In the second part of his interview with Ian Butterworth Ed talks the UEFA Cup run, the Premier League and one Robert Chase…
Do you think the Premier League has been good for football?
…I would think so, yes. You can argue that it has meant too many foreign players coming into the game here, but some of them have been great players, and we all want to see them and play against them, see the top class football that comes with it. Is it beneficial to the England team? Now that’s an even bigger debate. Maybe the Premier League is now seen as being so big and important, that the players’ attitude to it is, well, they regard it as being more important than the national side? You get absurd wages in the Premier League now, £200,000 plus a week.
But then we’ve never really done that well in international football anyway.
Well, yes. Maybe the only thing that the Premier League has really done for the clubs and the game is the finance. That’s the big issue, the talking point as regards the Premier League. Even the clubs that get relegated, one of the first things people mention is the parachute money that they’ll get. And that’s not a level playing field is it? The thing with the Premier League is that is dictates the game and, quite often, the rest of football gets forgotten. The grassroots of the game in this country are the lower divisions and non-league football. But everyone forgets that, they just want to watch and talk about the Premier League. But there are a lot of good players and a lot of good managers in the Premier League, and, if only some more of that money could filter down, and further…
The gap is getting bigger.
Even in the Premier League – it’s now the teams that can win it… and then rest. You can still get some good games, and it is, for all clubs, the pinnacle of the game in this country, all the clubs want to be there, as do the players. It’s particularly good for a club like Norwich – when they’re doing well, there’s a feel good factor in the City and the community, a buzz. And the Premier League seems recession proof – it’s just gets stronger and stronger.
Talking of money and salary – when you were playing the club had a very good bonus structure didn’t it?
Ah (laughs), you’ve heard about that from the other lads, have you? Yes, well – I had to go and negotiate that. I had to go, as captain, to Chasey on behalf of the lads. We had these figures all down on a piece of paper, I went and I was thinking, ‘yes, we’ll go for that’. Anyway, Chasy has a good look at it, says, ‘yes, yes, this all looks very good… but you’re having this.’ To be fair, he was quite good in that way, it was low wages but high incentives.
And you were happy to play for that?
Well, if you weren’t, if you wanted more money – you’d have to go! I think that the system in place then worked well, it meant, for one thing, that the club didn’t have too many financial worries originally.
People now look at the success that the club had in his era and think that it wasn’t quite as bad a time as has previously been thought?
Well, he (Robert Chase) had his faults. But we did have this excellent bonus system, including for being in, and playing in, the UEFA Cup, as well as just winning matches. Remember, we weren’t a big city club, our wages were decent, but they weren’t high by any means. But, we did get rewarded for winning – and, in that period, we won a lot of games… if you won one it was so much, two a little bit more, if you won five on the trot, you were laughing!
And the team spirit was, as everyone says, excellent?
Yes, certainly. It was a great bunch of lads – we all got on well and that’s an important thing. And all of those long journeys, it was great if you got a result at a Liverpool, a Manchester. Yes, we got a few drubbings now and again, but those trips back, down the A1, the A17, the A47; it always took ages, but it was great fun for the lads if we’d won.
And you used to get good results from places like Anfield, OId Trafford, Highbury…?
We did, we certainly didn’t go down 4-0 every time. We won 2-0 at Old Trafford on the night Gary Pallister made his debut, which was in 1989. We also won 2-1 there the previous season, Micky Phelan and Andy Townsend scored. It was 2-2 there in 1992/93 as well, that was a good game. I do remember losing 4-1 at Liverpool, that was during the first Premier League season – but only because I scored, and at the Kop end. I didn’t get many! But no, we didn’t usually get a drubbing from the bigger clubs, we did okay.
It’s refreshing to hear of players talking about going to the big clubs and looking for a good result, rather than talking about ‘just enjoying the day’.
Mike gave us the belief we could win games, so we did go out and enjoy them, but we also thought that we could win.
You came back to Norwich for a brief coaching spell. Do you think all of the success that the club achieved during your spell here has worked against it in more recent times, that people have expected more than is maybe realistic?
No, I think too much time has passed since then. Other things have happened, people come and go, so no, I don’t think that, I certainly didn’t feel any pressure to live up to all that whilst I was on the staff here, none at all.
You also had one game as caretaker manager?
That was disappointing for me. I got caught up with other people and events and it affects you. But, again, that’s football, that’s life. Paul Lambert came in and brought his own staff – that’s it, you accept it. I would have liked to have had the chance to do more, but it’s history now, it’s long gone and you have to move on.
