Graham Rix: 'No one will give me a job'
Highly rated player and coach is a forgotten man after up-and-down career
Eighteen years ago last week, Graham Rix, the former Arsenal and England midfielder, contributed to a feature in this newspaper entitled "My Own Goal", in which sporting personalities admitted to their greatest mistake; his self-confessed error had been to join Caen, newly arrived in the French top flight, without realising what a step down it would be from Highbury. Yet that story had a happy ending; he ultimately found his three years there so enjoyable he stayed in France for another season with Le Havre.
A far more serious and enduring own goal would come later, when in March 1999 he admitted to having sex with a girl he believed to be older than her 15 years and was sentenced to 12 months in prison, serving six of them. Working at the time as a youth-team coach at Chelsea under his great friend Glenn Hoddle, he was reinstated and became first-team coach to Gianluca Vialli as the club won the FA Cup in 2000 and finished in the top six every season until Vialli was sacked following one poor start.
After that he would manage Portsmouth, Oxford United and Hearts, and work most contentedly of all at Hoddle's Soccer Academy in Spain, where players rejected by professional clubs were given a chance to improve their skills and prospects. After the academy was put on hold through lack of funds, Rix was employed less happily as manager of a new club in Trinidad, and returned home last year to discover that at 55 suddenly nobody appears to want him any more.
Sitting in his Hampshire house with his wife, Linda, he says: "It's tough being out of work but money's not everything. Trinidad was just so far away from home and I was missing the family.
"I'm still on the lookout, I want something to happen and I've applied for so many jobs, so many jobs... Sometimes, but not always, you get a letter or email back saying thanks but no thanks."
The oddity is that after prison, four open-minded chairmen were prepared to offer him work, whereas there seems to be greater reluctance to do so almost a decade later. "I made a mistake, admitted it and accepted it. I was in prison and I've done everything I had to with the [sex offenders] register and all of that. I don't want to sound self-pitying, as though people owe me a favour, but when I'm not working for long periods it does get me down. I just want to get on with my life, and when I've been in football for so long, what else am I going to do?"
He is giving time to AFC Portchester, a community-based club in the Wessex League who run 30 teams, from Under-sevens to veterans: "Their attitude is refreshing – guys who work all day and are still prepared to come in and train. I'm just helping them out, it gives me something to do, gets my work juices flowing again. I'm not bothered about being Mr Big Shot, I just want to pass on what I've got in my head, whether it's at an academy, reserve team, Under-21s, anything. Without blowing my own trumpet, that's where my forte lies."
Hoddle and Vialli are among those who have recognised that forte; two men who also stayed loyal at the worst of times. "Wandsworth Prison is not a very nice place to go, I can assure you. It was tough in there. But it's a great leveller. It doesn't matter in there what car you drive, what house you have, how much money you've got, you're all in there together. There were some bad people in there, but there were also some people who had made a mistake but were essentially good people.
"It taught me a few things, like what was important to me and who your real mates are. Glenn came to visit me, when he was England manager; Vialli came to visit me. They didn't have to do that if they didn't believe in me and trust me."
The Chelsea chairman, Ken Bates, appraised of the full facts, welcomed him back, at least until Claudio Ranieri arrived as Vialli's successor and wanted his own coach. Still in demand, Rix worked for a series of "interesting" chairmen, including Milan Mandaric at Portsmouth and Roman Romanov at Hearts.
At Hoddle's academy he was in his element, improving players' technique and thrilled when a Spanish coach told him that Barcelona did exactly the same sort of work and drills (but from the age of seven).
He tells a story from his Chelsea days: "When I was first-team coach I used to take some of the young lads and have them in an hour early for what I called 'bad foot club', really simple drills with their bad foot so they can take the ball, control and pass it with either left or right. One day the first-team boys were arriving and Gus Poyet asked me what we were doing. The next week, Poyet, [Roberto] Di Matteo, [Gianfranco] Zola and [Dan] Petrescu all turned up, four superstars wanting to make their bad foot better." That is the sort of attitude he admires.
Rix (left, in his Arsenal days) is proud of his part in Arsenal's resurrection from a team in the bottom six to three successive FA Cup finals from 1978-80; and of having been at Chelsea when Hoddle, Ruud Gullit and Vialli effected a similar pre-Abramovich transformation in the Nineties. "We used to train at the university ground at Harlington, where Glenn would be putting 50p pieces in the public phone, trying to sign Mark Hughes from Man United."
Then it is time to head off to Portchester for a reserve game; the biggest own goal of his life is now almost 15 years ago, but still casting a shadow. "The worst thing about it all? Probably the stigma that has unfortunately and, in my view, unfairly been attached to me. There's a lot I still can't say, but it isn't the case, what people think of me and call me. That's what hurts most."
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