Former England defender Terry Cooper recalls his days with Bristol City

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By Nailsea People | Sunday, March 07, 2010, 19:10

When Doncaster Rovers entertained City 26 years ago, it was in humbler circumstances than Saturday's Championship fixture, writes Mark Tovey.

Both sides were on the verge of promotion from the League's bottom division and it pitched Robins manager Terry Cooper against Rovers boss Billy Bremner, his former Leeds United and Doncaster team-mate, as the ex-City supremo fondly recalls.

"I'd played half a season for him (in 1980-81) and Billy was a great lad and a joy to work with. He was really an enthusiast, but a hard taskmaster. He used to train them really hard up the slag heaps (hillocks of waste from coal mining) round Doncaster way," said Terry, retired since 2007 following an 11-year stint as Southampton's chief European scout, of his defensive colleague during Leeds United's 'Glory Years' under manager Don Revie. He now lives in a villa near Los Cristianos, situated on the south coast of the sunny Canary island of Tenerife.

Referring to the match, he continued, "You knew that for the first 20 minutes it was a battle and you'd got to see that through. He'd have them snorting, but I'd like to think we were the same, but we liked to play football as well."

What were the travel arrangements like in those days? "I don't think we had any overnight stops, and we trained in the morning, and I think at that time my wife used to go to the supermarket in Nailsea and we had Peter Carol coaches who kindly put us a microwave on and myself, Clive (Middlemass, his assistant manager), or one of the other staff, the kit man would make the players beans on toast or they'd have a pre-heated cannelloni, just to save money. So we'd take off probably about two o'clock , get up the motorway, get the microwave going, make sure they had a pre-match meal and we'd probably stop off for fish and chips on the way back I we could find one."

What time did you arrive? "If it was a half seven kick-off we'd get to the ground for about half past six. We used to time it so we'd get there and hour and a quarter before kick off and get on with it."

Was there time to reminisce with Billy Bremner? We had a glass of whisky or a drink of wine afterwards for half an hour and then it was back on the bus and get back down to Bristol, because usually they were quite long trips. And if we were back late we'd probably give them the next day off. Get them in the day after and prepare for the next game."

He recalled, "It was basic; we didn't have the facilities or the money to stop at hotels and have pre-match meals and stay overnight, I mean we'd have put the club back into hock very soon again. So we did what we had to do and it was enjoyable the lads loved it. We used to have a game of cards coming back, we had the press lads on. They were great lads and we were all in it together. And they all knew what we were going through, what we were trying to do and it was good, it was a good time to be there."

He went on to describe his great relationship with the media: "They could ask me anything. They knew they'd get an answer, an honest answer. I always found that if you're up front with the press they'll look after you. And I could always say to them, 'look lads, this is off the record and I knew they wouldn't use it. I had a duty to sell the club to the supporters and if we'd get any stories, I'd tell them, I'd be delighted, because the more publicity we got, if we could get an extra 200 or 300 on the gate it was great."

Sadly, City lost this mild Tuesday night fixture 1-0. It was played at Belle Vue, Rovers ramshackle former home and a typical English ground very much of it's time, before an attendance of 4,954, to a controversial fourth minute goal by Donny's Colin Douglas. City's protests fell on deaf ears as the striker appeared to control the ball with his hand while tussling for possession just inside the penalty area with Robins defender Paul Stevens, before sending an angled shot past advancing keeper, John Shaw.

Despite exerting some pressure in the second half through Glyn Riley's diving header and a hooked shot from winger Howard Pritchard, City failed to overcome a resolute home defence. Defeat left them in third, 11 points behind their second-placed conquerors.

Perhaps City's choice of shirt hadn't helped. They had to borrow a set of yellow tops from Swindon Town because their usual all white away strip clashed with Doncaster's red and white hoops, leading Cooper to joke with the Evening Post reporter Richard Latham: "Billy Bremner has put one over on me. At one stage I was so desperate that I tried to send someone to collect some blue and white quartered shirts, but they wouldn't go."

Cooper had previously played for City in the heights of the first division, during a two year spell from 1978-80 that was wrecked by a persistent injury that limited the cultured left-back to just 11 appearances.

"I had a bad time, because I had an achilles tendon injury which I came with and I never did myself justice at that time for Bristol City because I was always bloody injured with these achiles tendons Eventually I had an operation and then luckily I played some games, so it was frustrating. I went because Norman Hunter was down there, but it was frustrating because I couldn't get these achiles tendions fit and in the end I had an operation and I wasn't too bad."

When he returned to City as player-manager in May 1982 frugality was the watchword. City had tumbled into the Fourth Division following the formation of the new company, BCFC1982 when the money raised from a share issue had barely been enough to purchase the assets from the old company.

Cooper recalled: "It was easy to manage because there wasn't any money. I didn't have the worry of thinking I've got a spare £10,000 or £15,000 there to bring someone in. I just didn't have it."

