in my half, so it depends how you want to read it.

So, pictures in your mind, get sideways on - a combination of the two helped me enormously. Lots of people say about how I used to let the ball run or whatever but if I didn't have that picture behind me I wouldn't have ever been able to do it, and it really goes back to Ron.

And the two footed one - the higher level you get to, if they know you can only go one way they will channel you. That's a problem at the moment for the likes of Michael Owen where they know he's very right-footed and even when he gets into the penalty area - because he's having a little dodgy spell - he's trying to get it on his right foot.

KUMB: And defenders can read him like a book?

TB: Yeah, so after the first few you've got to be able to suss that out. Alan Taylor was a great one for us - 'Sparrow' as he was known. For eighteen months he'd destroy a side - including his FA Cup run. Everyone knew he was very quick and that we used to clip it over the top. After a while they dropped off him 5 yards and he struggled, and never had quite the same impact. So you can get away with it for a year or two at the top level but you've got to move on and do other things.

KUMB: You mentioned Alan Taylor there Trevor which takes us nicely back to the 1975 Cup Final. It must have been strange, when after playing at the club for eight years - the first time you had won anything major in your career - it must have been strange playing against Bobby [Moore] that day?

TB: We were the first division side, they were the second - very unlike '80. So we were the favourties, but they had Alan Mullery and Bobby - both massive, English football figures and so there was a lot of popular support for them. We were in a transitional peroid ourselves; for most of the 70's we struggled the relegation - we were not a great side. The goalkeeping
position was always a problem.

KUMB: But it had looked like we had sorted it out that year with Mervyn?

TB: With Mervyn, yeah. And before, poor Fergie. I shall never ever forget that Ron said no to Gordon Banks. He had agreed to buy Bobby Ferguson from Kilmarnock for 65,000 - once they went out of the Fairs Cup. Whilst that was going on, Matt Guiness - who was a really good mate of Ron's - rang up to say Peter Shilton, a young protege was really pushing for a place, and they had reluctantly agreed to let Gordon go, and had promised Ron first option. He offered him [Banks] for 50,000. And Ron - now no one else would have ever done it - said 'well, I've got a gentleman's agreement with Kilmarnock for Bobby Ferguson, so thanks very much, but no'. So we ended up with Fergie for 65,000 - instead of Gordon for 50,000! And of course Gordon came back to haunt us a couple of years later in the League Cup.

So, in '75 Mervyn was in there - still a bit young; we had Tommy [Taylor], John McDowell, Kevin Lock and Frank in the defence. On their day they could be good, but hugely inconsistent - Tom and John would be the first to admit that. Tommy is a very strong disciplinarian at Orient, but not really as a player! He had a lot of talent but he had his days where he didn't seem that concerned, and that was the era when our defence was a huge problem for us. But we made three signings in that year; Alan Taylor, that year was Sparrow's year. The final and the semi, he scored two in each of those.

The big game was probably the win at Highbury [in the quarter-final]- most people didn't expect us to win that, we played very well there. I think Billy Jennings also came in, and gave us a target man. He was good at getting up early and hanging in the air. One unfortunate absentee was 'mad' Robbo really - Keith Robson. Of the three he was probably the most talented ...

KUMB: Why 'mad' Robbo?

TB: Well, because he had a short fuse on him! And unfortunately he liked a beverage, and was one of those who, after a few bevvies almost changed characters and became a madman who did lose his head! No, he was a very popular player at the club, he was very funny, very humourous - and a lot of ability; a great left foot. But he got injured, a thigh injury - he should have been fit for the final but I don't think, shall we say, he rested it as much as he should. I couldn't understand why he was out galivanting every night(!), but it was still not clearing up as quickly as it should. So he missed the final, which was a shame. But Keith Robson did contribute to that Cup run.

The game itself; their keeper Mellor had a couple of shots bounce off him, one from Graham Paddon who had a really explosive left foot for us in those days. The fact was that it wasn't one of the greatest finals, but it was great for us. It's always embarassing when you look at the photos, because we're all in there with our long hair - the hairstyles were a bit different then!

KUMB: How does that compare with 1980? What would be your favourite win out of the two?

TB: The '80. I think because you're a little bit older and you can take it in much more. You're more experienced.

KUMB: You would have been 31, 32?

TB: Yeah. You want to ... absorb it more. Also, we were the underdogs. It's not like there was nothing to lose, but in '75 we were expected to win - in this one most people thought we would lose. But Arsenal and Liverpool played four times before they got to the final - that penalty shootout. I t just went on and on and people thought it would never end - but Arsenal were favourties to win. We were in the second division and just missed out on the play-offs, and yet the second half of the season we had a side that the next season was going to walk away with promotion. You could see the team taking shape. We were three years in the second division, and during that spell Phil Parkes came in - a massive signing.

KUMB: The world's most expensive keeper at the time?

TB: Yes, and worth every penny - the difference it made to the whole team was incredible. He got one England cap - because Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton were around at the time - at any other time he would have got 80 caps, he was that good. He just hardly ever gave a soft goal away.