I guess you have to have that sort of philosophy, else it could screw you up?
You have to. It was disappointing, I would have liked to have been manager here, but things didn’t work out. That challenge is over, it’s over. You move on, do something else. But it was disappointing. I have lots of fond memories of being down here. My children were born here; I like Norwich as a place, and have lots of friends here. It was hard to take at the time, but it doesn’t bother me now – it happens all the time. It happened to me at Cardiff, we had a couple of promotions whilst I was there, but Sam Hamman still sacked me after we lost a few games in the Championship.
You had an unusual injury didn’t you, the water-skiing related one?
Yes, yes. I did…(Ian injured his knee whilst water skiing on the Norfolk Broads in 1994)… I was also out with hamstring problems once for a few weeks, had glandular fever once which kept me out for half a season. But, on the whole, I didn’t do too bad with injuries.
So who was the best player you ever played against?
Two, for different reasons. Graeme Souness, he was just a great leader and captain. And Ian Rush. He was a phenomenal goalscorer, the ball was like a magnet to him in the box, but, he also worked very hard – chasing the ball down, testing the defence, he was so sharp, so quick.
You probably didn’t have a week go by without having to test yourself against one of the greats, someone to really look out for in the opposition?
No, it was just that. Every game, every game. But, we acquitted ourselves well against them. I played alongside people like Pols (John Polston) and Rob Newman that season, and we did well.
And playing in Europe – but you missed the big one, didn’t you?
Me, Jan Culverhouse and Ian Crook were all suspended for the Milan game at the San Siro. Ab-so-lutely GUTTED! It was great to pit your wits in those games against the great European players.
And you were good to watch, being that rare thing at the time, a ‘footballing’ centre-half?
Well, you have your strengths and weaknesses. Looking through the team, no, I wasn’t big or physical, so I had to try and play. Look at someone like Crooky, he was a great passer; Gossy would run all day. We all had our strengths and the team played to them. Today, well, you’re looking at more for athletes and in all positions, big, tall lads, and not just at centre half. I thought I was tall at 6’ 2”, but some of the younger lads now, they’re 6’ 4”, nearly 6’ 5” even. But you need to be an athlete; you need to be fit and strong. There are lots of games, you need what recovery time you have, then there’s the travel time, they all have to be so fit and athletic…
People don’t think of the travelling time. We used to have some right coach trips at Norwich. In fact, at many of my clubs, the travelling has been an issue. I was at Darlington for two years, the trips we had there-down to Torquay, Plymouth and places like that. Same with Hartlepool. If you’re going off to Plymouth from there, that’s six, six and a half hours on the bus, play a game, travel all the way back again, you’re talking about getting back at 11pm, past midnight. We flew to some games at Norwich – Oldham for a Sky game, Mark Robins scored a hat-trick. We flew to Everton once as well – that paid off, we did them 5-1, Efan was different class that day, his pace just tore them apart. I haven’t come across him again since he left Norwich.
Did you ever think that playing in those big games might have seen you being noticed and getting a move to a bigger club, ending up in playing a lot more of those sort of games?
Yes. I thought my performances were good enough to get noticed and merit a bigger club being interested in me – but I was settled, Norwich were, and remain, a stable club, if you’re settled, you don’t really want to move on anywhere. There were one or two rumours about me at one point and, certainly, earlier in my time at Norwich I could have left the club and moved on. But I was happy, it’s a nice place to live in, the kids were growing up, so we were content, enjoying ourselves and having a good time.
If Dave Stringer’s side played against Mike Walker’s, who would win?
It’d be close. A lot of us could play for both sides of course – certainly the defence. Hmm, who to choose? Fleckie or Mark Robins? I’d say Fleckie. Andy Townsend and Micky Phelan or Gary Megson? It’s tough, they’re both good sides. It was always enjoyable, and, under Mike, we had such belief and confidence. Even when we lost 7-1 at Blackburn. That was just a one-off, a fluke. We proved that by beating QPR in the next game. It was a great mix, the older players like myself, Gossy and Gary Megson, then the younger ones who were coming through – Sutty, Ruel Fox and Lee Power. They were all good lads, with lots of energy and enthusiasm. We all got on and that showed on the pitch, we did well, we won lots of games… and of course, the banters always better when you’re winning!
After he left the Canaries coaching set up in 2009, Ian teamed up with his former Coventry and Nottingham Forest team mate Stuart Pearce in the England Under-21 set up – a role he carried out and enjoyed for several successful years. He joined QPR as their scouting co-ordinator in June of last year.