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'For f**k's sake, their anthem goes on a bit. Don Givens looks at me and says, "That's ours!"

Terry Mancini, once of Watford, Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland, talks to The42 about his remarkable career.

MOST FOOTBALLERS MAKE an unfair bargain with their chroniclers, and so their rich and complex careers are invariably reduced to a single sentence. 

Few are recorded in verse, mind. 

Soccer - League Division One - Queens Park Rangers v Liverpool - Loftus Road Terry Mancini in action for QPR against Liverpool in 1973. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

“Terry Mancini’s claim to fame…” begins a poem in his honour, written by Peter Goulding.

That claim isn’t that he is one of the few Watford players to be capped at senior level for Ireland, given that he was into his thirties and had left the club by the time he realised he could actually play for Ireland.

“I never imagined myself as being an international footballer”, he tells The42.

“Certainly not playing for England – there was a queue of centre-halves ahead of me – and as I’d been born in Camden town, I thought you could only play for England.”

Watford was Mancini’s first club – he joined them in 1960 at the age of 18 and left six years later – remaining ignorant to his international prospects until he was 31 and congratulating his QPR teammate Don Givens on being included in John Giles’ Irish squad for (yet another) friendly with Poland at Dalymount Park.

“He was going through the names of the players in the squad”, recalls Mancini “and then he came to John Dempsey. I knew John, and I said, ‘He’s a Cockney, he’s English.’

“Don said, ‘Yeah, but he qualifies as his grandmother is Irish’. I said what’s that got to do with it? He told me he qualifies through parental qualification, so I said ‘Then I can play for Ireland.’

“He asked ‘How, your father is Italian?’

“I told him he was my stepfather, my father died when I was eight. I was born Terry Seely and all my family are in Dublin.

“Don Givens jumped up and said ‘We have to let the Irish know!’”

Nor is Goulding’s recorded moment the infamous prelude to his debut in that game with Poland.

“I hadn’t been back to Ireland in years and years, I’d lost touch with my family there. When I was warming up they were on the terrace and were shouting my name and calling me… I almost cried, it was wonderful.

We came out for the game, lined up at the side of the pitch and they played the national anthems. I’m standing next to Don Givens and the anthem went on…and on…and on…and I was full of nervous energy and keen to get started so I turned to Don.

“‘For fuck’s sake, their anthem goes on, doesn’t it?’

“He looks at me and says, ‘That’s ours!’”

Nor is it the moment of farce that seasoned his successful debut. 

“We came in at half-time, one-up, and realised that a dog had got into the dressing room and he’d shit on the floor.

“The last one in is Gilesy. He walks in, steps over it and says, ‘Ah, who’s shit on the floor?’

“I put my hand up and said, ‘Me, but I’m good in the air.’”

What about the fact he would, the following year, use that talent in the air to score for Ireland in front of 100,000 odd people in a 2-1 defeat to Brazil in the Maracana?

Nope, that’s not it either.

SOCCER GROUNDS The Maracana Stadium, pictured in 1977. Source: EMPICS Sport

Neither is it the fact he played all three games against Brazil, Uruguay and Chile on the 1974 tour of South America, despite the fact the latter match is one of the most contentious Ireland have ever played.

Before the squad flew to South America, Eamon Dunphy turned up at Irish training in London to leaflet against playing the game so soon after Augusto Pinochet’s brutal coup.

The venue for the game, the Estadio Nacional, had been used by Pinochet to detain and torture supporters of the ousted Salvador Allende.

“We were there to play football”, recalls Mancini.

“I wasn’t into politics so I hadn’t read anything about it, unlike Dunphy who had and had strong feelings about it.

“For me, we were invited as guests to play their national team and you have to get on with it. They had a curfew in those days so wherever you were you had to be indoors by 11pm.

After the game we went back to the hotel, and I’ll never forget it: I didn’t know where all of these Irish fans had come from. All of these missionaries had come out from across Chile, down from hills and mountains, to come to the game. A lot of them came back to the hotel and slept in the reception areas of the hotel as they weren’t allowed to leave.

“I wasn’t expecting Irish supporters in Santiago, and there was a sea of them.”

His fifth and final game for Ireland might have made it into Goulding’s poem, but didn’t. This was the famous 3-0 win against the Soviet Union at Dalymount Park in qualifying for the 1976 European Championships, in which Don Givens scored a hat-trick.

