The Ex-Files: Brian Talbot
Sunday, 25th Jan 2015 12:22 by Blair Ferguson
In the 17th part of our regular series, The Ex-Files, Blair Ferguson spoke to Town, England and Arsenal legend Brian Talbot.
Ipswich Town players don’t get too much more local than Brian Talbot (above, front row, second left). In his youth he represented Tower Ramparts School, Ipswich Schools and then Suffolk Schools before entering the ranks of the Ipswich Town youth set-up.
During his career the man known as Noddy was renowned for his relentless movement around the pitch, covering every blade of grass for Ipswich, Arsenal and England to name only a few.
“I was lucky because I could run all day,” the former midfielder recalled. “I was born with a slow heartbeat, so it wasn’t something I’d learnt or gained it was something I had, it was God’s gift to me.
“So, games on big pitches suited me and, if I’m being honest, I used to enjoy playing in big games.
“My ability to be able to cover every blade of grass helped me in my career because it was an attribute I had, but there were other attributes I had that didn’t get recognition.
“I could keep the ball, I could pass it, I could score a goal, so I think it was a combination of all of those things. Midfield players should be able to run, should be able to score goals and put a tackle in.”
But before any of these attributes took him onto the international stage Talbot had to work hard for a place in the Town first team under Bobby Robson, making 125 appearances for the reserves and a 3,581-mile loan move to Toronto Metros, where he spent two seasons to continue his progress after breaking his leg.
But even without a first-team appearance to his name there was interest in him from then-Bournemouth and soon-to-be-Norwich manager John Bond. Reg Tyrrell, who had been chief scout at Ipswich under Bill McGarry, was now in a similar position with the Cherries and had alerted Bond, who agreed a £15,000 fee with the Blues.
“I had a bad injury, I broke my leg and I then had two seasons in Canada,” Talbot explains. “I came back and I was in the reserves and couldn’t break into the team and other clubs were looking at me and there was interest from Bournemouth.
“I never spoke to them but John Bond was their manager and I think he was interested, so whether or not he thought I was a decent player I don’t know.”
Talbot turned down the proposed move to Bournemouth and on February 9th 1974, with Peter Morris, Ian Collard, Colin Viljoen all out injured, Talbot finally made his Town debut in a 1-0 win against Burnley at Turf Moor, aged 21.
From there, he established himself in the side: “I stayed in the team and played every week and my career fortunately took off.”
The following 1974/75-season saw Town gripped by a battle for the First Division title with eventual champions Derby and Liverpool.
Talbot is certain that but for an injury to one of Town’s top players the trophy would have gone to the Blues.
“We should have won the league,” he says confidently. “We were one point behind [then leaders] Liverpool, but unfortunately our best player, Kevin Beattie, got injured in a freak accident at home and it stopped the momentum and we didn’t recover. We lost the league title when we should have won it.”
That wouldn’t turn out to be the only sore loss that season with Ipswich later meeting West Ham at Stamford Bridge in an FA Cup semi-final replay, which the Hammers won 2-1.
“I believe we should have [won it],” he insisted. “I think you’ll find there were some goals ruled out for offside by Clive Thomas. Trevor Whymark scored but it was disallowed and it should have been counted.
“On the day we should have won. It was the year we knocked out Leeds, who were arguably the best team in England, after several replays, so we were disappointed and it was a big disappointment for us. Fortunately we regrouped, got back together, changed the team a bit and won it in 1978.”
And there, with the mention of 78 FA Cup final, we began to move on to a game that all Town fans remember so well. But first there is the small matter of Talbot’s semi-final goal against West Brom at Highbury to cover.
Despite clashing heads with Baggies defender John Wile as he scored and being forced off with concussion, he remembers it well.
“I remember the ball coming in from the left-wing,” he recalls. “I could see the ball, if I made contact with it then John Wark couldn’t head it.
“I was always going to be favourite to head it but whether I was going to head it in the net was another matter! But I made contact and it went in.”
Town were then up against Arsenal in the showpiece final at Wembley, coming off the back of a 6-1 defeat to Aston Villa the previous week and considered underdogs. But before we move to the final itself there is a quick mention of the team’s mentality going into the game.
“I think we were fortunate at that time. We had a lot of players coming through the system together and we always knew that we had a good team.
“We always knew we could compete with the so-called bigger clubs and we felt that if we stuck together and worked hard we could win a trophy, we were determined after that.
“To be fair to Bobby Robson, he built three teams. He built one in 74, one in 78 and another one in 81 and I was a part of two of them and I was lucky enough to play with good players.”
Then onto the final, perhaps one of the more glorious 1-0 wins in football, with Roger Osborne scoring that 77th minute winner.
Talbot recalls: “To play in that game was everybody’s dream and fortunately for us we got to that cup final.