With warmness, he added, "I have to say, I had a really good board of directors at the time, led by Des Williams, who was an absolute gentleman. But all the board members were great. They'd stepped in, they'd saved the club, they'd put their money where their mouth was and they laid it down to me and I just said to them, 'tell me the budget,' and I had to keep within the budget. I always did that, because we didn't want to get into financial difficulties again."

What were his wages back then? "Probably between £15,000 and £20,000 (a year)." And how did that compare with his counterparts in the first division?

"Some of the top managers then would have been on a quarter of a million."

With a hearty laugh he added, "I didn't do it for the money. I just used to enjoy playing. "

I asked Terry if the main reason for his appointment was because City wanted a player-manager and get two for the price of one? "Well, I wasn't aware of that. I only thought I got the job because Bob Boyd and Bob Marshall were part of the rescue package," he replied.

Indeed, the motive appeared to have been forged watching boys football on the pitches at Hanham Common, as Cooper explained:

"My son (Mark Cooper, until recently the manager of Peterborough United) played for Bob's (Boyd) under-12s team Boco Juniors, with his son, Robert. And Bob (Boyd) got on the board with Bob Marshall and I remember him saying one Sunday morning, 'Hey, listen, it looks as though me and Bob are going to take Bristol City over along with the other lads. Do you fancy being manager for us?"

He added, "So yeah, it was too good to turn down. It was only one way – up. I mean they'd gone as low as they could. They'd gone through the Leagues, so I knew it was going to be difficult because the last thing they were going to do was throw money at it, and sort of go into administration or bankrupt again. And so the first season was really, really difficult, because I think when I took over, the Ashton Gate Eight tore their contracts up, bless 'em and more or less saved the club. And I think when I took over there was only 8 players and I think Bob Newman might have been the eldest."

Ably assisted by Middlemass, Cooper used his vast experience to wheel and deal with the limited finances at his disposal. He even purchased some of the stars from City's first division days:

"I brought John Shaw back and I eventually brought Tom (Ritchie) back and Chrissie Garland. And those thre were a blessing for me. They'd played in what was the Premiership. And they were a massive influence and a big help to the younger lads that we had in the team.

"I can remember we struggled and we were in the bottom three, bottom four at Christmas, because we had a lot of young lads. But I put them in to add the experience, then after Christmas I think things gradually picked up and we finished about halfway and that enabled me, for the start of the next season to bring more players to the club. You know, Glyn Riley and Stevie Neville, people like that. And that's the year we got promotion the second season."

That promotion season of 1983-84 has special place in my heart too. As a 16 year-old I watched every home match that season and quite a few away, recalling how Terry had put a smile back on the faces of fans that two years earlier had been thankful to have a club to support! Terry agreed.

" Yeah, and it could only go one way and I think they (the fans) got the feeling of togetherness and I knew we were going to be successful because we had a bigger fanbase than anyone in that division. And with his frugal head added,"It was just that the revenue that was coming in had to be used for other things other than the playing staff at that time to get the club back on an even keel and even have money in the bank. And Des Williams, bless him, was very good at that and the other lads were good at housekeeping. "

He further reflected: "And I said the only time I'll bother you is if there's 10 games to go and I think maybe we need a player just to push over the line, I said that's the only time I'll come and ask. But you know the lads I had were a good bunch. We had a good mixture of experience and kids. And we had some good players and it worked out well for us, thank god."

Had he had any illusions about the size of the task? "Any team that wins anything, they've got to be hardworking and mean what they're doing."

He continued: "And I went in there and I just picked the best bits of Don Revie, or the best managers I played under and all I tried to do was get them organised, make the training hard but enjoyable and foster a big team spirit. My wife was part of that. She got a grip of all the wives and girlfriends and had a special room for them after the game and at half-time where they could take their kids and have a little drink and I just followed what Don Revie did, he fostered a big team spirit where it was us against them and certainly at Bristol City the second season it paid off for us."

But Don Revie must have been your biggest mentor? Yeah, a big, big influence, he was well ahead of his time. He had the dossiers on the opposition even then. We had to watch our diets, we had diet sheets He also liked us to get married young and settle down. I was married at 23 and it just shows you know, since Wayne Rooney's got married, he's settled down, look at what he's become now. He's becoming a complete player, bless him. So yeah, it helps, if you've got a settled home life it obviously helps you on the pitch as well."

I asked Terry about his working week back then: I was really busy. I was scouting. I had a good assistant, Clive Middlemass and we'd take the lads training on a morning and then in the afternoon we'd have a sandwich, jump in the car and we could go anywhere. We'd be up to Hartlepool, Darlington, we'd go and watch the opposition, we'd make a list of players that we felt we might be able to get eventually that would improve us. So it was busy, I mean they were long days, but they were quite enjoyable and pleasurable."

And how much did the players earn? "They didn't come for money," he repeated. "If I was earning between £15,000 and £20,000, we'd have some on £12,000 and maybe some on £15,000, something like that, but not many."

