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December 04, 2007

Welcome to Stan's World: Stan the Man: A Hard Life in Football - Stan Ternent with Tony Livesey

Posted by Lincoln Allison

Stan the Man: A Hard Life in Football
by Stan Ternent with Tony Livesey
with an Introduction by Alastair Campbell
Pp. 288. John Blake, 2003
Paperback, 7.99

Life of Stan, Scene 1
The James Hargreaves Executive Suite, Turf Moor, Burnley. The oligarchs have democratised the club and the shareholders' meeting is much bigger than it used to be. For 200 a share you can be a part-owner of the club and a couple of dozen of us new boys and girls have turned to discuss the Annual Report. The Chairman asks the floor for questions to the Board and management.


Through the chair [pronounced "churr"], I should like to ask the Football Manager [we do have other kinds of manager] would he like to give us his assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the current first team squad?
The Football Manager (His accent is South Tyne mitigated by many years in Lancashire):
The question is ... [repeats question] and the answer is, No, I bloody well wouldn't.
He then explains that if he were to offer such an assessment he would either a.) be lying his socks off or b). be blowing away his negotiating position in any future transfer deals.

And you have to hand it to Stan. He bunked off school and is on record as saying that education is a waste of time, but as an exam answer that was first class: he attacked the question as set, answered it unequivocally and gave reasons for his answer.

Life of Stan, Scene 2
Another day, this time outside in the stadium. I am sitting in the James Hargreaves Stand with the pitch in the foreground. The background is six rows of stone terrace houses, some parkland, woods and then the moors. In one respect I am quite enjoying myself because I have chummed up with a man of my own age, also an academic, who has driven even further than me: we have a great deal in common. (For those who find this behaviour bizarre or incomprehensible, it's probably best to think of it as a non-propositional religious cult.)

However, out on the pitch things are going very badly. In fact, we have just witnessed a unique achievement: the centre forward for Gillingham, the visiting team, one Robert Taylor (not to be confused with various Rob Taylors and Bob Taylors) has just scored five goals in the first half and we are 0-5 down. When the referee blows his whistle for half time the players set off for the changing rooms. But the home team never get there: their stocky little manager is blocking the tunnel, waving them back out onto the pitch. None dares to be the first past him which would mean risking a serious public assault. For the whole fifteen minutes of half time they sit motionless, not daring to chat or to seem nonchalant while 10,000 people look on, bemused and embarrassed. Some would say "sheepish", but I've never seen a sheep look ashamed. There are no more goals in the second half and the final score remains 0-5, but nearly half the team never play again.

Is Stan mad? Or does he find it expedient to be thought to be mad? Or, as with Hamlet, are the two possibilities blurred and confused?

Stan the Man is in the genre of sporting memoirs which developed in the 1990s led by Simon Hughes and Gary Nelson: honest stories of performers at the ordinary level. Stan Ternent was a nearly-man. He played five games for Burnley at the fag end of their great days and then played mostly for Carlisle. He coached or managed at ten different clubs. When it seemed that he was about to take Burnley into the Premiership in 2002 - they were eight points clear and he signed Paul Gascoigne as the final jewel in his crown - it all imploded, though it went down to the last kick of the season. Stan never made it to the big time. In 2004 Burnley let his contract expire and appointed a much younger man with more qualifications.

But his nearlyness does have an heroic quality. He played for the most successful team Carlisle ever had. His achievements as manager of Bury were astonishing: successive promotions and the divisional championship of the third tier of English football over a raft of "sleeping giants" with much greater resources.

That story seems more like something from a D. C. Thomson comic than from the actual history of football: Stan's team of has-beens and hopefuls, travelling thousands of miles in their battered coaches and eating their cheap sandwiches but seeing off clubs with many times their resources. The Neville brothers, with all their caps and medals and millions, who have lived at the glamorous end of football, but whose father and mother were respectively club secretary and chairman's secretary at Bury, have said they regard it as the greatest feat in football.

Stan is the blokes' bloke and in London (he had coaching spells at Chelsea and Crystal Palace, but was always homesick) the geezers' geezer. His mates are Vinny and Fergie and Gazza and Wrighty. The last named ended his career winning promotion with Stan at Burnley. The then Prime Minister's (the book was published in 2003) press secretary wrote the foreword and one suspects that Alastair Campbell always wanted to be a geezers' geezer and was rather more in awe of Stan than he was of his own boss. Also that he took something of The Man into number 10 with him.

Why is all this interesting? Ultimately because Stan represents something powerful though expiring in our culture. But we have to start by acknowledging how disgusting it all is: Stan swears, bullies and head-butts his way through life. You can't blame him; he is constantly shat on and spat at. His daily task is to deal with footballers "who will do anything to avoid practising" and who have an irrevocable determination, once away from home, to break curfew and locate a quick shag.