“It was the biggest game in the calendar by far in those days and maybe the biggest one-off game in club football. As an English player you wanted to play in it, the cup final went all over the world.
“It’s an honour to play in an FA Cup final. In those days it was a showpiece occasion, we didn’t have the media and press like we do today with Sky Television, and there weren’t many live games on television.”
It wasn’t to be Talbot’s only FA Cup final, the season after he became the first player to win the cup in successive seasons with different clubs, having moved on to Arsenal.
“It was a difference experience,” he adds, “I wasn’t with my mates who I’d been brought up with in my football career, who I’d lived with and been away with and played with in the youth, reserves and then first team.
“At Arsenal I was with a new set of lads and they made me feel welcome, we had some very good players there, and it was nice in my first season at the club to play in such a big game and it was a fantastic final, beating Manchester United 3-2.
“They talk about the final but it’s remembered more for the last 10 minutes because we were 2-0 up and cruising and then ended up needing a last minute winner. It was obviously great way for me to start my career at Arsenal.”
There was a third final for Talbot the following year, but that would end in defeat as Trevor Brooking’s goal saw West Ham to victory.
Whilst at Ipswich Talbot represented England under Don Revie, although he believes he could have won more than his six caps.
“I was fortunate to play in a good team at Ipswich and if you play with good players then it helps you, when you play with players of equal ability or better then it brings out the best in you.
“That got me into the England team but unfortunately I didn’t get to play as many games as I’d have liked because there was a change in manager.
“When Don Revie left, in difficult circumstances, I was in the team but Ron Greenwood took over, and although I was in the squad for the next couple of years I didn’t really feature much. Maybe there were better players than me but you just have to accept it.”
With his career in full swing and an FA Cup winner’s medal to his name, Talbot says he couldn’t refuse the lure of London when Arsenal came calling in January 1979, the clubs agreeing a £450,000 fee.
“Everybody thought it would be difficult but I always had an ambition to play for my home team and I did,” he said. “But I also had an ambition to play for a London club so I could move to London and experience that.
“And there’s nothing wrong with that, people might say ‘you’re a traitor, you’re disloyal’ but I wanted to play, and I’m not being nasty to Ipswich, but I wanted to play for a bigger club and Arsenal and Manchester United were amongst the bigger clubs in England at that time.
“I wanted to go as soon as I knew they were interested in me. In hindsight I think it was a great move for Ipswich as well because they got rid of one player and brought in the two Dutch players and made the team better.”
Having departed Suffolk Talbot settled in straight away at his new club: “It was a new experience for me because I was walking into another level.
“I loved every minute of it. It was a big club and you knew it as soon as you walked in by how they did things, how they treated you and how the looked after you. They advised you well on and off the pitch, the facilities were first class, the training ground was superb and it was another level.”
After making 254 appearances in six years at Highbury the time came to move on to Watford, then managed by Graham Taylor and owned by Elton John.
The switch kept him near to London but it was also the financial side of the deal that attracted him, with a family to think about and a career he knew wouldn’t last forever.
“I went to Watford because it was close and Graham Taylor sold me the idea. I wasn’t keen to go to start with but Elton John had a plan and as a manager Graham was first class, his attention to detail was unbelievable.
“He taught me how to work with lesser players, having taken his team from the Fourth Division to the First with the resources from Elton John, but it was a well-run club.
“And it helped me in my coaching and managerial career because it was a small club turned into a successful club, but I wasn’t there for long.
“I have to say that the contract made me go as well because the financial package at that time in my career was hard to turn down because of my family.”
After one season, it was time for Talbot to say goodbye to the yellow brick road of Watford. His next moves saw him leave London for four years, with his time at West Brom seeing his first foray into management
“I went from Watford to Stoke, I had 15 to 16 months there and then Ron Atkinson, who had tried to sign me when he was Manchester United manager, had the West Brom job.
“They weren’t doing very well and he decided to bring me in to help keep them up. He also brought in Andy Gray and Kenny Swain. He made captain so I was the leader and I always wanted to try my hand at management.
“I signed in January and we stayed up but I don’t think the club was in a great financial state, but I’m not really sure because I was just a player.
“Ron left for Spain and West Brom asked me to take over on a temporary basis. Although we struggled in the league we rallied the troops and won five games on the trot and then they gave me the job.”
Whilst this was his first professional crack at management Talbot had set his sights on being a boss since his time at Town.
“When I was at Ipswich I started managing my own Sunday team with my mates and friends in the area, and I did that for six or seven years. I was always coaching as well, I’d coached at schools and got my badges really early, I was a full badge holder by the time I was 25.
“I continued the coaching at Arsenal with part-time clubs and I was also chairman of the PFA and that gave me an insight into what I was going to do when I stopped playing.
