Turner graduates from career of hard knocks as a Corinthian and a Scholar

As Chasetown face Oldham in the FA Cup, their player-coach and former Spurs midfielder tells Phil Shaw how he has rediscovered his appetite for the game
Click to follow
The Independent Football

But tomorrow, Turner intends to prove there is a positive answer to the question. Now 30, he is player-coach for Chasetown, also known as "The Scholars", the smallest club left in the FA Cup, five promotions from the Football League in the Harvey World Travel Midland Alliance.

The Staffordshire small fry's first-round tie with Oldham Athletic - 1990 semi-finalists, Premier League founders and more than 130 places above Chasetown - will be shown live on Match of the Day. For Turner, the occasion will stir memories of when he was a star turn on television - and will reacquaint him with Gary Lineker.

"Will he be there?" Turner asks, not quite believing the cameras are actually coming to Chasetown's Church Street home, with its 180-seat stand and record attendance of 615 until a fourth qualifying-round replay against Blyth Spartans took it to 2,200. "They'll probably put the television gantry above the little shed where they keep the pots of paint."

Turner, who joined Spurs after graduating with Sol Campbell from the FA National School at Lilleshall, was a YTS boy in Lineker's final year. "Gary won't remember me," he says. "I was a kid and he was a legend. If I saw him in the canteen, I was in awe of him."

Paul Gascoigne would definitely know him. When Turner sustained a broken leg, Gazza was recovering from the damage he had brought upon himself in the 1991 FA Cup final. They did "rehab" together and doubtless talked of how each would one day serve Kettering Town.

Gascoigne's first managerial post is at one of the many clubs Turner represented on loan in preference to "soulless" reserve-team football as he fought back from injuries. Such moves, let alone the kind of dual role he enjoys today as gym manager in a Cannock sports centre and as right-hand man to Chasetown's manager, Charlie Blakemore, would never have entered his head when Spurs gave him his big break in 1992.

"We were playing Southampton at The Dell," Turner recalls. "I was four months past my 17th birthday and wasn't even in the squad. But Nayim got injured 36 hours before the game. Doug Livermore and Ray Clemence, who ran the team under the overall supervision of Terry Venables, pulled me aside and said: 'You might be playing.'

"All I can remember is it was 0-0 and I got subbed on 70 minutes because I was knackered. Oh, and me and a fella called Terry Hurlock clattered into each other in a 50-50 challenge after three minutes. I picked myself up and thought: 'That's a taste of things to come.' Turned out he was one of the hardest midfielders in the world."

Turner was the Premier League's youngest scorer until Michael Owen came along. Later in that first season, he came on for the last 15 minutes of an epic quarter-final against Manchester City at another long-gone ground, Maine Road. His cameo helped Spurs win 4-2 and lit up the live televised tie.

"I won a penalty off Keith Curle, which Teddy [Sheringham] missed; scored and it was disallowed; made a goal for Nayim; and we had the mounted police and dogs after a pitch invasion by City fans."

He sat out the defeat by Arsenal in the Wembley semi-final and eventually moved to Portsmouth for £250,000. Working again with Venables was the attraction. "I loved playing for him. Then again, all players do, not just because of his fantastic coaching but because he cared about people as individuals. If you weren't in the team, Terry told you why, and what you could do to get in. Some managers just blank you."

Another FA Cup tussle, between Pompey and Aston Villa, marked the beginning of the end of Turner's career in the big time soon after he made the Republic of Ireland squad.

"No one was within 20 yards," he says. "I moved and 'bang!', it was like a gun shot. The tendons in my ankle snapped."

The knocks and strains came thick and fast, exacerbated by Turner trying to come back too quickly. Upset with himself because he could not perform to the standard he wanted, he lost his appetite for the game. "Not everyone is going to live the high life on big money. I made a decision to come out of full-time football and find an alternative career."

The leisure industry provided it, yet Turner's first love was rekindled after joining Chasetown last summer. In Blakemore he found an "incredible enthusiast" with Venables' "personal touch". And Turner believes all his colleagues, especially the strikers Karl Edwards (a carpet fitter) and Lee "Bully" Bullimore (plumber), could play at a higher level.

A club-record unbeaten run of 20 matches includes eight in the FA Cup. Turner recalls the 4-3 replay win over Cogenhoe as "one of the best games I've ever played in". Against Blyth, he reprised his Tottenham trick of 12 years earlier, entering the fray at an identical stage to create Chasetown's last-minute winner and spark an invasion, albeit a friendly one.

"It was surreal. I've never seen a crowd go so ballistic. I had ladies crying on me and fans from the big Midlands clubs saying they felt they had seen a proper game for once. My son, who's eight, said next day: 'Dad, you were on the news last night. You put a cross in for a goal'."

As well as Lineker, Turner looks forward to a reunion with Oldham's manager, Ronnie Moore, for whom he played at Rotherham.

"He's very underrated," Turner says. "But our place may be a culture shock for them, and for the BBC. I'd love to put one over Ronnie. It's doable, too, even though we're massive underdogs. That's the beauty of the game."