Exclusive Interview: Trevor Steven

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR “ Hi Trevor, thanks for taking the time to talk to me at TSF.  Let's get straight into it! You had an excellent career both domestically, abroad and at international level.  How are you enjoying retirement and how is life for you these days? “

TS “ I think when you talk about football and retirement, it’s not retirement for the rest of your life, it might be for the players retiring now because there has been high finance involved but for players of my generation and everyone before and for a period after, retirement did not mean just getting on a beach and chilling and enjoying the fruits of your labour.  We were never in that position. We retired from the game and we just stopped playing the game, but then you carry on trying to do something else in whatever career path you chose in your life. 

You have to miss the game.  The more football I see covered so broadly on global broadcasting platforms, the money involved, the facilities, stadiums, pitches and preparation... The whole thing is at such a high level now that it runs pretty deep through the leagues.  I do miss the game and playing eleven against eleven as I remember it... I enjoyed playing because I was a creative player and I think the good pitches and protection that players now have on the pitch would have suited me.  But the game has changed dramatically and I am not that keen on where it has gone with the various technical changes to the rules, the offsides, handballs and how easy it is to get a yellow card.  I had one yellow card in my whole career and even that was by accident. 

The game has softened physically and has got quicker too, it is nowhere near person to person or combative anymore.  It is about tactics and formations and how fast you can move the ball. It is not really so much about the physical. There has always been anticipation in football and reading situations, that's always there, but there is no tackling from behind or lunges etc.. back in the day there would have been so many sending off's if today's rules had applied in those days, it wouldn’t have worked. 

I also miss being a footballer because it is a great occupation to have, and when you say that you think as a kid, 'what would you dream of becoming?'  And then you become that, and once you are in and immersed in it, it becomes quite normal.  But you have also got to remember the ambitions and the goals and the steps that you took along the way to make that come true, and when you think about it in that respect it was a privilege to play.  You realize when you retire, when you get a sample of that family feeling, of being in it and the routine and how it operates and how you had to live in and around it.  It was what all encompassing and very satisfying to be involved in “

''I am currently working pretty much full time as a mental health ambassador for a company called Causeway Technologies.  About two years ago all the Everton FC 1985 team were contacted by a producer called Rob Sloman.  Rob said he had found a producer to make a film called Everton, Howard’s Way, which focused on his building of the 1985 team.  The guy who put the money in was a big Evertonian called Phil Brown and Phil is the chairman of Causeway Technologies who are a software development business which supports the construction industry.  Phil’s connection with Everton FC grew very quickly with his backing for the film. Everton FC run a very impressive charity setup called Everton in the Community, they are a pioneering charity that has been around for nearly twenty years to provide a broad service to not only the L4 area in Liverpool, but Liverpool as a whole. 

And it's not just for Evertonians, it's open to anybody whether that is football related or not. I  It's for people in need who have problems with stress and anxiety to suicidal issues.  I got to know Phil pretty well and we decided that there was definitely a role there because he spent years and a lot of money into the building of what is called the People’s Place, next to Goodison Park. 

Everton’s Campus for mental health services is on Spellow Lane, literally next door to the stadium and a new building is being built, a facility called the People’s Place.  Everton FC is the people’s football club and so they are building a walk-in facility for people who trust Everton FC and their brand and who are in need of service or help however severe that may be.  Whether that be a person suffering with poor well-being to the other end of the spectrum such as someone who is prepared to take their life because they are in such a desperate position. 

So I am Causeway Technologies' ambassador in the community for Everton, working on the build and funding and which projects to promote, develop, before amplifying the mental health and well-being in the construction industry, as well as the People’s Place.  It's literally a full time occupation for me and at the moment, because of COVID, it is an issue and a talking point  for people who have felt stigmatized when talking about any mental illness or any mental problem that they may have had, or are having.  We are on a crusade to amplify the stigmatization that comes with mental health.  The reason why the construction industry is so interesting is because it is three to four times more likely that people commit suicide. It has a history of isolation, tough contracts, time pressures and living away from home, and a whole multitude of things manifest to make it such an important thing “

JR “That's very important and noble work, congratulations.  Speaking of pressure, to a much lesser extent of course, you had two spells at Rangers FC in Scotland. How do you look back on your time at the club and what are highlights and special memories? “

TS “ I could talk to you all day about every part of my football career if we are talking about Rangers FC. They were not on a footballers map prior to Graeme Souness going to take the managers role there at a young age when he was only 34 himself when he took up that mantle and when Graeme got that job he completely changed the face of the football club in respect of no longer looking inward within Scotland but looking outward and saying what could the ambitions be of a club of this size, and he took it because he had the financial backing of the owners and David Murray and the finances were there to attract players and it also fell into a period of time where English football was banned from playing in European competition, so it plugged a gap and became the club that everybody wanted to go to and everybody had an eye on what was going on in Scotland. We would look see Rangers FC playing against Sofia Bucharest in Europe and you would be envious because we were sitting there from 1985 through to when I left in 1989 of having no exposure to the levels that were used too and that was difficult so therefore my choice to go to Rangers FC was based upon half the English team being there.  

