Into the Valleys: The Welsh life and times of Terry Venables
As a football manager Terry Venables was committed to England.
The boss of the national football team, from 1994-1996, he took a talented squad as close as any manager had to winning a first major international since the World Cup in 1966, with a thrilling run to the semi-final of Euro 96, halted only by a heartbreaking penalty shoot out loss to the Germans.
His consoling of Gareth Southgate, one of those who missed a pen, on the pitch at Wembley provided a fitting synergy between then and now, with the defender the current boss of England.
He may have been born in Dagenham, in Essex, and spoke with all the wit and repartee of an East End market trader, but this working class kid’s family life revolved around both England and Wales.
With one parent from the south Wales coalfield, one parent from the English working class, his was a childhood surrounded by love from a large and extended family.
His mum, Myrtle, came from Clydach Vale, moving to London with her family when she was 15 – where she met her husband Fred.
In his autobiography, the former QPR, Tottenham and Barcelona boss, wrote about his childhood and the upbringing he had with a staunchly Welsh mum.
“My parents had got married when they were still young, my dad, Fred, was just 20 at the time, while my mum, Myrtle, was even younger at 18. Dad was serving as a petty officer in the Royal Navy based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the time I was born, so he had to wait some months before he was granted leave and could come home to see his son.
“Mum had been born in Wales and was staunchly Welsh. She had moved to London with her parents and sister as a 15-year-old. Her parents, my granddad Ossie and Milly, my grandmother, were to be big influences in my life.
“My dad came from a large family of six brothers and three sisters, having made the much shorter move from Barking; which meant I was never short of uncles and aunts. I was surrounded by relatives. It seemed like bliss to me.
“My mum’s family were different; there were fewer of them for a start, and they were quieter, but just as kind. Mum and I stayed with some of her family in Clydach Vale in the Rhondda when we were evacuated soon after I was born, and I would often go back there for long periods after the war had ended.
“My dad was a man’s man – great fun and full of mischief. But my mum ruled the roost and he was frightened of her. So was I, for that matter. When I was playing in the street, she’d shout, “Terence! Shoulders back and stand up straight!” It was embarrassing in front of my mates, but that didn’t deter her. Now I realise I owe her a huge debt because she taught me how to behave.”
In his teenage years, the young Venables was sent to live with his Welsh grandparents who had a profound effect on the youngster, who ended up playing for Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Queens Park Rangers and Crystal Palace.
“When I was 13, Mum and Dad decided to run a pub in Romford, Essex. As it was quite far from my school, I went to live with my maternal grandparents, Ossie and Milly, who were a huge influence. After a kickabout with my friends, Nan would congratulate me and say I was the best, which made me feel 10-feet tall. Then Ossie would scold her for getting my hopes up and bring me down to earth. They played the good cop, bad cop routine perfectly. Whether it was planned I’ll never know, but it certainly worked.
“My granddad was a strong man physically and mentally, having left the pits in the Valleys behind as a young man and opened a general store before heading for the capital. It was the same road taken much earlier by his friend Jimmy Seed, who became a national name as an inside-forward with Spurs, Sheffield Wednesday and England, then latterly as a long-serving manager of Charlton Athletic.
“Jimmy actually came from a pit village in the North East and played for Sunder- and before moving to Wales to sign for Mid Rhondda. One of Granddad’s delivery boys had been Tommy Farr, the Welsh heavy-weight, who in 1937 fought the great Joe Louis over 15 rounds in New York, but lost – I kept being told – to a controversial points decision.”
Venables also revealed in his book that if she’d had her way, his mum Myrtle would have preferred he had played for Wales.
“Mum always talked with passion about her life in Clydach Vale. The village, like so many others, endured disasters and the terrible loss of life in the mines, with two horrific tragedies happening in the years before I was born that cost the lives of 40 miners. My mum was so committed to Wales that she wanted me to play for the country when she realised I maybe had it in me to be a professional footballer. In those days, however, you could play only for the country where you were born, though that has been amended since then.”
As a nod to his mum’s childhood and his love of an area he adored, Venables later accepted roles as honorary president and chairman of Cambrian and Clydach Vale BGC football club.
Everyone at the club is saddened to hear of the passing of former club chairman and president Mr Terry Venables.
The club will be doing a tribute in the coming days but at this moment our thoughts and condolences go to all of Terry’s family. pic.twitter.com/QHTONiPOa3
— Cambrian & Clydach Vale B.G.C. (@CambrianBgc) November 26, 2023
When Bobby Gould was sacked as Wales manager in 1999, Venables was heavily linked to the manager’s job – after leaving a two year stint as boss of the Australia national side.
Interviewed for the position along with Roy Hodgson, Kevin Ratcliffe and caretaker duo Neville Southall and Mark Hughes, it appeared the man with the Welsh mum was torn over whether to accept the job when it was ultimately offered to him,
Despite it being reported that he was offered double the money that the previous Wales manager Bobby Gould received, Venables said he had several issues to settle before giving the Football Association of Wales his decision.
“The job is very tempting, and everyone knows about my connections with Wales,” Venables told The Guardian, “but there are still many things I need to think about. I’ll make a decision very shortly.” But he added: “I honestly don’t know which way to turn at the moment – I’m torn by the whole thing.”
It was said that the FAW had promised Venables a four-year deal worth around £400,000 with the huge carrot of a £500,000 bonus if he took Wales to the 2002 World Cup.
After meeting the FAW to discuss the post, Venables said he was impressed with its vision for the future. Even so, after talking to Bobby Gould and coaching friends in the game, he said he was concerned about the players available to him, especially in defence.
The fear, however was that Venables was not convinced that the job was right for him – and so it proved when he turned down the opportunity.
The Football Association issued a statement saying the former England boss’ wage demands had proved unreasonable. “In our discussions with Terry, he indicated that he wanted the job and we took him at his word,” said FAW secretary-general David Collins. “Ultimately his terms were not acceptable to the councillors. The package would have been too expensive and he is no longer part of our plans.”
In a strange twist it appeared that the manager had found close allies in the unlikely form of Welsh rock heroes, Manic Street Preachers – the band who had memorably once changed the title of their song ‘Everything Must Go’ at a live show, to ‘Bobby Gould Must Go’, such was their dislike for the man who would be remembered as one of Welsh football’s biggest failures.
In his excellent book Red Dragons – The Story of Welsh Football, Phil Stead wrote: ‘The search took a bizarre turn, when the Manics offered £30,000 to the FAW if they appointed Venables.
‘Collins refused to rule out the move. “If we wish to appoint Mr Venables and someone is genuine about giving money, we will talk with them”.’
Ultimately, the job was given to Mark Hughes, who guided Wales to within a whisker of qualifying for Euro 2004, losing in a two-legged playoff for the finals against Russia.
As for Terry Venables – a charismatic football manager and a man who had an uncanny knack to make you smile, this hilarious anecdote from former South Wales Echo football reporter Mark Bloom reflecting on Venables’ sad death today, aged 80, sums up the warmth and empathy he harboured – especially towards those from Wales, even when they wake you up in the middle of the night!
“When Terry was linked to the Wales job I managed to get a number for him so I rang him,” said Mark. “He answered ‘who’s this?’ Mark Bloom, South Wales Echo, I replied. ‘Do you know what time it is,’ he said, in that a sleepy cockney accent, “yeah 11am,” I said, ‘Not in fooking Singapore it’s not,’ and he slammed the phone down. We later became very good contacts and spoke on and off the record many times. He always referred to me as his ‘brother in Wales’. RIP”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.