In the third round we played West Brom and drew 1-1 - they got a late equaliser. That was the Lawrie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, John Wyle, Bryan Robson side, a good side - so that was a good draw for us. Parksie was absolutely brilliant in the match at the Hawthorns. Now, Bonzo lay in the bath afterwards saying to Parksie 'that was fantastic; if ever a performance deserved to end up taking us to Wembley that was the one'. And perhaps it was an omen; Bonzo reminded us of that moment a bit later on, but he was right - Phil was outstanding. He was a key factor in that transition.

Ray Stewart was a really good full-back who became a penalty king - amazing.

KUMB: The quarter-final penalty against Villa comes to mind?

TB: Yeah, Villa were on a run, they won the league that year. I've got to say I got the penalty; someone brought me down, I don't remember who that was - they reckon I dived, but I was clipped on the ankle! But it was given. It was late in the game, within the last ten minutes.

KUMB: But did you make the most of it?

TB: (laughs) No, it was a penalty! But I remember getting up ... at that stage you felt you had to win at Upton Park because they were a very good side. They were on a roll, it was a tough game and was very tight. There hadn't been that many chances, and you just think 'this is crucial'. But Tonka - 50 odd pens he scored, the actual 3 or so he missed were always when there was nothing riding on it. Whenever it was a test he just didn't seem to have a nerve.

KUMB: It was an incredible penalty though?

TB: Yeah, but he never missed - like in the League Cup final the following year. But he was a good defender as well, it wasn't like he was just there for his penalties!

KUMB: Where did the nickname come from?

TB: He was called Tonka because his passing tended to match his shooting! We weren't that impressed with his 20-yard clipped balls that tended to knock our heads off but he was a good defender, which was the key factor.

Then Alvin, who became an outstanding centre-half; Bonzo alongside him made sure he didn't do his little drag-backs on the penalty spot and lose possession, which was one of his early problems. He needed to learn when to whack it into row 28 and when to knock it out. But having him and Bonzo at the back gave the midfield the platform we needed; we always got some great balls knocked in. They were both happy to bring it out then release us in midfield.

KUMB: And that gave you more confidence as a midfielder, to know that you had that solidity behind you?

TB: Yes, and we had Frank there as well who was also very solid. That team, that defence was absolutely crucial.

The Arsenal side; Stapleton and Sunderland were absolutely vital at the front of a very rigid 442; naturally you had Brady and Rix on the left, but everything revolved around Sunderland and Stapleton who stretched Liverpool in each of the four games. Bill and Alvin never gave them a kick and they had very little joy. The key tactic was Stuart Pearson playing in midfield - we had five in midfield. And at half-time we had played very well and were one-nil up, and assumed that Arsenal would change it; push one up out of midfield and play three up maybe, so we said that if they did that Stuart should push up front. But they never actually changed their tactics throughout the 90 minutes, which was a big mistake.

Terry Neill and Don Howe never varied it, so we just stuck to it and we always had that extra man to help us with the Brady/Rix pair. And in the end 1-0 was good enough to win it. I know it was a one off game, but the thing is, if you're in the lower division and used to winning ... that following season I think we lost 3 of 42 games when we had a record points total ... but we got into a habit of winning, and irrespective of who the opposition was, if you conceded a goal you just thought 'well, we can get that back'. When we'd had five or six years towards the bottom of the first division we got in the habit of losing, and you go behind in a game and we'd think 'ah, that's it'. Whereas when you're at the top of the other division you're just used to winning. But there's no question that that side, 80/81 and my last two seasons was the best side that I had played in.

KUMB: We're fast running out of time Trevor, but one more question, if I may. Management - never been tempted?

TB: I would have been interested to find out how I would have done. There was a chance, possibly, with West Ham. It was about the Lou Macari time. It was almost in a 'you wouldn't be interested, would you?' capacity, so I thought that it wouldn't really have been an attractive proposition. But lots of people have said that I should have had a go. In all honesty, the money in football now from a managerial point has improved massively. The sort of figure that you talked about as a manager was a lot less than I was earning away from the game back then - although that wouldn't be the same now.

I've tried in life to be nothing other than truthful - I don't believe it, but some say in management you've got to be a little bit mean to survive. However, I don't think you have to be like that as long as you are decisive. It's really about man-management, and one of the strengths I've picked up in business is man-management. I think I know the game. One of the big question marks would be 'would I be strong enough?', because you've got this picture of an affable individual - but you don't get where you are by not being competitive, or having a mean streak.

Your biggest problem in football is that you might have been one of the best players ever seen - but it doesn't mean you'll make a great manager. Bobby [Moore] was the greatest example. What it does give you is respect from the players if you've been there, but they soon suss out if you're not a good communicator. You must be decisive and strong. The temptation was there in the back of my mind, but by working in the media I'm still involved - but without the aggravation!

KUMB: Trevor Brooking - thank you. It's been a real pleasure to talk to you.

TB: No problem.