England bid farewell to Pearce

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The Independent Online
Stuart Pearce's announcement of his retirement from international football yesterday will be a case for great celebration by goalkeepers and a legion of right-wingers, but England will mourn the loss of an uncompromising full-back, patriot and motivator.

The 34-year-old Pearce, who told his team-mates of his decision immediately after Wednesday's Euro 96 semi-final defeat by Germany, had made up his mind in April.

"I'm sad, but the time is right. I wouldn't expect to play through to the next World Cup finals and I didn't want my England days simply to fizzle out," Pearce said. "I honestly felt that my last match would be the final, but that wasn't to be."

His expression after firing home a penalty in the shoot-out against Spain a week ago will remain one of the most memorable images of the tournament. The memory that had haunted him for six years was erased as he ensured that he would no longer be remembered as the man who cost England a place in the World Cup final, but the player who restored a country's faith in its football.

Repeating the feat against Germany, he has exorcised all the old ghosts and now, at the end of his testimonial year, he has decided there is no better time to leave the international arena.

Nottingham Forest's chairman, Fred Reacher, said: "I doubt if there has been a prouder footballer representing his country and although he could probably have carried on longer at the highest level everyone has got to respect his wishes."

Pearce came in at the top against Brazil nine years ago and it will not have been an easy decision for the Londoner. A qualified electrician, he came to the professional game late, when, as a 21-year-old, he was signed by Coventry from Wealdstone for only pounds 25,000. He has always appreciated his good fortune.

"I worked for five or six years as a sparks. I never thought I would win one England cap, or even play professional football. So I'm more than happy to turn up, sit in the stands and wait for my country's call at any time," said a player whose image belies a dry, sharp sense of humour.

That dedication earned him a revival of his England career under Terry Venables, well before injury to Graeme Le Saux made him indispensable again. He also won back the captaincy, first given to him by Graham Taylor, and led the side for the ninth time against Bulgaria in March. In all he won 70 caps, scoring five goals.

Brian Clough, who signed him for pounds 200,000 for Nottingham Forest, always thought the world of a player who has scored more than 80 goals from left- back and helped inspire two League Cup wins.

Few have enjoyed tangling with him, right to the last when his semi-final eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Andreas Moller led the German captain into lashing out for the booking which put him out of yesterday's final.