No doddle for editor Venables who fails to land Hoddle

Olivia Blair@livblair
Friday 27 September 1996 23:02

According to George Graham, when Terry Venables was a 19-year old Chelsea starlet, "he always carried around this battered old typewriter on which he'd endlessly bash out articles". So perhaps El Tel was destined to try his hand at journalism, a profession for which he has been known to show (depending on the journalist) the sort of respect he reserves for managing directors of certain electronic companies.

Apart from (rather successfully) managing several football teams, during his 53 years, Venables has launched a tailor's shop, designed a wig, written a novel, created a TV detective series, sung in a dance group, pioneered the first plastic football pitch, devised a board game and written the script for Euro 96 (even if the final chapter was an anticlimax). So you'd think editing a football magazine - in this case, the November issue of FourFourTwo - would be a doddle for a man more used to making the headlines than writing them.

But as Venables later admitted, "this was very different" - from the moment he walked through the doors of Haymarket Publishing's offices to be greeted with chants of "Ing-er-land, Ing-er-land, Ing-er- land" from the ad blokes on the ground floor who had draped a Union Jack out of the window in his honour. Venables simply smiled good-naturedly and began talking weather to the receptionist. Much to her chagrin, she had to ask him to sign the visitors' book. "It's the rules, no exceptions," she had been told; not even for a new signing who had created almost as much of a stir in suburban Teddington as Alan Shearer arriving on Tyneside.

I was to be his "shadow" while he was editor (which explains my sympathy for David Davies, who "shadowed" El Tel while he was England manager). Scribes, at home, Fratton Park - or on a car phone somewhere between the three - I had to vie for his attention with solicitors, book publishers (his latest tome was about to hit the streets) and assorted members of the press trying to get an angle on whether he wanted the QPR job.

Don Howe told me: "Terry isn't a bang-his-fists-on-the-table kind of a manager" - but I thought I'd discovered otherwise when we were discussing which four players to do in the "Boy's A Bit Special" section. Gary and Phil Neville, Sol Campbell and Jamie Redknapp were his choices. I suggested Nick Barmby, since his praise for the Middlesbrough striker seemed to know no bounds. "Let's have five then," says Venables. I explain we can only have four because of pagination. "I'm the editor, I want five," he retorts, thumping a fist on the table, before adding: "Only joking."

Thankfully, we only encountered this problem once more, when he wanted to write the longest leader in magazine publishing history. But the leader had been 350 words long for the past two and a half years; it couldn't change for "Mister Wonderful" (as they christened him at Barcelona) or anyone else.

We knew he wouldn't come cheap; experts never do. We also know he had imagination; after all, he had showed that as long ago as 1965 when Chelsea got a free-kick against Roma in the Fairs Cup. Venables started pacing 10 yards towards the wall, then after five raced round it and scored from the pass he received, which in those days was very innovative. We also knew - or thought we did - that the "man with the silver tongue" (as Irving Scholar described him) would easily be able to set up an interview for himself with (in order of his preference) Rinus Michels, Louis Van Gaal, Johan Cruyff, Glenn Hoddle, Kenny Dalglish or George Graham.

It didn't turn out to be as easy as we - or he - had expected. Michels said thanks but no thanks; he'd love an informal chinwag with Venables but did not fancy any publicity. Van Gaal had the small matter of Ajax's Champions' League meeting with Auxerre on his mind. Cruyff and Venables, meanwhile, met on TV duty at the Studio Delle Alpi. Cruyff agreed to the interview (over a glass of Chianti, I presume), but couldn't make the proposed day (and anyway, Venables had to be back in London to see Portsmouth play Wimbledon in the Coca-Cola Cup).

Hoddle was in Copenhagen with - worryingly - Charles Hughes. Dalglish had already had more interview requests that week than the ex-Bishop Roderick Wright, and George Graham "would love to help" - but there was Darlington in the Coca-Cola Cup to think about. So you see, not even being Terry Venables opens every door.

So we ended up eating ham and cheese sarnies in Scribes, listening to Venables pontificate on How To Win In Europe, which was probably better than anything the great and good of European football could have served up.

I still wonder whether his opening line to his Euro 96 squad was the same one he used to kick off that first editorial meeting. "So who's in charge then," he enquired. "Er, you are," came the reply. "Right then," he declared, "let's get to work." But "work" wasn't quite like some members of the public seemed to imagine. He certainly didn't sit in the office, grappling with piles of proofs. Actually, it was probably more as he himself had imagined: "Fun, but hard work" (wasn't that what he said when he took over England?). Judging by his leader, you get the feeling he might not have found it quite so fun had he been working with certain tabloid hacks rather than FourFourTwo's editorial staff. But it would have made exceedingly good copy.

Olivia Blair is Assistant Editor of FourFourTwo magazine

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