Source: KillianM2/YouTube

Mancini was only around to see the first two.

“We were two-up and the ball went out for a corner. I went up, and one of their centre-halves came to mark me. As I’m standing waiting, he just punched me in the ribs. Ooof.

“After the ball went I walked away and he came up and did it again. So I turned around and knocked him out. Booof.

“I knew I would go. But he also got sent off as the linesman had seen him punch me twice. They played it out ten against ten, and Don Givens scored a hat-trick. Wonderful.”

Mancini was hit with a four-game ban – reduced to three on appeal – but his place was taken by Eoin Hand and he never made another international appearance. Ireland, meanwhile, missed out on qualification by a point. “You always think ‘I could have helped to get us there’, but I have no regrets.

“These things happen.”

Goulding writes that this “claim to fame happened after one league game”, meaning it rules out an incident ahead of QPR’s final home game of the 1972/73 season.

With Frank McLintock, Terry Venables, Don Givens, Stan Bowles and Gerry Francis, theirs was a talented, maverick team who played football, says Mancini, like “Liverpool play today.”

The team were widely hailed as they rose from the top tier, although a few influential voices said Mancini didn’t fit. So, ahead of that final game, Venables counselled a dismayed Mancini on the best way to respond to his critics.

“As you know, I wasn’t exactly follically acclaimed; I didn’t have any hair. It started falling out when I was 18. From the terraces, I’m sure I looked about 80. It didn’t affect me in any way, it never worried me, it’s just unfortunate that I went bald at an early age.

“The season we won promotion to the First Division, the scribes were saying what a good team we were and that the only player who wouldn’t make it in the First Division was Mancini.

“I was quite upset reading that. It came to the last home game of the season against Fulham, and Terry Venables was my room-mate. I was a bit down, so he said ‘Let’s have a giggle. It’s the last home game of the season, go out with a wig on.’

“So I borrowed the wife’s wig, and as we ran out on the pitch I took it out of a paper bag and put it on my head. Suddenly you could hear a murmur in the crowd, ‘Who’s that playing centre-half? Mancini’s not there so it must be a youngster out of the reserves?’

“So I did this for a couple of minutes, and then Terry Venables knocked a ball up for me, and as I leaped to head it I ripped the wig off my head.

“The roar in the crowd!”

Soccer - Queens Park Rangers - Training - Du Cane Road QPR players (l-r): Dave Clements, Terry Mancini, Don Givens, Frank McLintock and Mick Leach. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

When he was at Arsenal eighteen months later, the club’s conservatism cost him another potential claim to fame.

“Bertie Mee was the manager and a Scandinavian wig-making company approached Arsenal to ask them if they could make me a wig to wear during a game that would allow everyone to see that you could wear a wig and play professional football and it wouldn’t come off.

“Mee said no, definitely not. It would have been interesting. Arsenal were one of the last clubs to have advertising boards around the ground so it was part of the club’s policy that there was no advertising allowed around the ground…or on our heads!”

So, for want of a much, much better phrase…here’s the reveal.

It was the moment that led to him joining Arsenal that Goulding has immortalised as Mancini’s claim to fame.

The poem is titled “Terry Mancini’s Arse”, so let’s allow Mancini take it from here…

“QPR signed David Webb. We played together for a little while as Frank McLintock was injured. We were playing well, but as soon as Frank was fit they put him back and I was out. I was 32 or 33 and getting on a bit, and suddenly they put me on the transfer list for 15 grand.

The following day Arsenal came in for me. You could have knocked me down with a feather, I was stunned. Obviously so was the chairman, as he said, ‘Oh we’ve made a mistake with this transfer fee, we want 50 thousand. This went on for a few weeks. I was told by Bertie Mee that ‘You will be an Arsenal player, we want you and desperately need you.’

“I hadn’t been in the team but Frank got injured so I had to play. I’ll never forget the game, we played Ipswich. We beat them 1-0, it was on TV.

“Suddenly I’m a hero again. As we walked off the field, the chairman of QPR was sitting in the Director’s Box. He was blocking the move as he wanted more money. So as I walked off the field, I turned around, pulled my shorts down and waggled my backside at him.

