From Weald­stone left-back to For­est boss, Stu­art Pearce’s ca­reer pro­file

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

THAT penalty. That roar. That face, con­torted with joy, re­lief and six years of pent-up guilt and frus­tra­tion.

For many, noth­ing epit­o­mises Stu­art Pearce like the mo­ment he ex­or­cised the demons of Italia ’90 by ham­mer­ing home his spot­kick against Spain.

Yet his re­ac­tion to be­ing dropped just 12 months ear­lier pro­vided an equally sig­nif­i­cant il­lus­tra­tion.

When Terry Ven­ables called Pearce to say that Gra­ham Le Saux was now first choice, he fully ex­pected the then 33-year-old to call it a day.

“I told him I was dis­ap­pointed but that if he wanted to in­clude me in the squad I’d meet up with plea­sure,” said Pearce. “I didn’t care if I had to sit in the stands. Play­ing for Eng­land meant so much to me that I wouldn’t give up even the slight­est chance of pulling on that shirt again.”

For Pearce, noth­ing beat play­ing for his coun­try. Not ti­tles or cups, not play­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League or player of the year awards. For him, the Three Lions was the be-all and end-all.

Whether in Eng­land shirts or the red of Not­ting­ham For­est, fans all re­mem­ber Pearce the same way.

A leader. A fighter. A steelth­ighed war­rior. A set-piece spe­cial­ist with a bul­let left foot who played with the same fer­vour and will-to-win as the man on the ter­races. Which, given how close he came to join­ing them, is no great shock.


Born in west London, Pearce was re­jected by QPR at 13 and by the age of 16 was play­ing in Non-League for Weald­stone in the Al­liance Premier League. Though sub­se­quently of­fered a con­tract by Hull, he had just started an ap­pren­tice­ship as an elec­tri­cian and felt a life in the trades was a bet­ter bet.

Then Coven­try boss Bobby Gould came to watch Pearce on a “stink­ing Tues­day night at Yeovil” in 1983.

“After ten min­utes, he put in a thun­der­ing tackle and the right winger landed in my wife’s lap,” he re­calls. “I said to her ‘That’s it, I’ve seen enough. I’m go­ing home.”

Though still re­luc­tant to move (he kept work­ing and even ad­ver­tised as an elec­tri­cian in the club pro­gramme), Pearce was in­stantly at home in the top flight and after 52 games for Coven­try he was signed up by Brian Clough’s For­est.

And it was there, over 12 years and 500-plus games, that he would go down in his­tory as one of the tough­est men ever to play the game.

Arse­nal’s Ray Par­lour re­called: “The hard­est player I ever faced with­out a doubt was Stu­art Pearce.You knew about the tack­les with Stu­art Pearce; you would end up in the stands. You would try and kick him back a lit­tle bit harder and he would say, ‘Is that all you’ve got, son?’ And I would think ,‘Oh no!’”


But while he ter­ri­fied op­po­nents and was chris­tened ‘Psy­cho’ by the City Ground faith­ful, Pearce has al­ways ar­gued that there was more to him than sheer bru­tal­ity.

A per­fect ex­am­ple was the night when, play­ing for Eng­land, he was head­but­ted by French striker Basile Boli. Ev­ery­one re­mem­bers Pearce bound­ing back to his feet like noth­ing had hap­pened. Less well known was his sub­se­quent tac­tics.

“I didn’t go after Boli,” said Pearce. “I went over to the fella I was mark­ing and said it was him that done it and I’d be com­ing for him. And he was busy for the next 20 min­utes denying it and prob­a­bly sh*tting him­self. His game went to pieces.”

Away from the pitch, too, Pearce was no nut­ter. Softly spo­ken and stu­dious, he took notes on coach­ing ses­sions and, in later spells with West Ham and Man City, helped with the kids.

Nev­er­the­less, it was a ma­jor sur­prise when, just three years after re­tir­ing, he suc­ceeded Kevin Kee­gan as man­ager of City in 2005. Though he led the club to the brink of Europe, it was too much, too soon for the 42-yearold coach and when he was sacked in May 2007, he went back to school.

First un­der Steve McClaren, then Fabio Capello and Roy Hodg­son, Pearce man­aged Eng­land U21s, win­ning 23 of 41 games and reach­ing the UEFA U21 Cham­pi­onships fi­nal in 2009.

“After a talk from Stu­art you were raring to go,” said mid­fielder James Mil­ner. “He’d kick you up the back­side or he’d ca­jole you but he’d get the best out of you no mat­ter what.”

Now it is For­est’s play­ers to learn from the man Matt Le Tissier called his “scari­est” op­po­nent and Roy Keane hailed his “great­est cap­tain”. “This club is in my blood,” he said on his re­turn in June. Those who watched him never doubted it.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

MO­MENT OF TRUTH: Eng­land’s Stu­art Pearce cel­e­brates his penalty against Spain in Euro 96

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