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31st Mar 2017

Terry McDermott: I like Anfield when it’s empty – that’s when the memories come flooding back

The Liverpool legend talks titles, derby dust-ups and drinking

Tony Barrett

Every fire needs a spark and in the case of the Merseyside derby becoming English football’s most unruly fixture it was ignited by the two most unlikely arsonists.

When Terry McDermott and Gary Stanley, close friends and drinking partners, described by the former as “the two biggest tarts on the pitch,” were sent off after clashing at Anfield in October 1979 they started a blaze which still rages to this day.

Before the pair were dismissed by Dave Richardson only a single player, Everton’s Alfred Milward in 1896, had been sent off in the fixture. Since then, two dozen have been given their marching orders as the combination of a lowering of tolerance of foul play and the inability of some to control their emotions on such occasions has proven combustible.

In this sense, McDermott, who once went to a Kirkby hairdressers with Phil Thompson to get the perm that would become his trademark look, is undoubtedly a trendsetter.

“It was a tackle at the Kop end, a robust tackle,” he recalls before being reminded that Stanley was the aggressor and David Johnson the recipient. “My two mates,” he laughs. 

“Gary used to do the circuit with us. All the different clubs! We used to drink with each other all the time – the Continental and places like that – Mick Lyons, Bob Latchford, Terry Darracott, Andy King. I’d go on holiday with Micky Lyons. People would think you hated them because they played for Everton. I didn’t hate them. I just wanted to beat them. When we were walking down the stairs we looked each other and said ‘What the fuck are we doing getting sent off. The two biggest tarts on the pitch.’ Then I asked him where we were going out that night.”

Warming to the theme like an old prize fighter gradually remembering one of his greatest bouts, McDermott then points to a war wound between two of the knuckles on his right hand.

“You can see a little white dot there,” he says. “That’s where I punched him and it got stuck in his tooth! I was like, ‘Fucking get it out!’  Gary was a good mate of mine and we used to go drinking together a lot. I don’t think it happens now where Everton players and Liverpool players mix in. You don’t see them having a few pints together.

“The other difference is now you can’t fucking tackle. You can’t tackle, we used to tackle for fun. Mick Lyons, Mick Pejic, Graeme Souness, Ray Kennedy, Jimmy Case. It was blood and thunder. People say now the game is blood thunder, it is not. The game is quicker but it is not blood and thunder. It spoils it because you are frightened now of making a fucking tackle and games like the derby games are 100mph and you are bound to be late on a tackle, but that doesn’t mean anyone is deliberately setting out to hurt anyone else.

“You are late because he was too quick for you or he was too tricky and when it is 100mph you only need a little tap and you are on the floor. That will happen this weekend. It will be like that for the first 20 minutes and then we will see if anyone gets sent off. Then that will spoil the occasion.”

With his constant references to refuelling and wistful longing for the days when no quarter was asked nor given, McDermott could sound no more like a product of the 1970s if he launched into a chorus of Night Fever and reminisced about the golden age of British sitcoms.

But then that was his time, an era when he became one of the most outstanding footballers of his generation in one of the greatest English club sides of all time.

If he wishes things were still more like they were back then, that is perfectly understandable. There is also a sound logic at the root of the arguments provoked by his own reminiscences – whatever progress has been made in football, a solution is yet to be found to the problem of the absence of the kind of leaders that were taken for granted when McDermott was in his prime.

“There are none, well hardly any,” McDermott says. “Jordan Henderson has the potential to be one. He is a good talker. Articulate. He will get stuck in as well. I don’t know if he is a talker on the pitch. Some teams have captains or leaders who don’t talk. I don’t know what Steven Gerrard was like because I never played with him but he led by example. He had everyone behind him making them think we’re all in this together. But some of them don’t say anything. There are few you would look up to and say I am glad he is on our side. In the Liverpool team that I played in, everyone was a leader apart from me!

“When you have someone like Tommy Smith, Graeme Souness, Jimmy Case, Ray Kennedy in those days part of their game was getting stuck in and winning balls. Now you can’t do it because you are frightened to fucking tackle. You are frightened of getting sent off and then the referee gets battered by the players and the manager comes up and calls him everything even though it was a bad tackle. In our day the lads went in 60-40 and even it was only 40 in their case. Like Bryan Robson, he was the same; 70-30 he would be the 30 and that is why he got injured a lot. He was too brave for his own good at times.”

If there is a problem with McDermott viewing football through the lens of physicality it is that it inevitably, perhaps deliberately, results in his own role being diminished. While others collided, he glided effortlessly around the pitch, using his lager defying stamina to maximum effect and having enough about him to ensure that his technical ability came to the fore even when the tackles were flying.

“What a player Terry was. ‘You’ve got two pairs of lungs,’ I said to him once and I’m sure he did,” Kenny Dalglish wrote in his autobiography.

