From Wealdstone left-back to Forest boss, Stuart Pearce’s career profile
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.
MOMENT OF TRUTH: England’s Stuart Pearce celebrates his penalty against Spain in Euro 96