I come from the North East of England - almost Scotland - and my middle name is McGregor, my grandfather was born in Scotland and I have a lot of natural pull to think and consider about going back up North. I chose Rangers FC above Manchester United whom I was close to signing for, but I decided I wanted to get out and try something new and see what was going on at Ibrox.  It was a great experience especially in my first two years when we won the league and I scored the winning goal to seal the championship at Dundee United which was a great moment for me because I cemented my name in history by scoring that goal, it was fantastic. 

There were two things about Scottish football.  Celtic FC were a strong team but I must also add that there were two other very good sides in Aberdeen FC and Dundee United in particular. Hearts of Midlothian and Hibernian FC were also a lot stronger than they are now. The Scottish league has changed dramatically, it has become more of a junior league for some of the clubs who struggle to pay the salaries that would draw seasoned professionals, so they have had to cut their cloth accordingly, but in those days it was real solid competition and I really enjoyed it, the quality of players that we had was great and it was always evolving as we'd bring in more quality and a better mix of Scottish and English players.  We had a smattering of quality from everywhere, and the club just grew and grew. 

But then I had a chance to leave which I hadn't predicted five months earlier when I signed a five year contract at Rangers FC, but the club that came in for me was Olympique Marseille and the money they were offering was too great for the club to not consider taking.  Personally, it was another big step at the age of 27 to go on to another level.  Olympique Marseille had just played in a European Cup Final and they had some of the best players in Europe so I decided to go that route and I left Rangers FC to experience that.  It was my choice and that great period of success elevated me to yet another level, which was Olympique Marseille in France.``

JR “Actually Trevor, you lead me nicely on to my next question. Given the size of Olympique Marseille and that they were the biggest club in France at the time, how did it feel to represent them and to play football abroad, what are your highlights and memories?"

TS `` I have a lot of memories from my time at Olympique Marseille. First and foremost you know you are going to a club with ambition. Rangers FC had ambition to do well in Europe, but Olympique Marseille had ambition to win the Champions League and they expected to at least reach the final.  That ambition came from the president by virtue of the amount of money they were paying to attract the best players to the football club. I played in midfield with Didier Deschamps and we also had Jean Pierre Papin, Abedi Pele, Chris Waddle and Manuel Amoros.  We had a great football squad which was quite small but to play there was amazing and we had a brilliant centre back called Carlos Mozer who was Brazilian, gifted and as hard as nails.  He played alongside Basile Boli and he was just such a powerful figure.  Carlos said to me after about two weeks this club, you will never play for another club like it, it is one of the most difficult places to play, not because of the supporters, the supporters are fanatical, but it is a one team city and it is almost a separate republic in the way that it sees itself.  It had a huge mix and melange of North African and Southern France football fans, all in one big melting pot. And the fuore at every home game was incredible, every game was a huge event.  

Also you have to adapt to not knowing the language initially, and that takes a bit of getting used to where you have to get used to not being able to communicate with your teammates off the pitch in the way that you would like.  You have got to build that and be patient.  I had Chris Waddle which was useful and some of the players spoke a decent bit of English such as Didier Deschamps and Jean Pierre Papin who was my roommate.  Jean actually helped me get my first house, he was great.  

It is always an experience to move from your culture.  You see some young British players now playing abroad when they are starting out, and I wanted to experience the same thing.  We won the League ( Le Championnat ) but we made a huge faux pas when we got knocked out of the European Cup. We were winning 3-0 at home against Sparta Prague and we conceded soft goals within five minutes, we just stopped concentrating because it was so easy and all of a sudden Sparta Prague scored two goals, one from a bad back pass, and one a penalty. We went to Prague and went 1-0 up, but they equalized.  Then they beat us by scoring in the last minute.  It was all over and that caused a huge change in the football club with players not getting paid.  The pressure became more and more to the point that we had to win Le Championnat.  In the end we did it quite comfortably, even though AS Monaco under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger had a great team with George Weah and Manu Petit.  

