Exclusive Interview: Terry Fenwick
James Rowe for The Secret Footballer
JR “Hi Terry, thanks so much for taking some time out to speak to me at TSF today. Let’s go back to west London and Queens Park Rangers, not many people make over 250 appearances for one club…”
TF “I have some wonderful memories from my time at Queens Park Rangers FC and I have to say that I went through quite a successful period at Crystal Palace before that under the great management of Terry Venables. When Terry was sacked at Crystal Palace I was one of three players that he signed along with John Burridge and Mike Flanagan when he took over Queens Park Rangers FC. We went from the old Division One into Division Two. Queens Park Rangers FC were a very fresh and upcoming club under a very innovative Chairman, Jim Gregory. He had a great personality but was a tough old boy with a sense of humour.
But he made a great decision bringing Terry Venables in, and the club really soared. We narrowly missed out on promotion in Terry's first season and we reached the 1982 FA Cup Final where we took Tottenham Hotspur to a replay and really should have won the final.*
We achieved promotion as champions the following season to the old Division One and at the time I was captain of the club. We were the top club in London for three out of five seasons. We were granite at the back and a typical Terry Venables team where everything was really well structured and organized, we were disciplined and we had some terrific players. I played with top players such as Tony Currie who was an outstanding player, Gerry Francis, Clive Allen, Simon Stainrod, John Gregory and David Seaman.
Queens Park Rangers FC were seen as a smaller club in London in comparison to Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea FC who were not nearly as big as they are now. We were probably the best team in West London with Fulham FC our neighbours. We had a great little stadium at Loftus Road and a plastic pitch which was the first ever synthetic surface in Division One. What an experience that was because it made you a better player across the board where your touch had to be impeccable and your passing and movement needed to be pinpoint.
It also made you better for when we played away from home on natural grass. We were absolutely clinical in everything that we did and I remember former Chelsea FC manager Bobby Campbell once called us the mean machine because of how tightly organized and well-drilled we were. We gave nothing up and everything was structured, we were a tough team to beat home and away. I had a wonderful time at Queens Park Rangers FC and Terry Venables was an exceptional manager who was not just a great tactician, he was also a great man manager, and I think that was the key to it all. I had a wonderful time at the Bush, great supporters and across the board we were a top team.”
JR “Moving on to the other side of the world… you managed Trinidad and Tobago, how did that opportunity come up?”
TF “Well the thing is there that it is a very different environment. I will have been in Trinidad & Tobago for 22 years on 4th January 2022. I came down here on the recommendation of Sir Bobby Robson and I recognized immediately that what they call the Pro League down here was nothing but a development league with ten teams. I came 5th in my first season and got to know in and around what sort of players and what their abilities and mentality were. In my second year I brought in loads of youngsters so that our team were all between 17 and 21 years old. We won the league by a street and we were organized and disciplined. I brought all the things that I had learned over my career into the team and it was something that they were not used to. Other opponents were not nearly as fit and organized as us with players playing in proper positions whereby we were efficient with and without the ball and we pretty much cleaned up.
This was at a time of the infamous Jack Warner who in fact did a great deal for Trinidad and Tobago football but he was seen through different eyes internationally because of the problems and issues within FIFA around the world. It is a different culture. With Jack Warner things were structured and organized and he got sponsors which helped Trinidad & Tobago qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany under the tutelage of Leo Beenhakker who did an astonishing job. He gave Trinidad and Tobago a huge springboard and opportunity to go forward but then the wheels came off with Jack and with FIFA. He had not been able to leave the island since that period, one of his sons is housebound in Miami in the United States and he can’t move, and the family cannot move to see one another, it’s a real sad story but that was the game that Jack played.
Lots of money went adrift and corruption and FIFA was in a mess, football pretty much collapsed and the people that took over, did so for the wrong reasons. They wanted to become the next Jack Warner rather than take the game to the next level and the unfortunate thing here in Trinidad & Tobago is that there is some amazing talent within the island, and indeed in the Caribbean region. When you consider the players that have come through here including the Raheem Sterling’s and players of that caliber… but unfortunately they are wrapped up in a very political and corrupt system where the Caribbean nations are of no use or interest to FIFA really, but they carry the votes for the CONCACAF region, the second biggest voting pool behind UEFA.
How Jack Warner organized the 17 votes within the islands up and down the Caribbean made sure that whatever way USA, Canada and Mexico voted, he could overcome all of them by the fact that little islands such as Grenada, Barbados and Saint Kitts and Nevis were sufficient to keep the votes to keep him at the head of CONCACAF.
So unfortunately I have seen two very different sides of football within the Caribbean region. But I have loved coaching here because it has been very basic and bare, I have started by bringing kids up from 15 through the development ranks and I have won the league with all the clubs that I have been at and qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League. I’ve won domestic cups on the island too, but the game unfortunately has dwindled and it’s become about the individuals that are managing and looking after the administrative side, they are the stars of the show and unfortunately because of the corruption that has followed them it has had a terrible effect on the youngsters who are trying to come through and make a name in football.”
JR “Tell me about playing for England.”
TF “Well playing for England and playing for your country… my God! I was seven when England won the 1966 World Cup and my favourite player was Sir Bobby Charlton who is from the North East of England, the same as me. It was always top of my list to play for England, I did it, but it was not easy. I played for England at youth and under 21 level and we were actually the first English team to win the European Championship under Dave Sexton and Terry Venables. We had an excellent side and some wonderful players when I look back but out of that group apart from Sammy Lee there were not many of us that went on to play in the first Division.
