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Doing the Rounds

9 December 2013

Russell Kempson meets Birmingham assistant manager Terry McDermott, as the Blues take on Stoke City in Round 4

Terry McDermott is a Liverpool legend: A total of 329 appearances, scoring 81 goals, from 1974 to 1982, speaks for itself. Not to mention the 17 winner’s medals. 

It is unlikely, in the modern era, that that sort of record will ever be replicated. Loyalty in football and longevity at one club are rare commodities.

Chuck in the Professional Footballers' Association players' Player of the Year award in 1980 and also the Football Writers' Association's Player of the Year bauble - the first player to achieve the double - and you can appreciate McDermott's standing in the game. Even now, 26 years after he hung up his boots.

During his heyday, McDermott also won 25 caps for England. And now, as the 61-year-old Birmingham City assistant manager, he could talk for England, which he does. More than an hour in his company at the club's exposed and windswept training ground at Wast Hills, near Bromsgrove, is a most pleasurable experience.

City are soon to play Stoke City in their Capital One Cup Fourth Round tie at St Andrew's. Players troop in from the training pitches and past the grassy mound where David Gold, the former club chairman and a qualified pilot, crash-landed his four-seater Cessna in 2002. Thankfully, he was only shaken and stirred.

McDermott experienced many highs with Liverpool, not least the capture of six league championships and three European Cups. Two victories in three League Cup finals are marked indelibly on his CV, too. Few remember, however, that he concluded his career with Apoel Nicosia on Cyprus. Again, though, the success continued.

"I'd finished with Newcastle in 1984 and was training on my own," McDermott recalled. 

"It was horrible. Just think, two years earlier I'd been in the England World Cup squad. I got a chance to play for Cork City for six or seven weeks, which was enjoyable, and then Tommy Cassidy [the Apoel coach and former Newcastle player] rang me up out of the blue.

"Tommy asked me if I fancied going over there and I thought, 'why not?' I had a good two years there. We won the Cypriot league for the first time in years and were treated like heroes. We also won the Super Cup. I had a great time there but then, at 36, I decided to call it a day. I didn't want to come home and just drop down the divisions."

McDermott took a five-year break from football. He went horse racing, his other love, and became involved with an outdoor catering company. He also played golf - another passion. 

"I said I'd just enjoy myself, because when you're in football, it's difficult to do the things that you really want to. I loved every minute of it but in the end, I thought, 'what am I doing?' I needed to be doing something again."

In 1992, he re-emerged on the frontline, as assistant manager to Kevin Keegan at Newcastle United. After serving with Keegan and Kenny Dalglish - Keegan's successor at St James' Park - and after a brief spell with Celtic, McDermott returned to the life of doing what you want, when you want.

Again, racing was to the fore. He helped to run a successful syndicate for 30-40 members, with their top horse, Intersky Falcon - a Grade 1 hurdler trained by Jonjo O'Neill - amassing almost £400,000 in prize money from 12 wins in 36 races. He ran four times in the Champion Hurdle, finishing third in 2004.

McDermott disappears off into dreamland for 20 minutes, reliving race after race of his beloved Falcon. 

"He was special, a real superstar. We were so lucky to have him. When we went up to Cumbria to see Jonjo, about buying a horse, he said, 'I think I might have got one for you'. He certainly had."

Apologies are in order. "That's enough racing, sorry about that. This chat is supposed to be about football." Indeed it is but the diversion has been fascinating. Terry's enthusiasm, for everything, is infectious. When he commits to any project, it is wholeheartedly and without fear of failure.

Back to football, and back he went to Newcastle in 2005, as assistant to Graeme Souness. Then assistant to Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce and the returning Keegan. 

"They used to call me 'Black Box'," he recalled. "They just couldn't get rid of me. I know, four managers in three years. That's the way football was then and still is."

In 2008, McDermott linked up with Lee Clark at Huddersfield Town. "I'd known him for many years. From when he was a player at Newcastle, from when he was reserve team coach under Roeder. He was always interested in management. It was his first step on the ladder and I went with him on away games, helping to show him the ropes.

"Lee rang me and said, 'I've been offered the job at Huddersfield and I want you to be my number two'. The club agreed and I've been with him ever since. Lee wears his heart on his sleeve; he gets very emotional about games. He shows his emotions like Kevin [Keegan] did and you can read his face, what he's thinking. I'm pretty good at [reading] that.

"Losing kills me as much as it kills Lee. But I like to think that perhaps I'm a bit calmer than him. He's got his faults, like we all have. I've got faults. But he's got all the right qualities and his greatest is his passion for the game. He hates losing and I'd sooner have someone like him, who cares about being successful, than someone who doesn't give a hoot."

Clark left Huddersfield in February last year. McDermott also. In June, Clark moved to Birmingham, with McDermott. 

"It's a good club," Terry said. "There are a lot of good people here. It might be difficult, there's not a lot of money around, but Lee just gets on with it. He knows how it is and doesn't look for excuses."

No excuses were needed when Birmingham defeated Swansea City, the Capital One Cup holders, 3-1 in the Third Round. Despite patchy form in the Sky Bet Championship, they were worthy winners and moved another step closer to emulating their memorable League Cup final triumph in 2011, when they overcame Arsenal 2-1 at Wembley.