It was a brilliant experience but then the club decided to replace myself, Jean Pierre Papin and Chris Waddle, and instead bring in Rudi Voller, Alen Boksic, Fabien Barthez and Marcel Desailly.  I was there for about a month with them but then a deal was done for me to go back to Rangers FC.  Although Howard Wilkinson had just won the league with Leeds United and he wanted me to sign for them, I decided I wanted to go back to Rangers FC to see if I could win a European Trophy.  My first season back was brilliant, we won a treble and almost got to the Champions League final, ironically it was Olympique Marseille that pipped us and the team that I'd just left went on to win the Champions League.  

We had a great season under Walter Smith, although he'd been the manager that sold me, I am glad he took me back because for Rangers FC to receive £5 million for me was good business and for Olympique Marseille was a good move for me. I returned to Scotland wealthier for the experience of winning a league title in France, especially mentally.  But in my second season back at Rangers FC I started to pick up injuries and I became less key to the team, but it was still great to play with Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne, those are experiences and memories that you can’t ever forget and although I couldn't run for 90 minutes anymore, you are still a professional footballer. But I couldn't go on that vicious circle of losing time on the pitch because my body wouldn't stand up to the rigors “

JR “It's certainly an incredible club career, but you also represented England. How do you look back now on playing international football?

TS “ I think I look back on it as being the pinnacle no matter what you have achieved. I achieved eleven league titles which is pretty well unheard of in many respects, and I knew about winning and having that mentality.  But along the way when I was at school I played for England schoolboys, I come from a very small town called Berwick Upon Tweed in the North East and who were not known for producing sportsmen.  We were 60 miles from Newcastle and 60 miles from Edinburgh and very much our own civilization on the border, so I had worked my way from very limited schoolboy football to playing for my country. I also practiced a lot. I had a lot of time being on my own practicing with a football, whereas the guys I started to play against in trials tended to be playing three or four games a week and the old adage is, if you are playing football matches you ain’t gonna see much of the ball or develop a lot of skills.  I was hardly playing any games but I was developing all my skills, and that is really why I came through because I was a small and slight build, my difference was that I had to be quicker and sharper in the head than my opponents.  

All those little things allowed me to play for England schoolboys at under 15 level even though I was still in a complete backwater as far as football was concerned.  That gave me the flavour and I went onto Burnley FC and became an under 18 and under 21 England international.  At Everton FC I got an early push into the full England setup because Bryan Robson was injured for one game. 

I quickly got myself into a position where I could be picked by England.  When I joined up with the squad in Northern Ireland for a World Cup qualifier in March 1985, I was completely overwhelmed by the people that I was seeing in the dressing room, on the bus, at breakfast, or on the training pitch.  Ray Wilkins, Kenny Samson, Viv Anderson, Mark Hately, Trevor Francis, John Barnes and Peter Shilton and of course Sir Bobby Robson himself, the whole thing was quite surreal, on top of that it was a World Cup qualifier!  Bobby came to my room the day before, as I was a late call up, and he told me that he was going to play me.  I closed my bedroom door as he left and then sat on the bed and went crikey, blimey, really! I got on the phone to my Mum & Dad and my brother and spread the word as things move pretty slowly in those days, media-wise. 

To play your first game and to walk into a dressing room and see your shirt and number - there were no names on shirts in those days - but to see that I was inheriting the number seven shirt from Bryan Robson that night was incredible really, and once I took to the field with the national anthem playing... These are out of body moments that you can’t relay to people really, you just stare in at your own thoughts and work out how you are going to deal with the pressure. 

Once the whistle had gone I was an England international and then it is a question of how deep your ambition is to go beyond that, how long can you stay at the top and how do you keep on the track that you have set for yourself and meet the challenges along the way?  I went on to play in the European Championships and the World Cups.  We went down in English football history at Mexico 86 and Italia 1990 respectively"

JR  “You certainly did.  Some of the names you've mentioned already are among the greatest ever to play the game.  When you look back, who would you say were among the best players you played alongside?"

TS “ I am one of those players that would look at positions rather than wondering if a player is great at something.  That would be my first port of call, in a football career you are at different levels and who you play with becomes different too.  If I was to go team by team the first player that really inspired me, because he was a leader and he played for England, would be Martin Dobson. He was my captain at Burnley FC and he also played for Everton FC in the 70’s. When I joined Burnley FC he returned to be my captain, he was such a class footballer and I learned a lot from watching his conduct and how he played.  