I would have run through brick walls to achieve playing for England and it was never about money. If you were any good at all and a top player in your position that was reflected in playing for your national team, I was so proud, it was incredible. I have had some wonderful managers during my career, Malcolm Allison was the first and I could not believe that he flew from London as Crystal Palace manager up to the North East of England to watch a 15 year old Terry Fenwick play in a game on a terrible pitch in the pouring rain in County Durham, it blew me away.
He took me and my family to London and took us to a restaurant where I had the first steak I ever had in my life because I was from a coal mining community and everything was very poor. It was such an incredible experience, he gave my Mum a chauffeur and 60 pounds to go and spend in Oxford Street while myself, my Dad and my brother went to watch Crystal Palace play and when my Mum came back she said quietly to my Dad don’t worry I have kept 55 pounds because my Dad did not make 60 pounds a month in his job working down the mines.
I had a tough and hard upbringing which was full of love. I suffered very much as a youngster with asthma which made things difficult but I think that gave me the character I have shown all my career, I never give up on anything. I was a tough competitor who always got on with things. I took my knocks and gave knocks out and played the game hard and that helped me. Playing for England, as much as I was proud to do so, you recognized that you were playing for Bobby Robson as well. Everybody was putting themselves on the line for England and Bobby Robson.”
JR “When I was researching for this interview I noticed that the list of players that you’ve played alongside reads like a who’s who of the best players England has ever produced, could you pick just one from the list?”
TF “I will tell you who was the best player I ever played alongside, Paul Gascoigne. For maybe three out of five years he was arguably the best player in the world. He could do everything and then he had great ability, skill and no fear at all. He had body strength and he was a little top heavy, the way he played and palmed people off… he would box them out the way, he was just an amazing player. Mad as a March hare and as crazy as they come, but you had to respect as a footballer that he was the world's best.
When you look at him hurting himself badly in the 1991 FA Cup Final… it took him a long time to get over that and then he went to Italy and blew Italy away, he was the best player in Italy by a country mile playing for SS Lazio. He did great things out there before returning to Great Britain with Rangers FC. I just think that his off the field personality did not suit the actual world class player that he was, but Gazza… what a player!”
JR “So many people in football are in agreement about Gazza. In terms of who you’ve played against though, there’s another maverick whose name jumps off the page…”
TF “Yes, Diego Maradona. What was funny is that Bobby Robson said to me in the dressing room before the game at the Azteca Stadium at the Mexico 86 World Cup, “don’t worry Terry he’s only got one foot.” I looked at Bob and he just started to smile, that’s what Bobby was like, he eased everyone up and before the game everybody felt confident and positive. The obvious hand of God goal was handball. I am still positive today that England had a better eleven than Argentina, but they had the best player in the world.
I don’t think Diego Maradona was coachable. He did whatever he wanted to do in the game regardless of who he played against, but then I am sure the other ten players were just told “whenever you get the ball give it to Diego and let him do his work.” He was just incredible, what a player! I tried to rough him up and God he was as solid as a rock. I hit him once in the second half and he was off the pitch for four and a half minutes and to my amazement I saw him warming up on the side of the pitch ready to come back on, I was thinking, “my God what have I got to do to stop this man?”
He came on the pitch and the first thing he did was start talking to me saying that he had been roughed up all around the world playing for different teams, FC Barcelona and SSC Napoli, he must have taken his knocks but what an absolute genius with the ball. It was like it was stuck to his left foot and he was as strong as an ox too. What a personality, he came from a tough environment and upbringing where you had to take your knocks and move on and get on with life. Diego Maradona, what a player!”
JR “You’ve mentioned Malcolm Allison and Sir Bobby Robson as great managers. Tell me a little bit more about how coaching and management has influenced you."
TF “In my youth development I probably had the best youth development coach in the country, a guy called John Cartwright who came from the West Ham United academy. He went on to do great things for England and taught me how to play almost every position. I played centre back for most of my career but if Terry told me that I had to play centre forward today, I could get on with it. I could read the game and that is what these top coaches, Terry Venables in particular, and Malcolm Allison, did for you. They had you thinking about the game first, and a lot of the players that I played with might not have been technically the best players but they could read the game and see what was coming next and react.
My early life as a footballer under these coaches was amazing because as I moved on in my football career and had different coaches, I could see the vast difference from the quality that I had with these guys. Bobby Robson was one of your own. We were both from the North of England and he was such a lovely man, he knew his football and he was a great man manager and an astonishing individual. I am not sure if managers do this today James, but as England manager Bobby Robson would drive you mad during the week, he would be on the phone two or three times a week all through the season. It was not like you saw him when you turned up to play for England and he was touching base behind the scenes and going to games watching players and giving players information of how he could have dealt with things better for example. It was just like “wow!” That was the measure of the man and that was his man management.
Terry Venables took me from Crystal Palace to QPR and when I look back at my career, Terry Venables for me is the one coach that carries everything. He had the man management skills although not quite the same as Bobby, but his expertise and excellence was his structure and organization and the little detailed things. I learned from Terry to get the little things right and the bigger things will all fall into place, that is what football is about, the finer details where we would think “we missed that, we did not see this etc..” and it could be as simple as using the outside of your foot for that pass rather than your instep.
It might have been making that curved run instead of a straight run, little things that would pass you by, he would pull you on the training ground and go through it and then he would have you practicing. That ensured that everybody got on the same page and everybody knew their position, if you were playing centre back and you ended up on the left wing you could play as a left winger because that is the coaching that came with it, and wherever you landed on that field of play you were comfortable receiving the ball and getting the ball and you knew what the next move was, he was tremendous. Sir Bobby Robson and Terry Venables were the two best. Terry Venables, my mentor."
* QPR lost the 1982 FA Cup final to Tottenham courtesy of a Glenn Hoddle penalty.
James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.