“I’d always wanted to have a go at being a manager, whether it was going to be big or small I always felt I wanted to have a go at it.
“I always enjoyed being on the grass the best but the next best thing was coaching. It’s all very easy at 61 years old to say I should have done this and I should have done that, but I did enjoy the coaching, maybe more than management but it’s too late now.
“Later on in my career when I went abroad I found it a much better way of doing it because you were just there to coach. It’s coming into England now because clubs are starting to hire head coaches, like at West Brom and other clubs, with other people looking after the other aspects.”
After a short spell at Aldershot, in 1993 Talbot achieved an ambition of going abroad, although as a manager rather than a player.
The destination was Hibernians in Malta, where he made an instant impact, winning the Maltese Premier League for the first time 11 years and landing the Maltese Super Cup for the first time in the club’s history.
“I always wanted to experience playing abroad as a player and I had a couple of offers but didn’t take them.
“I don’t speak any other language so it was always going to be difficult. I used to work abroad coaching and I went to a couple of different countries for a week or two to coach and I couldn’t communicate so it had to be a country where they spoke English so I could have gone to Canada, America, or Australia but my family didn’t want to move too far away from home so I went to Malta.
“I enjoyed every minute of it, the football wasn’t as good or as intense but I enjoyed it. When you go abroad the president runs the club and the manager runs the team and I was fortunate enough to go to Hibernians in Malta and was successful and I’m still friends with the president.”
Talbot now feels that his three years in Malta was “longer than I should have” stayed with success being the draw that kept his out there for longer than originally planned.
On his return to England he took up a job coaching coaches but soon missed the day-to-day interaction of a football club. It was then that Rushden and Diamonds came calling.
“I didn’t come back to go to Rushden and Diamonds, I came back to be a coach that coached the coaches.
“But I missed the day to day running of a club and within two months of coming back I was offered the Rushden and Diamonds job and I loved every minute of it, I loved being at Rushden.”
After seven years at Nene Park and short spells at Oldham Athletic and Oxford United, in 2011 Talbot was recruited by Barry Simmonds, now of Norwich, to be Fulham’s European scout, later taking over as their chief scout, his current position.
“Barry Simmonds brought me in but he went to Norwich and I took his place,” Talbot explains. “My job is to recommend players for the manager to sign and organise my other scouts as well as scouting the opposition so the manager can prepare his team to play against him.”
To give an idea of what a chief scout does Talbot outlined what the week ahead had in store for him, including a trip back to Portman Road for the FA Cup replay against Southampton.
“This week I went to Reading v Middlesbrough on Saturday, Coventry v Swindon on Monday, Wolves v Fulham last night and I’m going to Ipswich v Southampton tonight and Norwich v Cardiff on Saturday.
“So, this week I’ll be doing five games. It’s not always like that because I’ve got to be in the office and liaise with my other 12 other scouts and organise their fixtures and organise opposition scouting for the manager for the first team.
“We work behind the scenes,” he continues. “We try to give information and advice, we don’t actually make too many decisions, that’s for other people.
“I think, if we are being honest, Fulham’s recruitment has not been the best in the last two years.
“We’ve been relegated which disappointed everybody, and our job is to make the recruitment better and get a younger team, which we have now, and get the team back in the Premier League, which is going to be very difficult this season because we had a terrible start.
“But Kit Symons has come in and doing an excellent job and now we have to stabilise the club and move forward.”
Now at the forefront of Fulham’s recruitment, Talbot explains how scouting is changing all the time with new technology providing different ways to uncover new talent.
It’s changing all the time,” he adds. “We look at stats on the computer for players that have good statistics and play regularly. You obviously look at positions, then we might watch them on a DVD, I’d then go and watch them live, other scouts would go and watch them live.
“Other times we go and watch games and someone stands out, so we identify that player and we then watch again and do reports on them and make a file once three or four scouts have been to watch them.
“Once we have all said yes then maybe the manager will go and try to conclude a deal. Our process has changed this season, it’s a lot more detailed.”
As the interview draws to a close TWTD has just enough time to get an opinion on Premier League-linked Tyrone Mings from the man that recommended Fulham sign Aaron Cresswell prior to the left-back’s switch to West Ham in the summer.
“He’s an athlete, he’s a good size, he’s fit, he’s left-footed. I think he could play as a left centre-back eventually as well.
“I don’t think Fulham will be able to get him, I think he will go to the Premier League because Ipswich will want big money for him.
“But I’m not there [at the Saints game] to watch him, Ipswich have obviously got another player in Teddy Bishop, who is getting attention as well, but more importantly I’m going to see if Southampton will play some of their squad players to see if there is anyone available that we could get on loan to help us this season.”
You can read all the previous Ex-Files here.
Photo: Action Images
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