How Terry Venables brought football home and gave England its greatest summer since 1966

Obituary: Venables memorably led England to the semi-finals of Euro 96 and described that tournament as the ‘best time of my life’

Sports Staff
Sunday 26 November 2023 17:50 GMT
Former England manager Terry Venables dies aged 80

Terry Venables will forever be remembered as the manager who oversaw the summer when football came home.

The charismatic boss, who has died at the age of 80, enjoyed a colourful and controversial career, the undoubted highlight of which was leading England to within a penalty shootout of reaching the final of the European Championship on home soil in 1996.

That fixture was his last as the national team’s manager after he left the role to focus on his upcoming court cases, but by the end of the year, he was, perhaps typically, combining a new role as Portsmouth chairman with another as Australia coach.

That “wheeler-dealer” streak saw Venables court controversy for his dealings outside of football.

“El Tel”, as he became known during his time in charge of Barcelona, also co-owned and managed Tottenham, and was the subject of allegations of improper business conduct, as well as claims he once paid Brian Clough “a bung”.

The one-time midfielder was born in Dagenham, Essex, on 6 January 1943, and was an only child.

As a club manager, Venables guided Tottenham to FA Cup glory in 1991 and won LaLiga with Barcelona in 1985 (PA Archive)

Having shown promise as a footballer, he joined Chelsea as an apprentice in 1958 before signing professional terms two years later, and then winning a League Cup winner’s medal in 1965 following a 3-2 victory over Leicester.

He had earned his two England caps the previous year in fixtures against Belgium and Holland, having represented his country at schoolboy, youth, amateur and under-23 level.

It was his transfer to Tottenham in 1966 that led to his most successful period as a player, during which he won the following year’s FA Cup with a 2-1 victory over his former club.

He left Tottenham for QPR in 1969, moving on five years later to Crystal Palace.

Cup specialist: Venables at an England training session at Bisham Abbey prior to Euro 96 (Getty)

His talents did not just lie on the pitch, though.

During his playing career, Venables co-wrote detective novels, which were later turned into the TV series Hazell about a wise-cracking cockney private eye. Starring Nicholas Ball, it ran for 22 episodes from 1978-79.

It proved a significantly bigger hit than one of his early business ideas – the Thingummywig, a hat with a built-in wig so women could go out without removing their curlers.

After one season as a player at Palace, he retired and joined the coaching staff and, in 1976, he was promoted into the role that proved his most natural fit – manager.

Venables required only one year to lead the Eagles to promotion from the Third Division and just a further two to secure the Second Division title.

In October 1980, he resigned to take over at QPR, leading the second-tier side to the 1982 FA Cup final, which they lost to Tottenham in a replay. The following season, he guided them to the Second Division title while becoming both their major shareholder and managing director.

Leading out his Spurs team at Wembley, alongside Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough, for the 1991 FA Cup final (Action Images/Reuters)

He led QPR to a fifth-placed finish and qualification for the Uefa Cup in the 1983-84 campaign, but in May 1984 he resigned to become manager of Barcelona.

He charmed the crowd present at his first match in charge by addressing them in Catalan and, more significantly, in his first season he led the club to their first LaLiga title in 11 years.

Venables signed Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes during his time at the Nou Camp, also selling Diego Maradona.

However, Barca only finished runners-up in the league during the following two seasons and lost in the final of the 1986 European Cup as Romanian opponents Steaua Bucharest triumphed on penalties after a goalless draw.

His dismissal in September 1987 was followed by his appointment as Tottenham manager in October. He brought Paul Gascoigne to the club and linked up with Lineker again.

Venables led Spurs to 1991 FA Cup glory with a 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest in the final, although the match was overshadowed by Gascoigne’s cruciate ligament injury.

When Venables and Alan Sugar won the takeover battle for the club that June, he was also appointed chief executive but his relationship with the then chairman gradually broke down.

In 1993, Sugar sacked him and later that year, the BBC’s Panorama programme alleged misdealings connected with Venables’s businesses, which he responded to by threatening libel action.

Despite any damage to his reputation, in January 1994, he was appointed England manager and his first fixture in charge came two months later when they defeated Denmark 1-0 at Wembley.

That August, police also dropped their inquiry into allegations he paid Clough a £50,000 bribe to arrange a player transfer.

In January 1996, Venables revealed he would resign as England manager after that year’s European Championship to focus on pending court cases, but the imminent conclusion to his reign could not take the gloss off what so nearly became such a glorious summer for the hosts.

With Arsenal’s Tony Adams as his captain at the heart of defence, Alan Shearer in form up front and a rejuvenated Gascoigne pulling the strings in midfield, they progressed to the knockout stages following a 4-1 thumping of Holland that still ranks as one of England’s finest performances.

Venables’s use of the “Christmas Tree” formation was considered instrumental to their success, which also included a penalty shootout victory over Spain in the quarter-finals.

The new England boss is unveiled at Wembley Stadium on 28 January 1994 (Getty)

England produced another memorable display in the semi-final, only to lose on penalties to eventual winners Germany. Despite the cruel nature of the defeat and the fact it proved his final match as England manager, he later described that summer as the “best time of my life”.

That July, Venables made an unexpected return to the sport as Portsmouth’s director of football and by November, he had been appointed Australia manager, also becoming Portsmouth chairman, having bought the club for £1.

In January 1998, he stepped down from his role as chairman and also agreed to a High Court order banning him from holding company directorships for seven years.

His return to Palace as manager that April was short-lived, but he was recruited again, this time by struggling Middlesbrough, in December 2000.

Having left after steering them to Premier League survival, in July 2002 he returned for one last job in club management, this time at financially troubled Leeds.

The sale of key players including Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler and Jonathan Woodgate contributed to their plight and in March, as the threat of relegation loomed, he was sacked again.

Venables surprisingly returned to the England set-up as new manager Steve McClaren’s assistant in the summer of 2006. Failure to qualify for Euro 2008 saw them dismissed in November 2007.

Having speculated in clubs and property, his final business venture began in 2014 when he opened a boutique hotel and restaurant with his wife Yvette Bazire in Penaguila, south of Valencia.

A first marriage in 1966 to Christine McCann, a dressmaker he had known since his apprentice days at Chelsea, ended in divorce in 1984. He is survived by their two daughters, Nancy and Tracey, and by Yvette, whom he married in 1991.

Terry Venables, football manager and businessman, born 6 January 1943, died 25 November 2023

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