Who was on the upper figure? "Probably Glynn Riley who came from Barnsley he'd probably be on decent money. I think Tom, and John Shaw and Chrissie Garland came because they felt for the club and they wanted it to survive and prosper again."

In addition to running the team and playing Fourth Division football, Cooper took the unusual step of becoming a director. How had that come about? "Well I think they wanted me to know the ins and outs of the club. I think they wanted me to know they weren't sort of hiding anything away from me or the supporters." He continued: "And Des Williams thought if I was a director I could attend all the board meetings, for the financial part I would obviously do the playing side with question and answers, and so I knew exactly the state of the club, financially and on the playing side, so everybody was in the same boat. They knew exactly how I was thinking. I knew exactly to the last penny what we'd got. And we made sure that if we'd got 10p in the bank, we'd spend 9p and not 11p."

Cooper's prudence was in stark contrast to the recent news concerning the agonies of Portsmouth. What were his thoughts on the saga at Fratton Park?

"They deserve what they get because the people that were running the club have in my opinion been very negligent. They must have known, it's an old stadium, they don't get the gates to support what they were trying to do and they were just living beyond their means. Whether they had all these rich benefactors, they're completely out of order the people that were running the club in my eyes. And they've let the supporters down more than anybody else."

He added: "But when you think they get what, 20,000? it's difficult on gates like that to do what they're trying to do. They've got to cut their cloth accordingly, but they didn't do that. And you know Leeds did the same. Leeds tried to live the dream and they didn't have the money to live the dream and they've got probably twice as many fans as Portsmouth."

"So, they'll not be the only ones, somebody else will go as well. It's just being irresponsible and if you tell the supporters what you're trying to do, why you're trying to do it like we did when we took City over in '82. I think Des went to the press and I went to the press and said, this is what we've got, this is what we've got to go with. And if you tell supporters like that and you're open and up front with them, then you get more respect and they give you more time to let you get on with it."

And he concluded by saying: "And if you ask the Portsmouth fans now whether they'd just like the club to be an average club in the Premiership rather than spend fortunes on these players to win the FA Cup. I know they'd just say, forget the FA Cup, lets make sure that the club's solvent and we live within our means."

Returning to the promotion season, which had stood out? "They all had their moments, but certainly John Shaw and Tom Ritchie because they'd been there and done it. You know you can't buy that experience and everybody got on well together. The wives got on well together and it was just a fantastic team spirit that we built and those three experienced lads helped me a great deal together with the kids that we'd got."

And what about the younger players? "I thought that Jon Economou was going to be a really god player, Russell Musker had a chance, but unfortunately for some reason they fell by the wayside and didn't come through. Bobby Newman, bless him. Bob went right to the top and played with Norwich in the Premiership. Out of all of them Bob was probably the one who had the best career, playing wise. Andy Llewellyn did well. All of them, I mean they were all decent players."

What stood out for you in that promotion season? "I think the last game at Chester where we knew that if we won we'd go up and the lads were terrific that day. We won 2-1 and fully deserved it and I can always remember there was a big sign on one of the supporters coaches saying, "Jesus said come fourth, and we did!" he laughed referring to City's final League placing. "And all the lads were saying, look at this supporters coach with the big sign on it. And that was a good day that, because it meant that the club were finally, you know going back in the right way again."

With this rare opportunity to talk to one of my heroes, I had to ask Terry about Brian Clough's 44 day tenure, managing Leeds United from July to September 1974, that was recently portrayed in the film, 'The Damned United' from the book by David Peace.

"Luckily I was still trying to get fit," he said referring to his 20 month absence following a dreadful broken leg suffered against Stoke in April 1972. "It was hilarious actually, he added, reflecting on Clough's famous speech to the then champions on his first day at Elland Road when he said, "Chuck all your medals and all your caps and all your pans into the biggest f***ing dustbin you can find, because you've never won any of them fairly."

"I think the problem was that he and Don Revie were both from Middlesbrough and I don't think they liked one another and just everything to do with Don Revie he didn't want to know. You just can't dismiss that, you know. That's like people going into Notts Forest after he won two European Cups and trying to dismiss it and you cannot do that. You have to respect that and then put your own stamp on it. I think the family brought me that film the Damned United and after ten minutes I turned it off because there was nothing factual in it at all. It was just a fairy story."

What were his other abiding memories of Clough? He tried to flog me to Notts Forest. I'd agreed to go and then the next morning, unfortunately for me he'd got the sack. I was looking forward to going to Notts Forest and I could have met up with him again. He added laughing, "That would have been funny that because Mr Clough eventually ended up there. It would have been great for me; I'd have got another move!"

And how would he like to be remembered by City fans? Just for getting them back on the upward trend again and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed living in Bristol for 13 years and we brought the kids up there and it's a city that we love dearly and we wouldn't have any qualms about going back to live there."

      

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