However, relegation from the Premier League later that season soured the achievement. 

"We'd love to go back to Wembley," McDermott said. "There's a good team spirit here and if we can put on a display against Stoke like we did against Swansea, there's no reason why we can't get something out of the game as well. Mind you, I don't want to be doing like 2011. If we get to the final and don't go down, that would be great."

David Murphy, the Birmingham left-back, readily remembers 2010/11 - the most bitter-sweet of campaigns. It may have eventually ended in tears, with demotion into the Championship, but that day at Wembley - when Obafemi Martins scored the 89th-minute winner to defeat Arsenal - will live long in the memory.

Martins, a late substitute, grabbed the glory. Murphy, also a substitute, did not make it on to the hallowed turf. But, for the former Middlesbrough and Hibernian defender, it did not detract from the club's huge achievement - their first major silverware in 48 years - or the magnificent occasion. He loved every minute of it.

"Liam Ridgewell started at left-back and had been playing really well," Murphy, 29, recalled. "I half-expected to be on the bench and just hoped that I'd get on at some stage. I remember Roger Johnson hobbling around in about the 60th minute and I was warming up, looking to go on.

"But he managed to play the full match and had a fantastic game. Sure, it would have been nice to have played a part, but it was a fantastic day out. In fact, the whole week, the build-up, everything, was brilliant. It was a tremendous experience from start to finish."

It completed a rare double for Murphy - League Cup winner's medals on both sides of the border. In 2007, Hibernian won the Scottish equivalent with a 5-1 victory over Kilmarnock at Hampden Park. Scoring goals at Ibrox and Celtic Park also rate as highlights during his four-year spell in Scotland before he moved to St Andrew's in 2008.

Such has been the turnover at Birmingham in recent seasons, Murphy is one of the longest-serving players at the West Midlands club. Only he and Nikola Zigic have survived from the Wembley squad. The rest have gone. But it has not all been plain sailing for Murphy, a former England youth player at under-15 to under-17 level, with serious injuries interrupting his career.

Along the way, he has suffered a broken foot - playing head tennis in training - and a broken left kneecap. A cartilage tear to his right knee in November last season kept him out for the rest of the term. Only recently has he returned to the Blues first team, easing back gently into the Championship fray.

"I don't ever seem to get just little niggly injuries," Murphy reflected. "If I get one, it's always a big one. Thankfully, I've only had three in my career. I'm still not back to full fitness, not quite 100 per cent yet. But I've played the last few games and I'm getting there."

Sadly, the fickle finger of fate again descended on Murphy soon after we had chatted. The knee flared up and he has been ruled out until Christmas at least. "We're looking at about six weeks," boss Clark confirmed grimly. "And that's if everything goes to plan and there are no setbacks."

Football can be so cruel sometimes.

From a blustery Wast Hills to a freezing St Andrew's on a Tuesday evening. Stoke are on the premises for the last-16 clash, ‘Delilah’ rings out from their raucous 2,991 supporters and what transpires is undisputably the tie of the round. Birmingham, despite losing Wade Elliott to a red card shortly before half time, somehow force extra time with a 3-3 draw. They had trailed 1-0 and, with five minutes of normal time remaining, 3-1.

The additional half-hour beckons. McDermott gives Mitch Hancox - Murphy's stand-in - a hug of encouragement on the pitch and Clark gives a vigorous team talk. Birmingham go behind 4-3 but, with the exhausted players from both sides competing for the award of last-man standing, they peg it back to 4-4. 


Stoke prevail 4-2 - Steven N'Zonzi netting the decisive spot-kick - and move on to the quarter-finals. There are no excessive celebrations, just handshakes with their opponents. The respect, after a night of incessant drama, is mutual. Every player is totally exhausted.

"We ticked every box, we never gave in, we can take enormous pride from this," Clark observed. "I had hoped that our efforts shown over the 120 minutes would be rewarded but it was not to be. I just wish that Lady Luck had shone on us a bit more this season. What we have to do is bottle this and take it on."

Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager, expressed relief. 

"To be honest, we made a dog's dinner of it, but we got through," he said. "From a neutral point of view, it was probably a fantastic game. But from mine, it was awful. It was not really acceptable but we're now just two rounds from Wembley."

Indeed. The Stoke fans exited to chants of ‘Wem-ber-lee’ while the Brummie regulars at the Royal George Hotel, in a corner of St Andrew's in Garrison Lane, could only drown their sorrows and raise a glass to what might have been. This year, there would be no day out at Wembley.

Stoke had got themselves a glamorous and money-spinning home Quarter-Final against Manchester United and Birmingham would soldier on in the Championship. McDermott, too, in his usual role as number two. 

"I've never really wanted to be the manager," he said. "I think you've got to be a certain type of character that I'm not sure I could be.

"You've got to be tough because there are some big decisions to be made. I'm not saying I couldn't make those decisions, just that I wouldn't want to make them. Everyone's different. It's either in your make-up or it's not, and it's not in my make-up.
"I'm not a bawler or a screamer and I think you've got to be a bit like that sometimes with players because they've got to be told. But that's never really been my goal. I'm quite happy where I am."

Once an assistant, always an assistant. Just how the Liverpool legend likes it.

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