This warrior gives blood, sweat and tears...
BLOOD- spattered , goggle-eyed, gurning at the camera. Ask an England fan to picture Terry Butcher and they’ll all conjure that one indelible image.
And, on the pitch at least, nothing could be more fitting. “That said everything you need to know about Terry,” said Paul Parker, a team-mate at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. “Of all the great players I played with, he was the one I admired most. He was without doubt the most patriotic person I have ever played alongside. His battle cry was ‘Come on lads, we’re caged tigers’. Bellowed at full blast, he had the capacity to lift us all. He was brave, he was strong. He was our talisman and great leader.”
Butcher’s patriotism is the stuff of legend; over the course of 77 caps and three World Cups, few players in history can have grasped so fully what it meant to represent England. The big centreback wore that respon- sibility on his sleeve, giving tears, sweat and – most famously – blood for the cause.
That night, a World Cup qualifier in Stockholm, Butcher had misjudged a header and connected full tilt with a Swedish skull. The resulting gash required seven stitches at half-time, yet Butcher kept leaping, kept heading. By the end, his white shirt was stained pink but England were through.
“I’d never have walked off,” said Butcher, who at one point was receiving weekly requests for signed photos of his claretsmeared mug. “And Bobby Robson knew that if he’d have taken me off I’d have killed him. I was always going to battle on.”
Nobody knew Butcher like Robson. Butcher had grown up watching Ipswich and, in 1976, rejected a trial with Norwich to join Robson’s Tractor Boys.
He made his debut two years later and – after winning the UEFA Cup and recovering from a bizarre nose injury that required 19 pints of blood – became that great side’s de facto leader, the player Robson referred to as his ‘Big man’.
“When Terry was psyched up for a game, he was unshakeable,” said Robson.“Yer big, thick, stupid, one-footed. I could call him anything at all, shout and scream and yell at the fella. Water off a duck’s back. Never batted an eyelid. Didn’t seem to notice.”
This almost manic focus is a feature all team-mates recall, first at Ipswich then at Rangers – where he won three Scottish titles – Coventry and Sunderland.
Whether it was the heavy metal in his headphones, the tub-thumping speeches or simply banging his head against the dressing room wall, Butcher’s pre-game routine was aggressive and frenzied.
“His passion was fantastic,” recalls Phil Thompson, Butcher’s centre-half partner for England in the early 80s. “Going out onto the pitch with him gave you the belief that you were going into battle and I loved that.”
Thompson describes Butcher as “a kicker” yet he was no dumb lunk. Analysing England’s per- formance against Holland in 1990, Brian Clough compared England’s centre-halves unfavourably to their ball-playing Dutch counterparts.
“With the exception of Butcher,” he said. “Our back players were always happy to turn it back to him. He can drop it in or hit the long ball. He can go left to right. He might not bring it out from the back, but in terms of playing it out, he’s our best.”
Alex Ferguson was equally impressed, offering Rangers £1m for Butcher in 1987, only for a broken leg to prompt the Scot to sign Steve Bruce instead.
The wild-eyed nutter on matchday also contrasted sharply with the thoughtful, intelligent character he cut the rest of the time.
This is a man who once started an interview by asking the journalist which artist he would like to be, then expounded the qualities of Turner’s seascapes. Who, during Italia ’90, dreamt up an elaborate wind-up in which he and Chris Waddle wore every item of clothing back to front, then ate their meal in reverse, starting with dessert.
“I’m a psychoanalyst’s dream,” Butcher told The Scotsman in February last year.“Off the pitch I was always an ordinary, mild-mannered bloke. But it was tin hats and fixed bayonets the moment I pulled on a football shirt.”
This side of Butcher’s character saw him stride effortlessly into punditry, where his forthright views (on England, naturally) so irritated David Beckham that he lambasted the former Three Lions skipper live on TV.
“I was slaughtered when I played for England,” replied Butcher, who kept a press cutting denigrating his ability as a bookmark. “It didn’t do me any harm.”
Yet management – much of it in Scotland – has proved more mixed. Five years at Motherwell, where he nurtured a group of promising young players and led them to cup finals and the top six of the Scottish Premier League, were prosperous. At Coventry, Sunderland, Brentford and Sydney, he was eventually sacked.
Promotion to the SPL in 2010 came in the first of four successful years with Inverness; a subsequent move to Hibernian in 2013 was an unmitigated disaster, ending in the sack after relegation to the Scottish Championship amid open dressing room warfare.
Yet if there’s one thing Butcher – who, ironically, also spent time as assistant manager of Scotland – can be certain of, it is respect.
“When Terry talks, players listen,” said former Scottish international Billy Dodds. “His achievements guarantee that. And with all his experiences in the game, they’d be daft not to.”
FRESH CHALLENGE: Terry Butcher has taken the reins at League Two outfit Newport County