“By the Thursday I was playing for Arsenal.”

Soccer - Football League Division One - Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal Mancini in his Arsenal days, with Tottenham's John Duncan. Source: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

Mancini’s – to quote Goulding’s poem -“vertical beam” briefly scandalised the game.

So on the same week Uefa hit him with a ban for his red card against the Soviet Union, the FA charged Mancini with bringing the game into disrepute, fined him and banned him for two games.

Arsenal, however, agreed a £20,000 fee with QPR and he served his suspension at Highbury.

He chuckles when asked if it would happen in today’s game. “Bloody hell, no. The game is totally different now. No, I can’t imagine anyone doing it.”

The game is different now, but then everything is.

In 1965 he was released by Watford as a free agent, injured and told he wouldn’t recover. He was offered a deal by Port Elizabeth City in South Africa. He spent 20 months living in Apartheid South Africa, isolated from the world he knew.

“There was no TV, so the only way to find out what was going on in the world was to go to the cinema and watch Pathé news.

“I was there in 1966, and I didn’t know who won the World Cup. England won the World Cup and I was out in South Africa and didn’t know until after the event that England had won it. You were cut off from the rest of the world.

“I had to limit myself to three minutes on the phone. ‘Cheerio Mum, bye, I can only afford this much!’”

He captained the club to the league and cup before returning home to Leyton Orient, from whom he joined QPR. His stint at Arsenal prefaced his winding down his career among the gloamy twilights of superstars in the North American Soccer League.

There is a loose Watford connection here as before Elton John took over the London club, he part-owned the club at which Mancini ended up, the LA Aztecs.

Mancini only ever met him once so his strongest memories are of Best, and his struggles with the sport’s unquestioned excess.

“Ah he was wonderful. What can I say? He was the best player I’ve ever seen, and he was a wonderful fella. I couldn’t criticise him in any way whatsoever. He was a top bloke, and it’s just a shame he liked a drink too much.

“When we lived in LA, he had an apartment on the beach, and it was among the bars and restaurants we used to frequent. He would spend the whole day moving from one bar to another, getting smashed and falling asleep at tables. We knew he had a problem.

“He wouldn’t turn up at training for two or three days, and then he would come in on the fourth day and be absolutely outstanding, amazing.”

American Soccer - NASL - Los Angeles Aztecs v New York Cosmos George Best dazzles New York Cosmos players during his time with the LA Aztecs. Source: EMPICS Sport

Does Mancini regret the culture of drinking that consumed the game in his era?

“That’s how it was at the time. If you were different, they weren’t interested in you. There were others who were happy family men, who didn’t drink and went home, and you never saw them.

Life is to be lived. You have to enjoy yourself. Guys today are earning a fortune, and good luck to them. But we had that little bit of freedom. Now it’s an 18 to 20-year career if you’re lucky, but you don’t see anything of life. You have assets to show off with money in the bank, but no memories. No memories.

“It’s a totally different game now, but there’s no fun. There’s no friendship.”

A different game that he nonetheless follows closely, albeit rarely from the stands as he has become, in his own words, “a couch potato.”

He will watch the FA Cup final, although he admits he doesn’t have any great affinity for Watford today.

“I was there for five years and made 60-odd appearances. I never really progressed. Coaches weren’t like the Guardiolas and Klopps of today, the game was entirely different.

“It was all physical fitness and aggression. You could kick your centre-forward and he could kick you back. The crowd liked that as much as they enjoy free-flowing football today. It was a funny old game.

“To be honest, I never learned a great deal in my five years at Watford. You ran, you only saw a ball during the week if they had a practice match or on a Friday if you were allowed to have a five-a-side in the car park.

“It wasn’t until I joined QPR I was actually coached. Watford was a start but no different to any other club. You look at Man City and Liverpool now, they are streets ahead of anyone else. In my days with Watford it was more of an even field. It was more about who had the better players, who or rose to the occasion every week.”

So, does he see his former club bridging the monstrous gap at Wembley today and writing the kind of claim to fame with which nobody will quibble with in years to come? 

“It’s a one-horse race. I’d like to think it would be level, but City are a sensational team.

“I think they’ll win 4-0.”

Read ‘Terry Mancini’s Arse’ in full here. 

 

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Gavin Cooney

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