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‘His tactics were blueprints for future Crystal Palace teams’ – Eagles mourn loss of managerial pioneer Terry Venables


Alan Smith believes that Terry Venables established the blueprints for the future Crystal Palace teams with his famous side of the 1980s.

The Venables family confirmed the former Eagles midfielder and manager passed away on Saturday after a long battle with illness, aged 80.

East London-born Venables signed for Palace from Queens Park Rangers in 1974 and played 16 games for the club before being handed a coaching role by Malcolm Allison.

He became manager at Selhurst Park in 1976 at the age of just 36, taking the reins in his first senior job at the helm.

Palace won promotion all the way from the Third Division to the top of the First Division in his stint as boss, with youngsters such as Kenny Sansom, Vince Hilaire, Dave Swindlehurst and Billy Gilbert promoted from the academy to assemble Venables’ young and attacking side.

The team, which also consisted of players such as Steve Kember, Jim Cannon and John Burridge, drew a record home crowd of 51,462 to see the Eagles lift the Second Division title in 1979. It was dubbed ‘The Team of the Eighties’.

Tributes have flooded in for Venables, with his coaching methods being hailed by many as ahead of their time and setting the trend for where football is today.

“Terry made football fun for the fans,” former Palace manager Alan Smith told the South London Press. “He was incredibly serious about his football.

“Whenever we went on the coaching courses run by the FA over the summer, he was always on it and coming up with ideas. He made things simple and didn’t complicate things too much.

“People talk about fitness regimes and high pressure, Terry was doing all of that way back.

“He could be flippant with his humour and joking but not football – he took that very seriously.

“When I joined Palace in 1984, all of Terry’s foundations had been smashed, which was such a shame because it was on the fringe of being brilliant – it was one of the best times in the club’s history.

“I was always conscious of that era when I worked there. We tried to emulate it, in a way, when Steve Coppell came in, as it was such a special period in Palace’s time.

“It set the trend and the blueprint of what Palace is and should be about – it was a young, enthusiastic and vibrant team.”

Venables handed Jim Cannon the captaincy after Ian Evans had his leg broken by George Best.

The defender became the club’s record appearance holder – turning out 660 times for the Eagles – and was inducted into Palace’s Centenary starting 11.

“He was a total genius,” Cannon told our paper. “His sessions were simple to do but very hard to work against.

“We talk about Manchester City and the teams now who press high.  Well we were doing that in 1978-79. We would spend hours on the training pitch working on seven against eight.

“One team would be overloaded and they would have the ball, and the other lot would be trying to defend against it.

“We worked and worked to the point where it became second nature. Everything was detailed with Terry.

“He loved the youth players and he wasn’t afraid to put these kids in. Billy Gilbert, Kenny Sansom, Vince Hilaire and Paul Hinshelwood – he threw them in because he had great confidence in them.

“Terry was a phenomenal coach. I always remember that Vince and Billy were in the England U21 squad, and Terry was a coach at the time with England alongside his managerial role at Palace. They would come back to us and say: ‘Glenn Hoddle wants to come and play for us because he’s never worked for a coach like Terry Venables’.

“When you hear things like that, it makes you understand that Terry was a genius.”

Venables brought Vince Hilaire through the youth team at Palace into the senior set-up and also coached the now 64-year-old at England U21 level.

Forest Hill-born Hilaire made 255 appearances for the Eagles and became a crucial part of Venables’ Team of the Eighties.

“Without Terry Venables, I would have never been a professional football or had a career out of the game,” he told our paper.

“My experience of Terry was between the ages of 15 and 22 – he played a large part in my career.

“He did everything for me. I go down to Palace often and I speak with Jim Cannon a lot.

“The stuff that Terry was implementing in the late 70s, they’re using now. 

“I’ll tell you the sort of influence he had on me and all of the young players. I bought a Triumph Stag in the mid-70s.

“I was quite happy that I managed to get this sports car. I came in one day and said good morning to the lads. I asked: ‘Where’s Kenny [Sansom]?’ 

“Somone said that he was with Terry but they didn’t know what they were talking about,

“Kenny has come out of the office and said to me: ‘Thanks, Vince.’ 

“I thought: ‘What is he saying thanks for? What is he on about?.’ 

“Terry calls me into his office and he says: ‘You have just bought Kenny’s car. He has some financial problems and buying his car will help him out.’

“I didn’t even question it.

“Do you know what car it was? A Triumph Stag. For about three weeks I had two of them. My point is that if Terry Venables told you to jump off that building, as young players under him, we would have done it.”

Although Venables returned to SE25 for a short stint as boss at the start of the 1998-99 season when Mark Goldberg completed his purchase of Palace, his successful career in management took him to Barcelona, coinciding with them ending their 11-year wait for a La Liga title, and he also led England to the semi-finals of Euro 1996.

“He has some many incredible and positive things that he achived in his career,” former Palace winger and manager Peter Taylor, who also had one match in caretaker charge of the Three Lions, told the South London Press.

“He should have been very proud. What a wonderful career he had. I have tremendous memories of him being so clever.

“The greatest thing that Terry wanted to do was always improve people, whether that be on or off the pitch.

“He was incredibly serious on the training pitch but he wanted people to enjoy themselves, and that was the main thing I took into my coaching.

“He was terrific and everybody will miss him.”

Gary Lineker, Pep Guardiola and many more individuals who have reached the pinnacle of the game have led tributes to Venables since his passing was announced over the weekend.

Cannon said: “He was great for the younger lads before he became manager.

“We didn’t have agents in those days and my contract was coming up for renewal. We sat down and went through everything. He said to me: ‘You’re a good player. You can ask for that. Don’t be afraid to ask for it’.

“In the meantime, Malcolm left, and Terry took over. I always remember walking into his office, and he made you sit in a little chair that was lower than his office desk, so you were looking up at him.

“We started talking about my contract, and I said: ‘I want this and that.’ He started laughing and said: ‘Who told you that?’ And I replied: ‘You’.’ We came to an agreement.

“Everyone was upset when he went to QPR. I wasn’t naive enough to think that a guy who was as brilliant as that would stay at Palace for more than two or three years anyway, because the top teams were going to be chasing him. That’s exactly what happened.”

Venables had a life outside of football, which saw him write a series of detective novels, open a tailor shop in the West End, and he even became a club singer in his spare time.

“He ran a club called Scribes,” explained Smith.  “You could pop in there on a Saturday evening and he would be in there with Eric Hall, the agent, and Ted Buxton, his sidekick – that was good fun.

“Lunches with Terry were great – they were the best times. In the summer, you would sit outside and have a glass of Chardonnay or two and taxi drivers would hoot when they saw him and he would wave back – he was a face around London.

“He liked his Frank Sinatra numbers, but he didn’t chase the highlight of it – it was a bit of fun.

“He was a wonderful storyteller. He told the story of going from QPR to Barcelona. One minute he was in Shepherd’s Bush with the QPR chairman, who said to him: ‘You’ll never get the Barcelona job.’ and the next minute he’s going out there to take the job.

“He never put his social life above his football though – he was a coach’s coach. Because he was so talented – he was a very good singer and very outgoing – you could easily get the impression he was flippant about his football, but he wasn’t.

“Terry wanted people to be coached, and I found that quite refreshing. He was one of the early innovators of coaching. People just went out in those days and played, but he saw the game needed tactical nous.

“I never left lunch with Terry feeling anything but uplifted. He’s an icon at Palace and he won’t be forgotten.”


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