Terry Venables: My family values
The former England football manager talks about his hard, working-class Essex upbringing and the great pleasure his parents took in his success
Interview by Angela Wintle
Mention Dagenham and most people think of Ford, car production lines, strikes and Mondeo Man. But for me, it was home. It was where I was educated in life and developed my love of football. And I made friendships that lasted a lifetime. It was a hard, working-class community, but it was a fine place in which to be brought up.
My parents married young. I was born in 1943, more than half way through the Blitz, so I missed the worst of the war. We were lucky – our original house was bombed just after Mum and Dad moved out. Dad was serving as a petty officer in the navy when I was born, so he had to wait several months before he was granted leave to see me. I’m not sure why I was an only child, but I didn’t miss siblings because I was surrounded with love.
My dad, Fred, was a man’s man – great fun and full of mischief. But my mum, Myrtle, who grew up in the Rhondda and was staunchly Welsh, 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.
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 parents took great pleasure in my success, although Mum died before I became England manager. Dad always supported my managerial decisions, whether or not he agreed with them, although when I was shortlisted as manager of Barcelona he became very worried and emotional. He felt that if I was offered the job, he would never see me and couldn’t accept it was a short hop by plane. I was worried about him, too, so I bought the freehold of his pub because that place was his life and I didn’t want the owners turfing him out. Thankfully, when he realised Barcelona was just a few hours flight away, he felt much happier.
It didn’t come as a surprise when Mum and Dad separated. Mum missed Wales and longed to return home, while Dad wanted to stay on his home turf. But when she became terminally ill with lung cancer, he was beside her at the end. I remember sitting outside with her at the hospital after she had had her hair done. It was a hot day and cricket was being played on the green. Even today, when the cricket is on, that picture of her having her hair combed comes into my mind.
I was in Sunderland with Crystal Palace when I took a call from my Yvette, my wife, to say Dad had had a heart attack. I hurried back to London, but when she met me at the station he had already passed away.
My upbringing left me with an outlook on life of which I am so proud. I know wealthy people who wouldn’t give a beggar a quid, but I was blessed with family who weren’t all successful, but weren’t jealous if you were. And when I walked out with England, I carried their values with me because Dagenham prepared me for life.