“Terry could run and run and his mind shifted as quickly. As a footballer, Terry was a creature of instinct and intelligence, a killer mix. If I even hinted at darting into a particular area, Terry read my mind. The ball was waiting for me, almost smiling at me. Not only could Terry see a great pass, he could deliver it. Vision and execution are qualities found in only the very best of players and Terry had those strengths. Along with his keen eye for goal, what made Terry even more special was his full-on, committed attitude.”

McDermott recently completed an autobiography of his own, one which details his rise from youth team player at Bury to his spell at Liverpool where he played an instrumental part in the club winning five League Championships, three European Cups and several other honours between 1975-82. It also covers his time as a player and coach at Newcastle United, the other club that is closest to his heart and the international honours he won with England, for whom he was awarded 25 caps.

But as a native of the city who graduated from watching reserve games featuring the likes of Billy Liddell and Ronnie Moran to becoming one of Liverpool’s greatest players (as underlined by his status as the first player to win the PFA and Football Writers’ awards in the same year), it is that particular strand of McDermott’s life that will always define him.

It is when he contemplates that period, the days when his immaculately timed runs so often provided the cutting edge to Liverpool’s build up play, that the 65-year-old struggles to come to terms with his own achievements.

Somehow, it has come to feel like another life, one that he knows took place but which, either through modesty or the passage of time, that he finds it hard to identify with.

There is no getting away from it, though. On the days when his role as club legend involves talking about the glory days to supporters on tours of Anfield, McDermott is confronted by his own past in a way that stirs wonderful old memories even if it doesn’t remove his own sense of credulity that it really was him out there.

“I like Anfield when it is empty,” he says. “I do the stadium tours where you are taking 50 or so people around. You go there and there is no-one around but the groundsmen or a few people working. That’s the best time to be there for me.

“You are sat there thinking, I can’t believe I was running around here once. It is the same on a match day when doing the hospitality. A few months ago I was sitting with David Johnson and said ‘Can you really think we ran that pitch, making all those runs?’ He said he could but I couldn’t remember. I can’t picture myself doing it anymore, I can’t. It’s so long ago that you forget that you have played on that fucking pitch. Every young Liverpudlian’s dream is to play for Liverpool and I had that. It hasn’t gone away but when I go pitch side now to do TV I’m in awe of being there, I’m actually thinking myself ‘fucking hell, I used to be on there.’

“You’re thinking of runs you used to make and stuff like that. ‘Did I really run from there to there and do that?’ I can’t get my head around it, I really can’t. But what I can get my head around is when I do talks with fans at the stadium, you do the full hit.

“You walk down the steps and touch the This Is Anfield sign, you go out onto the pitch and walk down towards the pitch end and they start playing You’ll Never Walk Alone and I’m worse than the supporters! I’m getting tingly listening to it, actually welling up. Then we sit down in the Kop, 40-50 people, and we do a question and answer session and the one that always comes up for me is what was my favourite goal. I always say ‘See that post there, I was leaning against that post and we scored the best goal that Bob Paisley said he’d ever seen at Anfield.

“It was against Tottenham, a headed goal and for me it started with me leaning against the post when the ball comes into the box and I’m talking away with the lads ‘Where are we going tonight? Come on, we’re 6-0 up, anyone out?’

“Ray Clemence caught the ball and threw it out and from there I tell the story of what happened. It’s not my best goal, because I was on the end of it I get the credit but it hit my head and went in the corner, but the build up to it was why Bob described it that way.

“I can relate that to the punters and they love it. ‘You were leaning on that post and you went from one end of the pitch to the other in 15 seconds and scored?’ ‘You were winning 6-0 and you still did that, why did you do it?’ And I say ‘I don’t know. There was a Heineken advert right behind the goal at the other end, maybe it was that!”

On Saturday, McDermott will watch the latest instalment of the Merseyside derby in the knowledge that a dismissal is much more likely now than it was in the days when he and Gary Stanley broke the mould but in the belief that, conversely, the fixture might not mean quite as much to everyone involved as it did back then.

“The last thing we wanted was to get beat by Everton and I’m sure the feelings we had then are the same now but what was different back then was the amount of Liverpool people or English or Scottish people playing in the derby,” he explains.

“It is different now and possibly, possibly, it doesn’t mean as much to foreign players. I have no doubt they want to win but have they got that determination to make sure they don’t get beat? I don’t know.

“Probably eight or nine of the Liverpool team on Saturday will be foreigners and I’m not saying they don’t have the passion, of course they have, but it’s different to when you had the likes of Graeme Souness leading your team. He only had to look at me, give me that glare, and I knew I hadn’t done what I was supposed to have done whether it was tracking back or getting forward. We had a lot of players like that. Emlyn Hughes was vocal, Tommy Smith was very vocal; they were icons who you could rely on for your life. In any big game you wanted them playing for you.”

By the same token, Liverpool also wanted to have Terry McDermott playing for them.

They just preferred it when he was making his post-match arrangements prior to scoring a glorious seventh against Spurs and not after he had been sent off against Everton. He might not have been the first to fall foul of derby day fever and he most definitely wasn’t the last.

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