Hired as assistant manager at Chelsea by the late Ian Porterfield, he comes to realise that he is only employed as Porterfield's chauffeur because the manager has lost his license through drunken driving. Worse, Porterfield makes no bones about this to the players, who treat Stan with contempt. For five years he is out of work and desperately short of money.

Whenever I come across the reality of professional football I remember what a sheltered life I have led. In my sporting life "banter" consisted of extended jokes about things like "cameos" (innings or bowling spells shorter than the perpetrator would have wished) or "straight bananas" (balls which swung only in the imagination of the bowler). A practical joke was ostentatiously checking whether the South African players had their passports as we approached the Welsh border.

In Stan's world a practical joke is dropping a turd in a golf hole so that the foursome coming on behind get shit on their hands or messing up a golf cart so that its driver falls over a cliff. Or letting all your tyres down or heaving everything in your hotel room out of the window. And the banter is aimed straight at your worthless heart. Nice people, footballers . . .

The phenomenon of the culture of professional footballers has been studied by various friends and colleagues of mine. Alan Tomlinson has described it as a culture of indefinitely extended adolescence; Andrew Parker has demonstrated the relentless anti-intellectualism of youth football which renders any attempt to prepare for the future for the vast majority who will fail or be injured as worthless.

Neil Carter writes of the "NCO culture" of managers. After all, they are not "managers" in any serious sense: Stan would be out by lunchtime on his first day in any office or factory and probably be in custody. Their style is not that of the commissioned officer: it is the "you 'orrible little man" style of the Sergeant-Major. Their assumption is that of course the players will try to bunk off, shag anything that moves, make you look a twat, etc., but you have to take them on in a male-on-male, eyeball to eyeball battle of wills and win.

Historically, most of the great managers of the 1950s and 1960s were NCOs in the British Army including Arthur Rowe, Bill Nicholson, Bill Shankly, Harry Potts et al. and they set the style.

But the NCO culture is now being replaced at the highest level by something much more like a genuine officer cadre, a real managerial class of educated men who were not particularly good footballers. Predictably, in England, they have all had to be foreign: Houllier, Mourinho, Wenger, Erikson, Benitez, etc. Though Warwick Business School now offers a "Diploma in Management (Football)" and Adrian Boothroyd, whose Watford team currently lead the Championship, is one of its graduates. Stan does not approve.

Life of Stan, Scene 3
Stan is visiting Sheffield United, a club whose leading personnel he detests. Believing one of his midfielders to have been subject to a premeditated crippling tackle Stan goes to remonstrate with the referee and the home club's officials (pp. 260-1):

I heard a voice. "Come off it, Stan."

I turned to see United's number two Kevin Blackwell staring at me. "You're always at it, you."

I call that a red rag to a bull. I shouted, "We'll have it now." I ran up, smacked him in the face and nutted him for good measure, nutting him hard. He hit me back and my nose ruptured.

Here we go. I jumped on him and we fell to the floor, shoving the door to the ref's room wide open. From all sides, stewards and United staff pounced on to my back and tried to pull me off Blackwell. Eventually, they dragged me away.

I'd given him a quick crack and a couple of follow-ups. I hadn't an option. He offered me out so I hit him. Simple as that. If you are going to get into a fight, you don't wait for them to strike first.

Bear in mind that Stan is my exact contemporary and that he was 54 years old at the time of this incident. He is a religious man, by the way, a catholic who has been married to the same lady and lived in the same farmhouse for forty years and who dotes on his grandchildren. He dresses smartly and once ended a losing spell for Burnley by using holy water from Lourdes - or so he says.

Stan's appeal is curiously wide. Out there on the web, under the heading "Football Poets" you can read:
Brad Pitt Tom Cruise George Clooney lacking
In the bin beside Jude Law
Each of 'em I'd just send packing
Because Stan Ternent Je t'adore
The author is one P. Maguire, a Liverpool fan and, I think, a lady - if it isn't Stan would be very cross. There are eight more verses.

The style is working-class, eccentric, authoritarian. It developed in the British Army and came to prominence in football; its high priests were/are Bill Shankly and Brian Clough. They were able to combine egomania with collectivism in an almost mystical way. There are still a few mild examples about, not yet replaced by the new technocrats; note that the code name for them, when, for example, the England manager's job is discussed on radio or television, is "football people".

I can't help finding the style attractive, at least as an antidote. The subtitle of my forthcoming book is How the wrong kind of niceness has made us weak and unhappy and Stan is entirely innocent of the wrong kind of niceness. Perhaps we shouldn't regret or bemoan the disappearance of the style and type. But we should acknowledge it because it won wars as well as championships.

Lincoln Allison is Emeritus Reader in Politics at the University of Warwick and Visiting Professor in sport and leisure at the University of Brighton. He is the author of Amateurism in Sport: An Analysis and a Defence (Frank Cass, 2001).

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