Then when I went to Everton FC you had Neville Southall, who is by far the best goalkeeper I ever played with. He was brilliant and a goalkeeper ahead of his time. Kevin Sheedy was ex Liverpool FC, but Everton FC nicked him because he was not getting a game.  Kevin and I used to play a game in football matches that if he scores I had to score and it was a competition through the season to see who could score the most goals. Kevin was a gifted footballer, although he did not have pace, he did have a technical gift, he could ping the ball 40 or 50 yards at a time when the ball was quite heavy. He was an exceptional footballer. 

When I went to Rangers FC during my second spell, Paul Gascoigne was the genius footballer of England, ahead of his time, he played without fear and he read the game brilliantly.  You could be forgiven to think that he was quite one dimensional in getting the ball, dribbling and trying to score, but he was a very intelligent footballer, extremely gifted and quite a big lad at 5.10ft, really well built and stronger than me.  The way that he was able to use his body mass and also hurt teams... You don’t see many players today constantly hurting teams like that and that is what Paul Gascoigne did.  I also played with him for England. 

Brian Laudrup was also a terrific footballer. I would pick those two players being the standouts because of their exceptional ability.  In Olympique Marseille I had Didier Deschamps next to me and what a piece of machinery he was.  He was part of the engine and he let you know about it.  Jean- Pierre Papin had such a great appetite and an ability to finish.  He had such hunger and he was so focused on what he wanted to achieve, which was to score goals of any type - and he scored some spectacular ones too! 

Chris Waddle deserves to be up there in the top rankings as well because he and John Barnes are very much seen as similar players but what Chris did was he went to France and into Marseille, and he conquered Marseille in a team full of quality.  From Dragan Stoijkovic and Eric Cantona, Chris came out on top, he was the darling of the fans along with Jean-Pierre Papin.  Chris then took his game to another level and it is almost a travesty that the English public didn’t see it because there was not that much coverage of French football at the time. 

At international level for England I have always been a massive fan of Peter Beardsley, he was such a smart, clever, inventive, intuitive, combative footballer and he was a stand out for me.  And also Gary Lineker who I played with at Everton FC, he was just a consummate finisher of scoring opportunities.  Gary had that same thing as Jean-Pierre Papin about scoring goals, that same mentality, and Gary scored goals for club and country.  With England the two midfield players Bryan Robson and Glenn Hoddle were exquisite footballers.  Brian led by example, he was a powerhouse.  When we were playing another international team they would always look to see Bryan Robson's name was on the team sheet, that is how influential he was.  He suffered with injuries but in his pomp and in his prime there was no-one better. If you look at a different kind of football, you get Glenn Hoddle.  Glenn was an artist as a footballer and he could not have been more different to Bryan Robson.  Both were exquisite footballers in their own definitions of it ''

JR ''Thanks for talking to me at TSF today Trevor, we really appreciate it!  So finally, you touched on Sir Bobby Robson earlier.  Who would you say are the coaches and managers that meant the most to you in terms of playing a key role in your development?"

TS '' I will say that Sir Bobby Robson was massively influential because he picked me for England and gave me the platform to take me to a level that very few people experience in their lifetime.  But the number one manager was Howard Kendall.  When I was at Burnley FC I progressed from being a schoolboy to a young pro, and I was still a young pro when I left, even so when I went to Everton FC the expectation on me was big, but Howard managed me brilliantly.  

Even though I had won a league title at Burnley FC and I was very much learning, he showed me how to be successful on a different level.  Howard Kendall also showed me what management was about by dealing with quality football players and having to leave people out and being ruthless.  He had the management skills to do what was best for individuals as well as for the team, he pulled all that together but it did not happen overnight.  Within seven months of Howard being at Everton FC we were reaching League Cup and FA Cup finals and the club had not been on such a stage for 15 years.  To go from a club of great standing but not a great trophy cabinet, we went to a club of immense standing and immense winning capacity, and that is down to us going on that journey with Howard Kendall.  

We won the league in 1987 and we should have won it in 1986.  We should have won three or four leagues on the trot but we won one.  We lost one to Liverpool FC by a single point and then we won it again in 1987 before Howard Kendall left.  I stayed for a bit and realized that the rudder had come off a little bit, and you can't afford to have any part of the ship hanging loose -  we were not the same without him.  But under Howard's watch I won the big trophies and under his watch I got to play for England ''

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.